Selling professional services can often be a challenge because of their intangibility. When a client hires you to deliver a service such as accounting or web design, they can’t see the outcome in advance. They have to trust that your work will produce a result they will like, and in most cases agree to pay you for your time regardless. It’s a leap of faith on the client’s part that often requires you to spend a considerable amount of time building their acquaintance first.
But when your prospective clients have never even heard of the service you’re selling, it can be almost impossible to get their attention. It’s difficult enough to build a client’s trust when they are buying a familiar service like photography or estate planning. At least then the client has some idea about what you can do for them, and when they might need you.
What if you are a process improvement consultant, a Reiki practitioner, a virtual assistant, or you train people in feng shui? When you tell prospects the name of your profession and they reply with “what’s that?” you know you are in trouble. How are you going to sell your service to them when they don’t even know it exists?
When your potential clients aren’t aware of your professional service, they don’t have a pre-defined need for it. Even if they recognize they could use assistance of some kind, their mental or literal purchase order wasn’t written with your service in mind. They may not even realize that a professional exists who can help with the particular set of issues they are struggling with.
In this situation, you have to educate your prospects about your solution before you can begin to sell it to them. You need to increase their awareness on multiple levels. First, they are not alone with their issues. Other people have had these same problems and found answers to them. Second, your service is specifically designed to address the issues they have. And third, you are a competent, experienced professional who can help them resolve their problems promptly.
Here are six ways to increase the awareness of your potential clients about your unique solution.
- Write articles about the issues your service solves. Writing articles about your specialty can be a powerful method of helping people learn about it. But the key is not to make your articles overly self-promotional. An article titled “Find Fulfillment through Life Coaching” will appear to be too self-serving for the life coach who wrote it. Many publications simply won’t be interested. A better approach would be an article titled “Taking Action about Career Dissatisfaction,” where you discuss that problem and multiple ways to solve it. Positioning life coaching as one solution among several will produce an article that’s much more likely to see publication.
- Engage opinion leaders from your niche. When an industry expert, local celebrity, or prestigious institution gets value from the service you offer, their endorsement will convince others it’s worth trying. Imagine how much business an osteopath could start to see, for example, if several local sports coaches and personal trainers started swearing by osteopathy as the best treatment for sports injuries. Consider offering complimentary services in your specialty to a few thought leaders in return for their endorsement if they like what you do. Or if your service is too expensive or time-consuming to give away, target some well-known people or organizations with an education campaign using some of the other ideas suggested here, and try to land them as paying clients.
- Publish research or case studies. Statistics and analysis of the results your service produces for clients can persuade others that your approach is worthwhile. Stories of successful client engagements will allow your prospects to see themselves as candidates for what you do. Making research and examples like these available adds tangibility to your work and provides evidence that it’s effective.
- Offer free demonstrations or complimentary consultations. Some professional specialties are next-to-impossible to describe effectively. They really must be experienced in order to communicate their value. Or sometimes what clients need in order to be convinced is to simply spend one-on-one time with you talking about their issues and how you might approach them. Free consultations can often be delivered over the phone, perhaps in combination with a questionnaire or evaluation worksheet. A consultation may not take any more of your time than your typical sales presentation, but you’ll often find it much more effective in ultimately closing sales.
- Teach classes and workshops. As with articles, the most effective topic for a workshop or presentation won’t be simply a platform for you to talk about your profession, e.g. “How to Work With a Digital Forensics Investigator.” You won’t attract many prospects to a program that sounds like an infomercial. Focus your class on solving a problem your ideal client would have, for example, “Stopping Hackers in their Tracks.”
- Tell your story to the media and your niche. Whichever method you choose for informing your prospective clients about your work and building their trust, share it with as wide an audience as possible. When you have an article published, post it on your web site, include it in your marketing kit, and ask other publications and web sites to reprint it. Write a news release about any research studies or workshops you design and send it to the local media and your industry’s trade press.
It may take time for you to educate your clients about the existence and value of the work you do, but there’s another significant benefit to this type of educational approach. Those who take the time to write, teach, research, and spread the word about a new profession become the people who are thought of as that profession’s leaders. Now that’s a designation that will help you close a lot more sales.
© 2006 – 2014, C.J. Hayden. All rights reserved.