As business owners, we all know the climate of new business drought, followed by floods, followed by drought, followed by drought, followed by the occasional shower you get the picture. But the analogy stops there… while weather is something we can’t control, new business development, with a solid strategy and a planned process, is something we can not only control, but turn into a competitive weapon.
Ask yourself: Why do companies that are successful in every other way face such challenges in getting in front of important prospects? Why is it so difficult to engage a prospect’s attention when they don’t have an immediate need?
See if you recognize any of these pitfalls:
• Relying too heavily on inbound inquiries instead of actively seeking out the clients you really want;
• Allowing outbound prospecting to be a task for your “spare” time;
• Relying too much on existing networks, which all too often consist of only one contact at a company, and not always the right one;
• Using your firms’ credentials as the door opener;
• Not allocating dedicated resources to seeking out and contacting target prospects;
• Not following up, or giving up after a couple of calls or emails.
The answer to these dilemmas is simpler than you might think. It starts with choosing the right prospects, then developing an offer that speaks directly to their needs, putting the offer in a compelling package to get their attention, and following up in a consistent manner. All without raising so much as an eyebrow on your competitors … they won’t even know you are out there with your message.
THE RIGHT PROSPECTS
By determining the criteria that characterizes your ideal or best customer, you create a profile of demographics and qualities to use as a guideline for choosing prospects. Criteria might include size of business, industry, location, life stage of brand, company culture, and client reporting level. Once you’ve identified the criteria, make sure that you as a firm have something to offer the prospects, either something new that they don’t already have, or something better than your competition. And make sure you have the creds to prove it. TIP: Pick a segment or industry at a time and learn all you can about it so your follow-up is informed and relevant.
This is the crux of the matter approaching prospects with an Offer of added value, something they can’t just get on the internet or the street without expending some effort or cash. Be willing to give away some of your thinking to get them engaged and interested. It makes you look smart and savvy, and shows them you are truly interested in their business before they are even a client. Proprietary tools or research, executive white papers on topical subjects, trend reporting, and new technologies are excellent foundations to build the Offer on. TIP: Make the Offer as customizable as possible so it is truly about the prospect, not about you.
THE COLLATERAL (aka the Door Opener)
Surprising, but true: good old-fashioned direct mail still works better than most fancy new technologies in grabbing people’s interest … as long as the package is provocative and creative and breaks through the visual clutter. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but should reflect the personality of your brand and tease their interest with some juicy bits of what’s to come in the face-to-face meeting. And tease is the operative word; do not give it all away, keep them guessing enough to want to learn more through talking to you. TIP: Even if you think you know about direct mail, you probably don’t engage the services of a creative team, especially a writer, who understand how to get people’s attention.
Here is where the best laid plans can go awry. You really did intend to call those contacts, but a current client project just ate up too much time. You did put Mr. Smith down in your book for follow-up this week, but that RFP needed to be out by Wednesday at noon. A recent study showed that in the professional services industry, it takes on average between 5 7 contacts to a prospect to even get a response. And the same study shows that most executives stop following up after 2, maximum 3, contacts. So calendar your follow-up, keep it respectful (max 2 contacts per week) and work the system use the assistants to get 2 minute phone appointments. TIP: Have a list of talking points in front of you for each call, and keep track of calls so you know where you are in the “script”. A series of 3 4 voicemails can give the whole message, but don’t try to pack everything into one voicemail.
The immediate end result of your efforts may not be the proverbial brass ring, but you WILL be building a real relationship with your ideal client. So, when they DO have a need, your firm is the first one they think of, while your competitors are just sitting around waiting and hoping for the RFP.