To close more business, specialists who are expected to sell (aka – firm partners) should start to listen for the question behind the question when reading RFPs and in prospect meetings. Often a seemingly simple question has more meaning and by addressing the underlying issue, you’ll allay their concerns, differentiate from the competition and win more business.
This question is perhaps the most common and perhaps commonly not thought through well because it seems “obvious” from the inside. This issue is why professional services firms market by niche. By having a tailored description of your services and reinforcing articles and other resources on your website, prospects feel that their company will be well take care for and that your team. You’ll also pass through the pre-contact filter whereas firms that don’t have niche industry info on their website may never know about the prospect at all. Believe it or not, this self-investigation process accounts for a large portion of the process and eliminates more than half of the possible service providers! (I read that somewhere – ask me if you want me to dig up the exact statistics.)
What’s the question behind the question? This one has a few that you can address.
- Do you know what issues are specific to my industry so that you’ll be able to give me good guidance?
- Will your team be learning on the job? (And am I paying for that?)
When addressing this issue in a proposal, it’s important to make mention of how you have addressed issues that the prospect is facing or that you know are coming their way through new regulations. You can include how many years of experience your team members have (but please don’t add them up – saying your team has an aggregated 52 years of experience is just weird!) But also consider that if you don’t have direct experience with exactly the type or organization or their needs you can gain their confidence by talking about how you’ve done the same work for different organizations. I recently helped a CPA firm think through this and to change their thinking from “we haven’t done exactly this before so we won’t win this bid” to “we have great experience in the prospect’s issues, just not applied in this way but I know we can serve this prospect well.” Changing their thinking gave them confidence and they won a major new client.
“Why is this service so expensive?”
This question might not always be asked out loud but it’s probably thought almost every time. A large portion of professional services are “need to have” not “want to have” so there is inherent price sensitivity. Professional services also tend to be expensive because your services are complicated and because you’re highly educated and highly experienced professionals who (rightfully) command a high billable rate. And let’s not forget the technology investment and risk you take on by signing-off on the work.
What’s the question behind the question?
Clients don’t understand what goes into your work since they don’t see it happening. They don’t know how long you’re spending on something or how efficient you are at it or what technology you have so that it’s actually taking less time than it could. Whatever you can do to help prospects understand the effort, the VALUE, and the IMPACT of your work, will be beneficial to you both.
For example, an estate planning client got this price question because a well-known online provider is considered a viable option in the minds of the general public. How could the “same” estate planning documents cost more from a local firm than the online provider? And why bother paying more? The answer is that the local firm would examine over 150 issues and include the correct legal wording based on the client’s exact circumstances where as the online provider would give the generic response or wouldn’t delve to that level of detail at all. The significance of this is that if the estate plan documents were ever needed in court or at a hospital, the one from the local firm should help the client in the expected way, whereas the documents from online provider may not. The answer to the question behind the question is that they’re really not comparable services at all and that “expense” can be paid upfront or at a higher rate to fix or unravel the problem later! Add to that, a local firm can help you keep your documents updated year-after-year as your life changes whereas the Internet is not going to follow-up. Outdated documents can be just as harmful as no documents depending on what they say…. You may find yourself relying on an ex for medical decisions if you don’t stay current.
Experience and price are two top-of-mind issues for prospects. Understanding a prospect’s REAL reason for asking these questions will help you to address their concerns at more than the surface level and will help you win more business. If you want help thinking through these questions or other commonly asked prospect questions, reach out! Good luck!
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