Archive for the 'Prospective Client' Category

A Speaker Who Knows How to Work It. Part 2 of 3 – The Well Choreographed Dinner

Thursday, March 4th, 2010


Speakers gain celebrity status at conferences.  Attendees enjoy conversing with the speakers for their knowledge and point of view.  A consulting client shared with me a successful approach his firm uses to maximize the client development opportunities for their conference speakers.  As soon as they are informed that they are a speaker they begin planning a well choreographed dinner!  First they make a reservation for 8 to 12 people at one of the top restaurants at the conference city.  Secondly, they invite a few close clients who love them and who they know will highly recommend their work.  Then they invite another speaker or two whose topics are popular in the market but whose work does not compete with theirs.  Next, they invite some non-competing prospects who can be considered peers to their clients, appreciating that clients love to exchange war stories with their peers.  And lastly, they make sure that the number of people from their office is not overwhelming to the rest of the group, four people maximum.  You can imagine with this make up for dinner that all attendees have a great time  - – - especially their prospects who are now impressed.  Perfect! 

Revenue Implosion from Market Failure

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The most common reason for revenue collapses during the past two years has been market failure.  Clients reduced or stopped buying specific professional services.  As is typical during a recession for reasons I have described elsewhere, this happened suddenly.  One month a firm had more work than it could handle and numerous prospective assignments moving their way towards a sale.  The next, clients were cancelling projects and prospective assignments evaporated.
Now that the worst seems behind us, we would be wise to take lessons from this downturn to reduce the impact of the next one.  Prior to downturns, some professionals feel immune to revenue collapses for three reasons that prove to be unfounded:

  1. My market is different:   In the late 1990s professionals selling services to the telecommunications industry argued that with the rate of increase in data communications, demand for their services would keep increasing for the foreseeable future.   They failed to realize that short term imbalances in supply and demand can create a short-term bust in a generally upward market.  Firms selling heavily to the healthcare industry, which had come through earlier recessions unscathed, took a beating in this one, when many hospitals cut their spending.
  2. My client is really many clients:   All markets go up and down.  The classic way to reduce the impact of such swings is through diversification.  But we must be wary of false diversification.  Over the years I have heard professionals who were dependent on one client for most of their revenue claim that the client was so big and they were working in so many parts of it that it was the same as having many clients.  When several big financial institutions failed over the past two years, some professionals learned how untrue this was.
  3. My firm already has a diverse client base:  Sometimes professionals believe they serve diverse markets, when they don’t.  A dot com consulting firm, whose three biggest clients were an airline, a credit card company and a hotel chain, went belly up after September 11, 2001, when travel nosedived, and all three clients canceled projects.  Management of another firm convinced themselves that their top three clients; a credit card company, an insurance company and a bank; were so different that the firm was effectively diversified.  In this downturn, they learned that a credit crunch crunches all lenders.

Always be skeptical of it-can’t-happen-to-us statements.

Gotcha! How Not to Begin a Relationship

Monday, October 5th, 2009

Starting a new relationship with someone who you have no explicit reason for contacting is one of the most difficult steps in selling professional services.  Almost as hard is advancing a relationship with someone you know hardly at all.  This isn’t just for of the professions; it is characteristic of business in general.

I just got off the phone with someone seeking to become my financial advisor.  At the beginning of the call, I told him that I was not interested in a sales call at this time.  He assured me that it wasn’t his purpose to sell me anything.  But, of course, at the end of the call, he couldn’t resist trying to do so with a we-can-help-you-with-that offer at the end.  This offer had, also of course, been the sole purpose of the 10 minutes of gobbledygook which preceded it.  In short, he was trying to begin relationship by lying to me about the purpose of this call and wasted my time in the process.   Did he think that I would turn over my money to someone who tried to deceive me the very first time he spoke with me?

It amazes me how common this is and how many forms it comes in.  Those mass mailings that come with what looks like a handwritten note, sometimes on a yellow sticky, saying “you should see this” or something similar, are another example.  They try to trick you into believing that the document was forwarded to you by a business colleague or friend.

