I have a confession to make.
I hate selling. Like seriously hate selling.
It makes me want to run for the hills instantly and not reappear for weeks, coronavirus or not. To add to that, I am a certified, card-carrying introvert so you have the perfect recipe for a business development disaster.
Perhaps you’re like that too.
But getting new business is oxygen for survival.
How do you crack the problem?
The answer is simple – you don’t sell.
You just help clients buy.
Turns out that it’s not just us, but blue chip professional services firms, like McKinsey, BCG, the accounting and law firms, all have the same problems.
They too have a bunch of smart people who are great at solving problems but get turned off by the whole concept of having to actually sell their services.
Yet, the most successful of these are not only surviving but doing extremely well.
A book I read recently helped shed light on how these blue chip firms systematically attacked the problem of rain-making.
And anyone who is in the business of offering trust-based services, such as financial advice (or even marketing support, wink), is much better off helping their prospective clients buy, rather than selling to them.
How do you do this in reality?
How Clients Buy
Doug Fletcher and Tom McMakin, authors of “How Clients Buy” suggest that each client has to go through a journey of seven stages before they make the commitment to buy.
Photo by Clemens van Lay
Your prospective clients have to:
1. Be aware that you exist
They have to be able to recognize and even recall your name in the right context
2. Understand what you do
This means being they can relate your area of expertise directly to a problem affecting them.
In other words, your name has to pop when they think of the “box” this problem sits in, in their heads.
3. Interested in what you have to offer.
If what you offer isn’t on their top 3 or even 5, then the deal isn’t going to click, even if they know and understand what you do.
It may, however, suddenly become relevant sooner or later – neither of you can predict which.
4. Respect you.
They have to have some evidence, from sources they trust, that you have the chops to solve a problem of the complexity or type they are having.
5. Trust you.
This is obvious.
What’s not as obvious is that they can’t be dragged down the road past the four previous milestones to suddenly trust you, as in a first prospect meeting.
The pegs have to line up in order. And the key to trusting you is that they believe you’ll put their interests first.
6. Be able.
It’s possible they’ve traversed all the previous five stages.
But the fish isn’t ready to bite. They haven’t convinced a spouse or significant other yet. Or they haven’t come into the funds they believe they will soon.
In any case, if they don’t have the power to engage you, the deal will not happen.
You can, of course, leave them out of the net by “prequalifying” them at the start of the process.
But by doing so, you’re losing the chance to do business with them in future too, by making it very clear to them that you’re a seller, not a trusted advisor.
7. Be ready.
This may be an emotional hurdle they have to overcome, or it may be a simple matter of bandwidth.
For example, a personal or family crisis, a health issue, a job event, may all yank what was formerly their number one priority far down the list.
You can only wait patiently and continue to nurture the relationship while things rearrange themselves in your favor.
I can’t imagine a lot of this is very new to you.
Yet what continues to amaze me is that I see so few instances where the advisor or firm took a conscious and thoughtful approach to identify these stages and provide thoughtful, respectful and on-point support to help their best prospects move along.
There are advisors who don’t even collect the emails of prospects they spent so much time meeting, talking to and developing only to see the deal fall through.
Don’t waste all this time and effort.
Paving the Path to Successful Engagement
Take some thoughtful steps up-front to design this journey consciously.
Photo by Nathan McBride
By doing that, you’ll ensure that you’re helping your prospects at every step of their journey:
1. Build a platform:
Build a solid platform that gets your name out where your prospects hang out, and associated with the topic of your expertise.
Speak at conferences, be the resource for reporters writing about your niche. Get published.
2. Showcase area of expertise:
To build understanding, deepen the foundation you already built at stage 1.
Consistently create content that’s designed to help them get informed on their problem, understand choices and explore options. Make your website a showcase of your expertise.
3. Give value regularly:
If you’ve any experience at all, you already understand the importance of listening to your prospects. To expand your effectiveness, add two more elements:
- Introduce regular prospect communications, say via email, on topics that are close to your prospects’ heart. This is easy if you already focus on a few key audiences.
- Keep adding value on a regular basis in ways that don’t require effort. For example, set up a simple curation feed on specific topics, and send your prospects a list of relevant articles or other materials from the to time
4. Offer social proof:
I know, I know. You can’t do testimonials.
But there are ways around this.
One is to provide social proof via recognition by industry groups, publications and other trusted sources of authority.
A second way is by association – by aligning yourself with other credible sources such as by appearing with them on some public platform or forum.
That way, their credibility rubs off on you. And of course, you continue to demonstrate it in every personal interaction
5. Communicate in your natural voice:
This one is simple. It’s what grandma said – act always like the brightest spotlight is shining on you.
The good news is that the trustworthiness and integrity that brought you success so far have an extra avenue to shine more brightly.
The work you now are doing in the previous five steps will amplify that trustworthiness much more, rather than just left to be judged in one or two personal interactions in the typical client development cycle.
6. Offer regular on-ramps to engage:
You’re already familiar with this in your in-person client development.
The key to doing this at scale is to ensure that you’re touching base via triggers and prompts that are naturally and organically built into your communications and content.
If you’re communicating regularly with a “cold” prospect pool via email, for example, you can insert content with a prompt to have them reach out to you with questions.
You can also add simple action steps, with a rider at the end to reach out to you for more help.
Chances are, when they have the ability to act, this offer will grease the wheels for them to reach out to you and reduce the natural inertia most people feel when it comes to dealing with their finances.
7. Be patient and be in touch:
The key words here are patience and helpfulness.
As long as you keep up the simple and systematic process of regularly communicating with them, giving them value, and offering to help as appropriate, you’ve just maxed your chances of success.
The likely result is that yours is the first name they think of at the magical moment when all the stars line up.
The best part?
You probably weren’t even there, selling.
How can you help your clients buy?
Source: How Clients Buy , Tom McMakin, Doug Fletcher