Professional Services Firms Are Feeling the Pinch

Professional Services Firms Are Feeling the Pinch

Professional Services Firms are struggling when it comes to keeping and finding business. This on top of the fact that many have to come to grips with the fact they need to sell. The market has definitely changed. You cannot sit there aggressively waiting for the phone to ring anymore.

In speaking with one partner from a well respected law firm, he vented his frustration at the lack of action being taken in his firm by partners and their teams in terms of driving the push to find new business in current and new accounts. He stated that some teams were just sitting around with no work to do and no one knows what to do about it.

“It’s so frustrating, they just don’t even know how to pick up a phone and call clients and prospects. They are just sitting there saying they have no work to do all the while our business is struggling to meet revenue targets. While I know some service areas have been hit harder than others there is still work to be done and if we could only just get talking to customers we would be ok.

All I know to do is to get out and have coffee with as many clients as I can and even though I haven’t been trained in how to sell well am finding business. Although I would like to know how to do it better for sure”.

Despite the tougher market, there are market opportunities are out there. There is money to be made. There are clients to be won! However, many professional services firms are not realising their true potential.

Relying mainly on passive referrals for new business leads and glossy marketing materials, most professional services firms are not securing their current and future revenue streams. They have left themselves vulnerable and weak. In many cases they are not even accessing their existing client data bases to see what new business opportunities exist there.

And don’t even talk to them about cross selling and up selling other service lines – many remain trapped in the silo mentality.

Through our work and observations in the professional services sector, it appears many managing partners and principals are wanting more from their partners, directors, managers and associates when it comes to proactively building sustainable and profitable business relationships with their clients.

The problem is many of them do not know where to start or how to do it. They have tried to make a start by putting on a Business Development Manager but it’s really the partners and managers themselves that need to be out there selling as part of their job.

Our research shows that no longer is it good enough for these people to rely solely on their technical competence i.e. being only a lawyer or accountant. Now and in the future, these people also need to effectively self promote and prospect for new business using professional and ethical sales strategies, demonstrating real value for money.

However, the sales function does not come naturally to most people in these professions and often they don’t possess the relevant tools necessary to make it work. They certainly weren’t taught this at university. In fact many were fed derogatory myths about selling and many still believe them to be true today. Which is one of the reasons they are in trouble.

We have found that many professional services staff have not been shown the right way to sell or taught the behaviours and skills necessary to put them in a position to win quality business. Often the sales function’s importance is undermined, underestimated or left to too few people, usually the most senior partner or “rain maker”, possibly leaving the business vulnerable to missed market opportunities, hidden revenue and competitor erosion.

Many firms lack the foundations to create a viable professional sales culture e.g.:

Inaccurate or poor perception of what good selling really is and its importance to business

Very poor skills in the sales area

Partners and directors lacking direct accountability for new business and revenue growth

Mixed messages: “I’ve got to find more business but if I don’t do my 6 billable hours I won’t meet my performance standards”. Partners are being caught in the billable hour performance trap and not using putting the time to get out and grow business they can then pass on to their teams to deliver.

No use of client data bases and a silo mentality limiting up sell and cross sell opportunities

No new business sales strategy or plan

No client retention strategy or plan

No sales model for people to learn, follow and apply

Sales limited to ‘pull’ prospecting strategies such as brochures, website, etc. at the expense of proactive prospecting and real professional relationship sales strategies

No Key Performance Indicators and Key Result Areas linked to sales, new business growth etc.

To name a few.

Given that professional services firms are operating in an increasingly competitive market place with more sophisticated clients expecting higher levels of service and value and some of their services are at risk of being commoditised:

– What are firms doing to differentiate themselves?

– How are they ensuring their future viability and success?

– How are they making sure they are sales fit?

The ones who get it right NOW will set themselves up well now and in the future. Those that don’t will either be reduced to shadows of themselves or be out of business all together. So to all you lawyers, accountants, engineers, and consultants out there, if you are not already, it’s time to get sales fit and learn how to sell the right way. It will be worth it.

By  Julian  Bush

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