Marketing and Selling Professional Services

Episode Notes

Marketing and selling professional services is challenging due to the intangible nature of the end results. The 3Rs of generating leads for service business will help.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • The unique buying patterns of professional services (3R): Relationships, referrals, and reputation.
  • The importance of understanding your clients’ needs as well as their awareness levels.
  • How company size affects purchasing decisions in terms of brand recognition and affordability.
  • Recognizing that selling to large companies may not be successful if you’re a small or unknown entity due to brand size limitations.
  • Building confidence in potential clients through a proven track record or relatable case studies.
  • Why traditional sales methods like BANT (Budget Authority Need Timing) might not work effectively for client services.
  • The significance of building reputation & relationships within networks; being seen as a trusted advisor can lead to more opportunities.
  • Avoid over-promising on revenue improvement; focus instead on solving specific problems efficiently.

Stay tuned till the end for tips on acquiring new clients steadily without chasing after older projects – hint: it’s hard work but worth it!

Remember: Prioritize relationship-building over advertising – especially crucial for smaller firms. Networking events & industry conferences are excellent ways to meet potential customers.

Tune in now and equip yourself with strategies that will help you acquire more clients consistently!

Transcript (Machine Generated)

So how can you get more clients? How can you acquire clients at a steady pace on demand? How can you ensure that you are not running behind new clients when the older projects are closing. Welcome to the Lead magnet podcast show with me Anoop Kurup. In this show, we tackle the problems faced by professional service businesses.

And come up with strategies, tips, tricks, and plans to help these businesses acquire more clients and grow. Selling any kind of professional service is tricky. The more clients you want to acquire, the more you realize that the traditional methods of marketing, even the new methods of digital marketing are not helping you as such. There are reasons for that. The way professional services are bought, sold, and purchased by clients is completely different and completely unique when compared to product, a B2B service of small scale, or small ticket sizes, or even those mass products that you see out there in the market, which are advertised well.

Advertising doesn’t really work when you’re trying to sell professional services. There are few reasons why professional services, marketing, sales, and purchases are so tricky. Firstly, the methods are different. The mechanisms by which trust this bill is completely unique and the way customers purchase it, the way you acquire clients, is completely unique. Let’s dig into that a little bit.

Professional services are bought at 3 tiers. The 1st year being the relationships you build. Those people know you. They understand what you can offer, the problems you can solve, and that’s why they become your clients. The 2nd tier is referrals where the clients who are happy with you refer you to others, and there’s a transfer of trust that happens, and therefore, they buy from you.

And the 3rd tier is reputation. It takes a long time to build reputation when you’re a professional service provider. And moreover, it takes long time to figure out from the client’s perspective if you are the right fit to solve their problems. Another factor that impacts this is that The clients are not really purchasing a solution. They are trying to hire somebody who can help them figure out the problem itself.

The problem is not well defined in many cases. Symptoms are well defined. For example, a symptom, like I have a lot of attrition in my company. I need to curb that, or My workforce seems to be inefficient, and I’m not able to understand where the issue is, or it seems like I need to create a tool or purchase a tool that’ll help me automate these things for me, or even something as simple as, hey, why are people not using the CRM, which purchased quarter ago, and nobody seems to be happy with it. Selling professional services requires you to navigate a lot of different issues.

One of the ways marketers look at selling things is level of awareness of a client. There are 5 levels, unaware, aware, problem aware, solution aware and most aware, but these file levels fall short when you are looking at selling professional services. The reason an aware customer usually feels the effect of the symptoms. Customer who’s aware of the problem is not usually looking at the problem itself, but rather the impact of the problem. Attrition CRM is not being used.

Legal issues. Clients not being on time. This becomes incredibly important as a service provider that you talk about the symptoms the clients are facing. It’s also important to understand how these services are actually purchased. Customers And clients don’t purchase services, professional services, and isolation of their current situation.

If the client is a big company, They are not going to purchase your services if you are a small brand. If you are a known brand, they prefer to purchase from known reputed brands. Why? Very simple. By hiring a known brand, they are derisking themselves.

