Selling professional services is, in many ways, analogous to the dating process. There are several steps in the process and if you attempt to rush it by skipping a step or two, you will most likely face rejection.

Assume that you're at a party and you spot an attractive person standing alone. Visually, you are intrigued. Assume again that both of you are unattached and you'd like to snag a date with this person. Would you go up and say, "Hello, my name is X, would you like to go to dinner with me next Friday?" Absolutely not, because you recognize that this would rush the process and risk an immediate rejection. To increase your odds of securing the date, you enter into a routine to improve your odds of securing that yes response.

Selling is like that too—it's a systematic process that requires you to establish rapport and clear some hurdles first before asking for the order.

Here are the steps in the process of selling with grace:

1. Generate rapport and establish credibility. People do business with people they like and feel they can trust. Since you are looking to secure a new business client, your job is to make the customer want to do business with you on two levels: rationally and emotionally. To meet their emotional needs, you will have to make a favorable impression within the first 30 seconds. After making a favorable impression, focus your attention on listening intently and show genuine interest in them. Show a lot of enthusiasm.

Successful sales people establish rapport quickly with a prospect and adapt their approach based on the prospect’s personality type, not vice versa. If your customer is relaxed and low-key, be casual and low-key. If your customer is strictly business and in a New York-hurry, eliminate the small talk and cut to the chase. If they are passionate about their business or hobby or kids, go with the flow. You need to adapt your approach to the situation and their personality type. Approaching everyone the same way will not work.

Adapting your approach is generally two dimensional. The first factor is speed and pace. This is generally easy to gauge and should be evident before you meet with your client in person. The second factor is task and/or relationship oriented, which stems from their personality. If the person is left-brained and makes decisions based primarily on information, establish your credibility and focus on your deliverables. If they are relationship-oriented, show more interest in them and their business. Be interested, not interesting. Give them a soapbox to talk. Focus on their needs and listen intently.

2. Seek to understand, then be understood. Now that you've established a common ground and created some mutual interest, it's time to gather some information beyond what you've gleaned from your previous phone conversation. During this process, you are trying to understand their key business issues and pain points. What is their organizational structure and strategy? How complex is this engagement?

After you understand their situation, it's time to be understood.

3. Propose action and get them involved. The next hurdle in this process is to recommend solutions to the client's problems and concerns. Seek to get the client involved. Guide the prospect by focusing on the benefits that are most important to them. If you provide these benefits in a unique or proprietary way, emphasize this.

After you propose your fees, be prepared to overcome some common objections and reassure them why you are the right choice for them.

4. Gain agreement and secure a financial commitment. Once you secure their agreement to your proposal or services, stop your pitch, transition into execution mode and get out of there. If you continue to focus on the selling, you may uncover an issue you cannot resolve and could potentially lose the sale.

Some degree of financial commitment is important at the end of every agreement. Don't tiptoe around this. They want to close the deal just as much as you, so they can get into action mode.

If you haven't secured a bona fide agreement at the end of your meeting, secure a commitment to some course of action.

Rainmaking can be fun if you follow a process designed to improve your batting average.

Hugh Duffy

Hugh Duffy

Hugh Duffy is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Build Your Firm, a website development and marketing company for accounting firms.