A firm’s reputation begins taking form the moment one of its employees begins interacting with a prospect. A sales meeting is one of the first and most important interactions because prospects understand that “how a firm sell me is how they will serve me.” When sitting with a prospect, most firm representatives can get lost in trying to appear as an expert, seeing the prospect solely in light of “hitting their number” or becoming annoyed at how the sales process is impacting their utilization rate that they lose sight of how they are actually occurring at the moment. It’s a problem more frequently than firms appreciate.
What is a Selling Philosophy
According to CSO Insights’ The Growing Buyer-Seller Gap report, only about 32% of buyers believe a single vendor outshines all its competitors’ salespeople. Fifty-eight percent feel one vendor might be a little better than the others, while 10% say all vendors are the same.
Prudent Pedal creates go-to-market playbooks to help our clients create a more effective, differentiated, and consistent client experience. The playbook is one of several assets that guide how our clients introduce themselves to the market and the unique value each offers. At its heart, the go-to-market playbook provides an overview of how a firm thinks about and approaches the market.
One of my favorite sections of the playbook is a section called “Selling Philosophy.” The section outlines the thinking and demeanor towards sales activities. This is not the same as client delivery, although the mentalities often overlap. The selling philosophy outlines how a firm thinks about the sales process, assessing client needs, diagnosing problems, qualifying opportunities, and generating revenue. I love this section because it gets to the firm’s heart and reveals what really makes it tick or—in many cases—not tick.
READ: Are Your Firm’s Values Any Different Than the Local Dry Cleaner’s?
Many firms complete the selling philosophy section with confidence and clarity. They are unequivocal about what drives them and how they relate to clients at this stage of the relationship. One client is driven by the philosophy that “All business is personal” and its CEO drives the firm’s culture and all its sales actions via that mantra.
Other firms struggle because they have never given it a single thought. When they begin defining their selling philosophy, there is often a real disconnect between the firm’s stated philosophy and its actual behavior. Every firm says it sells with integrity, many behave quite differently. Some firms say they are client-centric but do anything to close a sale as quickly as possible.
READ: Identifying Your Focus
Why is a Selling Philosophy is Important
Firm selling philosophies are not created to produce perfect selling robots that say and do the right thing every time. Such approaches collapse under their own weight. Selling philosophies exist to guide us. A meaningful philosophy allows us to thrive in grey areas and fill in the gaps where “process” and the “right” words do not exist—where they should NOT exist.
I have the opportunity to see and shape all kinds of selling philosophies. Some inspire me. Others make me cringe. The point is that every firm should have a philosophy articulated, shared, and understood throughout the firm. If you don’t have one, it’s time to create one.
Here is Prudent Pedal’s Selling Philosophy:
Always give before you take. I never ask for something (meeting, call, connection, recommendations, etc. before I have offered something of value (ideas, introductions, support).
Help the prospect make the best decision for them even if it means using someone else. Sometimes when I sit down with a managing partner, Prudent Pedal is not the right capability for the problem at hand. I don’t dust off my sandals and move on. Instead, I see these moments as an opportunity to share my experience, relationships, and insights to help prospects and others who have a solution. I recall how much I appreciated when vendors acted similarly when speaking to me as a CMO.
Tell the truth no matter how difficult. Whether it’s saying “I don’t know.” “That firm is much better at X than we are.” or “I was wrong.,” just get it out, own it, and let the chips fall where they may. I sleep better at night that way.
Sell only to clients who value the value we provide. Nothing causes more headaches, wasted time, lost profit, and reputational damage than serving sub-optimal clients outside of our ideal client sweet spot. We do not discount, hedge, or recreate processes to accommodate a client that does value our value.
Have a goal and purpose for EVERY meeting. Whether it is defining a problem, educating a buying committee to move to the next stage, or closing the sale. Know the target you are trying to hit. Nothing sucks as bad as a wasted meeting.
Respect others’ time and money as if it were your own. If I were in the prospect’s shoes, would I take this meeting? Would I invest this money I’m asking them to spend? If I cannot say “Yes,” something is seriously wrong.
Speak with humility. Make no assumptions. Listen more than I speak and, when I speak, assume that these very intelligent business people are saying and doing things for a reason. I never know the whole story and should act accordingly.
Act with confidence. Speak with humility, but act as if you belong in the room because you do. You’ve earned the right through years of mistakes, learning, AND success. Clients want to collaborate, but they also want to be led by someone who has “been there; done that.”
Build solutions for clients, don’t sell them to them. Never be the proverbial hammer looking for a nail. Every poor business result is not caused by a marketing problem or can be solved by a pre-packaged solution.
Think long-term, not short-term gains. Patience, patience, patience NOT greed, greed, greed.
Respond quickly. The prospect may not need an immediate answer but it sure is nice to get one. A response to a lingering request frees up mental energy that a prospect can use elsewhere.
Ask bold questions politely. Most firms don’t ask hard questions that uncover the real problem. Not asking the question means you are not giving the best we have to offer. ASK THE QUESTION. Just learn to do it politely and with humility.
Be better and smarter tomorrow than you are today. After every sales interaction, I ask myself two questions: “What did I do right?” What would I do differently?” This accelerates learning and builds confidence for the next sales interaction.
READ: Making Professional Services Culture Work
I wish that I lived up to this philosophy every moment of every day. I do not. Many days I fall short. Most days I do my damndest to achieve it.
Perhaps your selling philosophy is much like mine. Perhaps it is quite different. It does not matter. What matters is that your firm’s philosophy, processes, and behaviors are in alignment. Any misalignment and your firm’s reputation will go in a direction that you did not intend. We all know where that direction leads in the end.
For me, Prudent Pedal’s selling philosophy comes down to the simple timeless command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
What is yours?
Are you building a legacy or managing a "brand"?
Learn what I’ve learned managing brand at some of the world’s top consulting firms so you don’t make the same big mistakes.