They know that a known brand coming in and solving a problem will not put their neck on the line. They have hired somebody who’s known for solving these problems. Therefore, they are safe. In a midsized company, the criterias are slightly different. It’s not about just the brand name or the reputation.

Many of times, they can’t afford it. So affordability is important, but at the same time, we are looking for specialists, and they’re looking for professionals who can solve the problem within a given timeline and give it within a given budget and a specific problem for a specific department or the vertical of the business. The smaller the company the smaller the client’s company, the more likely they are to look at the budget more closely because affordability becomes of prime importance at that stage. Therefore, when you are selling professional services, you need to understand the segment of customers that you’re selling, and it’s very easy to do. All you have to do is measure the reputation in the market, your reputation in the market.

And if clients know who you are or not, if you’re an unknown entity, a small entity, then don’t try to sell to big companies. It will not work out because you’re not derisking them. Your brand is not big enough for somebody to put their neck on the line for you. Client’s side, they also buy when they’re aware of your existence, which is all about reputation brand, etcetera. And they understand very clearly how you can help them and how you are unique.

If you are if you do not have a differentiation from other service providers, then you are less likely to be hired. Clients also need to have enough confidence in your ability to get results. So you need to have a proven track record or at least case studies that they can relate and that matches their requirements. And also, finally, clients buy when they are ready to buy. This can have multiple reasons.

Maybe the person who is actually looking at your company, your brand is not the decision maker. Maybe they don’t have the authority to write that check to you. Maybe they are not the ones who are paying, or maybe the problem, the symptoms that if they are feeling is not impacting their business so adversely that they are willing to hire somebody to solve that problem. The acronym used here is banned, wherein you’re looking at the authority the need and the timing the customer has. It does not work really well when you’re looking at client services or you’re looking at professional services.

Because the buying signals or the intent to buy is not very clear. How will you understand if somebody is facing a problem with the CRM? At Christian rates are still identifiable. There are tools that tell you how many employees joined and how many people left the company. It is very difficult to go to a potential customer and say, hey, you know what?

Noticed that, you know, 30% of your people left in the past 1 year, therefore, you need my services to retain more people. The reason could be that they are going undergoing a restructuring, the markets are not favorable or any of the other hundred reasons that particular attrition has happened. So the intent is not the clear from the outside. That’s where reputation building and relationship building becomes of paramount importance because people talk. When you have those relationships, when you are considered a trusted friend by the client, they talk to you.

They try to understand if you are the right person to solve that problem, they even try to discuss the problems with you. Many at times, as I said earlier, problems are not problems. They are just symptoms. And they want to understand what is causing it. Root cause analysis is probably 50% of your work.

Strategy creation is probably another 30% of your work. Giving it all away free is very difficult. But at some level, you have to add value and you have to add value in a way that the client appreciates it, understands it, and considers you an expert at what you do. If you are unable to cross that chasm, then it’s very difficult for you to get clients Also understand that clients are looking for people who have some kind of differentiation, but that does not mean that you’re a specialist in a niche and you fall advertise what you can achieve for the clients. For example, if you are somebody who provides IT services to mid segment firms, you should say that you build great softwares.

Or that you’re on time or you have various certifications, which showcases that you’re a professional firm and case studies that tell the client that you can solve certain types of problems. But if you position yourself and try to differentiate, based on revenue improvement for a client, you are far off the mark. The reason is very simple. You are trying to differentiate so hard and trying to stand out and be close to the the revenue and the bottom line of the client that the client misjudge what kind of problems you can solve because a problem of revenue, a problem of profitability can arise from multiple different reasons and need not be a problem that arises from lacking a good software. So when you’re trying to differentiate, understand that the client is looking at your service.

Your service is well known in the industry, but they’re looking at somebody who can solve the problem in an efficient manner. Their specific problem in an efficient man. It’s very important to understand that clients are not looking for somebody who can solve the problem. Clients are looking for somebody who can solve their specific problem. And if you’re not positioned there, you’re going to miss the board there.

