Selling professional services has always been difficult.
The intangible nature of services means that potential clients cannot “touch and feel” or test the product before buying – so all the great benefits of the service can often be viewed as simply salesperson's claims rather than hard facts. Worse still: even if your services are unique, highly differentiated and of much higher quality than your competitors – what's to stop them claiming the same thing?
Traditionally, service companies have relied on testimonials, trials and guarantees to try to give customers something more tangible to judge their products by.
But very, very often customers use another key indicator – one that is often overlooked by the service provider.
They judge the service by the person selling it.
They don't just judge the salesperson as a human being or as a seller. They judge the salesperson as the living embodiment of the product.
If you're selling accountancy, legal, consulting or similar services then you're selling the “features and benefits” of the people who will be delivering the service. Maybe you're positioning your firm as leading edge or experts in their field – or highlighting your industry knowledge. Perhaps you stress your responsiveness and ability to partner with your clients. Or perhaps it's your efficiency. In every case, the qualities you stress will be qualities you claim your team will be able to deliver when hired.
How will your potential client judge whether your team really does have these qualities?
Well, if you're smart you'll make sure he is exposed to your delivery team during the selling process so he can see that they have the required skills and qualities.
But the person he will be exposed to most (and sometimes the only person he will be exposed to) will be the salesperson. Will he suspend his judgement, thinking “well, the salesperson won't be involved in delivering the work, so he can act differently to the rest of the team, he doesn't have to have the qualities I'm looking for”?
Of course not.
If your service promise is reliability and the salesperson turns up late to a meeting then the potential client won't believe your reliability claim.
If your service promise is expertise and leading edge thinking but your salesperson is a generalist without in-depth knowledge then he won't believe your expertise claim.
If your service promise is partnering, team-working and responsiveness and your salesperson is an irascible loner then he won't believe your partnering claim.
It's not fair – but it's human nature.
But how many professional service firms actively ensure that their salespeople reflect the values and the qualities that they position their delivery teams as having? And how many train and brief their salespeople so they are clear that this is what's expected of them. In reality – not many. Most focus only on their “pure” sales capabilities and are often very surprised when the salesperson with the best skills fails to deliver the goods.
And do you reflect the qualities of the services you're selling?
If not, you need to be. You are what you sell.