Notes from David Maister, Managing the Professional Services Firm, Free Press Paperbacks, 1991, 1993. Maister is a mgmt consultant, of course. The book is now getting a bit old but remains solid and recommended. Its major leitmotiv is that a services firm's critical activity is managing its key assets:
- its inventory of skills, talents, knowledge and ability
- the strength of its client relations and reputation [p359]
* * *
Ch 10: How clients choose
the PSF's experience:
- marketing (generating the lead) and then
- selling (converting the lead into a sale).
The buyer's perspective of this is:
- qualification (buyer considers facts like: who have you worked for? what are your capabilities? what depth of personnel? what references?). Usually results in a small num of PSFs being selected. Unless the PSF has truly unique skills, they're never hired because of their capabilities. Therefore:
- selection (Do I want to work with you?)
What it feels like to be a buyer? Not good: I'm feeling insecure (are you any good?), threatened (uncomfortable put my business in others' hands), personal risk (I'm loing direct control), impatient, worried (are you on my side?), exposed (I have to reveal proprietaery secrets - some of which aren't flattering!), ignorant (simple or complex problem?), skeptical (should I buy your promise or someone else's?), concerned (will you sell me what I need?), suspicious (will you deal with me in the way I want to be dealt with?)...
What a buyer looks for:
Talk [from PSFs] is cheap, so buyers look for clues in your behaviour.
Catch attention with your preparation. Research. [Commitment/effort:] Show me you're willing to earn my business. Show me something printed for me, not your brochure.
I don't want to hear about you and your firm, I want to talk about me and my situation. The only way to influence me is to find out what I want, and show me how to get it. I hate to be sold, but I might buy if you show me my co has problems to solve or opportunities to capture.
Getting me to acknowledge there's an opportunity/prob isn't easy because I'm suspicious of your motives. So first make me comfortable. Ask me what is going well. And give me some new information, gratis. Find a way to be helpful to me. If I'm your prospect, treat me as if I were already a client. Give me an education. Make me think "that was interesting" and I'll certainly want to meet you again.
I'll discount all your assertions of expertise until your offer evidence. So don't tell me about your experience in my industry, illustrate it by asking good questions.
Turn your assertions into question to avoid appearing arrogant. You'll also indicate by doing this that you'll respect my opinions and involve me in the thinking. Your manner of speech tells me something about how you deal with clients. Make our meeting a conversation [don't preach.] Don't talk all the time, but don't grill me.
The key talent at selling is to be good at getting me - the client - reveal my problems, needs, wants, concerns. If I'm talking about my co and needs, you're ahead. If you're talking, you're losing [and I'm probably not listening after a while].
Don't ask me: "What's not going well?" [insensitive, confrontational]. I might answer to: "What don't you have time for at the moment?"
Get me to agree there's a prob worth solving before you launch into how you'd solve it. "How valuable would it be if...?"
Remember, I don't like working with PSFs. I'll only do so if I have to: if the benefit is both big enough and certain enough to justify the pain of using your PSF.
Offer me options, help me understand their diffs, and then let me choose. By educating me as to the various alternate ways, I get value. By letting me choose, I know you'll involve and respect me if we work together.
If you tell me about "your firm's approach", it strikes me as standardised.
I may ask you to submit a proposal, but as the decision is a matter of who I trust, remember that the sale is made in our face-to-face time. Most proposals merely confirm (or destroy) a decision already made. If you can't afford to spend time in contact up front, don't bother with the proposal.
Here's how to make a presentation to me: sit down with me and lets go through your material together - don't lecture me. I want to see your answer to my question, not your std spiel. How flustered do you get if I ask a hard question? Rehearse your responses to my questions, not your practised presentation. I know you're listeing to me when I see you're prepared to depart from your script and base your subsequent comments on what I've just said. If you don't have that talent then should I believe in your claimed abilities?
Acknowledge my objections or concerns as valid.
Empathy [leads to trust]
[Make me talk, be a good listener, illustrate that you understand]
. . .
Soon: Maister's Ch 11: Attracting new clients, and various from elsewhere in the book.