“I’ve tried that, it didn’t work…”
I was having a discussion with an owner of a B2B creative services firm about his business development process. He had a strong business that he’d built by leveraging his personal network, but he wanted to see more growth. This is a business owner who’s aggressive and isn’t afraid to take a risk and try something, but sales tactic or process he’s tried ever got any traction. His business sort of sputtered along from year to year — one year it’s up 15% the next year down 10%.
He wanted me to give him the answer, the one method or trick that was going to create an endless stream of leads, that didn’t cost him too much money so he could sell more creative services. He had tried cold calling, direct mail, adwords, Facebook ads, SEO services, content marketing… the list goes on. He had hired an experienced (and expensive) sales professional, he’d hired a young “go-getter” … nothing. No matter what we discussed he would respond, “I’ve tried that, it didn’t work.”
So what’s “the secret”? How do you develop that continuous stream of qualified leads that march in your door? Spoiler Alert: It’s none of the things listed above. It’s way easier (and way harder) than any of those things.
Here’s my 4 step plan to build an endless stream of prospects for your service business.
1. Be good at something.
This may sound obvious, but it’s actually the most difficult step. To attract a stream of qualified leads you have to be the obvious, best choice for your ideal prospect. You have to have solved the problem that they need solved dozens, or hundreds of times — and you need to be able to tell them about all those success stories on your website, in person, and have referral sources who can tell that story. You need to be able to demonstrate why you are different from everyone else who has told that prospect that they can solve their problem. You have to be good, really good, at some specific thing.
To do that you need to be solving similar problems for a relatively narrow target market. The way you get good at something, like really good is by doing that thing over and over again. Yes you might be a terrific marketer — but if someone’s looking for online marketing for a travel company your experience marketing industrial products isn’t going to be that attractive. Specialists attract more buyers because they prospect has more confidence in your abilities (and you can demonstrate more confidence in your abilities too)!
So pick a problem, pick a target market and go about getting good at solving their problems.
2. Go where the buyers are.
The other benefit to picking a narrower market is that it’s easier to get in front of your ideal prospect. If you are good at creating killer websites for electrical distributors it’s not a stretch to find the websites, newsletters, trades shows or industry associations where those prospects congregate. If you’ve got some clients that you’ve worked for in that industry ask them where they meet their peers. Would they be willing to have you tag along? There’s nothing better than getting clients and prospects to talk about you!
Go where the the prospects are — you’ll run into fewer competitors — and get more leads.
3. Demonstrate your expertise.
When you find those ideal prospects you don’t want to tell them about how great you are — you want to show them how great you are! Remember you want to solve similar problems for similar clients, so demonstrate your expertise through some great case studies where your past clients tell the story about how you solved their problems. Once that breaks the ice get the prospect to tell you about their problems so that you can hear about how they are unique and they can hear you thinking about their problem (and potential solutions). Engaging with them about their problems is the best sales call! They are able to see that you understand their issues — which builds their confidence that you can fix them.
Prospects don’t want to hear about how you’re different, they want to feel it, they want to experience it.
4. Ask for the order
Once you are in front of the right prospect, who has a problem you’ve solved again and again, and you have told them some stories about solving those problems, and have talked with them about their challenges, you’ll be surprised how many clients will start asking you questions like, “How much does this cost?” or “When can we get started?” But if they don’t it’s on you to ask them for the order. Once you’ve shared a bit about your insight into the issues they are having you need to say, “Would you like to talk about how we can work together to solve these problems?” The discussion that follows should roughly scope the effort you would like to employ with at least a budgetary estimate. Then close with “If I’m able to write up a proposal like what we discussed is this something you can say yes to?”
…But my business is different
Yes, I can hear that voice in your head that’s outlining all the reasons this won’t work for your business — if you really think your business is different call me — I want to hear about it. But first, let’s talk about some of the most obvious objections…
”My clients don’t want me to work for their competitors, I can’t narrow my market like this!”
Let’s say you do a terrific job developing an online marketing program for a dental instrument. I’m not saying you approach other dental instrument manufacturers, but you could look for other things sold to dentists, or instruments sold to doctors, there’s still plenty of folks out there who will see their problems as similar to the one you just solved (but who aren’t direct competitors with your client)…
”My clients won’t let me talk about the work I did with them.”
It can be hard to get clients to let us use their company name, or put their name on a case study. Anonymous case studies aren’t as strong — but they are better than nothing! See if you can talk to clients at the beginning of a project about how you’ll want to be able to use this story to market your services; even offer a discount for those who will. Are their awards in your industry (or theirs)? They might tell their story if there’s an award behind it…
”It’s so boring to solve the same problems over and over.” There are things you can do to make your life interesting outside of work (especially if you are making good money). Work doesn’t have to be the only way you challenge your creativity, your brain, or your achievement. Make your business life easy and profitable — then go fly a hang glider, or climb Mt. Everest, or ride your bike across Africa, or write the great american novel, or…
”But my business is too new to have solved any problem dozens of times…”
This is actually a problem, but getting a handle on this now is already a big step forward. Pick 3 areas of specialty and network, market, and sell your butt off to get 3 – 4 clients in each specialty. You never know which one you’ll like, or be good at, until you try some. But once you find one you are good at and enjoy (and that people will pay you for) look for more of those. Within a few years you will have developed a deeper expertise and the process will get a lot easier.
So there you have it, you don’t have to spend money on advertising, you don’t need to build a huge sales force, it’s way easier (and harder) than that. You need to build, and display your expertise to your target market. If you do that, you will always be busy.