“Just do great work.”
That’s the common wisdom of how to build a successful expert or service-based business. But it’s definitely not that simple.
And whoever came up with that idea left out a big caveat: you also have to have the sales skills to sell your services.
If you can’t sell your services, you won’t be able to “do great work” in the first place, and clients who need your help won’t get it.
In this article, I’ll walk you through the 7 reasons why you need sales skills are so critical to selling your expertise.
Your expertise is invisible.
First things first: no matter how great you are at what you do, no one can see it. No one coming to your website or being referred to you knows what you’re capable of. You have to show them.
There are several ways to do that. You can create a mountain of content and put it out into the world for all to consume, as I do here on this website. You can write books, go around on a speaking tour live or via podcasts, or even host your own podcast.
But even with all of that – and I’m speaking from experience here – some of your best prospects will still be slightly skeptical of who you are and what you can do for them.
I know – it shouldn’t be the case, because you’re great at what you do, and you’ve delivered your results to plenty of clients in the past. But your prospects can’t see it, and they don’t know what you do.
The first chance you have to demonstrate your expertise is in the sales process, and you only have one shot at getting it right.
Your sales process is an early extension of your service.
You’ll never hear me advocate doing work for free. Sure – you can market or sell “for free,” but only if there are results attached to it.
And the whole design of your sales process is to get results. Namely, helping qualified buyers make informed decisions about whether they should hire you.
As I said in the previous section, your expertise is wholly or partially invisible to them, so it helps to deliver a taste of what it’s like to work with you. Your sales process can provide that function with a little thought and planning.
For example, asking great questions during your discovery call can lead your client to insights about themselves, and demonstrate your understanding of their problems. Likewise, a fine-tuned sales process itself demonstrates your ability to deliver great work through planning, automation, and thoughtful interactions. These things are easy wins for any business owner, and a simple sales process can get you there.
Your sales process reduces the risk of working with you.
Like it or not, the truth is that your engagements and client results aren’t uniform. Some clients will be more successful than others, period. Over time, you deliver enough engagements to find patterns in the most successful clients, and you probably adjust your marketing accordingly (or at least you should!).
Even then, success is relative and occurs on a spectrum. You know this, and your buyers know it even more acutely than you do.
Some of that risk is money, some of it is time, some of it is reputation, and all of it is opportunity cost. They have to give up something to work with you. Of course they’ll get something in return too – but what they’re giving up is more clear than what they’ll get.
Your sales process should meet the challenge head on with systematic steps to reduce risk for your buyers. By including elements of risk reduction like creating a small initial engagement, offering a money-back guarantee, and always offering up testimonials and case studies, you give prospective clients helpful information that will guide them to a better decision.
You can’t build a real business without repeatable sales.
Okay, this one is a little click-baity, I’ll admit. Truth is you can build a nice business without a repeatable sales process, but you’ll be working really long hours, it’ll be nearly impossible to hand off the sales function to someone else, and your results will be highly variable because you take a custom approach every time.
Personally, it’s not the kind of business I want to run. And it’s not a business you could ever sell or hand off to someone else, so your exit plan will only be a fraction of its potential.
And even if your goal isn’t to sell your business – it’s not mine – creating a repeatable sales process will allow you to scale sales beyond just you. And I define scale as anything you can hand off completely and with minimal oversight. With this definition, a $1M business can scale, just as a $10M business can scale.
How much you want to scale is a personal decision, but having the ability to do it is a pre-requisite.
Your process is taking way too long.
For most experts and service-based businesses, it shouldn’t take very long to complete your sales process. Why a sales process is slow only comes down to three factors:
- You’re talking to the wrong person
- You’re talking to the right person at the wrong time
- You’re making it too difficult to buy from you
You can correct for each of these factors with a well-constructed sales process. The first two are addressed through good qualification and a tight definition of your Perfect Fit Client.
The last one – making it easier to buy from you – is addressed through your discovery and offer stages of your sales process.
And the truth is that a lot of the questions you get, and the information clients need from you throughout the process, falls within a predictable range. You can systematically answer the same questions, give the same credibility markers, and give the same offer presentation and onboarding process to make buying from you dead simple every single time, and that’s going to shorten your sales cycle.
You should be charging more.
There’s no way for me to know what you’re charging right now, but I could almost guarantee that you could be charging more. There are three primary reasons for this.
First, a poorly executed sales process diminishes your standing in your client’s eyes. Early on, they form an opinion of you based on very little information, and a large chunk of that information comes from your sales process.
Second, the value you provide is highly dependent on your buyer. If you were to provide accounting services that deliver rock-solid books and tax planning every month, that service is worth more to a $5M business than to a $500k business. Or take a logo: one for a VC-funded startup is worth more than for your local pizza shop. Finding the perceived value for each client – or for your Perfect Fit Client, if you’re selling productized services – is the key to charging more, and the only way to execute a true value-based selling approach.
And lastly, premium pricing is the stuff of differentiated people and brands. Apple couldn’t charge me $500 for a 1TB drive – the same one I can buy for $100 on Amazon – without the solid reputation and obvious benefits their products give me. For most firms, a simple positioning exercise will suffice, and it’ll save you the $1.8B annually that Apple spends on marketing. Communicating your differentiator during the sales process provides justification for higher pricing by removing substitutes for your service.
There are no do-overs on first impressions.
The way you present and frame your sales process, and how you show up for it, is your first impression with a would-be client.
Are you leaving them with the right impression of you and your business?
A bit of planning and foresight, as well as reflection on what’s worked in the past, can go a long way to improve the impression you leave people. I don’t pretend to make you more charismatic, and I can’t give you a more trustworthy face.
But there’s a lot you can do to improve the first impression your client has of you, by improving the overall buying experience. And the best way to do that is to have a well planned and executed process.
No matter how advanced you are in your career, and no matter where your leads come from, sales skills will help you make your process repeatable, easy to execute, faster, and drive up the prices you can charge.
If you’re not sure where to start, start by building your sales fundamentals or your sales process today.