The best time to develop business

November 7, 2007

It never fails:

Your pipeline of clients gets full and you pull back the throttle on developing new business.You slow down my speaking and writing schedule. You don’t meet with as many people in my network. You get a bit lazy in asking current clients for referrals.

And then you pay the price. Maybe not this month, maybe not next, but within a quarter or so, you notice that your pipeline starts to empty. And then — if you don’t take action — your revenues start to drop.

The best time to develop business is ALL THE TIME.

Business development needs to be your top priority as a professional. This is especially the case when times are good, even when you think you are too busy serving current clients. You have to carve out a consistent amount of time to continue to develop your network, nurture relationships, and get out in front of people with educational messages. Otherwise, you will cede (or never achieve) your position as the top go-to professional in your marketplace.

Remember that the most competent professionals are not always the most successful. It is not fair, but it is true. To avoid the fate of not earning the revenue you know you deserve, be sure to consistently invest your time and resources in business development, in good times and in bad.

The good news: There are many ways to develop business that are automatic, especially in these days of blogging, enewsletters, online article submissions, and content-driven websites. Also, business development never means that you have to “hawk” your services, and doesn’t have to be awkward.

The bad news: You still need to make a plan and stick to it. And you need to know the most effective business development strategies and execute them effectively.

Don’t let up!

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How to become an expert — quickly

July 23, 2007

One of the keys to marketing yourself as an executive coach is to be a perceived expert. There are a number of ways to do this: speaking, writing, getting quoted in relevant media, blogging, building up a list of qualified prospects and sending them your newsletter, articles on your website, books, and all sorts of information products.

Now, let’s say you wanted to be perceived as an expert within 2 months. Here is a plan:

1. Sign up for the software program ArticleSubmitter Pro. This nifty program lets you submit articles to up to 1,000 article sites. That way, you get a number of back links to your website as well as terrific recognition. The process takes a bit of work to set up the first time, and it takes time to submit articles once you are registered — but they help speed things up considerably.

2. Pick a couple of major corporations in your target market. Speak for free there on a topic of interest to their senior or middle management. Pass out an evaluation form at the end, and on it ask people what they found most valuable about your presentation. Now you have some marquee names on your speaking list, and testimonials from employees at leading organizations.

3. Record your speech from #2 and offer it on your website, noting that it was delivered at the marquee company.

4. Get yourself listed on PR Leads, a leading site that journalists go to find experts.

5. Build your network on LinkedIn.

6. Join a major association in your target market and start getting active in leadership roles there.

Research on direct marketing and follow up

May 18, 2007

I’ve done some research on direct marketing for professionals trying to reach a business audience. Here are some interesting findings:

1.  A well crafted letter to a focused list, sent one time, can generate on average no more than .5% response. The letter needs to be short and show immediate value, including a reason for the prospect to call.

2. Combine the letter and a follow up phone call, and you can increase response 3-fold, to 1.5%.

3. Combine the above with a personal visit and the response increases still more.

4. Repeat the above at least 3 times, with a focused list of 100 prospects, and response goes up as high as 5-10% for many professionals. If a prospect is a clear “no,” replace them with a new one. If a prospect becomes a client, replace with a new prospect, so that the list stays at 100 or so at a time.

In my program, I provide examples of letters that get results.

Guess which marketing tactic pulled three times better than the other

April 30, 2007

Here are three marketing tactics I recently used in the same magazines, but on different dates. Guess which pulled three times better in terms of consulting leads:

1. I ran 6 months of advertising, offering a free report on my website.

2. The publisher of the same magazine interviewed me for an article about marketing, which appeared as a feature.

3. The magazine published an article about marketing by me.

The first one cost the most and was the least successful. The other two were about equal in terms of leads and sales, and generated three times more sales than the first.

The lesson: Publicity and articles can be an invaluable tactic. Make sure you are writing and getting interviewed as part of your business development strategies. It costs very little money and gives you outstanding credibility from a third-party source.

Why questions get you hired more than credentials do

March 14, 2007

Why does a professional with impeccable educational and professional credentials not get hired when a professional with more modest credentials does?

There are two common reasons.

