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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  June 04, 2013

What I Learned From Buying Professional Services

Originally published for RainToday.com

Perhaps the best way to understand what our clients go through is to become a client ourselves.  That’s my biggest take-away from my 14-month journey to revamp my website.  After walking in the shoes of a buyer, my eyes were opened to what buyers go through and how I can make their experience with me better.

Here are the top four things I learned from being on the receiving side of a sales pitch and how I changed my sales conversations as a result.

1.  Procrastination vs. Top Priority

I knew my website was obsolete.  I was so busy tending to my clients and dealing with other family matters that the project kept getting put off.  But when I heard my newest client say, “Yeah, when Billy Bob referred me to you, he said to just call and ignore your website,” I knew my problem was bigger than I thought.  All of a sudden, I was in the market for a website designer.

If someone had approached me three months (or even three weeks) earlier, I would’ve brushed them off.  What I realized:  urgency comes from outside forces, not someone approaching me with a killer deal.  When I’m ready, I’m ready.

How I changed my sales conversation:  After I get to know the prospect’s situation, I go into the “how ready are you” conversation.  I want to know the “why now” behind their request for help.  And if that “why” isn’t strong enough, I start pulling back.  The number one cause of a stalled sale is lack of urgency.  And I don’t have time to play six months of follow-up with folks who are not really ready to move.

2.  Past vs. Present

My first website designer choice was someone I had known for seven years.  I respected his cutting-edge work enough to refer six figures worth of business to him during that time.  My thinking was, “Hey, this is a no brainer.”

However, after five months of hard times and over $7,000 spent, I walked away with nothing but a headache.  I couldn’t believe how horrible his work had become.

What I realized is that I chose designer number one out of convenience.  I didn’t want to go through the search process because I was in a “hurry.”  (This is not news by the way.  Every story about my mistakes usually starts with, “Well, I was in a hurry.”  But I digress.)  Therefore, I assumed that his work was as good as it used to be.  I was wrong and paid the price.

How I changed my sales conversation:  When previous clients contact me, we have the “let’s catch up” conversation.  We discuss the changes I’ve made since we last worked together.  I don’t want them to assume they are getting the same thing from me as before.  And I don’t assume they are in the same place as before.  I deal only with the here and now.

3.  Process vs. Approach

After the first designer crashed and burned, I thought I was more careful in choosing the next team.  I loved the second designer’s portfolio and had extensive conversations about their process.  I felt great about hiring them until I discovered their “customized” approach to websites focused on the low-cost, mass-market genre.  The design was bold and dynamic but with a heavy dose of hype.  I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I didn’t know enough about design to direct them.

I came to realize that the designers had a set approach they pushed all their clients through. If you were not a good fit for their system, they didn’t know what to do with you.  They got paid, and I walked away with a website that was clear, compelling, and too aggressive.  “What a bummer” is an understatement.

How I changed my sales conversation:  I’ve added what I call the “heads-up” conversation so prospects can experience how I approach their situation.  It goes something like this:  “If we were to work together, here are a few things I’m going to change.  How does that work for you?  Are you really ready to go in that direction?”  If they aren’t, then I know that both of us have dodged a no-win situation.

4.  Expertise vs. Experience

For me, the third time was the charm.  The third designer came from an unlikely place:  they were my clients first, so I knew the quality of their work.  When Karyn Zuidinga at ADGi heard my tale of woe, she stepped in and stepped up.  She said, “Let’s not go into how you got here.  Let’s just fix the problem.”

Their version was a total revamp.  They scrapped everything that was done and started from a blank page.  It was love at first sight.  (If curiosity is killing you, click here to view the new Vickie Sullivan website.)  What I realized is that expertise is not enough.  ADGi has experience to truly understand my business and my clients.  From that place, their design expertise can take over the details.  Because of their experience with other high-end brands, they know what to do the first time.  I didn’t have to go through multiple revisions like I did with the other designers.

How I changed my sales conversation:  I have the “blank page” conversation sooner rather than later.  I now ask more questions about the prospect’s goals, motivations, and ideal customers.  Then I look at their market strategy.  Do I see what needs to happen right away?  If so, then I know the impact I can make.  This prospect can be a great client.

What Our Clients Really Want

Being a client was a game-changer for me.  I now understand the skepticism out there.  There are too many “professionals” who say the right things but don’t deliver.  Clients want more than our expertise and success stories.  Clients want us to really understand what they are doing and why.  They want us to understand their business well enough so we can hit a home run without dragging out the game.


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.