Growing Business Services
If you want low-hanging client development fruit, you need to market to people that already know you and trust you. Short of that, market to those that knew you and trusted you once upon a time. And, if you can’t find those…well, how about the folks who might be likely to believe you are trustworthy because of your background? Try those who shared the same affinity experience as you at school or work, for instance. It is crazy easy these days to digitally track down former clients and colleagues and keep them in your virtual embrace… Of course, “to Google” someone is a phrase that now probably qualifies for The Oxford English Dictionary. But, that’s not the only way to find and reconnect with people from your past that might be willing and able to help you build your practice. Classmates: One of the online tools I access frequently is my business school alumni site. At the Duke Fuqua School of Business Alumni site, I tap into a complete database of all MBA graduates from the school. I can narrow my search by name, city, work organization, graduation year and many other factors. Software-as- a-Service businesses like Alumni Magnet and Graduway have made it easy for schools to create an easily searchable alumni web site. My undergraduate alma mater, University of Michigan, Ross School of Business has a deal with Alumni Magnet, for instance, which provides the underlying platform for the Ross Alumni site. If you haven’t yet mined the alumni directory of your educational institution, get busy. Reaching out to old friends is not only fun, its very good business networking. “Hey, Joe. It has been too long. I would like to catch up with you. Maybe there are some ways we can help each other professionally after all this time?” Clients: Please tell me that you are keeping in touch with your former clients(assuming that you did respectable work for them). It isn’t too late to track them down and reconnect. They liked and trusted your performance in the past, they may be in a position to employ your services in the future. The advanced search function on Linkedin can help. So can a quick e-mail to others who might know the location of your former client. If you want even more horsepower to find the hard to find clients now nestled at the top of corporate America, check out Relationship Science: a data service that allows colleagues within companies to visually map their connections to more than three million influential senior executives at one million companies. Colleagues: Whether they are from your current firm or a previous one, your prior business colleagues share a strong common bond with you. They can be your best source of new business if you manage the relationship well. Some firms invest heavily in this form of marketing. McKinsey & Company uses its elite alumni network as a recruiting tool (that is, “join us and you will be part of the club for life”) and as a business development tool. McKinsey alumni seem to be exceptionally loyal to their former firm when hiring consulting firms for the companies they go on to lead. Though Arthur Andersen is long gone, its Alumni also support each other like blood-brethren. Many companies now have their own alumni web sites (some authorized and some not). Check to see if yours has one and, if not, perhaps you can start it – putting yourself at the center of the alumni information flow. As with the school alumni space, a range of SaaS providers have conquered the corporate alumni platform field. Conenza is an example. It has been helping build and grow Corporate Alumni Networks since 1995 with the creation of the Microsoft Alumni Network. Other notable professional services clients of Conenza include Avanade, Nielsen, and Linklaters. Insala is another alumni networks provider claiming two of the Big Four firms – Deloitte and EY – in their client roster. Paradox Found We live in the age of paradox marketing. Why is it so hard for professionals to get a handle on client development? One reason may be that client development in professional service firms is fraught with paradoxes: Paradox #1: Firm and Individual – Professionals work in Firms and that demands an institutional or team level of support for marketing. Yet the work that most professionals execute and the client development process itself are inherently individual efforts. Clients buy you, not the firm, and they expect you to deliver. Paradox #2: Urgency and Trust – We need a constant flow of new work and this requires us to market with a sense