This advice is not going to help you with your short-term sales pipeline.
While we all need sales right now, the key to a successful long-term business is to grow revenue in a consistent and stable way.
The best way to do that is to stop selling. Sounds crazy; stop selling? Then how do we generate revenue? We build relationships.
How many times have you been called by someone trying to sell you something? They might be offering you the best deal on the planet, even free, but they'll never get the chance to talk to you about it because all they are calling for is to sell. Nobody likes to be sold to.
Well okay, I do, but only because I want to offer tips and help them in their careers. If you're cold calling me, expect an honest critique and an offer of guidance!
If the same a phone upgrade rep called to help you with a problem, how much more time would you give them? Hey, I know many people in your area suffer from poor reception, how are you finding it? Here's how I can help.
The dynamic has already changed.
In professional services we know that our products and services tick the boxes of the brands we target, so surely, it's straightforward, tell them what we can do and then get the contract to do it. But just like the phone upgrade, nobody wants to be sold to. Short term-selling can even alienate the people you are trying to sell to.
I'm going to take you through my ten principles, my manifesto of business that will move you away from this short-term sales mentality and towards partnerships that grow and grow.
The Secret Sauce for Account Building
We all have our motivations and battles. Situations for your clients will ebb and flow, much like your own. At times they may be under immense pressure to deliver; at others, they might be free for blue-sky thinking. Quite often they won't have a budget but will have demands for results placed upon them. Empathise with that, we all know what it feels like. Think about what you would need in their situation and offer that. They might not be able to release the budget for official work, but being with them, part of their team when they are in need goes a long way to creating a great long-term relationship.
Sophisticated qualification criteria
Properly qualifying the client and the work early on can save you a whole lot of heartache and even more importantly, relationship tension.
Some areas to think about in your qualification are: Is this client the right size? Do they have the right ambition? Are they scaling in the right way? What does their internal team do/is capable of?
Creating a full list of criteria for the clients you want to work with will stop you wasting time and force you to engage with brands that are relevant and right for a long-term relationship with yourself.
No doubt, there are many experts, but the ones who are genuinely passionate are the ones that stand out. You probably are already excited about your work, but your work is also your clients'. You need to be passionate about their brand, their sector and verticals. And I mean genuinely passionate, not just faked interest. The most important aspect of being passionate is to show that. By demonstrating this, you will begin to create relationships that are exciting and breed creativity and results.
If there is a job on the table, brilliant. But if not, stay in touch anyway. Send them useful content. Build a strategy specifically around their verticals and build on that relationship. You can't build a relationship if you are only around when there is something in it for you.
Start small, earn trust
Many professional services businesses I've known focus all their attention on the big stuff., almost turning their noses up at more modest, entry type business. It is easy to forget that a small introductory piece of work worth only £20k can quickly turn into £500k. Where would you rather be, still discussing that large enterprise opportunity for 18 months or proving how great your work is and building a relationship right now?
Time is the most valuable resource you can give. You are the expert, the shining light that people are looking for to guide them in the right direction.
If you have ten key prospects, you're working with, set aside time to make sure you respond to emails correctly and promptly. Make sure you are checking in with them, never rush a conversation even if it makes you late for your board meeting. Meet with them, sit down face to face and talk about their work even if there is no work for you right now.
We all have barriers. Sometimes a client will put a wall up between your relationship. This is okay. You don't want to drive a sale down someone's throat if they are non-responsive. Back off. Give them space. Keep providing them value and advice where you can, when they are ready; the relationship will flourish again.
Provide honest counsel
Just as discussed under time, you are the expert. Clients will often disagree with you, and that's okay. A lot of the time they have information that we don't have access to. But in building a great relationship with a client, you mustn't just become a 'yes' person. Explain your take on the situation, guide them through your knowledge and experience and how you would handle a situation differently, even if it doesn't relate to the work you are doing.
It is far too easy to get into the mode of using your deck, talking about what we do and sharing examples of the work we have done. None of this is essential to your client. What is critical is that you understand what the client needs, you'll never do this if you are doing all the talking. Work on creating a conversation that allows your client to ease into opening up, then listen. There is no need to sell. Discussion and your relationship are going to give you everything you need to know if you can help solve their problems.
You don't need this work
It sounds counter-intuitive to most, but turning away the wrong job is as important as giving the best results to the work you do. Sometimes when you have built a great relationship with a client, they will send work to you that doesn't quite match your capabilities. It is okay to say no. It is even okay to refer them to a competitor whom you think will be able to do the work. This shifts you from just another vendor to a trusted partner.
I hope this has been a useful read for you. None of this is rocket science. It's basic stuff, but when we're all so busy and stressed about closing down the numbers, the basics can get forgotten.
In short, just be supportive, give your time and knowledge, and you will create a relationship with your clients that will drive your business growth for the future.