When employing tactics to meet someone or to warm up a tepid relationship, the professionals must do nothing of this kind.  I suspect that even the word, tactics, will make some readers blanch, so let me give an example.   Asking for advice is one frequently recommended way to get in front of someone you don’t know well to warm up a relationship.  This can be effective with two cautions.  First, only do this with someone whose advice you would value on the subject in question.  If the advice asking is used simply as a ploy, there is a good chance that the contact will catch on and shun you thereafter.   Second, never, never try to turn the advice-seeking conversation into a sales call.  You should only talk about how your services can help the contact, if he explicitly asks you to do so, and even then with some reluctance.  (I didn’t come here today to sell you anything, but if you want we can talk a little about . . .).

You never want the contact to come away from a meeting with the feeling that you left it thinking, “Gotcha!”

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.

CRM Systems: Asset or Burden?

Monday, September 21st, 2009

(This is one of a number of posts on The Perfect CRM being published today.  Links to the other posts can be found at the end of this one.)

I am not a technology expert by any stretch, but it doesn’t take an expert to be shocked at the frequency with which professionals complain of their firms’ CRM systems as burdens, rather than touting them as assets.  I have worked with thousands of professionals at well over 100 firms and do not recall one instance of a general rave for a firm’s systems.  I can’t recall one endorsement of a firm’s system by a user.  But unsolicited complaints are loud and constant.  This is true of professionals who lack technological sophistication, but also true of technology consultants who are in a position to assess a CRM system both as technologists and as users.

Some of these complaints result from conflicting goals of firm management and those of the individuals professionals who use the systems daily.  For management, the information captured in the CRM system represents a major asset that must be carefully protected.  Though the individual professionals may share this view, for them it must be a real-time, flexible tool for their business development efforts.

Also, problems can arise when a system designed for dedicated sales forces is applied to the professions.  The management of the sales force of a product company differs from that of a professional firm.  In a product company sales people report to sales managers who report to the head of sales.  In a professional firm, the most productive sellers are senior partners who don’t necessarily view themselves as reporting to anyone, and certainly not to a sales manager.  Staff marketing, business development and IT personnel are often, albeit wrongly, seen as second-class citizens.  These factors complicate implementation a CRM system and enforcement of its use.

Here are some of the more common complaints that a perfect system must address:

  • Barriers to changing data:  A professional must be able to add, delete and change information about a contact rapidly and easily.   Systems requiring that all changes flow through a central point to control quality, create an impossible barrier to effective use.   The better systems allow professionals to change data at will for contacts assigned to them.
  • Inability to blind sensitive information: A professional needs to be able to post sensitive information on the database without fear that it will be seen by other users.  When a client provides the professional with a home phone number or other confidential information, the professional needs to be able to store that information on the database where it is accessible to him with confidence that it will not be as accessible to all.
  • Learning barriers:  If the system isn’t easy to learn, busy professionals won’t bother with it.  With a half-hour of instruction, a professional should be able to get basic functionality from the system.
  • Clumsy data manipulation: The user should be able to sort by any major field; such as by last name, company, location, area code or zip code; and that sort should bring up just the relevant contacts.  It should not result in a list of all contacts listed alphabetically by field, requiring busy professionals to scan through many lines of data to find what they want.
  • Difficult data management: Accessing the database; making changes to it; adding notes; scheduling follow-up calls, meetings and reminders; associating related documents such as proposals; and similar activities must be easy to do with a minimum of formal training.  Professionals are busy people focused primarily on serving their clients, not on tinkering with a CRM system.  Time spent wrestling with the system is time away from clients and selling.
  • Adjudicating primary contact responsibilities:  Many professionals feel proprietary about their contacts.  They resent others in the firm calling or meeting with their contacts without their consent.  Sometimes they resist sharing a contact, even though they haven’t done anything to maintain a relationship, themselves.  A good system will remind a professional that he has not made contact with a specific client in, say, nine months.  It will then remind both the professional and firm management, if he has not made contact with that client for a year.  The timing of the reminders should be modifiable, depending on specific circumstances.  This allows management to reassign contact responsibility, when the current relationship manager has been inattentive.

Perfection may not be possible.  But CRM systems could be better adapted for the needs of professionals than they are.

Post Epilogue

The Perfect CRM is a series of essays by industry experts on the topic of client relationship management tools. Each expert will draw upon years of experience to outline their vision of the perfect CRM system. This exercise will provide you with new insights into what works, what doesn’t work, and what you should consider when implementing a CRM system.

