One of the difficulties in selling a service is that potential clients (we’ll call them “prospects” here) often don’t know whether they should be using what you provide.
Your prospect has a problem, but they may not understand how your service can help them. And even if they’ve tried a similar service in the past, or used a competitor, they’re still not sure how your service will compare to that experience. They can be full of doubts.
Selling services often requires a more sensitive approach than selling tangible products
Lets have a look at some of the things we can do to create a successful sales process when selling B2B services, whether that be for business and professional services, or other types of services such as software.
This post is quite lengthy and covers details of each of the four steps plus a tip on doing demonstrations:
- Identify prospects
- Understand the prospect
- Suggestions for future progress
- Agree on the terms of the relationship
- Bonus: When to do a ‘demo’
Let’s get started.
1) Identify prospects.
Before you can sell you must have prospects.
Identifying a prospect can be difficult because they may not know they could be your customer. Attracting prospects requires you to get their attention and help them to understand ‘how’ you can help them. This is not the same as telling them ‘what’ you do.
To encourage this understanding you really need to provide some relevant, helpful and insightful information (this is now called ‘content marketing’). Prospects who are in the market for your type of service will be sensitive to that type of information. They will pay attention to it and remember it. Ideally you’ll be able to stimulate the prospect to feel like “I need more of that” and to contact you.
In doing so, you’ll help the prospect pre-qualify themselves.
By the time they contact you they’ll already have some understanding of what you might be able to do for them and very importantly, they have taken a positive action in contacting you. They are now a ‘warm lead’ for you.
But don’t be mistaken, at this stage they have not made a decision to buy from you. Don’t misinterpret their enquiry as a buying decision and think you can relax. You’ve still got quite a way to go.
So what’s next?
2) Understand your prospect.
At this point you don’t really know if you can help them. So you should be using the initial meeting with your prospect (in person or over the phone) to gain a better understanding of what they are trying to achieve, and to discover their real needs.
Ask lots of sensible questions, without interrogating them, and listen carefully to the answers. Using the SOX™ Question methodology is a good idea.
When planning your questions think about asking:
- Why are they are making this decision?
- Why now?
- Why your type of service?
- What is the process they will be following?
- What is their budget?
- Who is involved in the decision making process?
- Get names and positions of influencers and decision makers. You need to speak with them.
- When does the prospect want the job completed?
- Check that this matches the information you obtained in the What section.
- When does the prospect expect you to do what has been discussed?
Now that you’re finished asking your questions, and knowing your own capabilities… Can you still help them?
If the answer is “Yes, we can help them”, proceed to make…
3) Suggestions for future progress.
Note that this stage may be a separate meeting, or even a series of meetings. This is especially important if your prospect is a larger firm with multiple decision makers and influencers, or when the service you are offering is complex.
During this phase of the selling process explain:
- Why you can help them.
- What they can expect in terms of timeframe, resources required, results, etc.
- What they will need to do.
- What you will be doing.
In some situations it might be wise not to give exact details of your activities. This could be the case if:
- For competitive reasons you need to protect your information.
- If you think the client may decide to do it for themselves (using your process).
- If there are issues to do with intellectual property (IP).
- If the process is so complex/technical that it might confuse the prospect.
A note on using written proposals.
As part of the overall sales process you may need to submit a written proposal. If you do submit a proposal, make sure it is done at the end of the sales process – when you have identified all relevant needs and discussed the scope of the solution.
Never use a proposal to “guess” at what the prospective client wants.
If your proposal only contains guesses, then you’ll usually be wasting your time.
If you have trouble getting details because your prospect wont spend time with you to discuss their situation, maybe they’re not very serious about making a decision; should you continue?
The written proposal should reflect what you have discussed with them, covering their stated needs and explaining how you will work with them.
The proposal should be a summary of your previous discussions.
When to use a draft proposal.
If your service is complex, or carries a large price tag, then consider using a draft proposal as an interim measure.
How do you do this?… When asked for a proposal, rather than just saying:
“Yes, you’ll have it next week” … when really you’re still not sure what to write, try saying:
“OK, we can get a draft proposal to you next week for discussion”.
Use the occasion of presenting the draft proposal as an opportunity to further build the relationship and clarify all the important issues. When handled properly, this process will make you look like a professional, rather than an amateur trying to guess the clients needs.
Okay – now you have got this far, is your client still happy and eager to proceed?
If so, then …
4) Agree on the terms of the relationship.
By this time you have developed a degree of rapport with your prospect. You may have spent some hours together, and have looked carefully at their situation and considered some options.
Now is the time to ‘close the sale’.
Closing the sale can seem very cold and mercenary-like (going in for the kill). As an alternative – and being more realistic – I usually refer to it as ‘gaining commitment’. Because in reality the relationship with the client is beginning, not being closed.
Key parts of gaining commitment are:
- Confirm ‘how’ you will work with them in writing (explain the process).
- The degree of legalese in your document will depend on what tasks you are undertaking, the scope of the risk, and their expectations.
- Be clear about payment – how much, when is it due, how is it paid.
- Clarify responsibilities on both sides – who will do what and when.
- Confirm start date and key milestones if applicable.
Congratulations… you now have an eager client.
Through this process you have:
- Found a prospect
- Identified their specific needs
- Matched your benefits to those needs
- Confirmed that your prospect recognises those benefits
- Structured a workable program to complete the job, and
- Gained their agreement to start.
Now it’s a matter of following through with your promises and providing exceptional client service.
But there’s one last thing I’d like to mention…
Bonus: 5 ) When to do a “demo”.
This is particularly relevant for anyone selling software. If you need to demonstrate your service or discuss how you have handled similar projects, think carefully about when this should be done.
Many service providers start off their sales presentation with this type of demonstration. They tell their prospect about what they can do, and detail all the benefits they can offer.
Software vendors may run through the software, highlighting what they think are important or impressive features.
Consultants may rattle off previous projects and explain what they found interesting or challenging in each project.
But beware; the prospect is waiting for you to show interest in their specific situation.
So pay attention to them and start asking questions. When you know what is important to them you can do your demonstration with confidence, emphasising aspects that are particularly relevant for your prospect, and avoiding aspects that aren’t important.
By planning and controlling your sales process you can easily turn your warm leads into eager clients, developing a strong relationship along the way.
Image: Camille Rose