When it comes down to it, everyone in a professional services firm fulfills a business development role. Whether you’re new to business development or an experienced sales leader, prospecting is integral to your current success and future career growth trajectory.
One way to optimize the client’s buying experience –like the one we have delved into with our fictional case study of Klein, Rowe & Co. – is to master prospecting strategies.
Prospecting, first and foremost, must be intentional. It is the strategy, process, and messaging you use to earn a first conversation with a prospective client. A prospecting plan that’s strategic and worked consistently improves the quality and quantity of leads in your pipeline. When your pipeline has the right mix of quality and quantity, you’ll close more new business and expand your reach within your existing accounts.
This article provides five prospecting strategies to help you open doors to decision makers and influencers.
Strategy 1: The Power of Verticals
Just one or two clients in a vertical, or industry, can accelerate client growth.
When you have vertical focus, your prospecting, marketing, and thought leadership creation have lower opportunity cost and higher ROI. In addition, your business development and client service can be better balanced, and you can gain access to tangential verticals.
Which 2-3 verticals are worthy of your focus? As you look at your current client set, that can give you some clues. Also give some thought to verticals that are exciting for you, that you want to dive more deeply into.
Ideal outreach clients have potential for long-term growth potential, as well as for cross-selling of services.
With your verticals in hand, now you have a track to run on in determining your top target clients. For each vertical, create a brainstorm list of at least 25 per vertical. Consider your top clients like you would your prospects, as well. Identify your top 10 clients in each minor, and 30 per major.
Strategy 2: Strategic Alliances
Your strategic alliances are a key source of warm introductions. These are your outside partners, where you can create mutually beneficial results. They become additional “feet on the street,” helping you to identify opportunities, partner on engagements, or make introductions.
With your identified majors / minor verticals list, consider what complementary industries exist. Which individuals can help you to connect with your outreach clients? From there, you can assess which are the most promising and begin building those relationships.
Strategy 3: Defined (but Flexible) Process
A defined, but flexible process is every business developer’s friend.
Oftentimes people avoid prospecting because they think it requires long blocks of time. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Shorter blocks of time –say 30-45 minutes each-- can help you consistently build relationships by doing a little bit, multiple times a week. You’ll start to see some traction, and that success will compound over time.
An important component of the process is the use of a customer relationship management tool that allows you to segment and track prospects. Or technology like Bill.com that can help you better manage relationships and employ data to prospect into your current clients.
Strategy 4: Trigger Events
A trigger event is a potentially significant change to a client’s or prospect’s status quo that indicates a need for you to reach out. Below are some common triggers:
Annual reports and investor briefs that outline strategic imperatives
Board of Director changes
One way to track triggers is with Google Alerts. You can build your search with company names, keywords, and individuals. The triggers will be delivered directly to your inbox. LinkedIn Navigator is another tool where you can build your account lists. You’ll see who is in your network, as well as various industry insights and individual posts that may provide trigger clues.
Once you know the trigger, the next important step is to strategize on how to address it. If you respond to triggers quickly and provide strategies and ideas that matter to your decision maker, you’ll increase your odds of earning conversation.
Strategy 5: Earning the Conversation
Your primary goal in prospecting is to pique the prospect’s interest in continuing the conversation with you. Again, at this point, you are not selling or discussing service lines. You should simply focus on helping them improve their business.
Consistent messaging wins every time, especially when you can leverage different channels. This could mean email, phone, and social channels like LinkedIn. This is the opportunity to challenge yourself to think about different ways to connect and have strong thought leadership. Marketing materials like articles, ebooks, blogs, webinars, or white papers are effective tools in earning the conversation.
Warm connections and introductions can help pave the way, as well.
Strategic prospecting is as much a mindset as it is a set of activities. It’s about the prospect and what they’re working to solve (versus it being about you and what you sell). It positions you as a strategic, credible advisor to clients and prospects. This mindset will help you not only fill your business development pipeline; you’ll fill it with quality opportunities.
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