Archive for the 'Leads' Category

Order Taking Isn’t So Easy: Selling Event-Driven Professional Services

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

At some professional service firms, order taking is a common way to get business.  The client calls with no advanced warning and says show up tomorrow.  There is no competition and little, if any, fee negotiation.  Most litigation support firms get a significant share of their cases that way.  So do many valuation consultants.  Some kinds of legal services are also bought in this manner.  Firms that deal with emergencies, whether it be a client’s sudden, bad publicity or a need for a rapid environmental cleanup, are additional examples of those who often benefit from order taking.

It sounds like an easy way to get business.   But it isn’t.   In these cases the client feels a high sense of urgency and needs to trust the professional he hires.  This leads to a conservative approach to selecting a professional; the client is likely to go with the firm who did good work for him in the past.  That makes it hard to get new clients, including the new clients needed to replace old ones, who retire or cease to give you business for some other reason.  Firms or practices which get business this way run the risk of having too  much work with too few clients, exposing them to sudden revenue drops, if something happens to a key client.

Just as you would be unlikely to welcome a pitch from a watch repairman, if your watch was working, clients are often reluctant to spend much time with professionals who offer such services, when they don’t have an immediate need.  When they do, they are in a hurry to get help and don’t have time to expend much time researching alternatives.  The problem is compounded when the client’s need is confidential as well as being urgent, such as when a client knows his company is likely to receive some devastating publicity and doesn’t want the bad news to come out any sooner than necessary.

Effective selling of these kinds of professional services requires far more than answering the phone.  Rainmakers for these kinds of services typically select from three options:

  • Public Relations:  They can seek publicity in order to increase the likelihood that prospective clients will stumble across their name when an event drives a need for their services.  This, of course, works best when the service meets two criteria:  First, it can’t be so confidential that the profession can never reveal work done and  client names and, second, it must have enough sex appeal to be worth of media attention.  For many years, I worked as a location consultant, helping companies pick locations for new factories, offices and research labs.  That service met both of these criteria, and we worked the publicity channel hard.
  • Networks:  They can develop relationships with other professionals, who have early access to information about a client’s need for help.  So, for example, many turn around executives work hard to develop relationships with the workout specialists at bank and with bankruptcy attorneys.
  • Developing Client Relationships: They find ways to develop relationships with clients in anticipation of the need, in effect making the sale before the need arises.  This works best when the client is likely to have intermittent need, such as a litigator’s periodic need for a jury selection consultant.  It is a hard route, given busy clients’ unwillingness to expend a lot of time learning about services they don’t have a need for now.  In such cases, the professional must link relationship-building to a client’s more immediate needs, for example, by providing training that will meet a client’s need for continuing education credits or providing friendship on the golf course.

When the phone rings and a professional selling such a service gets an order from a new client, it usually results from a lot of hard work.  Order taking isn’t so easy.

The Emergence of E-Schmooze

Monday, February 1st, 2010

By Ford Harding and Mimi Spangler

Schmoozing is to networking what carbonation is to beer; you can do without it, but it’s bound to be flat if you do.  The definitions we have seen of the term are unsatisfactory.  It clearly is a way of conversing, though hardly casual, as one dictionary describes it, even if it may seem so.  It does have a purpose, though not solely to gain advantage, as another dictionary says, because often there is a give element, too.

We define it as low-key conversing on business and personal issues to give and gain advantage.  It is the conversational part of networking.  Done right, it is engaging, light, personal, caring, helpful and purposeful.  And it has undoubtedly been around since the dawn of commerce.  They schmoozed in the Hanseatic League, they schmoozed along the Silk Road, and they schmoozed before that in the prehistoric and early historic towns of the Fertile Crescent.

Schmoozing has had to adapt to technological change in the past. Today, much schmoozing is done by phone, though at some time in the past doing so must have seemed an oddity.  Tele-schmoozing became more frequent as the technology improved, phones became more common, and as telephone costs came down.

The rise of the internet has brought a new technological challenge to schmoozers.  To schmooze, you must converse, and conversing over what has in its early days been a largely asynchronous medium is hard.  And if you can’t schmooze over the internet, can you network over it?  Not effectively, we would argue.

The lack of easy synchronous communication still limits schmoozing on some social networking platforms, like LinkedIn, points out Elizabeth Sosnow, Managing Director and Social Media Lead at BlissPR.  But the ease of synchronous communications is developing rapidly.  Sosnow finds Twitter the preferred vehicle.  Starting from scratch eighteen months ago, she now has 4,500 followers on Twitter.  And she is generating leads from that source.

