You’re a marketing consultant during what is now a time of economic slowdown and shrinking corporate and government budgets. Even the booming overseas consulting business is expected to slow this year, according to Plunkett Research Ltd.
So, attracting new clients – commonly referred to as rainmaking – must remain a way of life for you. Indeed, a Reardon Smith Whittaker survey of 202 marketing executives said 31% have made agency changes since last fall and 24% expect to make a change this year. And “companies don’t seem to have a strong loyalty to the firms they currently use."
You need to generate high-quality leads at all times. And with rainmaking, says Ford Harding, Founder and President, Harding & Company, a consultant for consultants, there are some fundamental rules that he likens to learning to drive.
“At first, you have to focus very seriously on making a right turn, but after you’ve been doing it a while you don’t even think about it. You just do it,” Harding says. The process can be awkward at first, but “I believe that almost anybody can learn to do this, but they’ve got to stick with it.”
Here are some key strategies Harding uses to help consultants find and build relationships with more leads, and then make sales.Assess Consulting Business
When assessing your business, several factors come into play:
-> Factor #1. Set your price
Consultants should start with their price. “I see pricing as particularly hard, and most people new at the consulting business don’t know how to price. One-man operations should seriously consider whether they are charging enough,” Harding says.
The first step is to break down your time. “Look at how much money you want to make a year and you work through … how many days a week that you have to sell. You can’t sell 100% of your time. You can sell maybe 50% of the time.”
For instance, let’s assume you want a $200,000 annual gross. There are about 250 work days in a year. Since you’ll be selling during 50%, or 125, of those days, you’ll be working for the other 125, so:
- Divide $200,000 by 125 days = $1,600 a day
- Divide $1,600 by 8 hours a day = $200 an hour
Voila! Your rate is $200 an hour.
> Factor #2. Determine the size of your network
A common issue Harding has with consultants is that they don’t understand how many people they need to stay in contact with to meet their goals. Do the math: If your projected annual gross is $200,000, and your average project size is $20,000, then you need to land 10 sales a year. What kind of effort will that take?
- If you need 10 sales, and your success rate is 50%, then you need to chase 20 a year.
- If you need 20 prospects, and 80% of your contacts with people turn into prospects, you need to meet at least 25 people a year.
“Keep working backwards until you figure out how big the market has to be and how many meetings and calls and contacts you have to make,” says Harding. “Those are substantial numbers and they are different for different people.”
> Factor #3. Work around common problems
Harding has seen a lot of consultants come and go in the 15 years they’ve been in business. Some common problems:
- Lack of persistence
“Persistence over a long time in the absence of clear results is the hardest thing that people have to deal with,” he says. “When you first start, it’s all inputs and no outputs.”
- Lead starvation
Converting leads is a problem, but “a high percentage of people are lead-starved. They just don’t have enough leads in the first place,” says Harding.
- Lack of tracking
Consultants usually have a general idea how many leads they’re gathering and how many they’re converting, but they need to be more exact, Harding says. Tracking more closely will help identify holes in your strategy.
- Don’t know the market
Many consultants simply haven’t done the math to learn how many people they need to contact to be successful.How to Grow Your Network
Harding has several tips for building your network if you’re a lead-starved consultant:
-> Tip #1. Meet people through your clients
Clients give you a great excuse to talk to them regularly: they’re your clients. “You want to meet people in the client’s organization. … You want to go out of your way to meet people while you’re working there.”
When you’re gathering background information before starting a project, stretch the number of people you want to talk to. Make sure that people know what you do and whom you can help. Give them a business card.
“These are people who you would pay money to meet some other time and who you’ve got a ready-made excuse to meet…You have a lot of influence in how many you meet with and who they are,” Harding says.
Also, when you’re working on-site with a client, eat in the cafeteria, Harding says. It’s a great way to be introduced to and meet people. “If you don’t talk to anybody, you’re not going to sell anything.”
-> Tip #2. Write an article on your market
Researching an article gives you an excuse to cold-call people -- but not for a sale. Make an initial contact to talk about your article, and maintain contact for a sale down the road.
-> Tip #3. Go to the right trade shows
Trade shows offer two ways to meet people: attending and speaking. Either option allows you to mingle with people from your target industry.
“There’s no formula for this. If you like to give speeches, you can give speeches. It’s a great way to meet people and make a good impression on them. But if you don’t like to give speeches, there are plenty of rainmakers that succeed without,” Harding says.Building Relationships
Maintaining relationships is a large part of selling yourself, Harding says. “If you want a relationship with someone, you’ve got to stay in front of them, you want some shared experiences and you need to help them and develop a mutual trust that relates to other people helping each other. The foundations of relationships are based on shared time together.” So you need to stay in front of your prospects.
