A lot of service professionals today have a hunch. They suspect that there are potentially thousands of people and companies out there in the digital ecosystem that they could be doing business with who are not their clients now.
They assume that at least some percentage of those people would be a perfect fit for them. But they struggle with two questions: how do I find these people and how do I build relationships with them? These are tough questions.
You see, smart service professionals know that they have to become a trusted advisor to develop a business relationship with prospects. Trust always precedes service agreements.
But it’s incredibly hard, most of us hypothesize, to build trust with people we don’t know – especially when those people only get to know us online. It may even feel impossible.
Notice the language I use here: hunch, assume, suspect, hypothesize. This is exactly how I felt about 3 years ago. Back then, I was very uncertain about how to build relationships of trust in an online world with organic ideal prospects. I wasn’t even sure it was possible.
So I bought a bunch of books and gleaned everything I could from them. I also collected all of the best ideas we had developed as a team over the prior ten years or so. We built our plan and set out on a journey to learn every lesson we could about how to attract organic ideal prospects using content marketing, marketing automation and social media.
I committed to measuring everything, every strategy and every tactic. I wanted to discover what worked and what didn’t. I demanded empirical evidence for every hypothesis. Hunches would not do. I wanted to be able to connect the dots. I wanted uncontestable proof.
I wanted to know, with a high degree of confidence, that we could pull certain levers and achieve certain outcomes, time after time. I wanted to repeat successes and abandon failures. I wanted to clearly understand cause and effect, stimulus and response.
So after three years, what have we learned? It is not only possible to build relationships of trust online with great organic prospects, it is a near certainty – if you do these five things.
At first, it didn’t feel like it was working. But I made a commitment to myself that we would be consistent in our efforts and that commitment has paid off, big time.
Before I show you the list of five things, I want to talk a bit about how we discovered them. When we first launched, I set a goal of having 50 organic ideal prospects in our sales funnel. I wanted to know at all times exactly where they were on their inbound journey. That was one key metric that mattered to me. Why?
I ran an analysis of where our best clients had come from over the prior ten years or so. Without fail, the best relationships could be traced back to a thought leadership piece. The genesis of some of our most profitable and enjoyable relationships was either a video, a webinar or what we used to call guide books.
But here was the truly surprising thing we discovered when we ran that analysis. I didn’t personally know any of these people before they registered for these content assets. None of my clients or contacts in my network knew these people either. They were completely new to us. They were truly organic.
So when I set the goal of 50 organic ideal prospects, I had to define what I meant by organic. Here is what I came up with. An organic prospect is someone who:
- Had never done business with us.
- Was not in our database, was not a referral from an existing client or partner and was not in contact with us before the prospect started inbound journey.
- Knew very little about us before they started their inbound journey and we knew nothing about them.
- Was not predisposed to want to work with us and had no reason to say yes to us before they started their inbound journey.
But it was not enough for me that they were organic. I also wanted them to be right for our firm. So working with my team, we built a very thorough profile of exactly who we were best suited to serve.
So in my mind, the goal was clear. Use best-in-class tools and practices to nurture relationships with at least 50 people who were completely new to us and who fit a profile of people we knew we could serve very well.
We put the pieces in place and executed. Relentlessly. At first, it didn’t feel like it was working. It was kind of discouraging, truth be told. But I made a commitment to myself that we would be consistent in our efforts. That commitment has paid off, bigtime.
Today, we don’t have 50 organic ideal prospects in our sales funnel. We don’t have 100 or 200 or even 500. We have more. Many, many more. And the most important thing is that I know exactly who is leaning in, what they are interested in and just how good a fit they might be for our company.
We substantially exceeded our initial goal. And here’s the critical part of this. Three years ago I had no idea how many organic ideal prospects where considering us. I had no idea where they were on their journey. I couldn’t forecast where our next deal would be coming from.
That has all changed.
The Five Lessons Learned
How did we do it? How did we fill up our sales funnel with so many prospects that I now pick and choose the deals and clients I want? Here are the five lessons I want to share with you. If you want to build trusted relationships with organic ideal prospects in an online world, put these five practices in place at your company:
- Build an ideal client profile
- Create the right content architecture
- Deploy the right technology
- Understand 4 key concepts
- Commit to consistency, not just frequency
Let’s explore these a bit.
Build An Ideal Client Profile
An ideal client is better than an average client. How so? An ideal client is someone that your organization is ideally suited to serve. I’ve come to think of this as a love-fest. Not only do you love working with them and they love working with you, the economics work out to everyone’s benefit. You have a huge economic impact on the client and they have a huge economic impact on you.
How do you get these types of clients? I would wager that you probably already have some clients who fit this profile. So then the question becomes, how do you replicate them so that your entire client base becomes awesome?
The best way we’ve discovered to do this is to build an ideal client profile. Before I talk about how to do that, I want to define what an ideal client looks like. There are seven major qualities that we have identified that cause ideal clients to stand out:
- Impact: you deliver services that have a significant impact on their situation, 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.
If you want to nurture relationships in the digital sphere with people who are organic, not yet your client, but who are also a great fit, you have to be very clear about who these people are – what they look like. So take a moment now and think about, even make a list of, current clients who fit these 7 characteristics.
This is the first step toward building an ideal client profile. Now let’s take another step. There are two key components to an ideal client profile: demographics and psychographics. Demographics include key descriptors like age, race, education, industry, title, geography and the like.
But psychographics are statements about what matters to these people: their goals, opportunities and challenges. Goals are those things that they absolutely must accomplish. Opportunities are those things which excite their imagination. Challenges are those things which prevent them from achieving goals.
Take a few moments now and make a list of the top goals, opportunities and challenges of your ideal clients.
