This article examines the various business development tactics at the professional’s disposal, organized by how much they cost, and how much they get back for you.
The grid below divides marketing tactics into four boxes: high cost/low impact, low cost/low impact, low cost/high impact, and high cost/high impact. Please note that this grid is a relative, not absolute, scale.
High Cost/Low Impact.
These are the tactics you want to avoid. They include traditional advertising, traditional direct mail, fancy brochures, trade show booths, and the work of the traditional sales force. All of these tactics cost you a lot of money, and generate questionable returns. They position your firm as any other consulting firm hawking its services and wares. For instance:
- Traditional advertising doesn’t work, because there is too much clutter out there and because you can’t easily establish your credibility and value, or build trust as a professional using this tactic. Advertising can work, but only if it is part of a value-based strategy to build trust with prospects and get them to call for safe, valuable information. You’ll see.
- Ditto for traditional direct marketing. Direct marketing can help you build a list, and get people to contact you – especially when you are offering free or low-cost information and education. However, mailing out brochures and introductory letters rarely works.
- Fancy brochures for mailings are a waste of money. There are simply too many other types of marketing collateral that are less expensive and more effective. Prospects don’t hire firms based on their brochures! However, a simple fact sheet about your company – especially when bundled with an article or other educational product – can go a long way. Also, in some markets, a brochure is required – although only for prospects that you meet in person.
- Trade show booths immediately label you and your firm as “vendor.” It is much less expensive and more effective to speak at trade shows. That way, people perceive you to be an expert and seek you out. Also, if you handle the speaking engagement correctly, you can get contact information for every single visitor to the trade show (as you’ll soon learn).
- At the same time, trade shows can get results for some professionals, if you are willing to invest the time and money to do what is required. An appendix to this chapter provides insights on how to do this effectively.
- A traditional sales force. Many professionals hire salespeople to sell for them. A good salesperson can generate leads, but there are less expensive ways to attract the same prospects. Moreover, I’ve worked with plenty of professionals that have experienced frustration managing even one salesperson. That’s because the salesperson hands off proposals and deals to the delivery team, and this can lead to miscommunication and errors. Also, salespeople sometimes represent the company in less than favorable ways. Finally, professionals get frustrated when they can’t get honest answers about when deals in the pipeline will actually close. By learning to attract prospects to you based on trust and education, you won’t need to rely so much on salespeople.
One of the more powerful models for building a professional service firm is to develop professionals who attract a steady stream of clients, without needing a sales force. The way to do that is by recruiting people with the potential to market their services, train them (using the strategies in this manual) to get business, and supporting them with great marketing.
Nevertheless, I recognize that many firms rely on sales forces for lead generation – from appointment setting to account management. Therefore, another appendix to this chapter discusses ways to manage your sales force for optimal results.
Low Cost/Low Impact.
Business cards, word of mouth, and waiting for people to call are all low cost and low impact strategies.
- Business cards are a necessary part of your collateral, but don’t do much on their own. When you create your business card, you should put your picture on the front, and write some sort of offer for valuable information on the back. For instance, “Go to www.mysite.com for a free e-book about the top ten dirty secrets that most financial planners don’t want you to know.” Never give your business card to anyone unless they ask for it first. Giving your business card unasked is a sure tip-off that you have something to sell.
- Word of mouth, as described earlier, is based on the random kindness of strangers. A proactive referral system is much more powerful, and doesn’t cost much more.
- Waiting for calls. If you have read this far, you are not the type who will place your bets on waiting for calls from prospects who have somehow heard of your brilliance. However, a persistent problem among skilled professionals is the belief that, because they are smart and competent, the phone will ring. These are the types of competitors you can only hope to have in your target market!
Low Cost/High Impact.
These are the most important marketing weapons that you can have in your arsenal. They don’t cost much, and – done right – can bring you all the clients you need. This chapter will review each in detail, including how to get started. Following is a brief overview:
- An effective web presence. The goal of your web site is not to tell people about what you do, but to serve as the hub of a system that collects prospect contact information by providing valuable information and education in exchange. In other words, if you set up your web site to be about THEM instead of about you, your site, supported by your other business development strategies, will attract plenty of prospects.
- Publicity and articles. In your target market, there should be plenty of publications that your prospects read. These publications are usually hungry for good content. By writing useful, informative articles, you can get powerful, free advertising that establishes your credibility and attracts prospects.
- Public speaking. Speaking is enormously powerful because it lets people get to know you on a personal basis – even if you have never met. It takes a little practice, but after a while anybody can deliver an effective speech to his or her target market. You can speak at all sorts of venues – from ten-person seminars that you arrange to trade shows with hundreds of potential clients. In my practice, speaking consistently brings me more clients than any other marketing method. More importantly, people who hear me speak respond better to my offers for new products. Even if you hate to speak in public, you can still arrange a venue that gets you in front of your prospects in a safe way, as you will see soon.
- Seminars, panels and roundtables. Since you are an expert in your field, why not offer free or low-cost seminars to interested prospects that help them understand ways to solve their problems? This gets you in front of your prospects, and quickly establishes you as an expert. Seminars are one or a series of educational programs. Panels bring experts — including you — together to discuss a range of issues pertinent to your target market. Roundtables are a group of invited guests that meet to share problems (e.g. if you are a labor relations attorney, a roundtable of HR executives interested in legal issues related to human resources), under your guidance and facilitation.
- Newsletters. Newsletters, especially electronic ones, keep you at the top of your prospects’ mind and continue to establish your expertise with them.
- Research and surveys. Research and surveys about your target market gives you a low-cost and easy way to get prospects to tell you all about their top priorities, issues, and concerns. By sharing your research with them, you also build a relationship and establish your credibility.
- Other information products. White papers, briefs, CDs, audiocassettes, videos – along with your web site, seminars, and newsletters – all form a portfolio of valuable, educational packages that will attract clients to your door. That’s because these products talk about the client’s problems and how to solve them – in their language, and in ways that can help them. You can set yourself apart from the competition, and build instant credibility and trust, by showing prospects that you understand their situation and how to improve it.
- Community service. By volunteering your time in the right way, you can make a positive difference and attract prospects.
- Referral system(s). You can implement a number of low-cost systems to get referrals, even without having to ask for them – and certainly without having to rely on word of mouth.
High Cost/High Impact.
Finally, two tactics work well but do cost some money:
- Educational advertising. Unlike traditional advertising, educational advertising entices your prospect to contact you in order to get a free information package or sign up for an educational program. Instead of pushing your services, you are inviting your prospect to get risk-free but valuable information. This tactic is important if your target market is hard to reach with the lower cost tactics – or if you want to get fast response.
- Educational direct mail is similar to educational advertising. However, you are mailing out postcards or letters to your prospects and inviting them to take advantage of a free offer for education and information. If you need to get a list of prospects quickly and are willing to spend money to get that list, direct mail can be extremely effective. Note that, as you will learn in this chapter, it can be even more effective to combine email, letters, and phone calls to a select list of prospects.
Before using these higher cost tactics, you should exhaust the low-cost, high-impact approaches. And then, spend money wisely by starting small, testing, and expanding upon what works.