Professional Services Selling – More than Networking

Professional Services Selling

It’s incredible how troubled the professions can be about the word selling. Often it is used interchangeably with ‘business development’ or even the wider discipline of marketing. It’s not exactly a dirty word, but the professions do shy away from it. This needs to be challenged given it is a central skill set which is essential to the development of any organisation, including high value professional services such as law, accountancy, consultancy services etc.

Having worked with many professional services firms of varying sizes, few address it as a specific skill set. Despite this, it is seen as a requirement for progression within the organisation and it is not unusual for there to be objectives set for new business acquisition.  There is a passive acceptance that some people have better interpersonal skills than others and that these people are natural new business winners. Good interpersonal skills are a head start but there is more to successful selling than being able to hold a conversation.

Anyone who has attended a networking event will see the legions of younger members of staff being dragged along to learn from the established networkers within a firm. This can often mean smiling on the edge of conversations between senior members of their firm and the networking community, with only the most minimal of introduction or involvement.

Other firms may have put their junior team members through one of the more aggressive networking skills training courses. Here we see revved up individuals ‘working’ a room, thrusting business cards at strangers, or sharing QR codes, whilst bombarding fellow guests with a series of open-ended questions. This is often followed by a clunky attempt to ‘close’ with a visit or the offer of a free audit or review.

There are also the never-ending rounds of breakfast meetings where junior members of the team are pushed out to ‘cut their teeth’ at an event populated by non-core targets and/or a minimal number of useful referrers.

All selling should start with an understanding of exactly what the target market is. I have worked with some businesses that have a realistic national target list in the low hundreds, yet their sales activity is broad, based on mass marketing techniques and as a result incredibly ineffective. Others have a broader target range, perhaps organisations with annual sales of £2m+. However, the appreciation of just how few businesses fit this criterion is missing. The vast majority of businesses in the UK have a turnover of under £1m. Statista suggests there are about 2.4 million enterprises in the UK with a turnover under £1m. Whilst there are only about 155,000 with a turnover over £2m.*

If a firm has a geographic component to its reach, then its realistic target base could well be in the low thousands.  An appreciation of the market size and the decision makers and influencers should then help determine sales activity and the supporting marketing activity of the firm.  General marketing and networking can be avoided in favour of focused activity squarely aimed at a well-defined target list and worthwhile referrers.

Sales is a process. The starting point is awareness. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, each of which require a degree of skill and understanding. Thereafter, it is a case of funneling awareness through to an end point of engagement or conversion. That is not the end of the process and organisations need to look at ways in which sales can be increased with a client through cross selling or scope extension.

Understanding this process can dramatically enhance the prospects of an organisation. There are skill sets to be acquired, activities need to be focused and campaigns need to run hand in hand with marketing activity.

Depending upon the organisation and the services / products it sells, the sales process could be long. In some sectors even the most effective sales activity could take years to bear fruit given supplier engagement can be complex and linked to personal relationships. Having a well-established referral network can help enhance and speed up this process.

Investing in specific sales training, along with a regular review of targeting and supporting marketing activity, is advisable.

It is quite easy for an organisation to become ineffective in its sales and marketing activity, with activity becoming skewed and poorly focused.

If you would like help with professional services sales training or a review of targeting and supporting marketing activity, please contact Conical via


By Steve Bedford | Conical Director


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