of urgency and at the same time we must establish trust with our prospective clients and rushing relationships is a great way to contaminate trust. Paradox #3: Billable Time and Marketing Time – You have to book billable hours and you need to spend the time necessary to execute your work at the highest level of professionalism and you must also spend the time it takes to develop new business. Don’t worry; there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead. Paradox #4: Accumulating and Letting Go – You need all the referrals and prospects you can get, and you don’t need any. If you seem desperate, you’re dead meat. The best way to deal successfully with a paradoxical situation is to recognize that both (conflicting) realities are simultaneously true, don’t fight it or dwell on it and move forward anyway. Let’s Get Clear On Content Already. CONTENT OR NOT CONTENT? NO, THIS ISN’T CONTENT: Solicitation –Handing your firm’s pitch book to a prospect is not content. It is solicitation material. There may be a time and place for those things but don’t fool yourself into thinking they are valuable to your prospect. They’re valuable to you. That’s not content for the purposes of opening a relationship. Self-praise – Articles featuring your firm on the cover of some hack magazine where you paid to get editorial coverage is not content. Press releases about your firm are not content. Tombstone ads announcing your latest successful deals are not content. They’re not bad things and there’s a time and place for them but if you think they’re of value to your client…snap out of it! Shiny objects – Pens, mugs, hats, shirts and any other brick-a- brack with your firm’s logo on them are not. They are tchotchkes. Such alleged “gifts” – with strings or without – are too often shiny objects, tchotchkes that make a millisecond of a branding impact, but surely aren’t substantive content. Without genuine intent and clear business value, reliance on sending shiny objects isn’t gift-giving but thievery. Stealing attention from and adding clutter to your client. They earn you this type of reaction when you call the next time: “Oh jeez, its that Sam guy calling again. I need to remember to block his number.” YES, THIS IS CONTENT: Insights: Too often, too many view content solely as thought leadership – writing, speaking, research. Others may think first of the “content marketing” trend soaking up budgets and almost always implies offering thought leadership materials online as a way to drive prospects to a firm’s web site. Those things are great and helpful but those limited definitions focus on substantive information as the full view of content. First, providing thought leadership information doesn’t necessarily equate to sharing insight or implications that an audience can use. Turning information into unique insights and powerful implications that your prospects couldn’t have gotten any other way…and helping your audience take action based on those things…now, that’s content! Introductions – Remember that we are defining content as something of consequential value to your prospect’s organization, their career or to them personally. So, content includes connecting a prospect to an appropriate person from your inventory of relationships – someone with whom your prospect can prosper personally and professionally. If you do this before you’re commercially engaged by a prospect without any quid pro quo expectation…that’s definitely content. Just the right contact can impact your prospect’s organization – say, the perfect candidate for a hard to fill position. Just the right connection can influence your prospect’s career – perhaps an experienced executive who has held a similar role and can serve as a mentor to your prospect. Just the right introduction can make a personal difference, too – making life easier or better for your prospect or his family. Income – There’s no denying that money is of consequential value to us all. If you are able to connect your prospect to a new customer for his organization’s products or services…that counts as content in our expansive definition. If you are able to connect a prospect to a recruiter who lands him a paid gig on the board of directors for a thriving company, that counts as content. Net income is the excess of revenue over expenses so if – before you are officially engaged to help – you can save your prospect money…that’s content too. Think of insights, introductions and income as content gifts: those that support your prospect’s success.
