On the surface, it may seem that it would be easy to sell something you know and are passionate about. However, just because you are an expert in your industry and an excellent consultant doesn't necessarily mean you've developed the skills and techniques to excel at the sales aspect of running a consultancy. We all know someone who's a natural born salesperson, but just because sales comes naturally to some people doesn't mean you either have the ability or you don't. There are things you can do to help yourself become a better salesperson and close more deals. Whether you need to work on the basics or master the advanced subtleties, below are four key areas of the sales process that should be ongoing goals for improvement.
As an independent consultant, it might seem like a given that you're already familiar with the products or services you offer. After all, you created your consultancy, chose the services to offer, and likely perform them on a regular basis. However, being able to rattle off a complete list of your services and implement them satisfactorily is not the same as having the ability to comfortably communicate them to a client. Knowing your services inside and out—and how they can be applied to various situations—can help build confidence in a sales meeting or presentation. You will be better prepared to communicate the value of what you offer, overcome any objections, and discuss your abilities and area of expertise with confidence.
Whether you're simply ready for more work, enthusiastic about an exciting potential project, or a new consultant anxious to grow your fledgling consultancy with your first clients, it can be tempting to want to speed through the client acquisition process and get straight to work on projects. However, giving into this impatience can backfire and make you a less effective salesperson.
Learning to be patient through the sales process is a trait of an effective salesperson. Of course, that's not to say that you shouldn't continue to be (or learn to be) persistent; the key is to recognize and understand that sales is a process , progressing from introduction through closing, that can't be rushed more quickly than the client is comfortable with. Additionally, the ideal pace may vary from one client to another; if you lose patience and push too aggressively, you could easily blow the deal. Keep in touch with the client and follow up as appropriate, but use a patient approach to give the client time to gain trust and confidence in you.
A frequent mistake made in sales, particularly for those with limited experience or introverted consultants who battle public speaking anxiety, is to turn the process into a one-sided presentation rather than two-way conversations. The common misconception is to think of sales meetings and presentations as advertisements: the salesperson speaks while the listener silently receives the message. In reality, approaching the sales process with these concrete, defined roles is likely to annoy and turn off the potential client.
Instead of an advertisement, the sales process is more similar to a series of interviews. While you will want to highlight your benefits, value, and expertise, the prospective client will also need ample opportunities to ask questions that will let them know if you're the right fit for their needs. Additionally, asking questions of your own and listening to what the client says can help you understand their needs and goals so you can formulate a strategy to address them.
For many consultants, the process of improving their listening skills is an ongoing and progressive one. Even experienced consultants may seek to continue to develop in this area, learning to ask more probing questions, anticipate responses, and use comments and feedback more effectively.
In sales, it's not just what you say to a prospective client—it's also how you say it. Even a pitch or dialog that looks perfect on paper can be impacted, for better or worse, by non-verbal elements or influences. The three major types of non-verbal communication that consultants should be cognizant of when selling are:
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News and notes for independent contractors and their clients. This is the January 16, 2017 edition of The Weekly Independent from MBO Partners.