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Sales Strategy
May 12, 2010 | John Doerr lock

Some of my most pleasant memories as a child are of playing with wood building blocks. Once I mastered the basics of stacking one block on another, my goal was always to build as high as I possibly could. Being the quick learner that I am, I soon discovered that the stronger the foundation, the higher each stage of my skyscraper could be. Sacrificing width for height (I only had so many blocks) would result in skyscraper collapse.

The same building-block rules apply to selling services: the stronger and broader the foundation of the relationship, the higher and sturdier your business development success. The question then becomes, “How do we build this foundation?”
The building blocks of a strong service relationship are: trust, need, solution, and value.
  • Trust – Trust begins with the initial rapport that we develop with each prospect. We need a certain amount of rapport just to get a conversation started. As the prospect begins to feel that we indeed are competent and professional, he or she will start to let us into their world. At this point, we can begin to uncover their needs.

  • Need – It is with this “block” we find out what kinds of needs our prospect might have in our general area of expertise. Often these needs exhibit themselves as pain or afflictions. But they can also be a goal or aspiration for a brighter future. In either case, our job is to uncover as much need as we can in order to develop a solution.
  • Solution – Once we have engaged the conversation (or conversations) to uncover needs, we now can craft a solution. It is not a question of offering all the services we have available, but offering only those that connect with the scope of the articulated needs. (This seems rather obvious, but, amazingly, many service providers cannot resist the urge to mention everything they offer, even though the prospect has shown zero interest in the additional services.) In order for our solution to be considered we must then tangibilize the value.
  • Value – By performing our services, what specific value will the client gain? This value can be articulated in dollars, in efficiencies, or in quicker resolution of their problem. No matter what method you use, by being specific and clear about your solution, you will make it easier for the prospect to buy from you.

When we stack our blocks one on top of the other, we create and move up the Service Relationship Hierarchy. Each subsequent step up the hierarchy needs to be broader than the one above it in order for you to be successful in selling your services. 

  • You certainly want to explain in the fullest how your solution offers maximum value. If you can't articulate the full value, you may not sell the full solution.


  • You won't excel if you offer solutions beyond the stated and uncovered needs of the prospect. Clients won't (and shouldn't) buy superfluous services.
  • You may even hinder the level of trust you've built. A certain extent of trust is necessary to simply begin to uncover needs.
  • If prospects doubt you or suspect your motives, they won't typically be forthcoming with their real problems and goals.


Let's take a look at how the concept of the Service Relationship Hierarchy might appear in practice.

Consider this scenario:

You had initial discussions with a new prospect. During conversations, you uncovered a number of needs for which you would be the perfect service provider. In fact, you have been so good at uncovering needs, this could be one of the biggest clients you have ever landed.

Even though you haven't had what you feel is enough interaction with the prospect, the needs are so clear and compelling that you craft your proposal (outlining your incredible solutions) and construct a strong case for the value that your solution will provide. In total, the proposal is for $125,000 – a huge win for you, especially for a first project with a client.

You send the prospect the proposal and…voila…you do not get the job. You are certain of their needs. You are confident of your solution and value-added. What happened?

When you think about it, you already know the answer. You were right about the needs, solutions, and value. But you were also right about this being such a BIG win so early in the relationship. In essence, you were providing too much too early for such a new relationship. You had asked to be the “trusted advisor” to the tune of a $125,000 commitment at a point when you were just building an initial amount of trust with the prospect.

  • You had developed a fair amount of trust, but uncovered needs and the proposed solution were far beyond the trust level you had established.
  • You had not yet built a proper foundation to support the solution you had presented.
  • When the prospect received your proposal, the entire relationship toppled over, resulting in no $125,000 sale and maybe no further relationship with that prospect.

Now consider an alternative: 

The need set is the same: $125,000 in services will be just right. You realize the client isn't ready to drop this much money on you to start, so you break the project into phases so you can prove the concept and prove that you are a top-notch and dependable service provider. Phase 1 is $25,000 – much more palatable for a new relationship. You close the deal and then succeed with flying colors in your delivery of Phase 1. Demonstrating you are reliable and competent by delivering a successful Phase 1.

The need is still the same (or possibly even greater now that you know the client so much better by performing Phase 1). However, you have now built the necessary trust in the process of delivering on your promise. This is the time to propose the solution and the value to meet the entire need your client has articulated.

As much fun as it was seeing my wooden blocks collapse as a child, the collapse of a service relationship I have worked so hard to build is no fun at all.  

Think of the how you can build each relationship with your building blocks of trust, need, solution, and value. Your success in making both the most and the largest sales will grow as you develop your ability to satisfy the Service Relationship Hierarchy with current and prospective clients.

About the Author:

John Doerr is Co-President of Wellesley Hills Group. He is also the Founder of and co-author of the book Professional Services Marketing (Wiley, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of the Wellesley Hills Group, 2010.

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