The first is the likability factor. As author David Maister notes, people choose professionals when the answer to two questions is yes:

a. Can you do the work?

b. Do I want to work with you?

Most professionals do fine on “a” but some professionals have trouble with “b.” There are skills required to build rapport with clients and prospective clients, and some professionals don’t bother to learn those skills. They come across as arrogant, aloof, and unconcerned with the prospect’s success — at least compared to competitors. You don’t need to “kiss up” in order to develop rapport and trust with a prospect, but you do need to know how to relate on a personal level.

The second reason is that some professionals hide behind their credentials. Credential are important. However, what really sells an engagement is the ability to ask probing, insightful questions to understand the prospect’s situation and build your credibility. As David Sandler says in his sales book, “Questions are the answer.”

The next time you are with a prospect, assess the percentage of time you spend making assertions and the percentage of time you spend asking open-ended questions. The top rainmakers spend 75% of their time asking open-ended questions. That way, the prospect knows that the professional is concerned about their issues and situation and, assuming the questions are on point, that the professional has credibility.

Questions get you hired more than credentials do.

From $80,000 to $1.2 million per year as a consultant

March 14, 2007

 

I’ve been working with an executive coach, consultant and trainer for 6 years now and he has finally hit the stratosphere.

While I’ve promised not to reveal any confidential information, this individual was a private high school teacher 10 years ago and gradually made a transition into coaching and consulting top executives. Each year he saw his income double and this past year he tells me he earned $1.2 million!

Here are some keys to his success:

1. He took the skills he learned teaching drama and theater to his students and found a way to apply those skills to fill a need that many top executives have (high-performance communication).

2. He talks about his coaching NOT in terms of what he does, but in terms of the results he gets. That way, he can charge more than other people in the same field.

3. He developed some truly innovative programs for executives that nobody else was, or is, doing.

4. He gave workshops at leading insitutions, like Esalen, which increased his network of contacts and put him in touch with executives. Over time, he networked his way into the offices of some C-level executives.

5. He kept “talking his way” into meeting with top executives, showing them value, and getting more and more referrals. He is fearless at walking up to a C-level executive at a billion dollar company and starting a conversation.

6. He has no qualms about charging $30,000 or more for a weekend seminar/workshop or $10,000 minimum for a couple of months of coaching. Perhaps he came into coaching a bit naive, and so asking for amounts that many coaches consider to be unreasonable was not an issue for him.

7. He has a wonderful marketing message that sets his services apart as unique, elite, and results-driven. His message doesn’t overly promote him, but rather is crafted to be minimalist. It grabs an executive’s attention without any annoying self-promotion.

8. He has put together a team of fantastic consultants who work with him and on his behalf, using his methodology, so that he gets excellent leverage on his time and revenue model.

As they say on diet commercials, “results not typical.” Still — it is so inspiring to have worked with him over these six years and see these remarkable results.

What are we working on now? Surprisingly, we are still working on marketing, so that he can continue to refine his message and generate more clients. We are also working on helping him scale his firm so that it can grow and still deliver top service.

The toehold solution to winning a client

January 11, 2007

A member of the Trust-Based Program to Attract New Clients shared a wonderful example of how to win over a client by starting with a tiny toehold.

He is in the printer and computer services industry, but that doesn’t matter. This strategy applies to all of us.

Basically, he starts with a client when a printer breaks down. Once his firm fixes it, he uses that opportunity to educate the client about how they can also help support the company’s overall technology.

By following up over time, he eventually gets called in to “pinch hit” for the client’s existing tech support.

Then he builds a relationship with the executive team at a client and — when the IT Manager leaves for a different job — he offers to take over the company’s entire IT function as the outsourced provider.

Here is another example:

A $100 million consulting firm  began every engagement with a low-cost benchmarking study of the productivity at the client.  The benchmarking study led to a full-blown operations improvement project. In turn, this project led to a strategic assessment and  strategy project.

Finally, in my own case, I typically sell a low-cost program, someone likes it, hires me for long-term coaching, and brings me into their firm to teach others how to develop business.

This toehold strategy is not the only way to get a client, but it is a smart way to gradually show what you can do, build trust, and nurture the relationship while also being paid.

