One of the things that I always do when having that ‘first conversation’ with a prospective client is to ask about their current marketing and sales efforts… that is, what they’re doing to grow their business. And for the 3½ years that the doors of Harpeth Marketing have been open, the most popular answer has not changed… it includes all or part of the following:
- “We have a number of repeat clients.”
- “We have a great relationship with a couple of really large clients.”
- “We get a lot of referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations.”
Let’s be clear… those are all really good things. The problem with them is that they rely on someone else to help make your firm successful… and that’s when serious problems can occur:
- Repeat clients are great – that’s what we want all of our clients to be. But it’s also easy to become complacent with those long-time clients… and that’s when a competitor can (and will) swoop in and take them from you.
- Yes, we all want large clients… but two things inevitably happen with them: One, your primary contact – your ‘champion’ inside that client – leaves… and you’re left with not much of a relationship there. Or two, that large client suffers some sort of significant event – a massive lay-off or they go through an acquisition – then everything changes. And in either case – you lose 20-30-40% of your business overnight! Sadly, this happens way too often!
- And who doesn’t want referrals or WOM recommendations? But again… mess up one project and they stop. Or your favorite client simply gets tired of being your mouthpiece in the market… and stops doing it.
Instead of relying on others as the main driver of your business… take charge of your own success. Create a simple plan for being proactive and disciplined in your approach to business growth. Every day and every week, do something that helps to promote your firm in the marketplace and that helps to move prospects through the buying and selling process. Think about your activities like this:
Be strategic. Make sure you’re focused on and doing things that promote and cement your:
- Position in the marketplace (what are you known for?)
- Points of differentiation (note: doing great work and having great people doesn’t count – everybody says that!)
- Thought leadership (prove to the market that you’re an expert)
First, make sure you’ve identified your targeted industries and the best client types. Second, focus your marketing & sales efforts on those targets. Finally, make sure your efforts include the regular release of new content (blog posts, articles and eBooks, speaking at conferences, posting intelligently to LinkedIn groups, etc.).
Build awareness in the markets you serve. Clients can’t do business with you if they don’t know you exist. So get out there and build top-of-mind awareness. This could include things like:
- Having a great website
- Networking at the events where your clients gather (think industry verticals, not just MR events)
- Being active on social media (not just connecting with others – but also posting and participating in online discussions)
- Advertising and exhibiting
- Distributing press releases (new employees, new services, new webinar, etc.)
Generate sales leads. Being well-known is a start… but until someone engages with your firm, there’s no chance of them ever becoming a client. So engage them (and in doing so, capture their contact information) by:
- Providing downloadable content (eBooks, white papers, etc.)
- Exhibiting at conferences and networking
- Hosting a webinar (on your own is through a supporting organization like Quirk’s or Greenbook)
- Actively connecting with others on LinkedIn (hint: never use the built-in generic invitation!)
- Remember those big clients we discussed earlier? Make a concerted effort to expand your reach deep within those firms – so that when your main contact eventually leaves, you will still have plenty of ‘champions’ in place.
As these new leads come in… spend a few minutes vetting them – make sure they fit the profile of a prospective client (right industry / right kind of company) and are not a student, competitor, etc. Then get them into your CRM/sales database as soon as possible.
Nurture those sales leads. No one will convert to a client simply because they’ve downloaded an eBook from your website or attended a webinar. It takes time for them to get to know you… then like you… then trust you. So make that happen with things like:
- Email marketing (frequent and consistent)
- Creating and/or sharing useful content
- In-person visits or phone calls
- Proof sources (show them you can do what you say you can do) – case studies, white papers, etc.
- Remember those repeat clients I mentioned earlier? Nurturing applies to them, too. Everything you’d do to nurture a new sales lead can also be used with existing clients. Keep reminding them that they’ve made a good decision choosing you as a supplier.
Create first-time clients. At some point, a prospect will request a bid or you’ll ask them for the opportunity to earn their business. In either case, to get them to “take a chance with you” for the first time, there are some things you’ll need to do:
- Put together a great capabilities presentation
- Create a compelling bid package
- Mitigate their trepidation with some sort of guarantee
- Perhaps consider some sort of ‘first-timer discount’
Remember, no business can become a long-time client until after they become a first-time client… so this step is critical.
Bottom line: That’s a lot to think about and will generate a significant amount of additional work… but it’s YOU driving the ship… YOU proactively reaching out to and communicating with potential clients… YOU taking responsibility for the growth of your firm. Sure, continue to embrace repeat clients, big clients and referrals… but start now working on these other growth initiatives for the day that those efforts where you rely on others stop working… because they will!