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January 25, 2007

Transitioning Box Pushers to Sellers of the Invisible *
by James Alexander, Alexander Consulting

Selling professional services effectively and efficiently is no easy task. In fact, personal experience consulting with the leaders of PSOs shows it is always one of their top issues.

Here are a few tried and true tactics that can help move box pushers along the path toward being true professional services sellers.

1. Begin at the beginning. Determine what level of overall strategic business importance your top executives place on services. Are they a necessary evil, a nice to have revenue, or are they critical to organization success? Finding the answer will shape your choices and frame what you can reasonably expect. For example, if professional services are seen as a necessary evil that are required only to enable the product, then your selling leadership focus should be to "productize services" in the simplest, easiest, most cost-effective packages. However, if services are seen as a way to enhance and go beyond the product (and thus drive some additional revenue) then more capabilities are required to position this broader product-service offering. Finally, if the organization is attempting to be a true services-led business, then the stakes are much higher. This scenario demands consultative selling at the customer executive level, which, of course, influences hiring criteria, program development, performance management, structure, etc.

Also, remember that a best practice is to have everyone who touches the customer sell services.* Unless professional services are viewed as a cost center, don't rely solely on the product organization to make your numbers. Definitely have (at least a few) dedicated services sellers, and think through the appropriate business development roles for your professional services delivery teams. Your consultants and product managers can become a "hidden sales force" within existing accounts and make considerable contribution to additional services revenues. This gives you at least partial control over your destiny and can help inoculate your PSO from the "90-Day Flu," a condition in which you suffer loss of business due to the poor selling results of the sales organization a few months earlier.

2. Research the realities. The marketplace changes quickly. What was innovative a few months ago is now old hat. The old drivers of success may now be the stumbling blocks of failure, so what makes you think that you know what your clients need, want, expect, and will pay for? Invest a little time and money to put client facts, not best guesses, into your marketing focus. Done correctly, you will learn how your key clients really see you with regard to your strengths and weaknesses, their critical issues, what services they want the most and will pay for, and your competitive position.

3. Focus on a few. Use the information you have gathered from step two, above, and carefully select two or three services offerings based on the following criteria:

  1. They should be seen as immediately valuable to clients.
  2. Selling these services should be directly connected to selling more products.
  3. You should have a reasonable expectation of sales within 90 days.

Good salespeople are interested in offerings that are good for their customers and good for themselves. Your selected services should deliver some early wins in order to demonstrate success and crank up motivation.

4. Package the promise. Make it as easy as possible to sell. Make the intangible tangible by providing promotional support with:

  • Clearly defined features and benefits important to the customer.
  • A simple ROI calculator.
  • Testimonials from showcase accounts lauding the business impact of your organization and the services you provide.
  • Testimonials from respected product salespeople explaining the benefits of selling the services.

Talk all you want, but salespeople listen best to respected customers and respected salespeople.

5. Adjust the appeal. Change the performance management system to make selling professional services very appealing. Build professional services targets into expectations and quotas. Make hitting professional services selling targets lucrative (you can scale down later), and put negative consequences in place if professional services selling goals are not met. (No trip to the Bahamas for the services selling slackers.)

6. Target the training. Put everybody through high-quality, services-specific sales training. SPIN Selling, Professional Selling Skills, and Strategic Selling are all good basic primers for box sellers, but they don't cut the mustard when selling the invisible. Find some services experts with training competence and tailor a program specific to the needs of your organization. Make certain that the following components are part of the curriculum: how to sell intangibles, qualifying great services business, developing services power maps, selling services to the "C" level, and so forth.

7. Reinforce the routine. Go beyond just providing training. Think about ongoing learning systems and ongoing reinforcement as well. Behavior change takes time and support, so be prepared to invest some time and money into it. Back up the sales training with reinforcement workshops every 60 days to let people share successes and practice new skills in a safe environment. Make an electronic classroom available to allow for "ask the expert" dialogue and the sharing of war stories. Invest money in providing in-field coaching by people skilled in both services selling and one-on-one coaching in order to build both competence and confidence.

8. Realize the reality. Keep in mind two important realities:

A. Some folks are just wired differently. Even if you follow all of the advice above, about one in three product salespeople will not be successful in selling services. (Hey, it's not their fault--they were hired to sell boxes.) You should understand this from the beginning and be prepared to do one of the following:

  • Accept it and do nothing,
  • Use sales teams rather than relying on individual efforts, or
  • Help these individuals find new jobs inside (or outside) the company.

B. Things usually get worse before they get better. You will need to stick to your guns. Overall sales will go down before they go up. People will resist and test how serious you are. Expect that you'll get feedback that isn't always positive.

It will take considerable effort, but the guidelines above can bring about significant results in services sales.

To learn more, please attend our February 20 Webinar, How to Sell Professional Services and Solutions. It's only $99 and comes with a money-back guarantee.

James A. Alexander

* The research supporting this and other best practices is outlined in S-Business: Reinventing the Services Organization, by James A. Alexander and Mark W. Hordes, published in 2003, by SelectBooks.

Note: This article is a modification of an article published in the April 5, 2004 issue of the Professional Services Journal, a publication of InternetVIZ.

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