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Saturday, July 25, 2009

SALES & MARKETING: Top 10 Challenges Professional Service Providers Must Overcome To Generate New Clients and Revenues

Sales & Marketing with Bill Doerr

15 Second Executive Speed-Read:
I recently surveyed a number of people, via LinkedIn, on this topic. Their responses were varied but clustered around 10 categorical challenges the respondents felt would compromise the goal of generating new clients and (more) revenues. This article identifies these 10 challenges as well as the underlying causes behind them and specific corrective actions you can take so these challenges won't be affecting you.

The following challenges resulted from a LinkedIn survey I conducted in July 2009. While I was pleasantly surprised at the number of responses received, I was more intrigued by the fact that there appeared to be a recurring theme around certain responses.

For the purpose of writing this article, I have 'clustered' the responses received into ten (10) categories of challenges that providers in various fields and professions feel are likely to compromise the growth of new clients and revenues for professionals and other business services providers.

In no particular order, the challenges seem to cluster into these categorical responses:

  1. Not seeing enough of the right kind of person
  2. Dealing with 'high maintenance' prospects and clients
  3. Prospects (and, some clients!) who are asking us for 'lower fees'
  4. Losing bids to other firms (who are arguably less qualified, too!)
  5. Finding it distasteful to have to 'sell' and/or 'market' our services
  6. No sense that everyone is responsible for marketing in the firm
  7. Not having time to devote to marketing my services
  8. Not leveraging our relationships with existing clients to find new ones
  9. Not developing long-term relationships for the referrals and revenues they offer
  10. Not getting people to buy or refer us when there's no apparent reason not to do so
Can you relate? To how many? Would you agree they are valid 'challenges' to growing a clientele and revenues for your business or practice?

The AHA!
After looking at these challenges for awhile, I began to see them not as the challenges that need to be overcome but as the symptoms of what the real challenges might be. After identifying the 'probable cause/s' of the symptoms, the cure/s came into view.

Symptoms / Causes/ Cures
Here then, are the Symptoms / Causes / Cures for these 'top 10 challenges' that are limiting the growth of clients and revenues in a variety of professional practices and firms that are business services providers.

Challenge 1
"Not seeing enough people"

Probable Cause/s:
  • insufficient level of marketing-related activities
Corrective Strategy:
Be sure you're engaging in appropriate activities at an adequate level for the client acquisition and revenue-generation goals you have. Seems obvious and may correct any deficiency right there. As one respondent said, "Get of your office and go see some people!". Sage advice.

Challenge 2
Dealing with 'high maintenance' prospects and clients

Probable Cause/s:
  • not clear about who is 'right' for the business or practice (i.e. who is 'qualified' to work you?)
  • not using that profile at the 'moment of truth' with a prospective client or referral source
Corrective Strategy:
Define your 'ideal client' and don't compromise your own standards. A number of people lamented that their willingness to take 'anyone with an open checkbook' often led to a client engagement that, in the end, proved frustrating for all parties. Just don't do it! Identify specific 'knockout' factors and, if present, avoid engaging with those people.

Challenge 3
Prospects (and, some clients!) are asking us for 'lower fees' or 'better pricing'

Probable Cause/s:
  • not focusing on the value you provide vs. the fee you are charging
Corrective Strategy:
Charge a 'fixed' fee for your services rather than billing by the hour. Why? Understand that an hourly rate is something you need to know to be sure your pricing is profitable for your business or practice. It is NOT something your clients need to know. In fact, most don't like hourly billing (survey your clients and you'll confirm that one!).

What they do need to know is the answer to this question: "What's it going to cost me . . . if I use you or, if I don't?" Once framed that way, any 'price' you'll ask for will be positioned around the VALUE you represent, not the time you have to invest in a project that will provide the client what they want. In my own experience, 'package' pricing invariably causes more services to be sold and better margins to be maintained than providers who bill 'by the hour'.

Challenge 4
Losing bids to other firms (who are arguably less qualified, too!)

Probable Cause/s:
  • No system for helping clients to make a decision is present
  • Not skilled at using a system for helping clients to make a decision
  • Not seen as a preferred provider of your services
Corrective Strategy:
The first two causes will be addressed by a systematic approach to helping someone make a decision . . . in short, 'selling'. Seen as an essential aspect of your professional advocacy role, it's an incumbent responsibility of every professional to help clients make decisions about their services - including the decision NOT to use them. But it must be a deliberate decision, not a decision by default because it wasn't made deliberately.

If prospects fail to perceive you as a preferred provider you are not differentiating yourself to your marketplace. To differentiate yourself, you must be both beneficial and unique. Being yourself is about as unique as it gets. So you need to learn how to demonstrate the beneficial 'edge' you offer that will cause you to stand out to your prospective clients.

For service providers the 'secret' is to learn how to manage the experience your prospects have with you during the courtship phase of your relationship so they will feel, all things being equal, that you and your firm are definitely the preferred providers of your problem-solving expertise.