The experts include:

  • Tim Klabunde, Author of the CRM Chapter in the Marketing Handbook for the Design and Construction Professional
  • Bernie Siben, Author of A Horse of a Different Color: Marketing in the Public Sector
  • Bobby Darnell, Former Director of National Accounts at Reed Construction Data
  • Mel Lester, Owner of the Business Edge
  • Matt Handal, Contributing Editor of SMPS Marketer

Visit these sites by clicking on the names to read each expert’s take on the perfect CRM.

Flavor of the Month

Monday, July 6th, 2009
(Note:  As in prior years, I will only be posting once a week in July and August.)

Professionals learning to develop business often struggle with finding a reason for calling clients and other important network contacts, when there is no urgent matter to discuss.  You can have frequent conversations with a network contact, as long as the net value of the sum of those conversations is sufficiently high to meet her hurdle rate. If it doesn’t, she won’t return your calls or will find other means to use her time more productively.  The hurdle rate varies from contact to contact and tends to be higher with the more desirable contacts, such as senior executives.

Note that most contacts will not mind the occasional low-value conversation, as long as the net value of the sum of all exchanges with you is high.  This logic presses us to find ways to provide the needed value.  With some contacts the personal relationship is strong enough that interest in each other provides sufficient value.  For the rest, we must constantly be looking for information and ideas that our contacts would find valuable.  That can be a challenge.

Joe Flom of the law firm, Skadden, is one of the world’s greatest rainmakers of the past half century. I find it revealing that he used to hit upon a conversation topic that he would use with his business contacts for a while, and then come up with another.  His colleagues used to refer to these topics as his flavor of the month.  Over the years I have seen other rainmakers do the same, though they seldom have a name for it.

Not having had the opportunity to observe Flom over time I can’t describe the characteristics of his flavors of the month.  From broader experience, I think a flavor must:

• Be a valuable insight or piece of information tied at least peripherally to your business
• Be topical enough that it is easy to bring into conversation
• Lead easily to a question that gets the other person talking

Recognizing a promising flavor is a knack worth developing.  They come to you more frequently than you might imagine, if you are looking for them.  To build the habit, from time to time ask yourself the following questions:

• Is there a contrarian story to a current trend?
• Do you have an example of an interesting solution to a common problem?
• Do you know how a leader in a field does something that others struggle with?
• Is there an impending change in technology, regulation, competitive environment of other area your contacts need to be advised of?

I was reminded of this subject recently when I found myself discussing flavors of the month with several contacts over two weeks.  The subject of flavors of the month had become my flavor of the month.

Networking for Introverts: No Good at Small Talk

Monday, June 8th, 2009

“I’m no good at small talk,” someone I am coaching told me yesterday.  I hear this from time to time in the course of my work.  The speaker is usually an introvert, faced with the need to attend an association event or to develop closer relationships with clients.  An introvert myself, I had to deal with this issue long ago.  My answer to this admission is always the same: there is no such thing as small talk.  There is business talk and there is relationship talk.  All conversation with a client belongs in one of these two categories.

It is impossible to have much of a relationship someone whom you know nothing about.  So-called small talk gives you many types of information about t he person you are speaking with; including background, habits, hobbies and sense of humor, just for starters; that let you build a relationship.  There is nothing small about these kinds of information.

Relationship’s are based, among other things, on shared experiences and mutual help.  So-called small talk allows you to recognize a past shared experience, whether it be experiences with a mutual friend who makes you both laugh or with a teenage child’s behavior that makes you both want to cry, with a client you have both worked for or with a problem you have both worked on.  Small talk gives you ideas about arranging experiences to share with client in the future, such as an association event or a night at the opera.

And small talk gives you information you need to help the client.  There are countless examples of this.  An actuary listening to a client’s venting about frustrations with a contractor who went bankrupt and disappeared half way through roofing her house was able to recommend another roofer.  A consultant was able to refer a client to his wife, a dentist, when the client’s child needed emergency attention.  A recruiter was able to advise a client’s child on his first job search.  All of these things happened, because the professionals in question had listened to so-called small talk.

