Many professional services firms struggle with the feast-or-famine phenomenon. They either have too many projects and not enough hours in the day or way too much time on their hands. This makes it very difficult to plan for the future and build a reliable operations plan for people, processes and technology.
If you firm has experienced the highs and lows of project and client-flow, I have a recommendation for you. It’s called lead nurturing. This is the process of dripping ideas, content really, on the right people over time so when they enter a buying cycle, they think of you first.
Lead nurturing is like farming, not hunting.
The state of client acquisition today for professional services firms
Of the professional services firms who took our Top Growth Strategies poll, 60 percent have stated that in the last 24 months their client acquisition has grown by less than 15 percent. Think about that for a moment. More than 60 percent of professional services firms are not growing all that much.
What’s more intriguing is that 70 percent of professional services firm leaders who took our survey stated that their number one source for new clients is referrals from existing clients.
If you’re wondering who these people are, nearly 60 percent of those who took the survey are president, CEO, general manager, managing director, managing partner, VP of sales or VP of business development at professional services firms. The vast majority of these firms had from 8 to 100 million in revenue.
So this tells us that if you want to realize significant growth in new clients, you cannot rely on existing clients for referrals. You won’t grow all that much. So what does work? What will fill your pipeline with a steady stream of prospective new clients?
Lead nurturing works. If you give it time and build the right kind of programs, it will fill your sales funnel. But let’s make sure we’re all on the same page regarding expectations.
How lead nurturing works
Of everyone you are touching with your marketing efforts right now, 95 percent aren’t in a buying cycle. But 5 percent of everyone you are marketing to is in a buying cycle right now. This is something we have come to call the 95/5 rule.
Now the numbers may be somewhat different at your organization. It may be that 20 percent of everyone you’re marketing to is in a buying cycle and 80 percent are not. The important thing to recognize is that the majority of people you might be marketing to at any given time are not ready to enter into serious sales dialogue. Why does this matter?
I think there are two implications we can draw from this. First, don’t try to close everyone who accesses your content. I know of aggressive sales teams who want to call on everyone who registers for a blog or downloads an infographic or attends a webinar. I think that is a mistake.
Second, only a small portion of contacts you are marketing to will be ready right now. But over time, the vast majority will enter a buying cycle. If you’ve been consistent with dripping great ideas on them, they will think of you first when they walk out of a meeting with a charter to accomplish a goal. You make the short list of people to call.
This is how and why lead nurturing works. It takes time, but it’s worth the time. I think of this as the difference between hunting and farming, or nurturing and harvesting. Hunters go out in the morning and expect to come home at night with a meal. Farmers, on the other hand, nurture their crops over months and then reap a harvest, filling their barns for months to come. Lead nurturing is like farming, not hunting.
How lead nurturing impacts the sales funnel
If you want lead nurturing to fill your sales funnel with a steady stream of great prospects, it’s important to understand how lead nurturing tactics impact two things: the client experience and the sales funnel. Let’s examine the client experience.
How many times have you been to a meeting with senior staff when the conversation went something like this? “Well, Sandy, you’ve made a great point. It’s obvious that we have to address this. Who do we know who can help us?” Silence fills the room.
I have heard this conversation hundreds of times over my career and for all different sorts of issues. This is, for the prospect, literally the beginning of their journey. But they don’t see it as a sales funnel. They see it as a goal they have to achieve or an opportunity they really want to explore or a challenge they absolutely must overcome.
These are the steps that most people go through when they search for a partner to help them accomplish a goal:
- Awareness. Prospects become aware of a goal, opportunity or challenge they must address.
- Criteria. Prospects put forward their best ideas to address the goal, opportunity or challenge and assign an initial budget figure — nearly always wrong.
- Search. Prospects conduct a search to find partners who fit their criteria and help them.
- Evaluation. Prospects evaluate who they have confidence in to help them achieve their goal, opportunity or challenge.
- Selection. Prospects accept a proposal and move to next steps.
That is the client experience. But what about the sales funnel? The sales funnel is the series of steps, from your point of view, that most prospective clients will pass through to become your client.
In my experience, most professional services firms have a five stage sales funnel:
- Awareness. Prospects become aware of your brand, services and content.
- Consideration. Prospects sample your content to see how you can help them.
- Interest. Prospects engage in serious dialogue, requesting a proposal.
- Evaluation. Prospects evaluate your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
- Selection. Prospects accept your proposal and move to next steps.
When we look at these two experiences side by side we see a lot of similarities. To understand how lead nurturing impacts both of these experiences, it is important to recognize two key things:
- A prospect can sit in the consideration phase for months.
- While they are sampling your content, you can be shaping their Criteria.
Lead nurturing delivers two powerful benefits to professional services firms who take the time to do it. It helps them establish brand awareness with prospects and it shapes that prospect’s notion of what a successful outcome looks like. If you do this effectively, you make competitors play on your field, by your rules.
If you’ve ever had the experience of trying to sell a service to someone who keeps referring to your competitor, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not only frustrating, it’s virtually impossible to win them over. I want you to be in this winning position.
So how can you accomplish this goal?
A resource to help you
I’ve recorded a short, 22-minute, webinar that outlines seven steps to building a lead nurturing program that accomplishes these goals. This free webinar is available right now on our website. I really want you to break the feast or famine cycle and make competitors have to play on your field. So please avail yourself of this valuable resource.