Have you had enough of prospect conversations that seem DOA (dead on arrival)? First thing I would want to know is, “What are you talking about with clients and prospects?” Did you start off by sharing your “credentials?” Snore. That’s not a discussion, that’s a pitch. Please feel free to go on yapping while your prospect stares aimlessly at the email piling up on their smartphone inbox – tuning out your self-interested blather completely. Or feel free to keep asking, “What keeps you up at night?” Such a trite, manipulative question deserves a response like, “My indigestion.” Microsoft’s new CRM campaign has it all wrong. Don’t “Always Be Closing.” Stop. Breathe. Stop closing. Start earning the right to be bought. Get genuinely curious about your prospect. Start opening. Business and Professional Services Firm marketing is about building enough of the right relationships with enough of the right prospects in the right way. And, relationships are built through one-to- one discussions: each unique, each vital. Each conversation, in essence, is the relationship. So, the better we are at conducting high impact conversations with clients and colleagues and even with ourselves the more successful our client development efforts. If you need a mnemonic device to stay on the right track, think of your most important conversations as V.I.P. Dialogues: Valued, Improvisational, and Partner oriented. Here’s why… Valued: Every time you talk with a client or prospective client it is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your difference; to prove your value to the client; to show off your creative problem solving skill and functional knowledge. Most important, it is a chance to leave your client or prospect better off for having spent the time with you. You do this with clients when they engage you on a project right? Making your expert value real, tangible and meaningful for clients is part of being a great client advisor…and this is precisely the same competency that makes a great client developer. Just applied in a different context. How are you leaving them better off as a result of each conversation – even before you are hired? If you’re doing that, you will be valued. If not you’ll be shut out. Improvisational: Improvising is one way to describe a conversation (or performance) in which you respond to circumstances in an ad hoc, inventive manner. The notion of improvising anything typically sends linear-thinking Professionals and analytical specialists into panic mode. But, wait… improvisation belies the careful preparation that precedes it. Study the great improvisational comedians and you’ll see that not all of what they do is spur of the moment - they repurpose and reconfigure material they’ve used before for the setting, the audience and the mood. The point is, even apparent improv geniuses have modules of practiced content from which they can pull and deliver to match specific circumstances. Graduates of The Second City (the Harvard of Improv programs) include comic masters like Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey. Second City actors learn to accept what their partners offer up in dialogue. They say “yes” and stay open to where the conversation will go from there. They learn to add “and” to that “yes” to keep things moving forward. “Yes, and” – they acknowledge the contribution of their improve partner and they add something of their own to the discussion. They learn, too, that there are no mistakes in these fluid dialogues. They see opportunity in each strange turn of the conversation and they stay with it to see where the path will lead. Let’s apply the notion of improvisation to a client development conversation. In most of our encounters with clients and prospects we never quite know where the conversation will meander. Improvising in this setting means rolling with the dialogue and using the flow of ideas to explore and uncover opportunity to help the client solve problems he may not even recognize. “Comedy is a defense. The best defense is a good offense. The best offense is to be prepared.” – Robin Williams Like Williams did in his comedy, we need to come prepared – our subject matter expertise well honed, our knowledge of our client/prospect’s business top of mind, our minds limber and our ears open – and confident that we have prepared we can relax into the process of applying our preparation to the hybrid role of client advisor/client developer. Most important, we need to enter each encounter with a high degree of curiosity about the other person and their situation. What could you be genuinely curious about? Build your conversation around that deep interest or fascination. Partner: Being a great client advisor means getting on the same side of the table with your client. Once we have been hired as advisors, we are not in an adversarial seller vs. customer situation, right? Rather, we are partners with our client in solving their issues. So, why not take on that role BEFORE you are hired? Adopting a partnering mindset makes you far more likeable during any prospect conversation. Likeability is one of the key decision criteria prospects use in selecting a Firm. The more you can view client development dialogues as opportunities to be a problem-solver together with your prospect, the more you start acting like their advisor from the get-go Listening is the single greatest factor that demonstrates your partnership ability. Good news, you can train people (yourself included) to listen more actively. Great professionals not only listen and write down the key points they heard after conducting a good client/prospect conversation; they then review it to decipher what they really know about the client or prospect and what/who they still need to understand. After processing the material – but before developing a proposal, great client developers go back to the prospect and play back what they learned for confirmation. Few professionals employ this “let me share what I think I heard” technique but it shows you’ve listened and that you want to make certain you are in alignment with them and care about their opinion. These are good signals that help convince a prospect, “This is a person I would like to work with.” Pay close attention to the nature of your discussions outside and inside the Firm. Are they VIP level conversations? Increasing conversational awareness - emphasizing value (for the “other” person), rolling with the improvisational nature of most interactions, and putting on the hat of “partner” - will help you avoid the inadvertent and dreaded R.I.P. client dialogue.