In my first role in the ‘glamorous’ world of PR, it was my job to create the monthly client press clippings book. As I climbed the career ladder, it then became my job to tell someone else to create the book. Hurrah for progress.
In one lean month the team were trying to scrape together enough coverage to justify the title of ‘book’ rather than ‘pamphlet’, when one of them said, “We nearly got into the Financial Times – put that in.”
“Consider taking a more intentional approach to getting the clients you want, rather than waiting to see who turns up.”
‘Nearly’ is a word often heard in business. “We nearly won the pitch – we came a very close second”, “They nearly bought our proposal but didn’t have the budget.”
And I ‘nearly’ got into my size 8 Levi’s. Turns out ‘nearly’ is code for ‘didn’t happen.’
Many of us are optimistic and positive. We look for the best in people and situations; we are hopeful. All great qualities but ones that can get in the way when it comes to the stark reality of finding, winning and keeping new clients. Here optimism, encapsulated in our favourite word, ‘nearly’ is not our friend – it’s just another way of being in denial.
Denial is an unwillingness to accept that something unpleasant is true. Look at your new business pipeline. Is it bursting with leads that regularly convert to projects and revenue? Or is it wafer-thin, populated with ‘nearly’ solds, despite the fact that the prospects have been on your list for months and ignore all your calls?
I’m not suggesting you cull all these lingering ‘nearly’ prospects. Even with the break-neck pace of business, many organisations still have numerous hoops to go through before committing to buy. Lead times can be lengthy. But whilst you keep an eye on those, consider taking a more intentional approach to getting the clients you want, rather than waiting to see who turns up.
For the new business pipeline, prospecting is the vital starting point, but it’s often approached haphazardly or unrealistically ambitiously.
Professional service firms are defined by their clients. So be front-footed about whom you want – and what you want your clients to say about you. Prospecting should be treated as a strategic exercise, it’s as much about building a brand as it is about building a business. Too often firms don’t give any thinking to the key question of the target audience to whom they can offer most value and who will be of most value to them.
Too much prospecting involves the generation of a long list of famous companies: Google!, Apple!, Unilever!, Facebook!. These companies will appear on everybody else’s list with little chance of adding them to most firms’ credentials. Another displacement activity is the creation of extensive spreadsheets of client prospects too many to be properly followed up.
What can you do to move from denial to acceptance? Start by facing these facts:
Prospecting is a long game. It’s not the same as pitching where you have a defined timeline to convert a client. It can take months, sometimes a year or more before prospect converts to project. Overcome any natural impatience. Keep your interest in a prospect, be persistent (but not a pest). Be realistic about the buying signals. If the lines of communication between you both are still open but no decision has been made, it’s a ‘not yet’, rather than, a ‘no’. Keep going. But if all your approaches are met with silence, after a while you may need to accept you have been ‘ghosted’ – ignored in the hope you’ll go away. Take the hint. Move on to someone who deserves you.
Prospecting needs to be targeted and that also means targeting resources. Too often the same few names are put against a long list of clients without much thought given as to whether they have the resource and skills to pursue those meaningfully. Who in your firm is right for this role? How will you support them? This role needs to identify qualified prospects, help them understand their needs and help them gain confidence in both the individual and the firm so that they will buy the firm’s product or service. Have your people been trained to sell themselves and the firm? Do they know how to establish what the client wants? Can they move from contact to contract?
Prospecting is not only cold-calling. Many people hate the idea of prospecting because they think it involves cold-calling and rejection. However, it is possible to successfully grow your business without ever making a cold call.
The easiest way to get new prospects is to use existing clients; either to find new contacts within their business or to make recommendations to other companies. Often such organic prospecting is not considered as ‘real‘ prospecting and is ignored. Ultimately your success will be judged by the value of the clients and revenue you bring through the door. The most successful businesses get their new clients from referral and recommendation – not a cold call in sight.
Let’s have no more ‘nearly’ this year. Take a systematic approach to prospecting: a relevant target list, a solution to the client’s needs and a persistent approach. Because, ‘almost, but not quite’, is no way to run a business or to live life.
For more information about Caffeine’s Prospecting Programme that addresses the common problems of prospecting and provides techniques and tools to make prospecting efficient and effective, contact: [email protected]
© Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash
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