If you think you’re no good at small talk, try the following:

  • Try to find out something interesting about the person you are talking with.  People are usually interesting when they talk about things they are interested in.  Keeping the conversation going will be easy once you find such a topic.  This is standard advice to people learning to network.  It’s standard, because it works.
  • Ask about the person’s family.  This is an especially productive subject if the person you’re talking to has children.  Almost everybody likes talking about their children, and the subject is a great social leveler.  You can talk about shared experiences with children with the chairman of the board or with the janitor, with someone who lives across the street from you or with someone who lives on the other side of the world.
  • Use the person’s demeanor as a signal for starting a conversationYou look like you are in a rush today.  You look a bit worried.  My, you look happy today.  Used selectively, words like these will usually start a conversation about something important to the other person.
  • Key off a signal provided by the other person.  A tie with pictures of anchors on it signals a sailor.  A diploma hanging on an office wall will tell you the name of a person’s alma mater.  A trophy indicates passion and success in some area.

Anyone can learn to make small talk.  All it takes is an interest in the other person and a willingness to ask questions.

For more on this subject, see the post Networking Tips for Introverts.

How to Write Meeting Follow-Up Letters and Emails

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Earlier posts have described how to write e-mails and letters of introduction and meeting confirmation letters and e-mails.  Once you have had a meeting, you will also want to send an e-mail.  These serve several purposes.  First, they remind the recipient of the meetings outcome and next steps you have agreed to.  This increases the probability of the recipient following through and captures a bit more mind share.  Second, they provide what is often the  only written record of the meeting.  Most importantly, if it is a sales meeting, the follow-up letter or e-mail often provides your final chance to reinforce your interest in the client and your qualifications for the work.

If you are going to send follow-up emails consistently, you need to reduce writing them down to an efficient system, while avoiding the appearance of boilerplate.  You can do this by using a standardized process, as distinct from a standard letter.

In most cases, you will compose a letter if in a sequence of sentences you:

  • Link:  Reinforce any emotional link you established with the other person.  After all, that is one important outcome of the event.  You can only do this if you avoid clichéd personal statements.  (Please, oh please, don’t open with It was a pleasure to meet you . . . It is so over-utilized that it conveys almost as little of its original  meaning as goodbye does of God be with you from which it derives.)  Instead, note something that you found interesting or special about the person or something she told you.


As many times as I have been through Grand Central Station, I had never noticed the one dirty brick left unwashed by the restorers.  Now in-the-know, I was able to point it out to my nephew who came to visit this weekend. Many thanks for improving my knowledge of New York.

Your directness about the problems that Trigestis Pharmaceuticals is facing was extremely helpful.

  • Synthesize :  Show you clearly understand the issue at hand in a concise summary.


You described a company at a turning point. The actions your management team takes over the next . . .

We are both seeking to increase our business with private equity firms and are meeting many of the same people.  We may be able to help each other.

  • Remind or Reinforce:  Politely remind the other person of any commitments she made during the meeting.  A clear statement of next steps makes it easier for her to fulfill her commitments than if she has to recall them on her own.  Alternatively, reinforce your commitment to the client and why you are well suited to the work.


I greatly appreciate your offer to introduce me to Oliver Princer.  I will be in Pittsburgh week after next and could stop by his . . .

You mentioned that you might be able to get some feedback on my meeting with Debra Parks.  That would be . . .

We remain most interested in working on your matter.  Our experience with the licensing of intellectual property in the pharmaceutical industry equips us well to address the disagreements you are having with Trigestis.  We well understand your desire to resolve the issue amicably.  Our track record with litigation in this area will provide try Trigestis with an added incentive to do so.

Promise:  Restate any commitments you have made, so that the other person knows you haven’t forgotten.


I will call Mary Gumstar next week to see if . . .

By regular mail, I am sending you a copy of . . .

Should you choose our firm, you will give your matter . . .

  • Close:  As appropriate, end with a personal statement.


I hope you have recovered from your cold.

I will think of you as the Bears trounce the Giants this weekend.

Link.  Synthesize.  Remind 0r reinforce.  Promise.  Close.  Follow this sequence in each follow-up email, and you will soon learn to produce them efficiently while maintaining a high quality.

(Well, the Bears sometimes trounce the Giants.)

Rain Making Problem #15: How to Prove Your Worth

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

(This post is another in our series of Rainmaking Problems.  We invite your comments on this problem and would also welcome any problems you would like to submit to get comments from other readers.)

I received the following question from a reader in Singapore.  He was responding to Rain Making Problem #9: Lead Generation when Your Back is to the Wall to which he refers several times.  What would you suggest?

