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by Keith Thirgood

Selling a service isn't the same as selling a product. Your prospect is buying an intangible. There are no shiny buttons to show off. You and your company are the visible representations of the service. You need to live up to them in your image. (marketing) And in how you "court" the prospect. (sales)

When you're marketing, you focus on opening your prospect's door. You're part of the day-to-day noise, which crowds in on her, every day. Your job is to break through that clutter and produce a good enough impression that she is willing to take the next step and meet with you.

Once you get to meet with a prospect, your goals shift. The two main goals in the sales meeting are to get the prospect to reveal their desires (needs analysis) and to see you as the best solution (positioning).

The sales meeting is your opportunity to take the positive image your marketing has created, and bring the sales/marketing cycle to a fruitful conclusion. In the sales meeting, the prospect must come to feel that you are more than competent, and that you can be trusted with her company, her career and her dreams.

The most important rule in sales: Talk little, listen much.

Spend 75% of your time listening. Ask questions and paraphrase the prospect's responses. As you do this, you're defining the background to the prospect's situation, confirming what their desires are, and discovering the prospect's personal agenda.

Note I say "desires", not "needs". Too many people try to sell what they perceive, believe or understand that people need. People don't deal very well with what they need, only what they want. Sometimes these coincide, but not always. Sell what your prospects want, their desires. Making dreams come true is a stronger sell--just ask Disney.

Once you've gathered sufficient data, summarize the key issues and their implications to the prospect's immediate and long-term well-being. The use of questioning, paraphrasing and summarizing, builds the perception of your expertise and trustworthiness. Your prospect will begin to believe in your ability to understand her unique issues.

And treat her issues as unique, even if you've seen them a hundred times before. Most people feel they are the only ones with their particular set of issues. Don't make them feel common.

It's important to assess your ability to live up to your prospect's expectations. If you can live up, then reassure the prospect with a simple, confident statement such as "I can help". If the prospect is interested in proceeding, begin identifying the parameters of the project. Begin by asking: "What's the specific end-result do you want to achieve from us working together?" Ask questions and follow-up questions to guide the prospect to begin defining the desired output and process, deadlines, budgets or other important project guidelines.

Before you get too far along in this contracting discussion, determine if your prospect is the real decision-maker. (If you haven't already.) Are there hidden decision-makers? (A decision-maker has the authority to approve or reject the terms of reference, any recommendations and implementation, can authorize payment and terminate the agreement.)

Tell the prospect what you need from her. Make sure that your prospect accepts joint client/provider accountability for success. Reinforce that you must be given the tools to succeed: access to information, people and other resources. Be clear about your fee structure. Make sure that your prospect understands it.

The sales cycle is completed by confirming the agreement in person and by following up with a written Letter of Agreement, or contract. It should contain your understanding of the Background, Project Scope, Project Plan, Fees, Expenses and Terms of Payment and any other relevant terms. For most small projects, don't get too wordy--one page will often suffice.

For many of us, selling is an uncomfortable, even frightening task. But it must be done if we are to have the chance to deliver the benefits we have to offer.

Good selling.

Keith Thirgood is Creative Director of Capstone Communications, a marketing and design firm. He's also publishes this newsletter and is the president of the Association of Independent Consultants. He can be reached at (905) 472-2330 or e-mail him at .
Check out Capstone's website at

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