How to Sell a Human Being


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Over the past five years or so, my firm has given a lot of thought on how to sell a human being – marketing and selling professional services.

When I speak of professional services, I mean high-cost services delivered by professional-trained individuals like architectural and engineering firms, designers, construction firms, and those in financial services.

Marketing and selling professional services has a unique set of challenges.

When you hire a lawyer to sue your ex business partner, or an architect to design your dream home, or a financial planner to overhaul your finances and put you on the path towards a leisurely retirement, you can’t rely on many of the things you would when buying a product.

You can’t pick up and hold a professional service, and assess its quality based upon a visual inspection.

You can’t return a professional service if you’re not happy with it. And the cost of switching form one professional services provider to another can be a complicated and expensive proposition.

The advertising agencies on Madison Avenue figured out how to market stuff – to get us to buy more product and to switch from one brand to another. Frameworks were established and strategies developed to help marketers think through the challenges of selling more goods to more consumers – to create a consumption-led society.

But our economy is changing.

We’ve all got a lot of stuff. And sure, we will continue to buy more stuff that comes in packaging. But the growth of the service sector is undeniable. Those that are in the business of professional services need their own set of strategies and frameworks. They need systems and processes designed to position, differentiate, and convince consumers of the value they offer.
So, what are the most effective ways to market professional services? Well, it comes down to learning how to sell a human being.

Here are three suggestions.

Make a Human Connection

Someone about to hire a service professional is liking asking themselves one, simple question: “Is this someone I want to work with for the next six months?”

Put yourself in their shoes.

Most professional services engagements extend for months or even years. And for the relationship to work, it needs to be based upon strong, effective communication, and trust. But in many instances, to get the most from a relationship like this one, it’s important that parties genuinely like to be around one another.

How you express yourself on your website, or in the cover letter to a proposal, needs to communicate something about you, and what you’re like to work with. The style and type of images you include on your website or marketing material, or what you include in your biography, are important as well.

Whether it’s through your marketing and communications material, or face-to-face meetings, you need to speak from the heart and help the client understand why their project is important to you, and why you are personally invested in helping them achieve both their personal and professional objectives.

Demonstrate That You Have A Process

One of the more important things we’ve learned over the years is the importance of showing prospective clients that there is a ‘method to your madness.’ You need to demonstrate that you’ve developed a repeatable process that gives them confidence that you can achieve similar results to those you’ve delivered for others.

And the more visual the better. Well defined steps, with clearly defined inputs and outputs.

It helps to describe each step in a way that’s easy to understand and gives the prospect confidence that you’ve successfully implemented this process hundreds of times.

The best processes communicate what the client can expect at every step along the way, and clearly connects each step of the process with the outcome.

An effective process also spells out the role the client has in the successful outcome of the engagement. It should make clear the their role, and what contributions they need to make to ensure a successful outcome.

It doesn’t need to be complicated or excessively detailed. But it does need to convince your prospective client that you’ve taken on similar projects and have a robust, systematic process to consistently deliver great results.

Show Them How You Think

The truth is, no two professional services projects are the same. No matter how hard you try, the client will always see differences between the challenges they face and what you’ve done for others.

Every project has unique challenges and opportunities. As a professional services provider, you need to demonstrate how you solve problems, overcome adversity, and turn challenges into opportunities. It is this kind of information that clients want to hear.

Demonstrating how you manage risk and how you have solved similar challenges on past projects will provide clients with peace of mind.

Take the time to explain in detail how you overcame similar challenges through innovation, process or value added solutions. Then, make the connection to their project, and clearly show the relevance.

‘Confidence’ is the operative word here. Yes, it is important that you demonstrate successfully completed past engagements of similar scale and scope. This is a sufficient to be considered, but not enough to win over a new client. To truly earn the prospect’s confidence, you need to show them how you think.