Seven Steps in Selling…

The lead generation worked… the phone rings… now what?

Let the sales process begin… This is where the rubber meets the road — or where the consultant finally meets the client. Many people see sales as mysterious at best, and manipulative at worst. Neither are true for selling consulting services.

Consulting is a helping profession…

You’re not peddling products, or trying to meet a quota. You’re not manipulating, or being sleazy. Rather, you are simply trying to help your clients.

Like a doctor, you are solving problems. Or like an architect, you are turning dreams into reality. Either way, your helping improve your client’s life!

Looking at it this way makes it worthwhile, right?

Sales is a process…

If you’ve never been in sales, it may seem mysterious – even scary at times. But you can learn to sell– just as you can learn to paint, play a musical instrument, or write software.

Once you understand the process and the underlying principles, it all starts to make sense. It’s simply not a big deal. So don’t let the fear of learning a new skill stop you. And once learned, you may even start to enjoy the process. I certainly do.

But I’m an introvert, you say – not some back slapping extrovert. So what? Most consultants and professionals are at least somewhat introverted. After all, we live in a world of dreaming, pondering, diagnosing, creating, and reflecting. We’re thinkers!

As an aside, some of the most successful sales people I’ve known are introverted – some even highly introverted. They are also highly professional, with a passion for helping their customers. Just like good consultants.

Selling consulting is different…

–First, you’re not selling a tangible product — you’re selling an intangible service. As such, you typically need to develop a higher degree of trust with potential clients.

Your goal is not to sell another car this month and move on — rather, your goal is to be a trusted adviser, and hopefully for the long haul.

–Second, you need to deliver what your client bought. Remember — nobody likes to be sold — but we all like to buy — so make it pleasant!

And unlike product sales, the sales process does not stop when you get the order. You still need to deliver, and your long term business success depends on how well you execute this part of the process.

My seven steps in selling…

Hundreds of books have been written about selling, and most include a simple multi-step process. I’ve read dozens myself, plus I’ve been subjected to numerous sales training classes as a former sales engineer.

Some books and classes were better than others, but all helped form my ideas.

One drawback of many of these books and classes is their focus on products. (An exception is Rainmaking Conversations, reviewed here.) Most have four or five steps, and most assume the sales process is over once the order is received.

So I decided to expand things. I’ve used the popular AIDA model (Attention- Interest – Desire – Action) and added three additional steps – Delivery, Follow-up, & Referrals.

(1) Attention (Establish Rapport) This is the initial contact phase, and the time to build rapport. It is also the time to address any client concerns or fears. These are particularly important if the client has not or does not use consultants on a regular basis.

I usually begin by asking about the problem, followed by asking how they heard about us. The latter gives me some insight into the trust level.

If it is a referral, the trust is already high. If they’ve found us on a web search, it may be lower, so some reassurance may be needed.

(2) Interest (Qualify)The next step is to determine if you can help, and can they buy. In the former, don’t be afraid to turn business away if you don’t feel comfortable with it.

If the fit looks good, ask about schedule. If asked, you can also provide a budgetary estimate (go on the high side), subject to change pending more details.

(3) Desire (Diagnose & Prescribe) – At this stage, you may be able to offer preliminary diagnosis and recommendations. If not, ask more questions.

For example, I may say, “Based on what we’ve discussed, I suspect XXX, which we’ve seen before. We can handle this several ways… ”

(4) Action (Quote/propose) – The next step is to ask for the order! This is where many consultants fall down, due to fear of rejection. This is also known in the sales world as closing.

For simple projects, I usually just ask if they would like a quote or proposal. If they agree, I quickly review the tasks and schedule for consensus, and then provide a one-two page quote. Often, a purchase order will be issued based on the quote.

For more complex projects, we may decide on an additional meeting for further explorations. This may also mean detailed contracts, which we’ll discuss later.

(5) – DeliverTime to provide what you promised. If working on-site, show up as scheduled and suitably attired. The latter depends on your client, but business casual is usually safe. If unsure, ask ahead of time. Be professional!

Check with client as you progress – don’t wait until the end of the project to find out you were going down the wrong path. Keep the appropriate management in the loop.

An important part of delivery is getting paid. For simple projects, we accept purchase orders, For more complex projects, we may request progress payments or retainers.

(6 )- Follow up – Assuming a successful consultation, ask if there are other things you might help with.  Specific projects? General training? Don’t assume the client is aware of your other services.

As any experienced sales person will tell you, subsequent sales are always easier than the first.  Assuming you’ve done a good job, you’re now a preferred vendor/adviser.

As a minimum, get permission to add you client to your mail list for periodic follow-up. Newsletters work great for keeping in touch.

(7) – Referrals
– Ask for permission to share their name with future prospects. To protect confidentiality, we do not list clients on our brochure, but we do list past projects. If a personal reference is needed, we still call to confirm as a courtesy. (Our business can be sensitive.) Never been turned down.

Depending on your business, written testimonials are great marketing tools — particularly on your web site. And don’t hesitate to ask if there are others who might benefit from your expertise.

So now you have Uncle Daryl’s Seven Steps in Selling. We’ll examine each of these in more depth in future blog posts.

Please comment or write if you have specific questions! Happy selling…

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