With advances in the technology, like Twitter and texting, that remove barriers to conversing, e-schmooze has arrived.  This is how it is done today:

  • Information easily found on the internet serves as an enabler for e-schmooze.  Schmoozing is purposeful and it is easier to develop a purpose when you have greater access to information about your contacts.  For example, knowing in advance through Linked-In that Persons A, B and C are linked to Person D makes it easier and more efficient to have a conversation about D.
  • Tweeting or texting contacts with bits of helpful news, congratulations and requests for information or advice provide starters for electronic conversations, just as they do when schmoozing face-to-face or by phone.  The advantage of the e-schmooze is the potential to start this conversation with many people at once, far more than can be done with the traditional schmooze, which requires calling contacts one at a time, or, at best, meeting with a small group.   This allows to e-schmoozer to out-network competitors.
  • E-schmoozers then follow up with groups or individuals, depending on responses to a conversation-starter.
  • As the e-schmoozer gets to know individual contacts through such exchanges, his conversations can become more personal and focused.
  • E-schmoozing sometimes involves rapid exchanges that cover both personal and business issues.  These exchanges are more effective, if they sometimes meander between business and personal issues, just as voice conversations do, and if they involve humor and sincere interest in the other person.
  • E-schmoozing works best if it is but a part of a wider range of communications, including voice and faces-to-face conversations.  Tweets and other electronic communications may first put you in touch with a contact and help you advance the relationship; the relationship will be stronger if you also eventually meet and talk by phone.

This is not rocket science, but are you doing it?  If not, the muscle the internet provides will allow others, more youthful and technologically sophisticated, to out-schmooze you.

How to Ask for a Referral

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Last month in behalf of a reader I posted a Rainmaker Problem, requesting suggestions about how to make a referral.  A couple of readers responded with good ideas, but not many, probably because you were busy with pre-holiday activities.

The subject is an important one, so here are a few suggestions for requesting referrals:

  • Pick the right moment.  There are times when you are much more likely to get the help you want than others.  This was the subject of an earlier post, so I will not repeat that discussion here.
  • Make it easy for the client to help you.  Broad requests, like Would you consider referring us to others who might need our services?, may get yes for an answer, but they place a large burden on the client to figure you who might be a good contact for you and how to bring up your services.  That’s why they so often produce no result.  You can make it easier for the client by:
  1. Being specific:  A request for a referral to the CFO or head of the Consumer Products Division or someone in a senior position at Trigestis Pharmaceuticals is much easier for the client to focus on than a broad plea for help.  Alternatively, you can ask for an introduction to someone with a specific issue with words like Can you think of anyone you know who might also be facing executive succession problems? or Do you know anyone else who handles insurance recovery problems for his company?
  2. Make it clear that you aren’t asking too much.  The open ended request for introductions can, and often is, perceived as asking for access to all of a client’s contacts.  That can be off-putting.  Be clear that you aren’t asking for too much.  One rainmaker I know would ask if a client would be willing to make introductions for him and when the client agreed, would follow up with these words:  Could I make a suggestion?  Would you be willing to scan through your contact list and note down ten or a dozen people you know who might benefit from our services? After you do that, we could sit down and talk about them and, together, pick out one or two to target.  If you are uncomfortable with that language, try these words:  Thanks.  That’s awfully kind of you.  Even one or two introductions would be a big help.
  3. Provide some language that the client might use when making the introduction.  This saves the client time coming up with the right approach and makes him more effective at getting you in the door.  You can use words like these:  We find that people dealing with international litigation often respond well when someone says, “If you even need a rock-solid, expert witness on transfer pricing issues, you might want to talk with Brenda Smith.  She helped us on . . .” Or you can help your client filter out good introductions form bad ones with words like We find that if you ask someone if they are interested in green design and that they say they are, it is easy to get them to agree to a meeting with us.
  • Don’t put the client on the spot.  Show that you recognize that the client many choose to back away from an introduction with words like Timing is everything, so if you bring up the subject and feel that this isn’t the time to introduce us, don’t even try.  I trust your judgment on this completely.  This is especially important if the client shows even the slightest hesitation about making a specific introduction.  Asking for advice rather than an introduction is another way to reduce pressure:  I want to meet Joe Smith.  Do you have any suggestions for the best way to do that?
  • Keep the client informed about what happens.  Always notify the client about how the introduction went, whether or not it was a success.  If the introduction turns into new business for you a year later, it is still important to let the client know what happened, because it shows you acknowledge the help he provided, and so reinforces the behavior.
  • Be thankful.  This should be done whether or not the introduction is successful.

