The 3 Words You Want to Hear


I do a lot of work with professional service providers:

  • Attorneys (across several practice areas)
  • Consultants (in various fields)
  • Accountants, fractional CFOs, and bookkeepers
  • Financial services providers
  • Engineers and architects

You may even throw real estate and some insurance professionals into that group.

They’re doing great work. They’re pros in their fields. They make their clients a LOT of money.

Guess what?

They’re commoditized. They’re fighting to get their full worth. They end up leaving meetings with potential clients wondering why the PNC (potential new client) doesn’t “see the value.”

They’re charging $150 an hour but want to charge $300. They’re billing $2500 a month retainers and want to be at $5800.


And it’s THEIR fault.


Here’s why: most buyers DON’T see the expertise or “value” an expert will provide because they think, “legal is boilerplate” or “doing books is doing books,” or, “anyone can design a nice pitch deck.” It drives down the price the client is willing to pay.

The PSP thinks, “I’ll tell them what I know and what I’ve done.” They share deals they’ve worked, where they’ve clerked, talk about their “big firm experience but with small firm customer service,” or show them their portfolio. They talk about all they know as if someone understands a certain part of a city code or the law or Sarbanes Oxley.

That doesn’t work. It’s like the nice guy waiting to get the girl’s attention but just hanging around as a friend….

Here’s what does work: exposing a question or problem the PNC doesn’t know they haven’t resolved.



  • Accounting professionals shouldn’t be talking about doing books and having a meeting with the client as part of their services. They should be asking (in the consult), “Where are expenses out of line? Where are you underpriced? What’s profitability by the customer? Which customers should you fire?”

Those questions cause MOST business owners (who don’t have time to do that analysis) to answer, “I don’t know.”

The perceived value of the person they’re talking to goes up with every question asked. By hundreds if not thousands of dollars per month.

Example 2:

  • Legal professionals don’t need to tout what they’ve done, but (when selling to business owners, especially in the lower middle market) might be asking questions like, “What sort of advice have you gotten on entity formation? What role would you like legal to play in M&A work? What are you thinking about with regard to tax strategy?”

The small business owner, whose primary focus is on sales, customer service, and making payroll, answers with, “I don’t know yet….” The attorney has IMPLIED her expertise and ability to help with those problems (in addition to being a contract rockstar), creating a greater perceived value in the eye of the PNC.

When I exclusively sold sales training to CEOs, I’d ask questions like:

  • Do all your people follow the same process?
  • Where are the breakdowns in opportunities with prospects?
  • Is your VP of sales the problem?
  • What people can’t get better, even with great training?
  • What should your VP be doing, other than closing deals?
  • What are the pivotal points in your sales process?
  • Which are the right customers for you to be chasing?

Most of those were answered with, “We don’t know. That’s why we need your help.”

The service provider’s goal on an initial consult is to hear the response, “I don’t know” and get it several times.

That’s the science.

The delivery can’t be in an “I-went-to-law-school-and-I’m-smarter-than-you” way, but in a “Hey, what’s your thinking on this topic that no other professional has broached with you?” way.

Professional service providers have deep expertise and technical skill. They’ve worked long and hard for it. And it shows.

The problem is that the prospective client doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know, so talking to them about the details of law, finance, marketing, or something else may actually be counterproductive. For many buyers, it confuses them and leaves them feeling stupid.

They’re focused on a higher level or more basic problem and want someone to solve it.

They may not realize the implications (or opportunity in) the problem they want to be solved.

So they don’t feel stupid, it needs to be delivered or asked with some level of human warmth.

That’s the art.

Do those two things, and do them well, and close rates AND pricing go up. (As does client satisfaction.)

Don’t? Keep getting the same thing.

Adam Boyd