I’d like to debunk a myth in this blog-post. The myth is that your best new clients will come from referrals. In fact, many organizations believe that their growth potential is almost universally defined by the size of their referral network.
I think that is wrong and that this approach to growth is typically fraught with challenges. I’m not opposed to referrals. We get these and I also make referrals to my partners. But I’ve noticed a trend over the years.
Our best clients don’t come from referrals. Our best clients are people I’ve never met before. I call them the organic prospect. We don’t know them and they don’t know us before we engage in dialogue. Organic prospects typically come in two varieties.
First, some of these people go on a journey, looking for a firm like us. They find some of our content online. They spend quite a bit of time on our website, consuming different content assets. They engage us after they are convinced we can help them. I call these the just-in-time prospect. They find us just-in-time before they make a decision about who to engage with for the type of services we provide.
Second, we have lists of people that we actively send our content. Most of these people signed up for that content somewhere along the way. I have an active following on LinkedIn. Other people met me at one of my speaking engagements. Still others came to us from one of my syndicated content channels. But this group of people were not actively looking for a firm like ours at the moment they signed up. They just wanted to get ideas. I call these the passive prospect.
Here is the trend I’ve noticed. New clients who come from referrals require 3 to 4 times as much work in the early stages of the relationship than do just-in-time or passive prospects. More than that, the overall time and energy it takes to achieve trusted advisor status with referrals is much more intense than for organic prospects.
As an entrepreneur, time is money for me. Energy is money too. I can put a reasonable amount of time and energy into developing content assets that deliver insights that are meaningful for the people I enjoy serving. I can make those content assets available to this group of people so they consume them at their pace, on their schedule. I can, at any given time, be nurturing relationships with thousands of potential ideal clients.
Or, I can work with a single referral and put just as much time and energy into that one relationship as I put into a powerful content asset. That math does not work in my favor. Here is how I’ve come to view this dynamic. Referral relationships are clients choosing me. Nurturing organic prospects is me choosing clients.
If you want to really grow your professional service firm, I recommend that you choose your clients. I do not recommend that you allow clients to choose you. This will probably require a change in mind-set on your part and some significant investments in content and technology. But the payoff to you will be a fat sales pipeline, consistent growth, faster close times, better profit-per-deal and happier clients who deeply desire what you can do for them before they sign. Let me show you how to do this.
Today’s sophisticated service buyer wants to take 95% of their journey without talking to a human being. This is why you need content that is meaningful to them.
How To Choose Your Clients
If you want to choose your clients, rather than clients choosing you, here are the steps that I recommend you take:
- Develop your ideal client profile
- Brainstorm the insights that will position you as trusted advisor
- Create the best content marketing strategy
- Re-build your website using the new 80-20 rule
- Syndicate your content in the right channels
- Deploy the right technology strategy
- Utilize the consultative sale
Let’s explore these ideas in greater detail.
Develop Your Ideal Client Profile
An ideal client is better than an average client. How so? An ideal client yields greater profits, takes less energy to manage, is so much more fun to be around and is more patient and trusting than other clients. Does this sound like a dream to you?
At The Shattuck Group, we only serve ideal clients. Starting about 10 years ago, I actively rotated out less than ideal clients as we refined our service model and our ideal client profile. We learned who we were best suited to serve and chose to only serve those people.
Over the years, we came to recognize 7 attributes that make ideal clients ideal:
- Impact: you deliver services that have a significant impact on their situation, usually their top or bottom line or both. There are also other types of impact, like peace of mind, goal achievement, stress reduction and a strong sense of progress toward goals.
- Budget: ideal clients easily afford your services and usually have already reserved a line item in their budget for those services.
- Profits: you earn a substantial profit by delivering these services.
- Insights: you understand what your ideal client needs often better than they do.
- Expertise: your ideal clients want and need your specific capabilities and have limited options for acquiring that expertise.
- Culture: there is a good fit between the way you do business and the way your ideal clients prefer to be served.
- Chemistry: your staff and your ideal clients’ staff work well together with few conflicts.
So when you think about who you want to serve, think of these attributes. Make a list of clients who already fit this profile. Then define their demographics so you can be crystal clear about what an ideal client looks like. Share this profile with everyone at your firm.
Brainstorm Insights That Give You Trusted Advisor Status
Once you’ve developed your ideal client profile, ask yourself this question. What are the top goals our ideal client absolutely must accomplish? What challenges frustrate them? What opportunities excite their imagination?