Why doesn’t the best solution (yours) always win?

January 11, 2007

One frustration that many professionals share with me is that they sometimes lose competitive opportunities to professionals they know to be less skilled than they are.

How can this happen? It makes no sense that somebody would hire the less effective solution, right?

Wrong. Here are two reasons why the best solution doesn’t always win:

First, what you think is the best solution may not be what the client thinks is the best solution. I’ve been hired to interview prospects/clients in order to discover why they didn’t hire a particular professional services firm. Often, it turns out that the prospective client had a very different set of criteria for hiring a professional. In one case, a prospect didn’t hire the most knowledgeable professional in a particular industry because they wanted a fresh point of view from somebody without any industry experience. While the professional who didn’t get the job couldn’t understand how someone with no industry experience could be useful, the prospective client thought differently.

Lesson: Be sure you know your client’s criteria for the best solution. Don’t guess or project your own views.

Second, to win an engagement you need to have two things in place: A solution that works; and the relationships/political capital to win. Many times the lesser or two solutions wins because that particular professional has strong enough relationships with the prospective clients to get the right decision makers on his or her side.

For instance, I recently worked with perhaps the top writing and presentation coach in the country. But at the end of the day, I found her to be short sighted and obnoxious. Even though she has the best credentials of anyone in my network, I recently hired somebody else that I like working with much more. He is “good enough” to get results, and I want to work with him.

As David Maister says, the two questions any potential client asks are:

1. Can you do the work?

2. Do I want to work with you?

That’s why the best solution doesn’t always win.

Are you on equal footing with your prospects?

January 11, 2007

In business development situations, the professional on the selling side sometimes makes a big mistake: he or she unconsciously decides to stand on unequal footing with the prospect.

That is, he comes across as subservient, even desperate to please. They do this by excusing missed appointments, misleading information, and wavering by the prospect.

This is a mistake. Clients want professionals who stand on equal footing with them, who can be their trusted advisors. They buy from people they respect.

Here are some ways to stand on equal footing:

1. Have open conversations about budget. If the prospect won’t answer, be clear that you can’t help them until you know a bit more about whether they have money to commit to solving their problem.

2. Set a clear process and timeline for making a decision. If a prospect misses a deadline, suggest that they are not serious about moving forward.

3. If they provide misleading information, diplomatically call them on that fact, and tell them that you won’t work with them if they continue to mislead you.

4. If the prospect keeps asking for more information, reply by saying, “Suppose I get you that information. What happens next?” Give something only if it helps you get a “yes” or “no” answer in a timely fashion. For instance, I never give references without a signed contract. Why would I bother my most important clients unless I already had a signed contract? Once I have a signed contract, I’m happy to void it if I can’t provide the promised references (but by that time, the client doesn’t care anymore and drops the issue).

5. No matter how badly you think you need a client, act like a successful professional. People smell desperation and avoid it. We want to hire the busy, successful professional, not the desperate one.

So, do you stand on equal footing with your prospects?

What does how you buy say about how you sell?

January 11, 2007

Different people buy in different ways.

Some are highly analytical, ask hundreds of questions, compare and contrast alternatives, and take a long time to make a decision.

Others are more focused on the bottom line price, and nickel and dime a salesperson to death before buying.

Still other people go with their gut feel. They make quick decisions and don’t need to pay the lowest price, so long as they get a good vibe.

And some just like to “kick the tires” and aren’t ever serious about buying anything.

How do you behave when you make small, medium, and large purchases?

Your answer might say a lot about how you sell.

If you are highly analytical and always look for the absolute rock bottom price, you might be inclined to provide lots of information to your prospects and expect a slow, long, tedious sales process. However, this approach could turn off the prospect who makes decisions based on getting to know you, or on gut feel.

If you are the perpetual tire kicker,  you might assume that most prospects are not serious about buying, and give up on them too soon.

If you make quick decisions, you might get frustrated by more analytic buyers, and lose those sales to lack of follow through and details.

Most importantly, if you nickel and dime people, you might assume that you can never get top dollar for your services. This assumption is not true, and it will hold you back financially.

So, how do you buy?