So how can you get more clients? How can you acquire clients at a steady pace on demand. How can you ensure that you’re not running behind new clients when the older projects are closing? It requires a lot of work. As usual, everything in business that is sustainable and scalable requires a lot of work.

The focus of a professional services firm should be on relationship building and reputation building rather than on advertising. Even if you use the root of advertising, you have to focus on repetition building, the brand building side of things, as they say. But it cannot happen when you’re a very small firm or you are just starting off. There are layers and layers and ladders you have to climb before you reach that stage. 1st stage build relationships.

How can you do that? Very simple. Go attend networking events. Go attend industry events. I know it is still advice, but it still works.

If you can get into conferences, where your potential clients are available, talk to a few of them, strike up a conversation and take it forward. That will help you get those clients. You can also use digital tools to build relationships. Sounds very weird, but we are in a post pandemic era and people are used to communicating digitally. Barriers like borders and geographical presence as well as how big you are.

Don’t matter anymore as long as you can convince the clients that you are the right person for the job. Let me give you an example. If you are somebody who assists small businesses with automation problems, It’s very easy to go open Google Maps and search for those people. And if you are so inclined, you can also use certain tools to scrape those lists and find the right clients for yourself. It helps to create a list, then contact them one at a time and try to build a relationship, try to get in front of them, try to get a meeting.

You’re not trying to sell. All you’re trying to do is understand the problem better and impress upon the clients that this problem is something that you are an expert at solving. How do you show people that you are an expert at solving certain kinds of problems? Case studies. Of course, it makes sense.

You solve 1 problem, 2 problems, 3 problems for 1, 2, 3 clients. Now can you package them as good case studies and put it out there. There are enough social media as well as promotional platforms where you can put these case studies out, but be careful. Whenever we think of case studies, we think of problem, the size of the client, the solution, and the focus is on solution more often than the problems. But remember, there’s a catch Every single social media platform has a lot of people on it, millions.

When you focus on your target customer very, very narrowly, what will happen is type of content, the type of case studies, the type of stories you want to tell will focus only on them. Now when you promote this case study or content on any of these forms. The platform will try to seed this content to multiple different types of personas and multiple different types of target customers. End result is your content will be irrelevant for others who are not within that niche target segment that you made it for. Therefore, your reach will reduce.

The platform will see that not many people are engaging with what you’re putting out there and assume that what you’re putting out there is not relevant. Therefore, when using social platforms, I’ll give you an example of LinkedIn. When using LinkedIn, let’s say, to promote a case study or promote some type of content, ensure 3 things. Number 1, it is targeted towards a broader target segment instead of talking about lift manufacturers and solving their automation problems, it might be better to talk about manufacturing industries and their automation problems. Number 2, Always look at the problem statement.

As I said, symptoms are what the clients feel. Talk about those feelings. Talk about the symptoms, talk about the impact of the symptoms, and then try and do a deep deep dive analysis of the problem the root cause itself. You don’t have to give away the solution when you’re putting content out there on social media, but you do have to relate to the symptom that customer and the client feels. And number 3, which is very, very important, don’t use templates.

Don’t use templates that others are using to promote their products, to promote their low cost services to promote things that are mass market, maybe a SaaS product, which everybody can subscribe to. Your services are delivered 1 on 1. Which means that the templates that are those used may not work for you. You’ll have to figure this out for yourself, for your particular brand and company. The format that which you tell the stories changes based on the target segment as well as the complexity of the services that you’re providing.

As I said earlier, engagement drops when your content is focused on very niche audience. How do you ensure the content is focused on a larger audience? Ensure the problem statements that you pick up, ensure the symptoms that you pick up to talk about are relevant for the larger industry. If that happens, Then your content is relevant to a larger audience. And a platform like LinkedIn will see that there’s more engagement.

