How to Win Client Business

Sales Makes Many of Us Uncomfortable

Most people who provide professional services would probably agree with Doug Fletcher’s assertion regarding the primacy of rainmaking:

In all the professional services, you have to demonstrate the ability to win client business in order to progress your career.

The problem is, we’re equally likely to equate being a salesperson with being pushy, and most of us don’t want to be perceived that way.

Sales Isn’t What You Think It Is

The good news is that becoming an effective rainmaker doesn’t require that we become a stereotype.

It’s really all about building relationships with the people that you hope to serve and demonstrating your ability to help them and to earn their respect and then to build trust.

To become effective rainmakers, Doug says we must master five skills:

I had the opportunity to chat with Doug about the relationship between demonstrating professional expertise and developing trust-based relationships.

Trust Is Essential Because Hiring an Expert is Risky

Knowing a lot about a subject and being able to act on that knowledge in productive ways is what makes us experts and valuable to prospective clients. But the information asymmetry that defines relative expertise creates uncertainty.

If you are a tax attorney, and I need sophisticated tax help, I don’t know the right questions I should even ask.

People don’t turn to experts unless the objective is consequential. That is, the client has “skin in the game.” Because risk equals skin in the game times uncertainty, hiring an expert is inherently risky.

In How to Win Client Business, Doug identifies several types of risk and the “anticipated regret” associated with such risks:

  • Competence risk: Is the professional really good at what they do?
  • Culture risk: Is the professional a good fit culturally? Do they share similar values with the client?
  • Performance risk: Will the professional actually follow through on doing what they say they will do?
  • Integrity risk: Will the professional’s motives be pure? Will they do what’s best for the client at all times?
  • Reputational Risk: How will this hurt the client’s reputation if the project ends poorly?

To mitigate anticipated regret, we must demonstrate our expertise to prospective clients by investing in, what Doug calls, “credibility markers.”

How to Toot Your Own Horn without Looking Like a Jerk

That’s the title of Chapter 10 of How to Win Client Business. In it, Doug makes several key points:

  • Demonstrating your expertise is a necessity and an obligation. It’s not self-aggrandizement.
  • Demonstrating your expertise requires a serious commitment of time and energy.
  • In order to sustain the required effort over time, be choiceful about the credibility markers in which you invest.

Notwithstanding current fashion, Doug reminds us there are several avenues for demonstrating your expertise:

  • Writing
  • Public speaking
  • University teaching
  • Radio programs and podcasts
  • Serving on a board of directors
  • High-profile work and case studies
  • Industry awards
  • Professional certifications

Writing blogs (and books) and making our writing visible through platforms such as LinkedIn has, understandably, been a popular choice for many of us. However, it’s not the only choice.

If you are not a person who enjoys the process of writing, don’t feel compelled to write.

Whichever approach fits your skills and interests, stick with it. As Loran Nordgren and David Schonthal, authors of The Human Element, might put it: We must overcome the “friction” of anticipated regret before prospective clients will buy into the “fuel” of our ideas.