Hi all,

Ford, I just want to say first that I think what you’re doing is great. I was so unhappy with my previous firm, I set up my own practice last year with just one client. From what the client told me before I quit, I was going to be extremely busy just servicing them. However, for various reasons they have sent me only about one-quarter to one-third of the work they indicated they would send me before I quit, so your books and your website have been a life saver for me.

I’m sorry that I don’t have any tips for Lenore, but I do have a question which relates to Mel’s point on focusing on serving rather than winning. I like to think I provide first-rate service. I’m not aware of anyone else in my geographical region and area of practice who provides service and does work to the standard I do. The only trouble is, how does one show that to a potential client? The way I see it, the scope for doing this is pretty limited: you can only go so far in writing proposals, and you may be limited to just one, or if you’re lucky, two meetings with the potential client to talk over their needs, etc. Otherwise, “We’re great. Our service is awesome and we’re much better than everybody else” just sounds like another sales pitch that the potential client also heard from the competition. It is only when you actually land the work that you can show what you do.

So, do you have any tips to share on focusing on servicing during the sales process? Thanks in advance if you do.

In a sling in Singapore,


Of course, I am responsible for the in-a-sling close. Forgive me Willem; I couldn’t stop myself.

How Much Detail Should You Give When Answering Questions?

Monday, April 6th, 2009

I sat with a friend today who described frustration with a colleague who had lost a sale my friend had been pursuing for a long time. The client had asked the colleague, whom I will call Ernest, if he had ever done work in a foundry. Ernest had answered, “Yes, but only once and it was over twenty years ago for a company that was so different from yours that there isn’t much relevance to your situation.” After the meeting, Ernest had argued that a less detailed response would have been misleading, and so, dishonest.

First, I want to commend Ernest for his desire to be honest.  There is, unfortunately, too much lying in selling situations and it gives selling a bad name.  I do not think Ernest was being prudish nor that his colleague wanted him to do something unprincipled. Yet, I think his answer was a mistake.

In making his defense of his answer, he committed at least two logical fallacies. First, he assumed he could read the client’s mind. Ernest presumed that the question was about relevant client experience. What if it wasn’t? For example, it may have been a simple devise to get Ernest to talk to get a sense of what he would be like to work with. If so, and I think this at least as likely as the reason Ernest assumed, he showed the client that he was likely to bore him with unwanted detail and, worse, that he was none too savvy.

Or the client could have wanted to know how Ernest felt about spending a good part of the next few months in a place with a lot of banging and crashing. We will never know. If so, Ernest’s answer showed no tolerance or interest in such a place. Unless you know why a person is asking a question, you don’t really know how to answer.

Second, he assumed that an accurate but imprecise answer would be misleading and dishonest. The distinction between accuracy and precision should be kept in mind when answering client questions. An accurate statement, such as Ford Harding is between 20 and 70 years old, can be imprecise. And a precise one; Ford Harding is 18 years, four months and six days old; can be inaccurate. When we answer questions, we often make tradeoffs, explicitly or implicitly, between accuracy and precision.  An answer that is sufficiently precise in one context may not be in another.  If a policeman asks a young person’s age at a bar, he requires a precision not usually necessary, for example.

Answers to the question, Have you ever worked in a foundry?, such as Yes or Yes, but it was a while ago are both accurate, if imprecise in that they don’t give much detail. If they satisfy the client and are true, he may be put off by having more information pressed upon him. He can follow up with more questions, if he wants to.

If you are concerned that you may have misled him or that you may appear to have been evasive if he does ask for detail, the solution is simple: ask before you tell more. Yes. Is experience in a foundry important to you? His answer will guide you to the right level of precision. For example, he might answer, Only in that it would be better, if you knew what it is like to spend months in a place with so much noise, before you take the assignment. This might open the opportunity to describe work you did at a heavy metal stamping plant or the noise your child’s rock band makes when it rehearses in your living room, information relevant but not obvious.

But Ernest assumed he knew what the client was thinking and the level of detail the client wanted. Ernest is a nice man and generally good to be around.  But trying to read another’s intentions, as he did in this case, can be an annoying thing to do. How would you feel, if you asked a travel agent if she had ever been to Sweden, and you got a lengthy, qualified answer which seemed to suggested she wasn’t certain about anything on the subject, when all you really wanted to know is if the currency there is the Euro?