Putting the “Pro” Back in Professional Service

There is a unique quality to consider when determining a successful professional service provider. That quality is you and your ability to create value.

The main reason for this is intangible service. If buyers can touch, feel or see what they’re buying, many purchasing concerns disappear. However in professional services you don’t have this advantage. When clients don’t have a tangible product, they often put credence on criteria such as chemistry and the credibility of the consultant.

You are important

When a client invests in a professional service, be it legal, accounting, financial or consulting, they consider the credibility and likeability of the person providing the service. Will the consultant bring the expertise required? Will she culturally fit with the designated client staff? What if we move forward with this firm and we don’t like them after the project begins? These concerns enter a clients mind when moving forward with a professional service purchase.

Unlike a product sale where a buyer can purchase a product because of its superiority – regardless of the seller – clients of professional services are looking for a partnership or a relationship. This means as a client, I’m going to have to interact with you as my provider. If I don’t respect your expertise – even worse, I don’t trust you – the results are not likely to be win/win and it is likely I will feel dissatisfied with the outcomes of the engagement. Therefore trust and the relationship are seminal to the sale.

The feedback

While working with one of the Big Four firms, we (Huthwaite) were asked to ascertain how buyers of professional services define ‘trust’, and what they look for in sellers of professional services. When all the responses were analysed, we found clients were consistently looking for three qualities:

  • Concern: defined as a focus on client’s needs not oneself, nor ones products and services;
  • Candor: defined as being honest, not pretending to know, not exaggerating; and
  • Competence: defined as knowing what problems one’s offering solve and how those offerings meet the needs of the client.

In that study, ‘ concern’ was cited as the most lacking in the professional services*.

In summary, a professional service is intangible. Therefore, as a service provider, you are the key factor in value creation, and the trust and relationship you build will be the key contribution to your continued success.

Avoiding the Traps in Selling Professional Services, Neil Rackham

John Dougan is a Client Director for Sales and Marketing at Huthwaite, the World’s largest sales and marketing improvement organisation. He has spent the last 8 years consulting on business process, sales and marketing training and business development improvement in the professional services industry.

He is a global contributor to several business blogs and is regarded as a thought leader on many aspects of selling consultancy, most notably his work and research into social selling.

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