The following is a guest post from Kevin Hallenbeck, founder of New Hampshire’s Sandler Training Center. For more than 20 years, Kevin and his team have implemented award-winning techniques to help IT professionals and others find success in sales.
In my years as a sales consultant and trainer, I’ve found that people in different industries tend to struggle with different parts of the sales process. In IT, I often see business owners and freelancers who are great at what they do, whether that’s network security consulting or app development, but they aren’t so great at sales.
This makes sense: solving technology problems and selling IT services require totally different skill sets. But you can’t do the first until you master the second. Here’s a look at how to shift your approach to selling your IT services to improve your closing rates, increase your revenue, and eliminate the problem of being a “free consultant.”
Why IT Professionals End Up Being “Free Consultants”
What do I mean by “free consultant?” Tell me if this sounds familiar:
You get in touch with a potential client – say, one whose servers don’t have proper security protections. They come to you to see if you can fix it, which you can. The prospect asks what you’ll do, and you explain that you would update the security of the operating system and underlying server software as well as establish a process for implementing patches and fixes as needed.
At this point, the prospect wants to know how much all this fixing would cost.
Being the thorough professional you are, you say that it depends. You offer to look at the servers, do some inventory and analysis, and come back with prices.
Take a step back a minute and see what’s happening: you’re investing lots of time and energy into the prospect’s business before you’ve had a conversation about money – and before the prospect has decided whether to hire you.
So you come back after a week with detailed recommendations about what needs to happen and a quote – say, $3,000 for the initial updates, plus $800 per month for maintenance. This is a fair price based on your analysis.
But the prospect says that’s more money than they expected. They say they’re going to shop around for other quotes – and now it’s really easy for them because all they have to do is give a competitor your specs and ask for something less than what you quoted.
This is an incredibly frustrating position to be in: it costs you time and energy and doesn’t bring in any revenue. Or maybe you don’t want all that work to go to waste, so you discount your services to close the sale, even if it means you’re losing money. Either way, it’s not ideal.
But don’t worry: there’s a solution.
Three Steps to Avoid Becoming a Free IT Consultant
Breaking this cycle isn’t hard. It’s just a matter of changing the way you think about sales. Because a lot of IT professionals value intellect and skill, they tend to think that if they can convince a prospect that they’re smart enough and good enough at what they do, they’ll close the sale. But that strategy often fails. Why? Because it focuses too much on you as a service provider and not enough on your client and their needs.
Here’s how to stop giving away your services:
- Identify the pain points linked to your prospect’s technical problem. It’s easy for you to identify what’s technically wrong. Once you know that, start asking questions. How does your prospect see the problem? How does it affect their day-to-day life? What about this problem annoyed or worried them enough to contact you? Once you’ve figured out the source of their pain, you know how to frame your services. If they don’t seem that bothered by the problem, walk away. Think about it: if your current grill is cooking your food just fine, you’re not going to be in the market for a new grill, even if the new one is shinier and bigger and faster. But if your current grill takes too long to heat up and cooks food unevenly, you’re ready for a change. No pain, no sale.
- Determine your prospect’s budget and willingness to invest in a solution. Once you know why they need or want your services, determine their budget and how much they’re willing to put up with to have the problem fixed. If they can’t afford your services, walk away. If they aren’t willing to make the financial investment or go through the disruption of changing to your solution, walk away.
- Understand the prospect’s decision-making process. In other words: know who has to sign off on buying things like your services. I like to say there are seven questions you should know the answer to in regards to the decision making: who, what, where, when, why, how, and who else. If you’re working with a very small business, it’s possible that you’ll be talking to the financial decision maker from the get-go, but in bigger companies (and for bigger investments), there’s usually some red tape required to hire a consultant. Find out whether they need RFPs or capital requests. Find out what their timeline is for getting expenses approved. Find out who’s behind these decisions and what their motivation is for getting the problems fixed.
Pain + Money and Willingness + Authority to Spend = A Qualified Lead
Once you’ve gone through the three steps above to qualify your leads, you’ll be left with people who need and want your services, who can afford them and are willing to pay for them, and who have the ability to sign off on hiring you. Sounds like a jackpot, right?
It is. If you assume everyone’s qualified to buy from you, you’ll waste a lot of your time and energy working for people who will never pay you.
If you recognize that not everyone is a qualified lead, you’ll end up slowing down your discovery process, working only with qualified leads, and working less for more money for clients who appreciate your services.
For more tips on selling as an IT business owner, as well as training courses on selling, negotiation, networking, and more, visit the Sandler Solutions section of Kevin’s website.