Once you’ve made a list of these, then ask yourself these questions. What are our best ideas to help prospective ideal clients achieve their goals, overcome their challenges and realize their opportunities? Make your counsel as specific as possible, maybe even a step-by-step approach.
The more concrete and practical you are in your advice, the more prospects will come to clearly understand your advice and trust it. It probably makes sense to develop a straw person when it comes to brainstorming your counsel.
Create The Best Content Marketing Strategy
Most professional service firms today have a blog site. But more often than not, that blog site has two major problems. It doesn’t really speak to what matters to ideal clients. It also is the only content asset on their website. If your blog is not producing the result you desire, it’s probably because of these two issues.
So here is what I recommend. Take the ideas you’ve brainstormed and turn them into an editorial calendar. Plot out great ideas that you’d like to share over the course of about a year or so. Be consistent in how and when you deliver insights via your blog.
But don’t make the blog the only content asset. Today’s sophisticated service buyer wants to take 95% of their journey independent of a human being. They don’t want to talk to you until they are convinced that you are right for them.
This is why you need short-form content, like a blog-site, and long-form content, like e-books and action guides. If you give your website users a path to move from short-form to long-form content, they will binge on your ideas and then be ready to enter dialogue with you when the time is right for them.
Re-Build Your Website Using The 80-20 Rule
Most professional service websites today do not pull people along the path from cool to warm to hot prospect. The reason these websites miss the mark is because they are primarily online brochures that talk about the professional service provider.
This is why you need to institute the new 80-20 rule. This rule holds that no more than 20% of the content on your website will be about your firm, who you are, what you do and why you’re great.
The other 80% will be great ideas for prospective ideal clients. If you implement the new 80-20 rule, it will transform user sessions. Your time-on-site and time-on-page will skyrocket. Remember, today’s sophisticated service buyer does not have time to waste. So any time they spend on your content is an indication of their interest.
Syndicate Your Content In The Right Channels
Once you have an editorial calendar and some great ideas from your brainstorming session, you’re ready to start sharing those ideas. You certainly want to do this via a blog on your website. But you also want to get your content out to as many channels as make sense.
Notice that I did not say that you want to get your content out to as many channels as possible. This is a bad idea. About 2 years ago, we started placing unique links in all of our content assets that are broadcast through syndication partners like Professional Services Journal, Rain Today and Digital Transformation People.
We discovered that certain channels were bringing us false positives. Certain channels were yielding a high number of registrations. But almost none of the people registering actually fit our ideal client profile. We dropped those channels.
So there are two key steps you need to take here. First, find syndication partners who accept third-party content. Usually these are blog-sites, LinkedIn groups or channels, industry publications or the like. Second, make sure you can track who is registering for you long-form content after they come to your website. You want to be able to drop poorly performing channels and increase efforts with the right channels – those who bring you ideal organic prospects.
Deploy The Right Technology Strategy
I recently wrote a post in which I talked about the technology architecture we recommend and deploy today. It goes like this:
CMS + MA + CRM + SMM = Success.
CMS stands for Content Management System. MA stands for Marketing Automation platform. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Manager. SMM stands for Social Media Manager. For more details on these, please visit the blog post. Suffice it to say, if you don’t have the right technology systems in place, nothing I’m talking about here is even possible.
Utilize The Consultative Sale
Once organic prospects start leaning in to you, you’ll want to deliver an experience that makes them say – wow. The best way to do this is through the consultative sale. This is very different from the way many firms sell today. The old school way is kind of like what you see in the TV series House of Lies. You talk about your firm, why you’re great, how you’re the best and why clients should choose you.
That is the single fastest way to turn off a prospect who has begun to trust you through your content. Instead, don’t talk about your firm at all. Take the consultative approach and ask them great questions.
I believe that most organic prospects really want to trust the service provider they are considering. They want to share their goals, their fears and their desires for how they hope you can help them. But the only way they’ll do that is if you take the time and energy to ask them to share.
Once they’ve shared, then you can talk about your approach and how you’ll help them. I recommend that you use Gantt charts and build out a project plan that is unique to that prospect. If you do that, you’ll win.
I’d like to help you go even further and chart your course to the future. This is why we’ve developed a number of content assets that contain some of our best ideas. Let me tell you about two of them.
We have a very popular e-book called Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. This is free and it is available right now on our website.
The other very popular content asset is an Action Guide called 7 Steps To A Content Marketing Program That Consistently Yields Ideal Clients. This contains 7 videos and downloadable tools. Please avail yourself of these resources because I know they will really help you grow.