Therefore, seed your content to the right target segment and your niche audience which you were anyway trying to target will also relate to it far better than the overall industry does. It’s interesting that when people talk about digital tools, it’s always about the platforms, you know, be it YouTube and Facebook and Instagram, and Twitter, but you should also understand that these are not the only platforms. Any digital tool can be used for marketing purposes, something like WhatsApp, which is very popular in India, can be used to market your services. But again, you’re not marketing, you’re not selling, you’re trying to tell stories, you’re trying to relate to the customer, to the symptoms. If you have a group of people, let’s say 500 people who are part of a WhatsApp group, which you have created, don’t try to pitch every day.

That’s bad form. Instead, try to tell stories instead, try to talk about the symptoms. How are they solving it today? Try to get more market intelligence so that your pitch is sharper. You can differentiate from existing solutions then.

It’s also of utmost importance that you use the tools that your customers use. Many of the times when we are selling professional services, we are trying to sell to multiple people in a company. Maybe the CTO is the one who’s looking at the services. But the CEO is the one who’s going to sign off on it. So you have to also think of multiple different profiles and different roles within a company.

That are going to consume that content that you’re going to put out there. Building relationship with multiple different types of people and roles is very important when you’re trying to sell these type of services. Something like legal services, which is incredibly difficult to sell because in India, you cannot advertise these services. It becomes imperative that you go and build those relationships, but you also have to stand for something very specific and specialize. Again, talk about the symptoms.

Talk about how people are losing money because legal agreements were not in place. Talk about the trouble the client will face when they don’t have an agreement with their vendors for timely delivery and quality of delivery. Talk about other aspects which are government related regulatory are important and how that impacts the business. I can give you yet another example of digital marketing agencies. Now, digital marketing agencies have cropped up are all around us and we see at least 10 of them every day.

And one pet peeve that many clients of these services have is that they are not delivering results. And whenever I have asked clients, why do you think they are not yet delivering results? The client’s expectation and what is being delivered by the agency are in two different directions. It’s very tempting for a digital marketing agency to promise a client that I’m going to get you leads and never discuss what the meaning of a lead is for the client. For some clients, a lead means a sales qualified lead, somebody who’s willing to purchase.

Whereas for other clients, it’s just a list of prospects that their sales team can call up and close. Understand what type of expectations you are getting into. Acquiring clients in terms of for a digital marketing agency is fairly easy. You can use your own tools to get in front of the clients and acquire them. But you also need to understand if the client is ready to consume the service that you are selling.

It’s very easy to sell a service, which is very, very broadly advertised. What is digital marketing at the end of the day? Are you going to do branding? Are you going to develop a website? Are you going to do social media marketing?

Are you going to write content? Are you going to do advertising? Are you going to sell something for me? Until unless there’s clarity on what you do, the client is not willing to purchase. If a client is willing to purchase a broad service like digital marketing, then they are not sure what problem they are trying to solve.

And there’s a conversation I’ve had with a few people in the past couple of weeks. So a couple of potential clients approached me because of my history with digital marketing. And one of them said, I want to do digital marketing and SEO. And that was hilarious because of course, digital marketing and SEO, I mean, SEO is a subset of digital marketing as I understand it. So I asked them, why do you want to spend the money on digital marketing?

Answer was, we want to promote our products. But again, what does that mean? What does promotion mean? Do you want to place the product in multiple marketplaces? No.

The client wanted to promote the product and the promote term was not very well defined. After about a 20 minute conversation, what I understood was the expectation is not promotion of the product, but rather generating leads for from people who want to buy the product. And it is a tricky situation. Because although they want to invest money into digital marketing, what they want is sales. It’s not a marketing problem they are trying to solve.

It’s a sales problem that time to start. And I asked them, why do you want to do SEO? Because, apparently, they had heard from somewhere that SEO really works well in marketing your products and you get free leads the expectation again was leads at the lowest cost possible. It was nothing to do with marketing. This type of a client is probably the most dangerous type of client that you can take on.