Create The Right Content Architecture
To replicate your existing ideal clients, you’ll need to create and provision content into the digital ecosystem. But it won’t be just any old content. It will be great ideas that tell prospects exactly how to achieve their biggest goals, realize their most exciting opportunities and resolve their most vexing challenges. If you build this type of content, they will not be able to resist it – trust me.
So how do you build this type of content?
- Gather your best and brightest minds and ask yourself this question. What are the goals, opportunities and challenges that matter to our ideal clients?
- Then ideate your best ideas about how to accomplish these.
- Then package your ideas into short-form and long-form content assets.
A short-form content asset is like this blog-post, something people can consume in just a few minutes. A long-form content asset is something like an e-book. Short-form assets will always be un-gated (no registration required) but long-form assets will usually be gated (registration required).
I recommend that you build an editorial calendar for the short-form pieces that you want to create. You can share this type of content anywhere from once to four times a month. Long-form content assets should be timeless and always available to people to register for them.
The basic idea is that a short-form piece gives people an appetizer, but the long-form piece is the full meal. The short-form piece should conclude with a recommendation to register for the long-form piece.
Deploy The Right Technology
It’s not enough to have great content that is meaningful to organic ideal prospects. You also need technology, the right technology, to broadcast, track and measure the content. This is why we’ve developed an acronym that describes the best-in-class approach to digital marketing:
- CMS + MA + CRM + SMM = Success
CMS stands for content management system. You need a good CMS to quickly and easily provision content into all sorts of places, like your website.
MA stands for marketing automation. You need a marketing automation system to provision content via email and to track all inbound prospects. The best marketing automation system will also allow you to see who is responding to your content by way of lead score.
CRM stands for client relationship manager. There are many popular CRM systems, Salesforce being foremost these. The marketing automation platform feeds lead score data to your CRM system so you can see who is engaging and take appropriate action.
SMM stands for social media manager. Social media has become entirely too important these days to ignore. If you don’t have a social media plan, and especially a LinkedIn plan, you are missing huge opportunities. A social media management tool like Oktopost makes this easy and trackable, sending social media data to your marketing automation platform.
Understand 4 Key Concepts
Once you have these tools in place and have your content packaged up and ready for broadcast, you are ready to create engagement with organic prospects. But this does not mean you should expect instantaneous results. That did not happen for us and it’s not likely to happen for you.
This is why you need to understand 4 key concepts:
- The new 90-10 rule
- The in-bound journey
- The five pre-conditions
- The new 95-5 rule
The new 90-10 rule goes like this. Today’s digital-savvy prospect wants to take 90% of their in-bound journey independent of human intervention. They typically don’t want to talk to a consultant or sales person until they are fully persuaded that you’re right for them. This also means that they will try to fly under your radar, your marketing automation platform, for as long as possible. They will typically decline a conversation request until the time is right for them.
This means you need to allow them to navigate their in-bound journey on their schedule. The in-bound journey is comprised of four stages:
- 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 are predisposed to want to enter serious dialogue with you as soon as they have need and budget.
Just because someone completes their in-bound journey, this does not mean they are right for your firm. We have discovered five pre-conditions that are a critical gateway to meaningful results. For an organic prospect to become your client, typically they need to demonstrate:
- Need – they have a need for which your products and services are a good fit.
- Budget – they can easily afford your services.
- Timeline – they have a specific timeline in which they must act.
- Reason – they have a specific reason for taking action.
- Dialogue – they are willing to enter dialogue with you and move toward a proposal.
Finally, it’s important to understand the new 95-5 rule. It goes like this. At any given time, 95% of the people you are marketing to will not meet the minimum number of criteria necessary to warrant sales dialogue. But 5% will be ready. It’s the job of your sales team to ferret out who is in the 5% and to pull these people through the consultative sale.
Commit To Consistency, Not Just Frequency
Notice the number of times in this post that I talked about patience. We had to be patient, consistent and methodical in our approach. You will need this same mind-set to attract organic ideal prospects.
I tend to think of this as a marathon, not a sprint. You should not expect a lot of short-term results because these strategies take time to work. This is why you must commit to measuring everything. Small-scale successes in the first 6 months or so will translate into large successes down the road. You want to be able to see short-term successes and let them encourage you.
But I want to talk finally about the difference between consistency and frequency. Consistency is a mind-set – a commitment to excellence. Frequency is a schedule. You need both, but of the two, consistency is more important than frequency.
Most service-based organizations today are using content marketing. But most of these strategies are not working all that well. Why? Because there is not a commitment to excellence.
I keep a folder on my desktop of weak e-books and other content assets that seem as if they were produced by new college graduates. They are so lacking in insights that I cannot help but believe that everyone who registered for them has content regret – they regret giving their contact information in exchange for the content.
You cannot do this. It will not work. It is very difficult to consistently produce and promote content this is spot-on for your prospective ideal clients. It takes a lot of effort and thought. It takes time, energy and resources, often times from your most valuable people.
But if you don’t commit to consistently delivering great ideas, this strategy will not work. Many organizations make the mistake of just practicing frequency, without consistency. Please do not make this mistake.
If you deliver consistently high-quality ideas that are on-target for your ideal clients, you too can fill your pipeline with so many great prospects that you get to pick and choose what you want.
How To Do this
I want to help you accomplish this goal. So I have a free resource for you. It’s a video-based Action Guide called 7 Steps To A Lead Nurturing Program That Keeps You In Front Of Prospects. This is a valuable resource that goes into much greater detail on many of the concepts I’ve outlined on this post. It also allows you to build a plan that is customized to your firm. I built it for you, so please come and use it.