At some professional service firms, order taking is a common way to get business. The client calls with no advanced warning and says show up tomorrow. There is no competition and little, if any, fee negotiation. Most litigation support firms get a significant share of their cases that way. So do many valuation consultants. Some kinds of legal services are also bought in this manner. Firms that deal with emergencies, whether it be a client’s sudden, bad publicity or a need for a rapid environmental cleanup, are additional examples of those who often benefit from order taking.
It sounds like an easy way to get business. But it isn’t. In these cases the client feels a high sense of urgency and needs to trust the professional he hires. This leads to a conservative approach to selecting a professional; the client is likely to go with the firm who did good work for him in the past. That makes it hard to get new clients, including the new clients needed to replace old ones, who retire or cease to give you business for some other reason. Firms or practices which get business this way run the risk of having too much work with too few clients, exposing them to sudden revenue drops, if something happens to a key client.
Just as you would be unlikely to welcome a pitch from a watch repairman, if your watch was working, clients are often reluctant to spend much time with professionals who offer such services, when they don’t have an immediate need. When they do, they are in a hurry to get help and don’t have time to expend much time researching alternatives. The problem is compounded when the client’s need is confidential as well as being urgent, such as when a client knows his company is likely to receive some devastating publicity and doesn’t want the bad news to come out any sooner than necessary.
Effective selling of these kinds of professional services requires far more than answering the phone. Rainmakers for these kinds of services typically select from three options:
- Public Relations: They can seek publicity in order to increase the likelihood that prospective clients will stumble across their name when an event drives a need for their services. This, of course, works best when the service meets two criteria: First, it can’t be so confidential that the profession can never reveal work done and client names and, second, it must have enough sex appeal to be worth of media attention. For many years, I worked as a location consultant, helping companies pick locations for new factories, offices and research labs. That service met both of these criteria, and we worked the publicity channel hard.
- Networks: They can develop relationships with other professionals, who have early access to information about a client’s need for help. So, for example, many turn around executives work hard to develop relationships with the workout specialists at bank and with bankruptcy attorneys.
- Developing Client Relationships: They find ways to develop relationships with clients in anticipation of the need, in effect making the sale before the need arises. This works best when the client is likely to have intermittent need, such as a litigator’s periodic need for a jury selection consultant. It is a hard route, given busy clients’ unwillingness to expend a lot of time learning about services they don’t have a need for now. In such cases, the professional must link relationship-building to a client’s more immediate needs, for example, by providing training that will meet a client’s need for continuing education credits or providing friendship on the golf course.
When the phone rings and a professional selling such a service gets an order from a new client, it usually results from a lot of hard work. Order taking isn’t so easy.