On the Marketing of Professional Services

More than forty-two years in the professional services industry has taught me that professional services are “bought”, not “sold”. There is a prevailing myth (and, many times it is the accepted practice) that you go out into the so-called marketplace and “sell” your services. Nothing could be further from the truth. It doesn’t work. You can “sell” ice. You can “sell” fish. You can “sell” a whole host of commodities. But, you can’t “sell” a prospective client on the competence of the service provider’s mind. And, that’s all a professional service industry has–the competence of the collective minds that it employs.

A prospective client must have confidence in the competence of the people providing the service. They must have confidence that the work will be performed with the highest quality, and at the agreed upon price. They must have confidence in the integrity of the service provider.

And, how do they gain that confidence? Typically, I have found, it is with someone with whom they already have a prior relationship–someone who already has their confidence–someone who they know will stand behind the work, and who now represents the service provider to the prospective client.

For, you see, people “buy” from people whom they know and trust, particularly when it comes to an intangible service like the competence of people’s minds. What, after all, is a “firm” or “company”? People might assume that a firm or company will provide good service at a reasonable price. But still, a firm or company is a faceless entity. A person who is already known to the prospective client as trustworthy and competent, however, puts a “face” on the service provider, and gives the prospective client a comfort that the service will be provided as stated, and at the agreed upon price.

That’s why I say professional services are “bought”, rather than “sold”. People buy from people whom they know and trust–not from firms or companies. That’s why you really can’t “sell” a professional service. I’ve watched people try to do it–and, inevitably, they fail. It just doesn’t work.

I talked about some of these issues at the Sales Association Midwest Fall Conference in Chicago in November, 2013. A link to an outline of my presentation is as follows:


I also covered these issues in an interview on the Price of Business on Business Talk 1110 AM KTEK (on Bloomberg’s home in Houston). The link to that interview is as follows:


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