I was speaking with a prospect a few days ago about the goals she wanted to accomplish. She said her big goal was to get the right people looking their way and excited about talking to them. She was tired of her consultants having to drag people through the sales funnel.
After I dug a little deeper, I discovered two significant challenges. First, her valuable consultants were spending way too much time with the wrong people. Second, when her consultants finally connected with the right people, they seemed resistant to talk. They didn’t see how spending time with her consultants would benefit them. They often reluctantly agreed to a meeting but then, about half the time, they canceled or postponed the meeting.
The result was a lot of wasted time and too few deals. It always felt like they were rolling a heavy rock up a hill. Sound familiar? If you want to get great prospects, those who are a good fit for your company, leaning in to you, I’d like to share some key insights to help you.
Your insights need to be real, deep, nuanced and marked by sincerity and the wisdom of experience
A Banking Story
A few days ago, I walked into my local bank to cash a check. As I opened the door, a young man in a suit with a tablet in his hand greeted me. He smiled an overly friendly smile at me and asked me how my day was going. I smelled sales person right away.
I got in the teller line and again the young man approached me. This time he asked me if I had any big plans for the weekend. I was suspicious. I was beginning to wonder if he was stalking me. Why did he want to know about my weekend? Why was he engaging me in chit-chat?
After I got to the teller window, I asked the teller if that young man was a sales person. She said, oh you mean the guy with the tablet? He’s part of a new program we’re rolling out here at the bank to help people who are standing in line get things done faster. I asked her again if he was a sales person. She thought about it a moment and then said, oh yeah, I guess he is.
I was not surprised.
Here is a perfect example of an ineffective sales approach. One of the first inclinations of a sales person is to be friendly. After all, people skills are important in building relationships, right? I have known sales people over the years who believe that their people skills are the most critical element to success. I don’t buy that.
I submit to you that people skills matter far less than giving someone a reason that matters to them to want to talk with you. Here is what I mean.
That young man tried to loosen me up with small talk instead of getting right to the point. He missed his opportunity and didn’t read my body language. He should have been able to tell from my brisk pace that I was in a hurry. Here’s the tough part of this.
He actually had a solution that could have helped me. I was in a big hurry because I was getting some petty cash for a trip I was taking that afternoon. He could have helped me avoid the line and get my cash faster. But he didn’t offer to do that. His sales instincts took over and he tried to engage me in chit-chat. He tried to become my friend.
There are two ways this interaction could have gone. In one scenario, the one that actually happened, I found him annoying and artificial. I did not go to the bank looking for a new friend. I didn’t want to talk to him because I thought he was trying to sell me something I probably didn’t want. But there is another way this could have gone.
He could have said to me: “It looks like you’re busy. Can I help you do something quickly?” I would then have gladly engaged him. Why? Because he was helping me do something that was important to me – getting to my plane on time.
In the first scenario, I sought to avoid him. But in the second scenario, I would have gladly engaged him. What’s the difference?
It’s the offer. Had he offered me something I wanted and needed, I would have received him very differently. He actually had a solution at his disposal that would have helped me. Using his tablet and some new technology the bank was deploying, he could have cashed my check. But he didn’t do that.
I believe many service-based organizations are in the same position today. They have a resource at their disposal that would allow them to connect with the right decision-makers quickly. They could move those decision-makers along a path that is fruitful for both parties, all without anyone cancelling meetings. But they are not using this resource. This is a major missed opportunity.
Insights Create Interest
Most busy people today don’t have time for chit-chat and small talk. They have big goals, too few resources and not enough hours in the day. But there is something else that they don’t have. They lack certainty.
Most busy decision-makers have blind spots about the nuances of the decisions they need to make. Often they’re not entirely sure about the best way to accomplish a goal that matters to them. This feeling of uncertainty can be very perplexing.
If you can give perplexed decision-makers insights about how to get to their goals faster, better, more cost-effectively and with a higher certainty of success, they will want to talk to you. But here’s the thing. Your promise cannot be empty. Your insights have to be, well, real insights. They cannot be platitudes or truisms that the decision-makers already understand and discount.
Your insights need to be real, deep, nuanced and marked by sincerity and the wisdom of experience. If you can create these types of insights and offer them to the right people at the right time, you will never lack for meaningful conversations.
And now I bet you’re wondering how you develop these insights.
