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.