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Perfect Your Pitch

In this economy, a product or service is only as good as your ability to sell it.
August 13, 2009
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/203036

When Steve Hamburg made the life-changing decision to launch his own business, he quickly realized it required more than business savvy and technical know-how.

That was because, like so many professionals, Hamburg had given little consideration to an important aspect of the business process--selling smarts.

"I went through a harsh reality check," says Hamburg, who had stepped away from a career at a major firm with an established and successful sales process.

Hamburg's not alone: This light bulb moment may surprise many service professionals, specifically those who do not associate selling to their field. But the current recession means that now, more than ever, professionals--including doctors, lawyers and accountants--are being forced to pick up the phone and drum up sales.

"A year ago I never thought I'd be working with lawyers. Now, 60 percent of my clients are lawyers who need help bringing in new business. The challenge is in changing bad habits and trying new things," says Steve Fretzin, president and creator of Sales Results, a coaching and business networking program. "It's like taking up a new sport or learning to play a musical instrument. It takes commitment, time and practice to achieve the desired results."

Hamburg spent four years struggling to learn effective sales techniques on his own before putting his IT and corporate security consulting firm, Eclipsecurity, and its sales process into Fretzin's hands.

Hamburg quickly implemented Fretzin's Sales Results program, beginning with what Fetzin described as a "rock solid plan." From there the program focuses on the sales process, with an emphasis on relationship building and learning how to walk a customer through the buying decision in a conversational manner. Fretzin calls it, "The art of selling without selling."

"It's like a combination of two old friends talking, and sharing a painful experience with your psychiatrist," Fretzin says of his sales process, which puts a sharp focus on befriending a potential customer. "This program is customized to each person we coach [.] the process is a step-by-step plan to get to a predictable outcome."

Within eight months, Hamburg achieved the target he and Fretzin had set for his company--a seven-figure sales goal.

Two years later, Hamburg is still using the system, a factor he says has been especially important to his success during the economic downturn.

"Even though the economy has been rough all around, most of our clients are doing very well today," says Fretzin. "Mainly because they have internalized a prospecting and business development strategy their competition has not. When they go up against another attorney or accountant who is selling the old-fashioned way, there is no comparison."

The old-school way of selling, Fretzin says, focuses on features and benefits. For example, an attorney would describe for a potential client the numerous benefits and features of working with his or her firm.

"Today we know this is a problem because professionals end up doing a lot of unpaid consulting," says Fretzin. "Our program focuses on questioning and truly understanding the clients' needs and their compelling reasons to do business with you. This allows us to present a more focused approach to solving their issues. Plus, we [advise clients] don't give out free advice anymore."

Fretzin's friendly selling techniques are similar to those that Diedre Wachbrit Braverman employs when she networks. The creator of Strategic Attorney Mentoring calls her approach "warm calling."

"I call on professional advisors with whom I have some relationship--no matter how slight--to ask for referrals and to tell them how I can help them," says Braverman, who also credits her website and time spent on social media networks as effective tools behind her company's success.

Braverman says one of the factors that initially makes selling difficult for service professionals is a certain bias steming from the idea it can be unprofessional.

"Even those who take a more modern and pragmatic view wrestle with how to 'sell professionally,'" says Braverman, noting that while real estate planners may offer a gift certificate to clients, they will never distribute coupons. "Professionals have a fine line to walk," says Braverman.

But she encourages her clients to recognize that the consumer looks to them for answers, and "they expect professionalism and expertise."

Of course, some service professionals merely need a kick in the pants, says business development and consultant Thom Singer, author of The ABC's of Networking.

"Just start," says Singer. "The longer you wait to start building a network of professional contacts, the longer you will have to wait to see any results."

Beyond sheer determination and modern networking forums, Hamburg says one of the most important principles he learned from Fetzin is pretty straightforward: "I ask myself, 'what do they need?'"

"It's such a simple concept, but what's amazing is there are not really many people out there who get it," says Hamburg. "That core approach has just had an amazing impact on my company."

Fetzin says focusing on what the customer needs is essential to getting prospective clients to invest in what you have to offer them. "After all, people still have needs regardless of the economy being pretty abysmal," says Hamburg. "It's just a matter of approaching the organizations and letting them know you are the best one to do the job."