Being a facilitator is an excellent job. You know the value it brings—but are you able to effectively communicate that to prospective clients?
Whether you’re an internal or external facilitator, a solo consultant, or building a small team, there’s an essential skill you’ll need to master: The art of selling your services.
Selling is an integral part of growing your business, getting buy-in, and building meaningful professional relationships. If you’re not as confident as you’d like to be in this area, fear not. I’m here to help and to demystify the art of authentic, effective selling.
As the Managing Director at AJ&Smart, I know first-hand what it takes to sell authentically in order to grow your business. Throughout this post, I’ll share 12 tried-and-tested sales techniques we use here at AJ&Smart. And I promise you this: if you follow these techniques, you’ll find selling your services comes much more easily and naturally.
Ready to become an effective seller?
1. Sell with integrity
The first tip on our list—and perhaps the most important—is to sell with integrity.
This means actively listening to your prospective clients and not force-fitting your services to their needs. If it turns out that you’re not actually the best person to help them, be honest.
In my experience, we actually say no more often than we say yes. Why? Because if what we’re offering isn’t what the client needs, it would be disingenuous to go ahead and try to gain their business (and their trust) anyway.
If you can’t help them directly, offer value by pointing them in the direction of someone who can. If you sell with integrity, and genuinely try to help the client, it won’t feel (or sound) like selling at all. It will feel like an authentic conversation, and that’s more rewarding for everybody involved.
Ultimately, your goal isn’t to make a sale at any cost. It’s to work with clients who can truly benefit from your work, and vice versa. Selling with integrity is the only way to do that—and it’ll always be appreciated and remembered.
2. Approach with empathy
Approach your sales process exactly as you would any other challenge: with empathy.
If you’re in the design thinking and innovation space, you’ll already be well-versed in the importance of empathy—but how do you thread it through your sales process?
Empathy has two key components: rapport-building and trust. Here at AJ&Smart, we use a threefold technique to build empathy with prospective clients. Follow our lead and make sure you always:
- Come prepared: Know exactly who you’re speaking to and show up to the conversation having done your research.
- Ask questions: The art of humble enquiry will give you invaluable insight into what your client needs and wants from the project.
- Actively listen: Really switch on to your customers’ needs and listen to what they’re saying.
Once you’ve built a rapport and established trust through empathy, you’ll open the door to a genuine connection—and that’s ultimately what will help you drive sales.
3. Demonstrate relevance
Our third tried-and-tested sales technique is all about relevance—and, if you’ve done a good job of building empathy and rapport with the client, this step will come easy.
Relevance is simply a case of understanding what the client needs, and establishing if and how you can meet those needs. So how do you highlight relevance to your client during the sales process? There are two approaches we use here at AJ&Smart:
- Find the right statement to articulate the progress your client wishes to make: Show you’ve understood exactly what the client needs by reiterating it back to them. Importantly, speak in a way that centers the client. For example, rather than talking about your products and services, talk about the progress and outcomes your client wants to see. Essentially, you’re playing back to the client what’s important for them and how you’ll help deliver it.
- Communicate the hidden relevance: When it comes to creating relevance in the minds of our clients, we often focus too heavily on functional benefits—the outcome of the project, or the time and materials needed to deliver it, or the price. Often, though, there’s hidden relevance: value we can provide to the client that they may not have thought of. For example, the relief that comes with outsourcing a big job and sharing the responsibility with an external expert. It’s not a measurable benefit, but it’s a huge benefit nonetheless, and it’s absolutely worth highlighting.
By now, you’re on a roll: You’re selling with integrity, so you’re giving the client something they actually need. You’ve built rapport and trust with the client, and you’ve given them a relevant solution. Keep reading for even more techniques that will help you close the deal.
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Another valuable selling technique is something we call role-modeling.
Role-modeling is simply saying: Who else is doing what you do?
In our case at AJ&Smart, it’s design sprints. When we were starting from scratch, we used to show our prospective clients some of the world’s leading brands that were using design sprints. It wasn’t our work, but we could speak to how the method was already being used by others to drive tremendous value.
When you employ role-modeling in the sales process, you give credibility to your services. You’re essentially saying: Other great people, you admire, are working this way too.
Show your clients who else is doing something similar to what you’re offering, and allow them to see the value for themselves. It’s a fantastic technique if you’re just starting out and have yet to build your own portfolio.
5. Convey the downside of NOT hiring you
Our fifth selling technique is super simple: communicate the downside of not hiring you for a particular project.
As expert Workshoppers, facilitators, and design thinking practitioners, it’s easy for us to forget what life used to be like—how project timelines used to drag on endlessly, the meetings that used to go round and round in circles, people worn down by old ideas and processes, and a general lack of progress.
For your clients, though, that might still be the reality. It’s therefore important to remind your client of how their project might pan out if they don’t choose to work with you. How might the process look if they don’t leverage your expert practices and innovative techniques? What are the downsides of the client choosing to continue with their old ways of working?
Be explicit about the risk of not working with you. It’s just as important as talking about the benefits.
WIIFM stands for “What’s in it for me?”—and it’s all about explicitly highlighting the benefits for your client as an individual.
Too often, we’re so focused on talking about the ROI of a project or the big macro-level outcomes that we forget about the human aspect of hiring an external consultant.
WIIFM is a good reminder to also focus on the benefit for your client as a person.
If I think about the sprints we run here at AJ&Smart, the people who bring us in to run those sprints are often seen as heroes in their organization. They are credited with making great progress and getting excellent work done in such a short space of time. This is part of the value you bring, and it should be articulated in your sales process.
To help you answer and communicate the “WIIFM?” aspect, think about what hiring you is actually going to mean for the person you’re speaking to. Will their life and job be much easier with you on board? Will they get credit and recognition for doing great work? Will they have the opportunity to work in a really innovative and enjoyable way?
