Most practitioners are finding it tougher keeping their utilisation figures high. It’s a terrible feeling when work levels drop of. You wonder when the next matter is going to crop up or what you’ve got to do to get work in. After a prolonged work drought, you can even start to doubt your standing in the firm. Are you letting the side down?
A downward slide can kick in. When you start getting anxious, your abilities to be successful at selling can diminish.
Of course you increase your BD activity, but are you doing the right things to generate work in the short term?
Here is a suggested BD programme which I know works relatively quickly.
1. First of all, work out who to target.
The last thing you should do is write an article or plan a seminar. That activity has its place, but it’s just profile-raising and is more appropriate for generating work later. We need work tomorrow – not in 6 months!
Instead select five of your best clients. I don’t necessarily mean your biggest. Ask yourself who you are closest to. Who phones you up? Who opens up to you and talks about their hopes and fears for the future? These are the clients you’ll make more progress with and more quickly.
I say five clients – it could be three or four. The point is, it isn’t 95! You are going to put a programme of activity together and you won’t be able to be rigorous enough if you pick too many prospects.
2. Review all the information you know and read up all you can about the clients on your shortlist.
Here is where the need for rigour kicks in. You need to plan your campaign. For example, try to find out:
- What’s happening in their market place?
- What’s their 3-5 year strategy (expansion, restructuring, mergers etc)?
- Who selects professional advisers and on what basis? Who are the decision-makers and influencers?
- Which other professional firms are in the frame? What are their relative strengths and weaknesses?
- What hopes and fears might your key contact have?
Notice that my list has information about the client as a person, as an organisation and about the marketplace.
Once you have your information, distil down all this information into five or so hot topics that you could ask them about and contribute your own insightful thoughts. Try inviting your colleagues to share their insights and brainstorm some topics. It’s hard doing this by yourself!
Don’t be put off if the clients often use big impressive rival firms. They’ll typically be more expensive and clients might not feel they always get partners giving them their full attention.
Similarly don’t be put off if they use smaller cheaper firms – they won’t necessarily have the range of expertise to always meet their needs.
3. Ring up the shortlisted target clients.
Many professionals find this step awkward. What should you say? Should you just invite them to lunch? My suggestion is to offer them something. I sometimes use the phrase ‘put some tasty bait on the end of the fishing line’! This gets the idea across, though it sounds rather too exploitative!
The key point to recognise is that most of your potential clients are busy and probably somewhat stressed. So consider what can you do to make their lives easier or help them look good? Try to put yourself in their shoes. What would you want your advisers to offer you?
Having got this insight, now ask yourself the question ‘what’s in it for them, to give up an hour to meet you?’ Give them something – useful insights, market intelligence, perhaps an opportunity to network with somebody useful who you can introduce them to.
Most of them can afford a nice lunch. If that’s all you’re offering, you might find a lot of your client lunches get cancelled at the last minute.
Most people talk too much on the phone. The reason for the call is to get a meeting. The phone call should be short – perhaps two or three minutes. Leave a discussion on anything substantive to the meeting.
4. Have a meeting with your prospective clients.
The key point to emphasise is to be prepared. Don’t wing it! Your actions under point 2 above should mean that you’ll be more impressive and on-the-ball.
Then try not to do all the talking. Your prospective client should do most of the talking. Your job is to listen. To really listen – not just to what they are saying, but to the underlying meaning behind what they’re saying. Partners who are natural sales people ask more probing questions, such as ‘That sounds interesting – can you say a little bit more about that?’
Don’t try to sell every time a client talks about any issues or problems. Explore the problems with them first. Many of us live with things which aren’t perfect, but we’re not yet ready and motivated to do anything about them. We have other priorities.
So help them see the benefits of them addressing the problem or help them see the risks if they leave the problem unaddressed. By doing this, it will more likely lead to action and an instruction for you to assist.
5. Follow up the meeting.
Most partners have a series of one-off meetings with clients. If they don’t give us work we phone somebody else and try there instead. Selling professional services doesn’t work like that. You need to be developing your relationship as a trusted adviser and finding ways of keeping in touch.
If you picked the right topics to raise and asked good questions, opportunities should follow. If not, think harder about the issues your clients are facing and the needs they have to be addressed. Consider doing a rehearsal in the office to practise communicating the benefits of your offering.
Sometimes you might be unlucky with your timing. Perhaps a rival firm got in there before you. Nevertheless, follow up any leads that arise in your meetings. Send any relevant materials. Offer to introduce any colleagues.
If none of these 5 client meetings leads to work opportunities, select your next five best prospects…..