Challenge 5
Finding it distasteful to have to 'sell' and/or 'market' our services

Probable Cause/s:
  • An attitude of advocacy . . . as a fiduciary of your client's interests is missing
Corrective Strategy:
Reframe 'selling' as a 'moral responsibility' that your professionalism demands. Selling is simply 'client-centered advocacy'. Think of a physician who 'advocates' a course of therapy for a patient not because they want a fee as much as they want their patient to be healthy. So too, you must see that such client-centered advocacy is a high calling and not something much lower . . . in your humble opinion. More than one respondent offered the admonition to "just get over yourself". I hope this perspective will help you do just that.

Challenge 6
No sense that EVERYONE is responsible for marketing in the firm

Probable Cause/s:
  • leadership has not communicated that marketing IS everyone's responsibility
  • There is no consequence for not bringing in clients (or, doing things that would!)
Corrective Strategy:
If you / your firm hasn't made this expectation public . . . do so! Rewrite everyone's position description (yes, even the receptionists') to include behaviors that support 'marketing'. Unless and until marketing behavior is expected and inspected, it's likely not to happen. Better yet, post this expectation in locations where you will be re-minded of it frequently.

Challenge 7
Not having time to devote to marketing my services

Probable Cause/s:
  • No need to market (see Challenge #6)
  • No plan - so no marketing activities have been identified to do in the first place
  • No skills - you know what to do and why but you still don't allocate time for it
Corrective Strategy:
Create and use a 'Marketing Activity Plan' to ensure you're allocating your time to what some call the 'mission critical' activities so the 'mission' of your planning will be accomplished. And brushing up on your time management skills might be a good idea, too!

Challenge 8
Not leveraging our relationships with existing clients to find new ones

Probable Cause/s:
  • Not asking for help from existing clients
  • Asking but ineffectively
Corrective Strategy:
Learn to use an effective referral system with existing clients and centers-of-influence. Two possibilities to consider might be: "Referral Flood" by Duct Tape Marketing or The Preferral Prospecting System®

Challenge 9
Not developing long-term relationships for the referrals and revenues they offer

Probable Cause/s:
  • No system for following-up
  • No system for keeping-in-touch
  • Not using such systems even if present
Corrective Strategy:
Get - and use - a system for
  1. following-up, and
  2. keeping-in-touch
in a manner that is as professional as you are.

While no one will argue these two functions aren't important, many cite they either don't know how or feel they'll come off a 'less than professional'. The key is not to ignore the need to do these things but to find a way to do so that won't be offensive - to you or your marketplace.

Challenge 10
Focusing on client acquisition activities at the expense of client retention activities

Probable Cause/s:
  • myopic mindset . . . "Need MORE Revenues? Get NEW Clients!"
  • inability to appreciate that not all revenues are equally profitable to your firm
Corrective Strategy:
Consider that the cost of acquiring a project from a new client is much more costly (cost of sales) than generating a project from an existing client. In his book, "The Loyalty Effect" Theodore Reicheld explains that many firms don't see a profit until an account has been with them for some time. Implication: "equal revenues with high turnover is less profitable than equal revenues with lower turnover". Point: Keep-in-touch and stay-in-mind with your existing clients so whenever a need arises . . . you'll be there and . . . seen as the preferred provider that you are.

Doing more than expected . . . without being asked - (so here's my little 'extra' for you!)

Challenge 11
Not getting people to buy or refer us when there's no apparent reason not to do so

Probable Cause/s:
  • Trust (or, a significant lack of it!)
Corrective Strategy:
For any professional or business service provider, trust is an essential element to the formation and maintenance of a productive client relationship. If trust is an issue, getting and keeping clients will be highly problematic if not impossible.

This is an important topic and one that space doesn't permit me to address fully. In general, remember that 'trust' is a conclusion about you that people make after they experience you. That means that what you DO is more significant than what you say. Behave like someone who is worthy of trust and you will be . . . trusted.

And here's the best advice I can give you on this one . . . buy a copy of Jeffrey Gitomer's book: "Trust . . . How To Earn It, Grow it and Keep It to Become a TRUSTED ADVISOR in Sales, Business & Life". It's a painless read that is priceless at helping you create and maintain trust with your prospects, clients and centers-of-influence.


Bill Doerr is CCO of SellMore Marketing. He helps professionals and other service providers to market their problem-solving expertise simply, effectively and affordably. You can reach him at, by email at or by phone at 860-798-6964.

For more please see Bill's TNNW Bio.

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Unknown said...

Bill always has the answers and he delivers so much to anyone lucky enough to be in his network. Great article, you can't argue with trust and verify.

Deb Prior said...

GREAT article! I was taking lots of notes on this one. This was insightful, actionable advice, Bill. Can't wait for your workshops to be in my area!

Anonymous said...

Since leaving New York years ago, I have not been very action oriented. This article makes me think about jumping back in.

Bill Doerr said...

Gail . . . it's never too late to jump back in . . . you never left the field, you were just resting!

Thank you for the comment.


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