7 mistakes made while selling professional services to clients

I’m lucky to work with a diverse range of industries, companies and people and sometimes I notice similarities that thread through these companies. One thread is when companies sell business-to-business professional services like engineering, audit and taxation, advertising creative, event management and consulting.

They often rely on a pitch from the business development team with a technical expert. These high stakes presentations have hundreds of thousands or millions of euros on the line. Here are some frequent highly correctable issues that companies face selling their professional services:

1. Business development and technical team mates don’t work together to “present an unified front ” to the client.This leads to the client seeing cracks on the surface of your pitch and leads them to wonder whether the actual service delivery will be equally disjointed.

2. They present with the assumption that clients understand and interpret data the same way as they do.This leads to information delivered but not digested. It means that you have not taken the client’s perspective enough to see the world from their point of view. It means that your message is not understood in the way you intended. Ultimately, you lose all rapport with the client.

3. They don’t predict and prepare for tough questions in key face to face meetings. This leads to moments in the meeting when there is uncomfortable silence, shifty gazes between team mates and shuffling of papers. This is usually accompanied by clearing of throats and a keen interest in looking down at the table. Clients don’t expect you to know everything but they do expect a robustly detailed preparation around their main issues. You can make or break your credibility on how you handle questions in a high stakes meeting.

4. They haven’t spent the time to create an umbrella message This leads to a download of data, PowerPoint slides, a lot of talking about your history, products, clients and services but without any clear idea bringing it all together under one umbrella. The umbrella message is a short concise one line message that sums up the pitch of your competitive advantage for this specific client. It’s not your company slogan but a tailored message for this client. All your presentation content can tie back to it and it leaves a clear idea in the client’s mind about why they should hire you.

5. Business development team mates don’t lead the meeting like a  “conductor leading an orchestra”. This leads to situations where the client talks directly to your technical expert and puts the expert on the spot. From the client’s perspective this is understandable. While the business development guy has the charm, the technical guy has the know how. From your perspective, you need to filter and protect your technical experts who may not be as fast on their feet as their business development colleagues. The BD needs to take the first bullet, interpret the question, set it up from his colleague and summarise afterwards so that the client gets their answer and the technical experts get their time to think.

6. Technical experts lack the presence to hold their own in meetings and conference calls. This leads to your credibility taking a pounding and hinders your overall pitch. It drags the overall positive impact you wish to make on your potential client. You need to know which one of your technical experts is competent in front of clients and who is not. Then you must make a decision whether to develop them up to an acceptable standard or have them focus on project delivery. It’s an important choice to make as clients always want to meet the people doing the work as early as possible in the relationship. The impressions your technical experts leave with the client will the impression they have of your services.

7. They miss opportunities to drive home their unique selling points that separate them from their competitors. This leads to an instantly forgettable pitch. While it’s important you know how you compete against your competitors, it’s equally important that the client has a view in their minds of why they should choose you. Why you are perfect for this project. Make sure your presentation has one umbrella message and two to three very strong and compelling selling points that position your offering favourably against your typical competitors.

These 7 mistakes give you a flavour of the typical mistakes made when pitching for professional services contracts. The good news is that they are fixable. We work around China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Korea to help companies polish their business development teams. To learn more please contact us for more information here. Or reply to this email. We wish you a prosperous 2013!

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