By Eric Fletcher
For many, it is an all too familiar drill: (finally) connect with a strategic target; sense that “things clicked” and there is an interest in pursuing a working relationship; and then…crickets.
A couple of weeks…then months pass without contact. Now it just seems awkward to reach out.
Proactive intentions morph into a when-the-need-arises-they’ll-call waiting game.
And another prospect gets added to the holiday greeting list.
If this has a familiar ring to it, consider rethinking this part of your business development process. In sales-speak, let’s talk about how to work with prospects in your sales pipeline.
Maintaining Visibility and Delivering Value
Creating awareness is a nice start; but every rainmaker I know attributes a significant measure of success to the role relationships play in the development of new business.
And relationships are not built in one encounter.
Add the fact that surveys and studies repeatedly indicate that, apart from burning platform scenarios, clients tend to hire advisors they trust, and the issue becomes clear: once you’ve made contact with a prospect, the task is to begin to build a relationship.
Back to sales-speak — how do you proactively manage your business development pipeline.
Here are three steps that will seed and nurture relationships, and move your best prospects through a relationship-building pipeline.
1. Create a Communication Calendar
Relationships do not grow without regular communication. Period. So the most effective sales plans build on a strategic approach to maintaining visibility and delivering value.
Begin by plotting regular outreach (use a calendar in order to get beyond the good intentions stage). For the first six to nine months plan a personalized communique every four to six weeks.
What is the nature of these communiques? Begin by thinking strategically. Then mix in your own brand of creativity. Here’s a six-pack jumpstart for you to improve upon.
- News on the relevant industry (via Google alerts, industry newsletters, etc.);
- Legal/regulatory issues/developments that may impact your prospect;
- Market research and/or competitive landscape moves and analysis;
- Access to advice/insight that speaks to your prospect’s concern or interest;
- An offer to make a valued connection;
- Marketing notes on wins, events, leadership moves or client service related advances.
Note that five out of six of these are about the prospect (versus the firm). This is a pretty good ratio. Nothing stalls the development of a relationship faster than talking too much about oneself.
If you hope to build new relationships you should connect with those in your pipeline regularly. Deliver value as often as possible. A minimum of nine touches a year is a good target zone. Think of these as bridges to conversation.
2. The Collaborative Experience.
The easy default when you think about events is to host a CLE or a webinar on a topic of interest. While this is a decent starting point, this is another spot where your best creative thinking will pay off.
When it comes to moving a prospect through the sales pipeline, creating an experience that provides a taste of what it would be like to work with you is the gold standard. Look for an opportunity to collaborate with your prospect — on writing an article or co-presenting for a lunch-and-learn for example.
This clearly isn’t for every target that comes along; but create a collaborative experience with your best targets and you accelerate movement through the sales pipeline.
3. Make the Prospect a Hero.
As you consider investing in acts and activities aimed at building a relationship, rethink the standard menu. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of swag, events and even collateral material does little to advance marketing efforts; if it’s on the standard menu it doesn’t differentiate you from the pack.
On the other hand, when prospects sense that working with you will position them as a hero…inside their organization, in a preferred social or civic setting, with their target market or with the relationships most important to them, you are about to turn a prospect into a client.
Working a pipeline effectively isn’t easy. The best solutions rarely present as a cookie-cutter But these three ideas are designed to maintain an appropriate level of visibility, deliver value and build relationships. It calls for proactive, strategic and creative rethinking.
Remember that rewarding relationships don’t materialize as a result of one conversation (or one article).
Be tenacious in pursuit and the return is fewer days waiting for the phone to ring, and a sales pipeline that delivers.
Eric Fletcher helps lawyers, accountants and other professional service providers design communication, marketing & growth strategies. He is an author, a TEDx speaker and proud dad. He resides in Austin, TX.