Why? Because they have partial understanding of their problem. And they are adamant that their understanding is the correct one, wherein changing their mind becomes half the task And if you want to put in that much effort and time, it change their mind, bring them around to your point of view, to your perspective, And then sells them something is going to be a long haul effort. And these clients are not going to pay you because they have already made up by their mind what your services are worth well. All the best if you want to attack that market.

Another prospect who came to me had an interesting issue They are targeting very, very high end brands, and they had a list of brands they want to go after. In fact, you can say some of the brands were part of Fortune Five I asked a very simple question. How many such brands have we acquired in the past? None. When I asked more questions, brought in their sales team and understood what the issue is.

It turns out that the sales team kind of put together a list of ideal clients, dream clients that they want to acquire and send it out to this person who was looking for marketing agencies. It was not a realistic list. It was not a realistic expectation either. What the sales team had done is because they were being pushed by somebody to create a list. They put it together a list that is impossible to that they could not achieve at all, and they wanted somebody else to help them out do that.

There was a mismatch in the expectations clearly between the management team and the sales team. When I sat down with the CEO and the head of sales, it was very clear that the head of sales did not believe that marketing and digital marketing can them any type of results or superior results to what the team is already doing. The conversation had to shift from getting sales results to one of reducing cost of leads and ensuring that there is steady pipeline being built so that the sales team can actually do what they do best. This conversation took almost a week And after a week, the CEO said, probably we are not ready for the services at present. We have to align ourselves internally understand the main problems that we are trying to solve with this and then come back to a marketing agency.

It was perfect. Because a misunderstanding of a problem, a symptom is going to lead them on the wrong road. Many a times in my practice, as a growth marketer as a growth hacker for companies. What I’ve seen is the problem statement that they define to a agency is completely wrong. Because their expectations around sales, not around marketing.

This happens in other industries too. For example, intellectual property rights, Many companies work in deep tech area. Technology is important, and they feel that they have invented something new. They want to protect it. The expectation usually is that the intellectual property company is going to, you know, wave a magic wand and suddenly there’s a patent that’s going to appear.

Educating the client in that industry is very, very important. And the time taken to educate the client to bring them on at the same page and then starting the process of applying for a patent takes a long time. It’s impossible for a small agency to sustain that type of investment in time and resources and educate the clients. It becomes better if the small agencies IPR agencies are targeting and retargeting customers who have already done patents in the past because those people might be looking for specialized services or for more affordable services. Targeting the market is a skill and a not.

Understanding who the customer is, what the problem statement is, and where they are in understanding the kind of symptoms that they are seeing. Is fairly important when you’re trying to acquire more clients for your professional services. What about relationship building? It sounds very strange that you have to keep building relationship how do you do that? Do you go on the holidays that your clients will go?

Do you go to every conference that your potential clients are at? Do you keep attending networking meetings? Not necessary. In a professional sense, a relationship is about you understanding the client well enough to understand their problems, and the client appreciating your expertise and your knowledge and your track record in solving those problems. Communicating this is your burden.

How you do this? Well, there are hundreds of channels to do this. You can become an expert. You can start a podcast like I did, or you could be on YouTube. You could be a speaker in conferences.

An easier method that I have noticed really works well is be an author, a writer for industry magazines, where you’re talking about your services case studies, the problems you solve again and again over and over again, the right people will pick up these magazines and read. And if they recollect, what you have written, they will give you a call at some point because when they are ready to buy, you are top of the mind. When it comes to selling professional services, There are other factors too, the culture, the history, how professional services are perceived, the client’s experience with the professional services, The regulatory environment in which you operate, the laws under which you are offering these professional services, the competition in the market, how much the competition has already done to educate the clients. These are some things we will talk about in later episodes. But to conclude today, professional services are not bought the same way other commodities, products, or even low end services are bought.

Your focus should be on relationships, referrals, and building a reputation within your target market and you should use digital tools for building reputation as well as for nurturing the relationships that you already have. Thank you, and I will see you in the next episode.

Anoop Kurup avatar