Oct 3, 2012

You can’t squeeze the melons—selling yourself in the marketplace

I recently visited the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market. It was an amazing experience. On a Sunday morning, growers of produce from all over the region converge on one street and frantically arrange their booths and wares with an eye to curb appeal and easy access. 

“Aside from the set up and tear down, the hard work is done by the product,” said one vendor. “People like to squeeze the melons and choose from lots of samples. I just let them and take the cash.”

I wish it were as easy to sell professional services in today’s marketplace.  Helping clients choose me over the other guy for their marketing plan or branding campaign involves my doing something that makes me feel uncomfortable: I have to toot my own horn. 

Oh, I use my LinkedIn page  and other pages  to post reviews and testimonials.  But inevitably, at some point I have to tell someone why I think I’m better than the other guy.  To me, that whole conversation feels uncomfortable. 

I’ve discovered that I am not alone and that one of my favorite sales thought leaders, Carol Costello, has written a new book about the subject with advice for professional service providers like me. Her eBook, Sell Yourself without Feeling Pushy, Creepy, or Weird!  It is available on Amazon. Not only does Carol zero in on the reasons why some of us have problems selling our own services, she also offers some strategies for surmounting these problems. Spend the $2.99 and get your copy. It’s worth it.

Sometimes we need to sell our services through proxies. Have you ever had a client say, “I like working with you, but I have to present you to The Group, and they make the decision.”  Selling my service indirectly is easier for me, but sometimes the outcome is unpredictable. Sales training notable Anthony Iannarino says that success results from arming your proxy with the information or talking points they need to make your point for you. You also need to protect your in-client champions by anticipating any possible objections they may encounter, say about solution differences and price, and providing them in advance with justifications that they can deploy if challenged. They need to look smart; if they don’t, their decision to recommend your solution could reflect poorly on them.

“When you know that differences in your solution and your competitors’ could raise eyebrows, then you have to provide your prospective buyer with the reasons to choose you,” according to Iannario. The bottom line for me is that I can overcome my squeamishness about selling myself if I hold onto a few key ideas:

1.       I may not be the only choice, but I know I will work harder to deliver value for my client than anyone else. Loyalty and commitment count.

2.       I know my clients and their needs very well. I know that I am recommending a service (provided by me) that can improve their business.

3.       In today’s marketplace, it is important to share the sandbox. Companies that succeed are able to blend good ideas and services from a number of providers. Knowledge worker integration is the key to measurable success. I know that I work well in that kind of setting and my client will benefit.

Selling professional services is not like selling fruit. After all, a vendor needn’t rave about his fruit but just lets customers tap a melon, sample a strawberry or a grape.  So unless what you’re selling is strictly your looks, unless you’re a model, you’re going to need to speak up to stimulate an appetite in prospects to give you the chance you need to prove your worth.