The changing world of selling professional services

Even the once exclusive professions of accounting, medicine, law and engineering have come to realise that they can no longer survive on referrals and reputation alone; that marketing the firm, while it stimulates awareness and interest, is not enough to generate the levels of new business needed to cover the costs of running a professional practice.

Decades ago these professionals relied on their network of referrals. They developed a reputation amongst a select group of their friends that made them an attractive option, which brought business to their door. Those days and that situation has however changed.

Today, with universities turning out hundreds of skilled professionals in all walks of life, the potential client base is aware of the alternatives and added pressure on professionals to offer better services, lower fees, and more. And because very few of these professionals have learned anything about how to sell, many are finding the trap they are in undermining their practices as on-going business concerns.

The matter is made more complex because many professionals find being referred to as a salesperson is somewhat of an anathema.

Yet the unique challenge of selling professional services means only truly consummate professionals are able to be effective rainmakers—a person (as a partner in a law firm) who brings in new business; a person whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. 

So, what makes a really effective rainmaker for professional services?

Here are some guidelines:

  1. Successful rainmakers treat clients as their most valuable asset. Past and current clients can be a source of new business, and successful rainmakers don’t neglect them while they cultivate new relationships;
  2. Successful rainmakers make business development a priority;
  3. Consistent business development requires a system. The approaches are limitless and highly personal. The important thing is to have a structure in place that keeps selling and business development a consistent priority;
  4. Successful rainmakers have a plan. They recognise that “random acts of lunch” are not usually successful and therefore not a good use of limited sales time. Successful rainmakers know where they are going to focus their sales effort and translate that into an action plan; and
  5. Successful rainmakers focus on high-potential sales opportunities. Professionals have a limited amount of time to invest in selling and business development. Successful rainmakers focus the limited sales time where they can get the biggest return on their investment. 

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and chief executive of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education and resource platform Striving to develop and deliver better sales standards and strategies to help people and businesses sell better, Sue is a sales philosopher, strategist, speaker, trainer, writer, adviser and selling better activist.


Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

I would say this general area of professional services has been as much ‘disrupted’ by digital culture as most other facets of business. Promoting your services now involves reaching targeted groups – and of course social media is an excellent opportunity for delivering information, building rapport and awareness among highly targeted social groups. This seems to be pretty obvious, but the inertia of digital awareness is very much in evidence.

Sammy Castello
Sammy Castello
5 years ago

what that means?????

SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.