Why it Takes Three Years to Win Serious Work from New Clients

Sales pipelineMost professionals enjoy doing the work but don’t like the act of getting it. When they’re busy on chargeable work, they tend to do very little business development. And they have the perfect excuse – trying to ensure the current work gets done effectively.

How long does it take for your firm to win new clients?  Research I carried out for one firm showed it took, on average, three years for them to win substantial new work from new clients. One of the accounting firms used to have a five year campaign to win a new audit.

Here’s a typical story about winning a new client. One partner met a general counsel at a conference. He then visited them at their US headquarters later that year. Another partner in the same firm met the head lawyers at their European office and sent them regular newsletters on competition matters. The firm kept in touch and invited the prospective new client to seminars. Finally a magic circle firm couldn’t act for the client on a major acquisition due to a conflict and the our firm received an opportunity to pitch. They got it – some concerted effort and a bit of luck. That’s often how it goes.

Some analysis for another firm showed that it took roughly 20 speculative ‘sales’ meetings to generate 5 proposals to win one mandate. Many commentators talk about a sales funnel rather than a pipeline.

So let’s look at this pipeline and what lawyers and accountants need to do to turn the TAP ON.

Here are the stages:

T – Target: Partners need to review their contact lists and produce a list of A, B & C clients, with the A’s being their top priority target clients. It will help if there’s a sector approach where clients might be facing similar issues. Too many partners have too disparate an approach. Partners need to find good reasons to build their relationships over time and should expect to have four BD connections (such as a meeting, coffee etc) a year.

A – Attract: Picking up the phone can be the hardest thing. Try leveraging off an existing relationship. This enables you to say ‘George has suggested I get in touch…’. The important thing to think through is what’s in it for George to give you the referral and then what’s in it for the target contact to give up time to meet you. Do your research and try to have five topics up your sleeve that might be relevant. You’ll be unlucky if none of them connect.

P – Pitch: Once you’ve had your initial meeting, you are likely to need to meet other key stakeholders at the client and establish their needs. There will be needs both for the business and, often more importantly, personal needs such as reducing hassle or looking good in front of colleagues or meeting specific targets to get their bonus etc. You should then be in a position to ask for an invitation to pitch for the work. Don’t pitch too soon – you’ll be more likely to get objections. My new book called Pitch Perfect provides the best approach to pitching.

O – Operate: Having won a mandate, the focus should be on delivering excellent quality work. It helps if you’ve avoided over-promising. Also, make sure you know what’s particularly important to the client. What’s important to you might not be what’s important to the client. Are there any really tight deadlines? Are detailed reports important or would the client prefer just the big picture.  How do they like their invoices laid out?

N – Nurture: Once the first project has finished, the new firm should review how it went with the client. What did they like about how you worked? What would they have liked to have been done differently? The act of asking these questions demonstrates that you care about this stuff.

Relationships with the new client are still likely to be relatively superficial and need deepening and broadening. Some firms have found it useful to measure the strength of relationships with key individuals – they score 3 out of 10 if they’ve given you their business card, 6 out of 10 if they’ve initiated a contact with you and 10 out of 10 if they refer you to other clients. Partners work on plans to raise the scores with key contacts.

Are your partners engaged sufficiently with their sales pipelines? If not, what can you do to turn their TAP ON?

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1 Response to Why it Takes Three Years to Win Serious Work from New Clients

  1. Pingback: Ten Big & Easy Tips to Win More Pitches | Tony Reiss

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