Seal the Deal with These Four Key FactorsBy Stephen White
October 10, 2014
The way in which new business is cultivated and closed is much different today than it was 10 years ago. Sales cycles are much longer than they used to be. There are a number of important stages that business development must go through before a deal can be closed, and the cost of services all but guarantees that your prospects will want to take their time making this important decision. Longer sales cycles can be a real challenge for business development because they have to remain connected, responsive, and relevant throughout the entire process.
In addition, prospective clients are more sophisticated in how they buy professional services thanks to the wealth of information at their fingertips to help them make educated purchasing decisions. In the absence of a bona fide referral, prospects are more likely to engage professional service providers that understand their business pains and have an ability to apply innovative solutions to solve them. Now more than ever, professional service providers should be seen as having a proven track record of thought leadership and an ability to add value to their business.
There are four key factors in the mind of a buyer that will drive sales success: industry knowledge, technical expertise, value, and trust. If you have access to decision makers within the prospective company and have demonstrated those four qualities, you have a good chance of getting their business.
No two industries have the same business pains and knowing the unique needs of clients operating within a specific industry can give you a distinct competitive edge. There are several ways to demonstrate thought leadership within a specific market segment. First and foremost, your firm should clearly define the industries it serves and tailor its services and communications to those groups. Once you have that in place, there are numerous ways to position yourself as a thought leader. Public speaking at industry events, articles, blogs, whitepapers, and social media are all excellent communication platforms to broadcast your industry messaging.
Issuing valuable information related to a specific industry gets you noticed not only by prospective clients, but by media outlets as well. Make sure somebody within your firm is reading industry information and reporting on it regularly. This does not have to be a time-consuming process. A little bit of information, even if you are linking from other sources, goes a long way.
This one may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many firms aren’t demonstrating their technical expertise in an effective manner. Saying that your staff is certified and has a good pedigree is not a competitive differentiator, it’s something your prospect already assumes. What are you doing to show it? Are you presenting them with options to improve their business that they hadn’t even thought of? Are you alerting them to important changes before anybody else?
Your website or blog are great places to demonstrate your technical expertise. For example, when you are making first contact with a potential client, make sure to give them the links to your company’s website or blog so that they can see how knowledgeable your firm’s experts are. A well-written, informative article or alert can make a great online first impression. Be timely, be clear, and be professional. One important note: don’t mistake technical jargon for technical expertise. Part of writing effectively for a broad audience is putting technical content into lay terms. That’s what your clients are looking to you for.
A common misconception among many firms is that they are losing business solely due to fee pressure. Fee pressure is a very real issue affecting the profession that shouldn’t be ignored, but if you are faced with this issue, chances are that you simply haven’t demonstrated your value well enough. If a prospect tells you that they are being tempted by a lower bid, your first reaction should never be to price match before exploring other options. Instead, you should immediately go into value sale mode. You should be selling your service based on the value they will receive.
A great example of demonstrating value can be seen in the car industry. Take the VW Jetta and the Audi A4: similar looking cars with some nice standard features. The Audi, however, at a higher price offers more comfort, better handling, and more luxury. If that is the car that most fits your needs, you pay the higher price. If your number one concern is price, then the VW is the better fit.
The same applies with virtually all forms of professional services. If you have properly explained your value and your core differentiators and price is not your target’s number one concern, then you are more likely to win the sale. If you haven’t effectively demonstrated your value, however, you may lose a sale that should not have been lost.
When faced with the temptation to match a competitor’s fee quote, you have to ask yourself: Do I sell the engagement based on price or should we just walk away? Sometimes it makes more sense to walk away, rather than underbidding. You never want your prospect to feel like you were originally giving them a quote that was higher than what was needed.
Building a solid business relationship based on trust is the hardest part of this four-part equation, but the most rewarding. You are conducting business that is in the best interest of your prospect or client and they trust that you have their best interests in mind. One of the effective ways to build this trust is by being a connector.
Perhaps the most valuable connection you can make in the business world is one between two people. Your clients and prospects rely on you to put them in touch with other business contacts that you trust. You can be an indispensable resource to your clients and prospects by simply introducing them to other experts. Listen to your prospect’s needs and use what you learn to your advantage; if they are having trouble in a particular area, help them make connections with experts who can help them, even if they aren’t at your firm.
For example, more than a year ago our firm bid on a large opportunity that we ultimately did not win. This firm recently came back to us with some misgivings about not having selected our firm. While talking to them, we learned that they were also having trouble finding a marketing executive that could help them achieve their growth goals. We immediately tapped into our network of resources to personally put the firm in touch with several qualified candidates that we knew. This link has helped us develop a deeper relationship of trust with a firm we anticipate doing business with in the future.
This brings us to another important idea: even if you lose the deal, continue to sell! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that one lost proposal is a dead end. If you keep this lead warm, you might just get their business in the end. Make sure you use tools like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to connect with executives and subtly keep them apprised of what your firm is doing and what your experts have to say about current business trends. Link to articles from your website or blog and populate your social media accounts with valuable information. Invite them to events and make occasional contact through phone or by email.
If you want to grow your practice, you can never be content to simply rest on your laurels. Even current clients need to be reminded from time to time that you continue to understand their business and their needs and are invested in their success.
When was the last time you personally reached out to a client with an invitation to an event? We’re not talking about a mass email, but a personal phone call to say “Hey, we’re hosting this event that would really be perfect for you and the rest of your c-suite. Registration’s on me.” Whether you are a partner or a business development associate, you can let your clients and prospects know that you are thinking of them and their needs. Current clients are simply future clients waiting to be tapped. We all know that it’s far easier to sell add-on services to a satisfied client than to cultivate and close a new lead. Cross-sells and up-sells should be a significant part of your business development strategy.
Keeping relationships warm is an art form; it is a delicate balance of personal interaction, thought leadership, and traditional sales tactics—too little and they forget about you, too much and they are turned off by you. Staying connected with your clients and prospects is not just a matter of good client service; it’s a business development imperative.