In this thought piece, I want to share with you two key concepts that will help you fill your pipeline with great prospects who deeply desire your services. The approach I recommend accelerates prospects through your funnel when the time is right for them.
I also want to share six guiding principles about how to manage the sales funnel as prospects begin to lean-in. I place the two concepts and the six principles under the larger category of prospecting. This is why prospecting matters.
Most successful professional service firms have high close-rates once an ideal prospect enters dialogue. But getting prospects to engage in meaningful dialogue is often a challenge. Here is my thesis to you. To have a healthy pipeline of great prospects, you need an effective approach to prospecting. Let me share with you how to do this.
YOU CAN AND SHOULD BECOME A TRUSTED ADVISOR BEFORE THE DEAL.
THE TRUSTED ADVISOR LINE HAS SHIFTED
Here are two key concepts I believe you need to fully grasp to fill up your sales pipeline:
- The trusted advisor line has shifted to before the sale.
- Thought leadership content helps you filter out the wrong clients.
Let’s explore this first idea – the trusted advisor line has shifted. To develop a fat pipeline of prospects, you need to be seen as a trusted advisor, someone people want to work with, someone who has great ideas. The good news is that there has never been a better time to become a trusted advisor. Why do I say this?
I believe that the trusted advisor line has shifted. Here is what I mean. In the past, a professional service provider became a trusted advisor after a deal was signed and money began to change hands. The process went like this: deal signed, advice given, trusted advisor status achieved. This is how the vast majority of service-based business models operated.
Not so today. Because of the proliferation of thought leadership and content marketing, the ability to achieve trusted advisor status before a deal is signed is now very real. This is the key to prospecting and building a pipeline of potential deals that are a great fit for your firm.
Over the last ten years, 100% of the prospects I have engaged in dialogue came to me because of thought leadership content. I share ideas freely. I give away some of our best ideas. Along the way, I build trust with people I don’t yet know but who feel as if they know me. That feeling of trust translates into a pipeline of prospects who want to engage and go even further.
Sharing great ideas through thought leadership programs doesn’t just fill your pipeline. It also creates buy-in to your approach and ideas. That is crucial. This accelerates prospects through the sales funnel. But that may not be the greatest value.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP FILTERS OUT THE WRONG CLIENTS
I believe that the key to growing a professional service firm is taking on the right clients and avoiding the wrong clients. Taking on the wrong clients actually stunts your growth. It slows you down. Bad clients cost you money, they don’t make you money. I’ll bet you know what I’m talking about.
If you share great ideas with people before they become your client and they buy-in to your counsel, you win and they win. However, if they won’t take your counsel before the sale, you have no reason to believe they will follow your counsel after the sale. My message to you is simple. Don’t take on the wrong clients.
One of the best ways to prove to yourself that someone is bought-in to your counsel is to see where they are spending time. No one who buys services today has time to waste. Time is an indicator of serious interest. If a prospect commits time to certain ideas you promote, their digital behavior telegraphs their intent. They are interested in your ideas and are starting to buy-in.
TAKING ON THE WRONG CLIENTS STUNTS YOUR GROWTH.
THE SIX CRUCIAL CONCEPTS
Here are six crucial concepts that I believe you have to master to fill your pipeline with great prospects:
- The Sales Funnel
- The inbound journey
- The new 90-10 rule
- The self-persuading prospect
- The 95-5 rule
- A multi-channel nurture strategy
Please bear in mind that what I’m about to share with you is not based on theory. These insights are based on empirical data that has been gleaned from the digital footprint of thousands of people leaning-in to service firms. We see the digital footprints because we use marketing automation. These insights are also based on the outcomes of hundreds of sales campaigns that we’ve either managed for our firm or helped our clients navigate.
THE SALES FUNNEL
If you use thought leadership effectively, you’ll begin to pull prospects through a sales funnel that starts in the digital realm, not with an actual conversation. The conversation starts online and then moves to an in-person meeting or a phone call. Here are the five stages of the sales funnel that we see today:
- 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.
THE INBOUND JOURNEY
The inbound journey relates to the behavior of organic prospects – people you don’t already know who start to lean-in to your firm. Here is the inbound journey we see organic prospects taking:
- Anonymous – where they surf your website and sample your content without identifying themselves.
- Acknowledged – where they register for a content asset and submit their personal information.
- Engaged – where they spend time thinking about your ideas and how you can help them.
- Leaning-in – where they request to enter dialogue with your sales team to discuss a specific need or opportunity.
Just to be clear, here is the difference between the inbound journey and the sales funnel. The inbound journey is about behavior. The sales funnel is about a process. You don’t control the inbound journey of organic prospects. You can shape it, but you can’t control it. You can’t make someone visit your website or register for content. You absolutely can and should control the sales funnel.
THE NEW 90-10 RULE
The new 90-10 rule holds that organic prospects want to make 90% of their inbound journey before they have a conversation with anyone at your company. This has two important implications.
First, even if a prospect is bought-in to your ideas, if the time isn’t right for them they probably won’t reach out for a sales conversation. Second, if you don’t provision thought leadership materials into the digital ecosystem, they may never find you. If your competitors are ahead of the game, prospects will probably reach out to them instead of you.
THE SELF-PERSUADING PROSPECT
An important corollary to the new 90-10 rule, the self-persuading prospect is a phenomenon of the digital age. Prospects now want to make their inbound journey autonomously – independent of a conversation with one of your team members. As they progress on this journey, they are persuading themselves that you are right for them - if you have great ideas.
The quality and applicability of your ideas to your organic prospect will determine if they grant you trusted advisor status and how fast they move through your sales funnel. When prospects self-persuade, you don’t have to sell, overcome objections or even spend much time educating them once you enter dialogue. They do this on their own time and schedule.
THE 95-5 RULE
The new 95-5 rule holds that 95% of the people you are nurturing at any given time are not ready to enter serious sales dialogue. They lack one or more of these crucial five criteria: budget, need, timeframe, reason to act or willingness to engage in serious sales dialogue.
However, if you share ideas that matter to them and constantly provision it to them, over time, nearly all of them will encounter need, budget, timeline, reason and willingness to engage in dialogue. This is why nurturing prospects is critical to your ultimate success.
A MULTI-CHANNEL STRATEGY
As you develop your thought leadership materials, it is vitally important to provision your ideas through multiple channels. Some of these channels can include:
- Your website
- Email marketing
- LinkedIn profiles
- LinkedIn groups
- Conferences and tradeshows
- Industry groups and trade publications
- Third-party websites that accept independent submissions
Our research clearly shows that prospects display channel-bias. This means that some prospects prefer LinkedIn but ignore email. Other prospects prefer industry publications but ignore a firm’s website because they think it’s inherently biased. The point is this – wherever your ideal prospects tend to aggregate in the digital ecosystem, you want to be there.
The two key concepts and six guiding principles I’ve outlined here are not based on theory. They are based on the actual digital behavior we see as prospects move through the sales funnel. You can leverage these insights to queue up a steady stream of prospects who are leaning in to your firm and deeply desire what you offer.
If you’d like to learn more about how to do this, you can certainly wait for my next thought piece on this topic. Or you can get started right now by registering for my free action guide called 7 STEPS TO DOUBLE SERVICE FIRM REVENUE. If you do this, I know you won’t regret it.