Your firm spends thousands on building its reputation to attract the stars of the future. You invest valuable resources in the ‘milk round’. Your highly competent HR team invests time and money in the most rigorous selection process. Your partners get involved to assess candidates to ensure that they will be both a great fit (and a high earner) for the firm.
Slowly but surely you entice and enthuse the very best candidates to join.
They say “yes” to your offer! You are excited you have recruited the best! They are excited and enthused about joining your firm. They are highly motivated, ready to learn and willing to sacrifice much of their young life to build a great future for them and the firm that they already have huge respect for. read more
Many professionals we work with admit to being nervous about asking lots of questions in business development settings. Intellectually they understand that finding out about potential clients is a great way to build and deepen relationships. However, they fear coming across as being a bit like an interrogator. Quite often they revert to talking instead – trying to impress a potential client into working with them.
In other cases, people simply haven’t been training in asking really good and progressive questions. We all did when we were children. If I had a pound for every time my daughter had asked me ‘why?’, I’d be very rich. But we lose this simple curiosity as we get older. And then we add on our professional expertise and the training in knowing stuff – being right. This doesn’t encourage us to appear like we don’t know what we’re talking about.
However, asking insightful questions can build our credibility as effectively as sharing knowledge. We often hear “That’s a great question” in our business development meetings. Great questions can really show that you know what you’re talking about because you know what to ask about.
The best way to really understand a particular topic is to ‘funnel’ it – open with broad questions then funnel down to find out more. Exploring in depth avoids the danger of just flitting over the surface level of any issues. This will be familiar to those who do a lot of interviewing – we need to dig deeper if we want to get beyond superficial answers.
So how do we do that? Well we can start with open, general questions:
“How’s your marketplace?” , “What’s going well?”
Then we can explore their answers with slightly more focused, but still open, questions:
“Which markets are good just now?” “Why is that?” “How do you see that changing?”
Throughout this process the most important thing is to really listen. Some simple techniques:
- Repeat their last phrase or word (but not like a parrot!): “New legislation?”, “Changes at the top?”. This often encourages elaboration.
- Use inviting phrases like “tell me more” or “describe what effect that..”
- Summarising what they’ve said – proves you’ve listened, and almost always leads to more.
- Careful use of closed questions to check: “so what you’re saying is… is that right?”
So we are gradually bringing this particular subject to a close, confident that we have allowed our clients to fully explain themselves. When done with genuine interest and skill, this approach demonstrates a desire to really understand their world and gives us all the insight we need to add real value.
One thing which is sometimes missing in professional services firms is clarity around how marketing and business development teams can work together to support each other.
What are the best ways for marketing and business development people to work together to make the most of the resources available?
Taking PACE’s pipeline process as a starting point, it’s probably easiest to look at each of the five sections in turn and give some ideas as to how marketing can support the sales process.
P1 Prospecting: Defined prospects not yet marketed to
- Research and come up with a list of possible companies, and relevant contacts, that fit the profile of the ‘ideal clients’
- More in-depth research on those companies and individuals where an approach might be made, including recent news
- Data put on CRM system with sufficient detail that links the companies and individuals to the sales process
- Find out if anyone in your firm already has a connection with those companies or individuals
P2 Promoting : Defined prospects marketed to but not yet in dialog
- Develop a marketing and sales plan for these defined prospects – what activities will help to build awareness and interest in your firm? E.g. knowing who downloads any guides you have on your website or makes an enquiry so that they can be promptly followed-up; inviting relevant prospects (as well as clients) to seminars; create articles, blogs, tweets around key topics identified by fee earners; contribute to relevant Linked-In groups; articles in prospects’ trade press.
- Help to gain and encourage introductions to prospects, where possible
- Help putting together some dynamite collateral for a high impact campaign (Note: fee-earners need to help here with identifying good subject areas and providing content)
P3 Projecting: Qualified prospects – in dialogue
- Coaching in prep for BD meetings
- Create a strong set of sales tools, for further in the process, when they may be needed (proposal templates, PPT templates, case studies)
- Reminders to send touchpoints to maintain contact during what can be weeks, months or even years before they become a client
P4 Protecting: Current key and valued clients
- Help put together plans for key clients
- Set up and run a key client review process
- Look at ‘moments of truth’ where clients and prospects come into contact with the firm and identify any points that could be improved
- Make sure that new clients are welcomed and introduced to the team who will work with them
P5 Pruning: ‘Problem children’ clients
- Using management information, identify which clients the firm shouldn’t be working with or needs to service in a different way, and suggest a course of action
So, not only will marketing be supporting the sales process, but in looking at what support and at which stage, the marketing team will be working collaboratively with fee-earners to support their BD efforts.
When they are writing proposals and preparing pitches I often observe a tendency in professionals to keep adding more and more to their documents and presentations. The rationale being the more they say, the more convincing their offer will be.
Yet the reality (from a client’s perspective) is very different. If you have ever had to read through numerous proposals or sit and listen to back-to-back pitches you will be aware that your mind drifts as soon as the message goes beyond what’s relevant to you.
If you want your audience to listen to everything you say next time you deliver a proposal or pitch try following these simple steps when you are deciding what to include:
1 Restate the client’s requirements (needs and wants)
2 Describe (ONLY) the features of your firm’s offer that directly satisfies the requirement, need or want
3 Provide compelling evidence that you have done, and will do, what you say you can do
4 State the benefits and outcomes from a client’s perspective
5 Gain commitment that the client is 100% happy with what you have proposed
Pause for a second and consider how a client will receive the above message:
1 They know you have clearly understood what they are looking for
2 They can see exactly what you will do to deliver on the their requirements
3 They have confidence and belief that you have done this before and can do it for them
4 They can see the value and benefits your solution will bring to them
5 They can see that you are absolutely committed to delivering what they need & want
When it comes to preparing proposals and pitches the message is simple:
LESS is more!
