Professional services firms face intense pressure to increase profit and productivity, with new client revenue declining to the lowest level in the past nine years, thanks to the global pandemic. From uncertain economic conditions to digital disruption to increased competition, increased pressures have continued to re-shape the professional services industry, creating new challenges and expectations of firms.
Recently, Collective 54 has seen a dramatic increase in members asking for guidance on how to adapt their existing strategy to accommodate a global pandemic and a struggling economy. Below are the four steps owners of professional services firms need to take:
- The Value You Provided Yesterday Might Be Irrelevant
- Re-Evaluate Your Positioning, Your Value Statement and Your Content
- Collaborate with Your Clients, Don’t Pitch to Sell Them
- Don’t Lose Connection with Your Current Clients and Near-Term Opportunity
1. The Value You Provided Yesterday Might Be Irrelevant
Ask yourself, how have your prospect’s priorities changed in the last 30 days, 7 days, or today? Are they facing more risk or a sudden opportunity? Your firm most likely references a value proposition or buying statements that won’t resonate with your prospects today. The value you provided yesterday might be irrelevant – or your value messaging might need to be tweaked. Think critically about how your value proposition, buying messages and personas should be changed.
- Update Your Value Proposition and Personas
If your prospect’s business focuses on change, you will want to reflect that in your persona messaging and targeting. If your clients are focused on supporting their newly work from home (WFH) teams, pivot your messaging to highlight the value you provide remote leaders and employees. Professional services firms in analytics and business intelligence should adapt their messaging to talk about how businesses can forecast and manage risk in these uncertain times.
- Don’t Automatically Write-off Entire Industries
For example, selling into restaurants is especially difficult now, right? Not quite. Some professional services firm owners have worked with their clients to revise their messaging to highlight how they support delivery and takeout operations. Professional services firms with clients in the urgent care industry are now helping their clients with clinics pivot to telemedicine solutions to keep doctors and patients safe, and maintain access to care for at-risk populations.
- Create Content that Supports Your Team
Listen to your clients to understand their pain points, and then create messaging focused on how you can help them. For instance, if your clients are facing the new challenge of an unplanned, fully remote sales team, consider creating content that speaks to how you can help them with rapid productivity, supporting remote teams, and enabling managers to coach remotely. Build the relationship, don’t damage it. Consider snippets highlighting successful client stories and reference points for the team to use.
- Change Your Communications Channel
Based on what we’re hearing from members, the feedback is mixed with regard to what channel(s) are most effective when connecting with prospects right now. Given that many people are suddenly working from home, some may or may not have set up call forwarding from their business phone to their personal cell phones. Others may have a sophisticated phone setup and may still be getting emails when you leave a voicemail, so keep at it!
Consider expanding to other channels, like social touches through LinkedIn, or utilizing an integrated chat application to support inbound or e-gifts for late stage deals. Start to explore options to expand your strategy beyond email and phone (To name a few: Drift, Sendoso, Alyce, Vidyard, and Bomb Bomb). This will likely evolve over time so researching different channels or constantly testing will be important.
2. Re-Evaluate Your Positioning, Your Value Statement and Your Content
Your prospects’ attention is more divided than ever. Market research is proving this to be true -- TOPO surveyed 350+ professional services firms to understand the impact that the pandemic is having on their sales pipeline, and found nearly 50% of buyers aren’t willing to book a meeting right now. Fortunately, sales is not about one meeting or just about the short term – especially in today’s current environment.
- Equip Your Team to Acknowledge the Moment
Open acknowledge that life may have changed for your clients. Remember, you may have clients that have not operated in this type of environment; they’re feeling uncertainty and instability just like you are.
And, remember to support your team too by reminding them of your company’s mission and instilling confidence that the solution you provide is essential. Your open communication and transparency is critical to enabling your reps to have the same type of conversation with their prospects. To make meaningful connections, we must acknowledge the setting that we are all in—and that means talking about it.
- Make Sure Your Calls Aren’t “Business as Usual”
Your first meeting with a new prospect sets the tone for the entire deal. This isn’t the time for your typical discovery or demo call. Be laser-focused on the 1-2 pieces of critical value your solution provides and collaborate with the prospect on how you can meet the needs of their business. We should be listening more than ever to understand our prospects’ current pain and work together on building a solution. Don’t demo your features, demonstrate extreme value to your prospect.
- Soften Your Asks
As an owner, you are focused on your clients, but right now, keeping a meeting might not be their biggest priority and you need to respect that. When you get timing push-offs, pivot toward providing excellent follow up. This means removing the pressure to respond right away and setting up respectful follow-up.
3. Collaborate with Your Clients, Don’t Pitch to Sell Them
Many professional services firms invest months to cultivate and nurture a new prospect, but pushing to close in this moment may be the wrong decision. Consider asking your prospect how they want to proceed: 1. Acknowledge the situation, 2. Explain his obligation to reach out as a partner, and 3. Ask respectfully how to best move forward. Your prospective clients will appreciate this approach and your sincerity.
- Put Yourself in Your Client’s Shoes
Above all, empathy, transparency, and vulnerability are more important than ever. Remember that some industries, like hospitality, travel, and emergency medicine, or areas like NYC or Seattle, have been deeply affected by COVID-19. Think about where your prospect is located, the market they serve, and the industry they are in before reaching out. Sometimes the best thing is *not* to contact someone immediately. So, take the time now to slow down and research your prospects before you initiate conversations. Remember, trust and the strongest relationships are built in the most difficult times.
- Equip Your Champion to Sell Internally
Many professional services firm owners share similar concerns: budgets freezing up, deal cycles slowing down, and additional scrutiny being added to new purchases. Consider equipping your buyer champions with content that helps them sell upwards internally, especially if many of their prospects start to open up their recession playbooks.
Think about how you can enable your champions. Arm them with content (studies, whitepapers), metrics (ROI, time to value), and client references. Help them educate others that may become involved with the purchase decision (we predict committee buying is going to make a comeback). Ensure that your champions can confidently defend your solution even in times of economic pressure.
4. Don’t Lose Connection with Your Current Clients and Near-Term Opportunity
Now is the time to make sure your processes are buttoned-up.
Many professional services firm owners are in tough markets that are going to struggle with outbound sales right now, especially serving the travel, hospitality, and health care industries. More than ever, these businesses may need to rely on other methods to ensure they are building and protecting revenue where possible. Do your own internal diagnostic check on the following:
- Inbound lead handling needs to be rock solid. Every lead needs to be routed quickly and conversion needs to stay high, especially for firms moving away from outbound selling.
- Reinforce (or create) an incentivized referral program to mine warm leads within your current clients. Your team can use CRM systems to contact clients or partners to help get leads flowing.
- Capitalize on cancelled events. We’re seeing firms successfully convert their cancelled conference registration lists into full demos and executive meetings - since we’re not traveling to events.
- Protect the base. More than ever, staying connected to your clients is key to your bottom line. A well thought-out strategy can help you communicate updates with clients, schedule critical meetings like business reviews, and manage your upcoming renewals.
- If you can’t prospect now, build pipeline for the future. Now that travel is restricted, and many offices will remain closed, we’re spending a lot of time in front of our laptops. Use that time to make prospect lists, organize your target accounts, and add those prospects to your CRM to contact in the future. This ensures that you’re ready to engage when things do recover, and your prospect’s focus springs back.
Above all else, remember that making real connections with other people is more important than ever during this time of uncertainty. Thankfully, that’s our job.
Stay healthy and take care of each other.