I had the opportunity to answer a question that was recently posed by a seasoned marketing professional who works at a regional CPA firm. Her question was: “…Is there a way I can put into place a system to ensure that partners are following up with prospects that they’ve met, but who aren’t ready to hire us?” She added, “Our Marketing Department adds them to our mailing lists and they get regular newsletters and are invited to events, but we need something more proactive to keep in touch with them.”
She was looking for a strategy for keeping in regular, personal touch with prospects so that, when / if the opportunity arose to look for another service provider, her firm would be at the top of the list. This is how marketing professional services works. Establishing – then nurturing – relationships is how we get our foot in the door. It’s a clever mix of branding, credibility, and reputation that will build over time. Every “touch” counts and the ultimate goal is that prospective client is positively influenced over a period of time, from a number of different ways, that our firm is worth using.
Perhaps the prospective client will read an article written by one of our professionals, then meet someone else personally at a networking event, see a display booth at a trade association or at a conference, notice an advertisement in a business journal, receive an e-mail, etc. After a while, they come to count on this firm as a major player in their market. If the messaging is done correctly, they will be engaged by what they have experienced and be compelled to reach out when the opportunity presents itself. Bingo!
A personal touch by a partner in the mix of everything else mentioned above should help secure a face-to-face appointment / proposal when the time is right. A personal touch can be defined as something outside and above of an offer to perform accounting services. It should be perceived as a point of human connection and resonate is some significant way with the prospect. Some outstanding real-life examples of this include:
- Offer to write a letter of endorsement for a prospects’ child at your alma mater college/university
- Taking the time to share your experience of moving because you’ve heard the prospective client will also be moving soon
- Referring an outside consultant or vendor that might help the prospect with an issue or problem they are having – while it will offer no gain to you or your firm personally
How would you know of such needs you might ask? Well, let’s start at the beginning. Let’s see how we can take that initial interaction with them to the next, more personal level. How did they become a prospect in the first place? Was there an introduction from a referral source? Did you meet them at a networking event? Or did you just randomly find them on the Internet? In any case you can take it to a more personal level at the start – here’s some more examples:
Referral Source Introduction – if an attorney or banker mentions a client they have that might be interested in speaking to your firm – at some point in the future (for whatever reason, not now…) then ask that referral source what do they know about them personally? Ask about the business owner’s family, his hobbies/interests, where the referral source met him, etc.
Networking event – Ask some open-ended personal questions. After asking “So, what do you do?” (cause we all know one of you is asking that one – and it’s always a good idea to ask it of someone before they ask it of you – so you can get them doing the talking, right?) Ask them “How do you get started in the business? Or What made you pursue….?” You can ask other questions, too, to draw them out, such as “Are you planning any trips or vacations in the future?” “Do you have any exciting plans for the weekend?” “Do you have kids? Pets? Grandchildren?” These are questions that might seem non-traditional and unprofessional….exactly! Connecting on a more personal basis is what relationship selling is all about – and that’s the real key to selling professional services. Try it!
Internet research – If it’s as impersonal as just hearing about a company and thinking, “they would be a great client!” then use Google and LinkedIn to find out more. Google news searches can tell you what’s new about the individual or the company (this is a different, more targeted search using the Google search engine); you can also read their LinkedIn profile to identify which groups they are involved in, where they live, which school they attended, and in many cases, I see smart professionals using their LinkedIn profile to create a more 360 degree image of themselves so they have included hobbies, family details, etc. LinkedIn can help you identify other professionals you have in common so you can ask your mutual connections some more questions about them or to make an introduction on your behalf (LinkedIn makes it quite easy). Finally, don’t be afraid to look them up on Facebook.
Despite these great tips, it will still remain a challenge to get your partners to DO THIS on a regular basis. We need them to stop riding the carousel and get off! We want them to disengage from their tasks and reactions to others’ requests – to objectively contemplate all that they’re doing and why. Achieving – and maintaining – this heightened state of awareness is critical to appropriately focus on what matters most and what will effectively help you to meet your goals.
What I have done in the past that has worked well is this:
- Have your partner make a short list of prospects and referral sources – consider using Excel to have them listed down the left-side column
- Have them commit to stopping everything once a week (or twice a month – use Outlook calendars to create a recurring event) for twenty minutes to review / consider their short lists
- Have them track their “reaches” – they can use the Excel spreadsheet moving to the right to keep track of months moving forward – January, February – and they can write down each way they or the firm has touched this person – i.e. forwarded an article, sent firm-wide general e-mail, send LinkedIn intro, using referral sources to see if they know someone on the prospect list and vice versa make sense – as does asking your partner group internally as well.
Over time, using this approach, they will see how they can leverage their touches across everyone on this list, especially if they are niched in a particular service area or industry. Sharing news that affects a certain industry is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to that target audience. Also, staying aware of this spreadsheet (looking at it monthly or quarterly) will help your partners to objectively evaluate and manage their relationships.
Sharing the success stories of how this works with a few of your partners can get more on board, too.