Selling Professional Services – The Camel’s Nose

Selling professional services may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Read more from Ford Harding, author of Rain Making.

The logic of selling professional services is simple. If you meet the right people, stay in front of them by being helpful, and remind them of what you do from time to time, work will follow.

Don’t be deceived; execution on this logic isn’t simple because it requires managing so many parts. The right people include not only those who can hire you, but also those who have enough influence with the hirers to introduce you to them. In some cases you need to start even further back with those who have influence with the influencers.

First, you have to meet these people. Some you get to know through your client work, but for most professionals that route is insufficient by itself. You have to go to association meetings, give speeches, ask for referrals or try one of the other numerous ways to meet people.

Then you must stay in front of them. That means meetings, calls and emails. Your contacts will accept all this attention, as long as they find you helpful. That complicates things even more, because different contacts want different kinds of help. And the only way you can find out what each one wants is to ask. Then you must . . .

About a month into this effort, the realization sinks in that you have barely begun and that all of what you have done so far is no more than the nose of a large camel bent on coming into your tent. There is no way you can cram this additional activity into your already crammed schedule.

I have two answers to this concern. First, if you treat business development as something to be crammed in, it will also be the first thing to get pushed out. It must have a priority at least as high as your client work or it will never get done. This changed view of the problem solves nothing by itself, but without the changed view, the problem won’t be solved. Rainmakers feel a high sense of urgency about starting and developing relationships.

Second, the camel isn’t as big as its nose suggests. The time you must invest in starting or rekindling a relationship is typically much greater than the time needed to maintain one. When beginning a relationship, you must spend time learning about the new contact as a business person and as a human being. That may take several meetings and phone calls. You must distinguish yourself from other would-be networkers by finding a way to help a contact. That takes time, too. It helps if you can accomplish these things in a relatively short time. But once a relationship is established, a lot of maintenance and development can be done by phone and email.

As your network grows, all this meeting and calling and emailing does demand more time. But, as you bring more and more business into your firm, you will be given more time for that kind of activity.

In the professions, this shift in time allocation from doer and manager of client work to rainmaker seldom occurs smoothly. By some measure most professionals are overworked by their clients and firms. The shift does occur, and as it does, you gain greater control over your own destiny.

© 2008 Ford Harding

Ford Harding is the president of Harding & Company, which trains professionals to win new clients. Rain Making: Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field, a revised and updated edition of his bestselling book, was published in February 2008. His books are required reading for certification by the Society for Marketing Professional Services. His articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere. Contact Ford and read his blog at

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