Remember: Even when you’re selling to businesses or large corporations, you’re still selling to human beings. Articulate the value for your client on both a personal and professional level—it’s an extremely effective selling technique.
7. Elevate the long-term business value
When you’re selling your services, it’s important to elevate the long-term business value of working with you.
We naturally tend to focus specifically on what the project will deliver, while overlooking the additional long-term benefits—like the transfer of skills or creating demand for more innovative practices within an organization.
As a consultant going in, you won’t just help your client to achieve a specific deliverable or project outcome. You’ll also show them new ways of working and equip them with skills they can use in the future, beyond your collaboration.
Look beyond what the project will deliver and think about the additional value your services will bring—and be sure to communicate that during the sales process.
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8. Be very clear on what you’re selling
Our next tip is simple but important: be very clear on what you’re selling.
We see a lot of consultants creating bespoke proposals for individual clients. But actually, what you need is a set menu of services that you are confident to deliver.
Don’t feel compelled to cast your net wide and mold your services to whatever the client needs. Instead, ask yourself: What do I want to be best at? What will I love delivering day in, day out? How can I hone and perfect specific, repeatable workshops?
If you have a clear menu of services, you spend less time creating and piloting new workshops—and more time focusing on your clients’ challenges.
At AJS, we have a very small menu of services, and that’s our niche. We know what we’re good at, and we focus on doing it really well. If you can curate a menu of services that you’re really happy with, you’ll draw confidence from that in the sales process—and so will your clients. You’ll also know when to say no, and that directly ties in with our very first tip about selling with integrity.
9. Demonstrate competence
If you can demonstrate competence, you’ll fill your prospective clients with confidence. Easy!
Ok, so how do you do that? There are lots of different techniques we use at AJ&Smart to demonstrate competence, and you can easily use them, too:
- Share your method: Explain in detail how you’ll go about delivering the outcomes they want. You can share your method visually or verbally. At AJ&Smart, we do both; we cater for busy executives who just want to read a summary, and we cater for the “detail devils” who want to see the method laid out step-by-step. A good proposal doc will share your method in both summary form and in detail.
- Anticipate and solve your client’s pain-points ahead of time: You can demonstrate your competence by already taking steps to make your client’s life easier—even before you’ve closed a deal. Anticipate what their pain-points will be and address them in advance. For example, for our clients, we draft internal comms materials so they don’t have to—such as an email explaining who we are, what we’ll do, and what a design sprint is. You can add these services to your proposal doc to show the client that you’re on top of everything and they’ll be in good hands!
- Show proof: Demonstrate your competence through case studies (we often do video case studies to make them more engaging) and through social proof via client testimonials. If you don’t have any case studies yet, don’t worry—you can easily generate some by doing work for free. Charities, non-profits, small businesses, and startups will always be grateful for your expertise. Build out your case studies, get active on your social channels, and have this proof to hand throughout the sales process.
- Present professionally: Being professional might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s like good UX: no one acknowledges it when you do it, but everyone will notice if you don’t. Be reliable, be consistent, be communicative, and show up with professionalism at all times.
- Link to other brands: Another great way to convey your competence is to link to other brands who hold some authority in the field. Link to courses you’ve done, organizations you’ve worked for, conferences you’ve spoken at or attended—anything you can leverage to show that you’re in the industry and know your stuff.
With all of these tips combined, you can demonstrate your competence throughout the sales process—giving prospective clients the confidence to work with you.
10. Charge for outcomes, not time
This is of critical importance in the sales process, and will directly affect how much you can charge and the margins you make. When pricing your services, make sure you’re charging for the outcomes you’ll deliver—not for the methods, time, and materials used to deliver them.
When creating a proposal, don’t just focus on the methods and techniques you’ll employ. Make sure you emphasize what you’re going to deliver and the value it brings, and reflect that in your pricing.
For example, at AJ&Smart, we deliver high-fidelity prototypes using the design sprint method. Where does the real value lie? In the outcome.
Link your fees to value rather than methodologies and just watch your ability to charge more increase.
11. Keep the conversion simple
As you near the end of the sales process and prepare to close the deal, be sure to keep the conversion simple.
All too often, legalities, formalities, jargon, and paperwork weigh down the conversion process. The journey becomes slow, boring, and difficult for the client—all those things we try to get away from as innovators!
To ensure a smooth conversion process, keep your paperwork simple, clear, and concise. Use plain language and keep unnecessary variables and complexity to a minimum. Try to have all-in-one pricing, and be explicit about what’s in and out of scope.
Ultimately, if the client has to work too hard to review your paperwork, you’re not only making life tough for them; you’re possibly doing yourself out of a sale.
The contract we send out at AJ&Smart is just two pages long. It sets out clear dates and deliverables, and it’s delightfully free of legal jargon. Follow suit and you’ll get your new clients on board quickly and easily.
12. Say thank you
Last but not least, don’t forget to say thank you.
We say thank you at different points throughout the sales process. On the initial call, we thank the prospective client for thinking of us. We’re grateful for every inquiry we get, and we feel it’s important to express that to the client, regardless of whether or not we end up working together.
In the middle of the process, we say thank you again. There’s a lot of time and effort on the client’s behalf to get to know us and figure out if we’re a fit, so again, we like to reiterate our gratitude.
Once they sign up and the deal is done, we thank them again (this time more demonstrably: we send out a welcome kit with cool AJ&Smart merch). And finally, at the end of the project, we say thank you and share our highlights of our time together.
These two little words go a long, long way when it comes to building good relationships—never underestimate them! Express gratitude in whatever way feels genuine and authentic to you. It’s a small but powerful part of building a successful, sustainable business.
I hope you find these tips useful! Good luck.