The answer would seem to be so obvious – so why mention it? We accept that it is a real generalisation, but at PACE we have a huge amount of collective experience working in all manner of markets and that experience convinces us that professionals are among the worst time managers in industry! Even when it comes to making sure of arriving at client / business development meetings in good time! Strange for a profession which only has its time to sell.
The outcome is that lateness becomes habitual. Internal meetings never start on time, they never finish on time, people are perpetually behind the clock. The real problems start when this behaviour is visited on the client. One client we worked with some time ago is a large insurance company. A new MD joined the organisation and early in his tenure he and his fellow directors were kept waiting on one occasion by one of the Partners from the auditors. When he ‘sounded off’ about this behaviour, one of his fellow Directors remarked that their auditor’s people were always late and that they were forever sitting around waiting for them to show up to meetings. At this point the MD charged his people with counting every minute of management time that was wasted by the auditors. When the auditors sent their next invoice to the company for time spent working on various tasks, the new MD sent his own back in response – based on management time lost through the auditor’s tardiness. read more
Making business development happen is key to the ongoing success of any professional services firm. Implementation however by fee earners is often variable.
So what type of management and leadership approach achieves the best results: the carrot or the stick? read more
I was chatting to a solicitor friend who has recently left a traditional firm and set up on her own. She did this because she felt inhibited by the bureaucracy and lack of energy in the firm, and she is now enjoying being able to give her clients really proactive and personal service. In particular, she noted she had been waiting for a response for three weeks from her old firm, even though this was a client matter. We chatted about why this might happen, and really couldn’t come up with anything positive. Was it disorganisation? Arrogance?
It got me thinking about my experience of professional service firms as both a client and supplier. In PACE, we practise what we preach, and regularly stay in touch with both clients and prospects, sending items of value. While this is a completely unscientific analysis, I have to say that those people who regularly acknowledge these articles, seem to me to be the ones who really understand client care and business development. My solicitor friend used to be one of them, before she left her firm. Now I accept that acknowledging articles sent by PACE is not going to be top of busy professionals to-do lists. However, most of those that do respond are highly successful individuals. If they take time to send a quick line to me, I’m confident they are more likely to treat the most important people – their clients and prospects – with the same level of responsiveness and courtesy.
It is still true that people buy people. We all moan about those huge, faceless organisations that we sometimes have to deal with, where no-one takes responsibility for client care. It’s easy to make sure yours isn’t one of them. Just send a quick line with an update, or pick up the phone. Every touch-point with a firm leaves an impression.
I have just started working with a new client which I’m really enjoying. It serves as a good reminder that it is so much better to work with clients you like working with. All sorts of positive things happen as a result: you are more motivated to do a great job; you actually do a better job than you might for other clients; it’s enjoyable and the client enjoys it too; it helps to build a stronger relationship with them and increases the likelihood of future work.
This new client actually came from a referral – someone now there had used PACE before and brought us back in again to work in their new company. So to some extent it’s serendipity.
Conversely, I was talking to someone the other day who was working with a client they really didn’t like. They were difficult, demanding, sometimes rude and prone to give them work which doesn’t interest them. That was also a referral from another client, so it would have been difficult to say ‘no’.
But if I could picture what my ideal client would look like, what would I see and how could I make sure that the picture became a reality?
In building a profile there are a number of areas to think about, for instance:
- How big they would be
- What geography(ies) they operate in
- How they might be organised and what departments would they need to have to make them a good prospect
- What kind of work or projects they would give you (that will motivate you to want to work with them)
- What their culture and approach would be
There are also some fundamental questions to answer at a firm level. To what extent is the firm willing to ‘prune’, either now or in the future, existing clients who do not fit your ideal future clients? If you’re not, are you then willing to accept that some staff will be de-motivated by continuing to work with them? But if you are happy to prune, what plans do you have in place to make sure that any gaps in work are filled?
In any relationship, it’s good to talk isn’t it? In fact, none of us would ever get into any relationship of any sort if we didn’t. At the start, we talk a lot. Hopefully we listen too. We are keen to please – to look for confirmation that the other party wants this relationship to progress.
But what happens once we’ve established it? I emailed my husband of 21 years to ask him. Only joking! I left him a note.
But seriously, we often ask our clients how they get feedback from their clients. Now of course, many are very sophisticated at doing this. However many admit that it’s much more ad-hoc. “The client partner chats to them”, or “we send out a questionnaire once a year”.
The opposite extreme of this is those irritating emails we all get asking for our feedback on each and every interaction we have with some call centre or other. There has to be a sensible middle ground.
The best option is personal contact with clients, before, during and at the end of individual projects, and more importantly, even when there isn’t a project. At its most simple, the questions should be:
“What did we do well?”
“What do we need to get better at?”
“What’s happening in your world?”
We want to do more of the first, and address the second. Sometimes it’s the little irritants that can drive clients away. We need to make it easy for them to give us feedback.
Secondly, we really can’t wait a year for this. We live in an age of almost instant feedback in many areas – Facebook, Twitter, TV voting, computer games etc. Also, customer expectations are far more sophisticated now, and however we do it, we need to offer our clients the chance to talk to us. If we don’t, someone else may court them and a new honeymoon will begin. What can you do to rekindle the love in your client relationships?
It can be challenging creating a consistent business development “language” and process throughout a firm. This can be for all sorts of reasons: existing culture is not BD focused or is, but only in pockets; mergers which mean you are integrating two or more different approaches to BD; professionals who prefer to work on their own, or teams who work in a silo apart from others; professionals who just get on with BD and don’t ask for much support. For firms that do achieve consistency, however, the benefits are very clear. read more