You Have To Deeply Understand Your Ideal Client
A few days ago I was chatting with the CIO from a new client. His colleagues had participated in a few meetings where we were brainstorming solutions to help his company achieve some important goals. However, the CIO had been unavailable for those conversations. We scheduled a time for me to catch him up on all of the things I’d been discussing with his colleagues.
After we spoke for a few minutes, he asked me this important question: “how did this conversation get started?” I surprised him with this answer.
I said: “our conversation actually started 5 years ago when we built our ideal client profile and asked ourselves some key questions like – what are the major goals our ideal clients want to accomplish? What opportunities excite their imagination? What challenges block them from achieving their goals?”
The reason this answer was surprising is because we had only been in talks with his company for just a few weeks. But the actual substance of the conversation, the topics and our counsel for his company, had already been considered and drafted out in detail several years before.
You see, the first step to creating meaningful insights is to be very clear about who you are creating insights for and what matters to them. I submit to you that you have to create insights for ideal clients.
What’s an ideal client?
An ideal client is someone you are ideally suited to serve. What makes an ideal client, well, ideal? Here is what we’ve discovered after years of experimenting with different approaches. There are seven major qualities that most service firms look for in an ideal client:
- Impact – you deliver services that have a significant impact on them, usually their top or bottom line or both.
- 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.
I’ll wager that when you look back across the very best clients you’ve served over the last several years, all or most of these attributes were in place. Your knowledge of who your ideal clients are is the starting point for pulling great new prospects into real conversations.
But knowing who they are is just the start. You have to go much deeper.
You Have To Collect And Articulate Your Best Advice
Once you have a clear picture in mind of who your ideal client is and what they need, you are in a great position to ask three very important questions:
- What goals are they trying to accomplish?
- What opportunities excite their imagination?
- What challenges prevent them from achieving their goals?
Goals, opportunities challenges. These three will allow you to create rich insights, if you put the time and effort into ideation. Ideation is the process of answering the questions I’ve outlined here with your best advice.
I spend a great deal of time with my clients engaging in this exact process and I can tell you that it is not easy. A day spent ideating is harder than five regular days in the office. This is the ultimate creative process because you will be calling into being things which do not exist today.
If you want to pull great prospects into meaningful conversations that they cannot resist, where they make your time together their top priority, you have to do the hard work of ideation.
Your ideation process should result in literally dozens of insights that you can then go and share with your prospects and clients. But for this to be effective, you have to make certain types of promises.
You Have To Make The Right Promises
When you have great insights, you can make promises that matter to prospective ideal clients. You can tell them how spending time with your consultants will help them get to their goals faster, better, more cost effectively and with a higher degree of certainty.
More importantly, you can know, with a high degree of confidence, that your insights will be meaningful to that prospect and really help them. This gives you confidence, a boldness of approach that relegates friendliness to its proper status – second place.
When you have insights, you can promise that the time a prospect gives you will not be wasted. You can commit to a principle that is critical to every service-based organization – the value-laden touch point.
I am a big believer that every touch point with a client or prospect needs to be value-laden. In fact, when I engage with a new prospect in a discovery call, I typically promise them that they will get at least 5 golden nuggets of wisdom from spending time with me. I have never failed on this promise. I recommend that you adopt the same mindset.
You Have To Put The Client At The Center
Most consultants go into conversations with a prospect with one goal in mind: close a deal. This is flat wrong. That prospect may not be right for you. When you put the client at the center, you are patient. You go on an exploratory journey to see if what they need is what you can honestly deliver. You enter dialogue looking for a fit, not a deal.
This means you are using exploratory questions to see how closely the prospect’s situation matches up against your ideal client profile. Along the way, you are sharing insights to help them. This should result in something that is very important and very telling for you.
At some point in that exploratory journey, the prospect should express something that sounds like this. “Wow that’s a great idea. I had not thought of that.” It may not be in those exact terms, but it should express that sentiment and that feeling of an aha moment.
As soon as you hear this, the prospect has bought into your value, your experience, your wisdom. This positions you to be the kind of trusted advisor that commands higher than average fees and credence for your counsel, which will be so important to a healthy relationship over time.
Where To Go From Here
If you’d like to learn more about how to engage with great prospects and quickly pull them through your sales funnel, I have a recommendation for you. I’ve developed an action guide called 7 Steps To A Content Marketing Program That Consistently Delivers Ideal Clients.
This free resource contains 7 videos and 7 downloadable tools you can use to build the kind of insights that great prospects simply cannot resist. If you are struggling to get prospects to lean in to your organization, I know this free resource will really benefit you.