Do any of you have additional ideas?

Five Ways to Avoid Making Phone Calls

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Rain making requires building a referral network by maintaining contact with people over the years.  That’s how most rainmakers sell accounting, actuarial, architectural, engineering, legal, consulting and other professional services.  Much of this work is done by phone, because phone calls cost less in time and money than do face-to-face meetings and because they allow conversation to flow to productive subjects in a way that email doesn’t.

But, something there is that does not love a call . . . namely me.  Left to my inclinations, I would use the phone only in emergencies and for ordering pizza.  I am, in fact, an expert at avoiding making phone calls.

Here are some things you can do to avoid even the most essential calls:

  • Tell yourself that the probability of anything good coming out of the call rounds to zero and give up immediately.  The statement of probability is true, which is why the tactic works so well.  Of course, if you make enough calls to enough people, the cumulative probability of something good happening gets quite high, but let’s not think about that.
  • Take a quick look at your email in-box before calling.  This highly recommended tactic almost always works, because you immediately surrender control of your day to responding to urgent, if not always important, matters.  By the time you are done, you must move on to something else and can put off calling until tomorrow, when you can repeat the process.
  • Tell yourself that your calls will be unwelcome and you will become a pest.  Years of personal experience and experience with hundreds of professionals show me that this statement is untrue, as long as you handle yourself properly, focusing on the other person’s needs rather than pushing a sale. Still, imaging myself being rejected for being pesky feeds my personal insecurities so effectively that it stops all effort cold.
  • Treat calling as if it is something you must squeeze in on top of everything else you must do.  That way it is the first thing that gets squeezed out.  For this to work you must never acknowledge that calling is equally or even more important to the firm and to yourself than the other things you are responsible for.
  • Repeat to yourself over and over that bringing in business isn’t really your responsibility or, at least, shouldn’t be.  Of course, this can be career limiting, but a dedicated call avoider won’t let that stop him.

There are other trivial techniques for avoiding the phone—sharpening a pencil, going to the bathroom, getting coffee; I have tried them all—but the five I have listed are the best for busy professionals.  Just recognize that when time comes around for promotions (or layoffs, for that matter) and your business development contribution is reviewed, these excuses won’t help you.

Revenue Implosion through Channel Failure

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Many professional service firms have learned how quickly good times can turn to bad over the past year.   They are learning or relearning that developing business is something that must be done in good times, if you want to delay and minimize bad times like these.  Less often they realize that one source of their revenue implosion has been the failure of a single channel to market.  To reduce that risk in the future requires not just increased business activity, but a diversification of the channels through which business comes to them.  Now that a recovery is underway, it is a good time to do that.

Examples of channel failure include:

  • The loss of a rainmaker who provides a disproportional share of a firm’s or practice’s new business.  This is the simplest and most common source of channel failure.
  • The loss of a referral source who provides a disproportional share of the firm’s or practice’s new business.  A cost reduction consultant received all of his work from a turnaround manager.  When that person was forced into retirement, his sole source of business disappeared.
  • The failure of education programs as a channel for new business.  Several consulting firms ran seminars on specific methods for dealing with corporate problems.  After the seminars some attendees would hire them for large engagements.  At first these seminars attracted high-level participants, but after time, more and more junior people entered the mix.  When senior people stopped coming to the seminars, lead flow declined and when even the junior people stopped coming to the seminars, there were no more leads.
  • The failure of an internal referral channel.  There are many examples of this. The engineering studio of an architectural and engineering firm got all of its business from projects that originated with the firm’s architectural studios.  When architectural projects dried up, so did the engineering studios lead flow.  In later years the management of the studio developed personal relationships with client facilities managers, which gave them a second, less cyclical, direct-to-market channel.  Also, at the large accounting firms, the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act reduced leads from audit partners to forensic accountant practices specializing in litigation support to zero overnight.  The litigation support consultants, who had relied entirely on audit partners for a steady flow of new cases, had to scramble to develop new channels.

