How Clients Buy - My 5 Key Takeaways

In my last post I set out the 5 business development books which have most recently shaped my thinking –

On the very top of  my list is the book:

How Clients Buy: A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services

by Tom McMakin & Doug Fletcher.

While there are numerous summaries of this book online I thought it might be useful to set out my 5 key takeaways.

In this article we cover takeaways 1 – 3.

Takeaway 1 – Consulting and Professional Services as a “Credence Good”

I must admit that prior to reading this book I had never hear of a credence good.

For those of you like me a useful definition is provided below:

The term credence good refers to goods and services whose sellers are also experts who determine the customers' needs. This feature is shared by medical and legal services and a wide variety of business services. In such markets, even when the success of performing the service is observable, customers often cannot determine the extent of the service that was needed and how much was actually performed.

Credit Asher Wolinsky – Northwestern University

For me, this definition epitomizes how difficult it is to sell and deliver complex professional services. In my own work, I have found that clients, more often than not, defer totally to the consultant to advise not only on the extent of the service but also whether the service has actually been delivered successfully.

The biggest hurdle in trying to sell a service to a client who might not appreciate or understand the extent of our solution is the hurdle of overcoming the clients current status quo.

If you are reaching out to potential new clients you will quickly realize that most clients (1) do not recognize the need to change, (2) are happy with the current status quo, in that they are (3) are not dissatisfied enough with their current performance to change.

This, for me, is the challenge of selling professional services.

Takeaway 2 – Professional Services are bought differently from Products

Professional services are bought on reputation, referral, and relationships – products are bought on tangible features and/or specific attributes (I would add that these days products are very often bought on emotion).

As a credence good professional services cannot be tasted in advance and must be bought on faith alone.

Tom and Doug do a great job of showing how the selling of professional services does not align with the traditional sales funnel. For me, the observation that really struck home was that the sales funnel assumes an infinite supply of leads. Where in reality your potential list of dream clients might be rather small - mitigating against a "churn and burn approach".

Takeaway 3 – How Clients Buy (the seven elements)

The seven elements:

  1. Prospective clients become aware of your existence.
  2. They come to understand what you do and how you are unique.
  3. They develop an interest in you and your firm.
  4. They respect your work and are filled with confidence that you can help.
  5. They trust you, confident you will have their best interests at heart.
  6. They have the ability to pull the trigger, meaning they are in a position to corral the money and organizational support needed to buy from you.
  7. They are ready to do something. Really speaks for itself this one – a simple and easy to understand checklist.

This one really speaks for itself. A simple and easy checklist to understand the hurdles that you must pass through in the world of professional services sales.

In my next article I will cover my last two takeaways.

A reminder if you want to pick up either of Tom McMakin’s books they are available at the following (affiliate) links:

How Clients Buy: A Practical Guide to Business Development for Consulting and Professional Services


Never Say Sell: How the World's Best Consulting and Professional Services Firms Expand Client Relationships

Chat Soon,

Dawson Jenner