Besides increasing a lead’s buying propensity, relationships also give you better information about a company’s needs and access to more people. Here are some strategies for building and monetizing relationships:
-> Strategy #1. Stay in touch
How often you contact and how long you maintain contact depends on your sales cycle. If you’re selling a multimillion-dollar service, the cycle will be longer. If you’re selling a one-off service for a few thousand dollars, it will be shorter.
When you’re contacting prospects, “you need a mix of media,” Harding says.
o Face-to-face meetings
o Phone calls
o Snail mail
“The mix will change from contact to contact depending on the contact’s preferences of communication, the importance of the contact to you, and the date of the last face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication.”
Physical mail is good for sending bulky packages, such as a book, that would be too large for email, Harding says. Holiday cards are also a good idea. “Very personal things for people that you don’t know well are better in hard copy, like condolences and congratulations.”
-> Strategy #2. Have a reason to contact
“This is a major issue for people who are not experienced at developing business,” Harding says. “[The anxiety] goes away after a while…I can list all sorts of reasons for contacting people, but it’s never going to be comfortable until you do it 300 times. And when you do it 300 times and then maybe get a little more instruction, then it’s quite natural and it ceases to be an issue.”
Note: Importance of value. Value is a key element in “reason for contact.” Without it, you’re contacting people for no reason and probably annoying them.
“You can be in front of them as often as you’re providing value. And the challenge is to come up with something that provides value to them.”
Here are a few value-laden reasons to contact people:
- “Something reminded me of you”
- Saw the company in the newspaper
- Read about a competitor
- Saw a press release they sent out
- Noticed website changes
- “I need some advice”
- Invitation to your company event
- Share personal information that’s important to them
- Share market information
- Introduce them to people they’d like to know (use your network)
-> Strategy #3. Use shared experiences
Sharing experiences is a great way to build relationships.
“There is one rainmaker, a German rainmaker who was highly athletic, and he would do things like bicycling across Germany with clients and senior executives at client organizations and he would ask them who would they know who might like to come too? So he would assemble these teams of people. If you bicycle across Germany with somebody, you have a relationship with them.”
-> Strategy #4. Learn best time to pitch
“You have to earn the right to talk business with most people,” Harding says. You do not want to launch a sales pitch before you’ve earned that right and risk seeming shallow or crass.
“These people are in business, and they’re not bashful people that are embarrassed to think that you might want to meet them for business purposes because they meet people for business purposes too,” Harding says.
- No surprise attacks
“What you don’t want to do is surprise somebody with a sales call. You don’t want to invite them to lunch, and they think it’s a social lunch and then pop the sales meeting.”
They may feel that they’ve been snookered … that they thought it was a social lunch and it was actually a sales call. And, if they had known it was going to be a sales call, they might have decided differently about whether they were going to attend or not, he says.
- Ask permission
“If a client brings up something during a lunch that the marketing consultant could help with, but he isn’t asking if the marketing person can help, he’s just bringing it up in conversation, I would recommend asking permission to go into sales mode,” Harding says.
How to switch to sales mode: “‘You know, Bob, I know you didn’t come to have lunch with me today to be subjected to a sales pitch, but that’s something that we know a lot about and we could help you. And if you want to talk about that, I’d be delighted to, but if you don’t that’s OK too,’” Harding says.
If the client says no, accept it, Harding says. “It’s not going to do any good to push a sales meeting on someone that doesn’t want one.”
-> Strategy #5. Don’t wait forever
You don’t have to wait for a prospect to talk about your specialty. You can steer the conversation toward that direction.
“You can also call the client directly and say, ‘We’re doing some stuff down here that I think you might be interested in on a business level. Can I come in and bring one of my guys and talk to you about it?’...Then you’re setting up a sales environment apart from the social and personal,” Harding says.
-> Strategy #6. Cutting ties
Don’t abruptly cut ties with reluctant prospects. Harding suggests using a phase-out approach. “If it was someone you were calling once a quarter and seeing twice a year, [you might see them] once a year and call once a year [and eventually stop calling]…Or you just don’t call them as often but keep them in forever. It depends on the individual.”
- Factor in network size
If your network is not the size you need it to be, stay in contact with the person, just don’t contact them as often as your hot prospects. As your network grows and its quality improves, gradually contact the person less often.
“After it gets to a certain size, you become more and more concerned about quality and you’re gradually improving the quality of contacts by weeding out those that you just don’t have the time for any more because nothing is going to come of it,” Harding says.Useful links related to this article
Reardon Smith Whittaker: A Client’s Perspective on Economic Conditions 2008:
Plunkett Research Ltd.:
Ford Harding’s Hardingco blog:http://www.hardingco.com/blog/
Harding & Company: