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.
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
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
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
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.