Archive for January, 2007

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.

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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?