Channel failure is surprisingly common and can be devastating, all the more so, because the single channel usually looks as if it will never cease to provide new business.  It almost all cases, its failure comes as a big surprise.

The best way to avoid the problem is to have multiple channels to market.   Any professional who relies on a single channel and who doesn’t know how to go out and generate business through multiple sources exposes himself to grave career risk.  But, I don’t really expect many people to recognize and act on this knowledge.  History shows that it is all too easy to become complacent and to ignore channel risk.  You do so at your peril.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Monday, October 19th, 2009

In numerous earlier posts (such as Seeing Events Through a Rainmaker’s Eyes, Part 1 and Part 2), I have observed that rainmakers are positive thinkers.  Things we see as bad, such as being stood up for a meeting, they see as neutral or even positive.  (When someone stands you up, it often creates a small chit that you can collect later.)  Things we see as neutral, such as an extra attendee at a client meeting, they may see as positive.  Positive thinking gives them a resilience that allows them to get up and try again and yet again until they win.

This all may sound Pollyanna-ish, but it’s not.  When interviewing people who have observed rainmakers, they often note the rainmakers’ optimism, sometimes mentioning in a tone of mild surprise that the rainmakers’ optimism often proved to be well-founded.  The rainmakers’ positive outlook is shaped and reinforced through experience.  They know not to take an unreturned phone call too seriously, because they’ve had to deal with so many of them.

When rainmakers apply their optimism foolishly, they are as likely to get hurt as anyone else.  Our data base of rainmakers includes several who went bankrupt through misplaced optimism, often in the form of a real estate deal.  Confident that they would sell boatloads of new work, they signed leases for space to accommodate all of the employees they would have to hire to do it.  When the work didn’t appear, they were stuck with the real estate costs.

I make this point for two reasons.  First, it is a caution to rainmakers and those who work with them to question the rainmakers’ optimism, if they seem to be applying it to areas beyond their expertise or to be brushing off the risk of catastrophic consequences, if they prove to be wrong.

My second reason for making this point is to deter anyone inclined to use a colleague’s negative thinking as a brickbat to beat them with.  I’ve had this done to me earlier in my career and seen it done to others.  Branding someone has a negative thinker and berating them for it is a loathsome and ineffective form of bullying.  There is a place for negative thinking in an organization, and when appropriately applied, should be encouraged and rewarded.  When misapplied, the reaction should be education, not derision.  For those interested in this subject, I recommend Martin Seligman’s excellent book, Learned Optimism.  (I have no financial interest in the sale of this book.  I do have a financial interest in the sale of my book, Creating Rainmakers, which also addresses the subject, but decline to recommend it out of modesty and fear of being hauled into court by the blog police.)

Avoiding the Hard Work of Generating Leads #3: They Will Think I am Just Calling to Sell them Something

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

(For over 15 years Harding & Company has helped hundreds of professionals make the transition from doing and managing client worked selling it.  Among our duties is helping the people we work with recognize it when they are avoiding the hard work on developing relationships and generating leads.  This is the third of a series of posts on the most popular avoidance tactics.)

Many people feel awkward about calling former clients and other business contacts.  They imagine getting a negative response, and this imaginary image becomes so strong that they accept it as if we were real.  These people say things, like “ he’ll think I am just calling to sell them something” or “ she’ll be annoyed with me.”  These people fall into the trap of believing that they can read other people’s minds.

If you find that you say such things to yourself and that it deters you are making calls, remember the following:

  1. People generally accept without question your stated reason for calling them.  Even if they suspect that you may be calling to sell them something in your first call, they will quickly learn that that is not your primary motivation, if you focus on providing value to them in each conversation.  This value can include recognizing them as people and friends, providing some information that might help them, offering an introduction, and the like.  The more you call people and provide such help, the less they are likely to ascribe to you a mercenary motivation.
  2. Even if they do suspect that a hope for new business is one motivation for your call, few will be offended.  After all, most are in business, themselves, and in business everyone must live by selling something.

Avoiding the Hard Work of Generating Leads #2: Not Knowing the Right People

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

(For over 15 years Harding & Company has helped hundreds of professionals make the transition from doing and managing client worked selling it.  Among our duties is helping the people we work with recognize it when they are avoiding the hard work on developing relationships and generating leads.  This is the second of a series of posts on the most popular avoidance tactics.)

