Selling Professional Services-
Becoming A Business Caring Professional
Thomas Bolt Gosselin
Tom Gosselin & Associates
How do professional practitioners land and retain clients? What makes
business development for professional service firms difficult?
Professional practitioners – accountants, lawyers, actuaries, consultants –
often feel uncomfortable with selling. Many feel it's the responsibility of
the firm's “rainmakers” to provide them with assignments, not realizing
that business development is everyone's job. Practitioners may pride
themselves on technical competence, but competence is not enough –
emotional intelligence also counts. Getting the “right” answer isn't
sufficient to guarantee client satisfaction.
In fact, client impact is a function of trust and confidence in the service
provider, as well as the solution. Harry Beckwith, in Selling The
Invisible, points out “Service businesses are about relationships.
Relationships are about feelings.” Clients demand more than competence;
they want someone who cares. They tell us, “I don't care what you know
until I know that you care.”
While working together in a client leadership program at McKinsey and
Company, a partner emeritus at the firm, Paul Krauss, introduced me to the
notion of B.C.P. – Business Caring Professional. Throughout the workshop,
we referred to this simple model to help senior engagement managers
understand the critical stages of client interactions. Without question the
most successful consultants focus on building long term trust-based
relationships with clients rather than looking for the next project.
To a salesperson, building trust early in the relationship is critical,
especially if the sale is long cycle, involves substantial dollars or risk
to the customer, or requires complex implementation or application. How do
we know someone trusts us? They believe we: 1) have their interest at
heart. 2) demonstrate concern above and beyond the transaction of the sale,
and 3) maintain the highest standards of business practices.
In training sales professionals, I have observed what separates the highly
effective sales person from the rest of the pack. We developed a set of
best practices for sales people. What are best practices anyway? In short,
they are habits – those routine actions that build strong relationships
Becoming a Business Caring Professional involves adopting certain habits or
actions that are genuine and from the heart. In my work with sales people,
I have found many instances where
people have gone the extra mile or done something unusual that really makes
a difference in a customer's life. It can be as simple as sending them a
birthday card or as complex as helping out in an emergency situation, such
as helping a client find medical help.
If you have decided to become a BCP, here are a few suggested habits to get
Get to know your client's business and their industry. Less effective sales
people push their product too early before fully understanding the
customer's business needs. More effective sales people take an active
interest in their customer's business in the press; they clip articles and
get annual reports. The most effective sales people go even further.
. When you see something that directly or indirectly involves one of
your clients, E-mail them a message or send the article with a
personal note: “Saw this in the newspaper and was wondering about how
it might affect your plans for next year. Let's grab lunch and kick it
. Even early in the relationship, ask the kind of in depth questions to
discover where the customer's true pain is. Krauss suggests “What
keeps you up at night?” Some prefer the more speculative “If you could
change one thing about your business, what would it be?”
. Take a holistic approach to the client. Focus on the relationship not
the project. Develop a perspective that goes beyond the project at
hand. As one compensation and benefits firm described: “While we were
doing a pension plan valuation, our main competitor was in the next
office bidding on a compensation review project that we had the
capacity to do but knew nothing about.” The opportunity to cross-sell
was lost by focusing too closely on the project rather than the
Demonstrate empathy for the client as a person. Professional practitioners
often overlook the power of their presence. As Woody Allen's say “80% of
life is showing up”. In working with consultants worldwide, I am impressed
that in any culture being truly engaged with the client has a tremendous
impact. Caring comes with actions as simple as saying, “How are you?” and
really listening to the answer.
Some other suggestions include:
. Realize that trust deepens with the sharing of 'self', not just
information or competence. Clients don't check their personal problems
at the door. Often, what they need from you is your personal
perspective, and not necessarily advice or a solution.
. Let the client shine. Clients of some of the most prestigious
consulting firms describe the arrogance of consultants who seek to add
value by proving how stupid the clients are. Consider the message they
send: We're smarter than you are!
. Be careful with the client's heart as well as head. Imagine the scene
in the boardroom when the consultant cavalierly recommends closing a
plant in the chairman's hometown.
. Understand that empathy doesn't necessarily mean delving into personal
matters. You may stick strictly to business, but demonstrate your
understanding of the emotional impact of issues on the client.
. Realize that caring comes across when you adopt an ask vs. tell
communications strategy. Clients provide insight into how we can help
them, but we learn nothing when we are speaking. We learn only by
listening. Skillful questioning helps client and practitioner jointly
complete the picture of what's going on. Imagine going to a client
meeting with no paper, just to ask questions and listen.
Maintain the highest standards for professional behavior. For example:
. Be honest with the client even if it means jeopardizing the
assignment. In a world of political correctness and individual
agendas, directness is water in the desert to chief executives.
. When you don't know or can't do something, admit it. No one person or
firm can be expected to know all and do all. Be ready to find the
answer or provide a referral if appropriate.
. Maintain the letter and spirit of ethical behavior, especially
confidentiality. You learn a great deal about your clients that you
cannot discuss even internally to other team members.
Becoming a BCP requires the consistent application of these habits. How
well trust-based relationships are developed distinguishes the business
caring professional from a mere service provider. As Harry Beckwith notes,
“When many prospects choose a service firm, they are not buying the firm's
credentials, reputation, or industry stature…these prospects buy the
firm's personality.” It's you they want, not just for your head, but for
your heart as well.
Thomas Bolt Gosselin is president of Tom Gosselin & Associates, a business
consulting and training firm specializing in a full range of sales and
negotiation training. Tom has extensive experience in consulting,
developing and delivering seminars throughout the United States and abroad.
For more information:
Tom Gosselin & Associates 781-934-9895
92 Island Creek Road firstname.lastname@example.org
Duxbury, MA 02332 www.tomgosselin.com