Some people avoid the hard work of business development by convincing themselves that their efforts will produce no results.  That being the case, there is no point in trying.  The most common version of this tactic is expressed in words: “I don’t know the right people, so calling or meeting with them won’t turn up any new business.”

This statement must stand up to two questions:

  1. Is it true? In my experience it is seldom totally true.  Such universal statements seldom are.  Most of us know more people than we realize.  Also, people’s circumstances change over time.  Someone who was not in a position to hire you in the past, may be able to today.  Phil, a consultant, called a former client whom he thought would never amount to much.  Since they had last talked she had moved to another company.  It proved a better match for her, and her career took off.  She hired him for a small project almost immediately after his call.  I have many examples like this, including one critical to the early success of my own firm, which I have related in an earlier post.
  2. If it is true, so what? That you don’t know the right people will seldom relieve you of the responsibility for bringing in business to advance your career.  So, if you don’t know the right people, you must ask yourself how you can meet them.  There are many ways, including meeting more people during your client work, attending professional association meetings, conducting research that will require you to interview those whom you would like to add to your network, cold calling, to name but a few.

Remember, even if your base of contacts is not as strong as you would like, it is always better to be talking to someone in the marketplace than to be talking to no one.  If you are talking to someone, something good might happen.  If you are not talking to anybody, the probability of success is infinitesimal.

Avoiding the Hard Work of Generating Leads #1: Never Say No and Never Delegate

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

(For over 15 years Harding & Company has helped hundreds of professionals make the transition from doing and managing client worked selling it.  Among our duties is helping the people we work with recognize it when they are avoiding the hard work on developing relationships and generating leads.  This is the first of a series of posts on the most popular avoidance tactics.)

Time shortage is a real problem.  It becomes an avoidance tactic when you book yourself so full of other activities that there is no time left make calls and having meetings.  People who use this tactic never say no to additional client work or to requests for help on internal projects.  They protest that it is impossible to say no and impossible for them to delegate any of their work to subordinates.  Yet, others we work within the same firms do both.

If you think you may be falling into this trap, remember that if, five years from today, you are doing exactly the same type and mix of work you are doing today, your career is stalled.  Selectively, you must say no and in the overwhelming majority of firms you can, if you can legitimately claim that saying yes will reduce your business development efforts.  For that claim to be accepted as legitimate, you must demonstrate call and meeting discipline.

If you never delegate, you’re holding both yourself and your subordinates back.  No matter how you feel about it, eventually firm management and your subordinates will recognize this fact, placing you at a vice.

At some future time, when promotion or retaining your job depends on your success at business development, your arguments that you did not have time for it will not help you.

Who Should Send Meeting Follow-up E-mails and Letters?

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Of we have sent your clients introductory letters and emails to get meetings.  We have reminded the clients that you will see them in meeting confirmation letters and e-mails.  Once you have held meeting, someone must send a follow-up letter.  An earlier post described how to prepare follow-up e-mails and letters. Who on your team should send them?

After a team from a professional firm has a sales meeting with a client, someone often asks who should send follow-up e-mails to whom.  Sometimes that follow-up note is the last communication you have with a member of the client team before the company decides whom to hire.  You want that last communication to be powerful.

Of course, every member of the team can send a note to every person on the client team.  But that isn’t always best.  If the teams are large, the client may feel overwhelmed.  Key members of the client team may also pay more attention to one well drafted follow-up note than to a flurry of paper which will inevitably included many redundancies.

There is no answer to that is right for every occasion, but here are some things to consider when assigning follow-up responsibilities:

  • Identify relationships you want to build.  Usually, you want the senior person on the client team to feel close to the client partner or other senior person your team.  So, too, with technical experts from both organizations.  If there is an engagement manager on your team, you want the client’s engagement manager to feel that this is someone he wants to work with.  In short, the members of your team should each, at the very least, send a follow-up note their counterparts in the client organization.
  • Respond to concerns and questions with authority.  If a member of the client team has expressed concern or raised a question, she should get a response from the person on your team most suited to address that concern.  If it is a technical question, your technical person should follow-up.  If it is a question about the commitment of the firm, the senior person on your team should follow-up.
  • Maintain and reinforce personal relationships.  Anyone on your team who has a business or personal relationship that predates the meeting with a member of the client team should send a personal note to that person afterwards.
  • Don’t leave anyone out.  Every member of the client team should get a follow-up note from at least one person on yours.

Don’t let a competitor have the last word.  Send those follow-up letters and emails.