Top 10 Strategies For Growing Your Professional Practice, For La2 M, June 2010

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Mike Wyne, Sandler Training provides great insight into the Top 10 Strategies for Growing your Professional Practice.

Mike Wyne, Sandler Training provides great insight into the Top 10 Strategies for Growing your Professional Practice.

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  • 1. Top 10 Strategies for Growing Your Professional Practice Reduce pressure on client development by using a mix of activities. © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 2. Contents Strategy 1: Client Introductions ...................................................................................... 2 Strategy 2: Website - Your Firm, Online ......................................................................... 3 Strategy 3: Fuzzy File ..................................................................................................... 4 Strategy 4: 30-Second Commercial ................................................................................ 5 Strategy 5: Drip Marketing .............................................................................................. 6 Strategy 6: Presentations ............................................................................................... 7 Strategy 7: Networking ................................................................................................... 8 Strategy 8: Client Testimonials ....................................................................................... 9 Strategy 9: Start a Peer Group ..................................................................................... 10 Strategy 10: CESAR Review ........................................................................................ 11 Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 1 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 3. Strategy 1: Client Introductions Professional service providers often find that their most productive client development activity is referrals from existing clients, yet they also find that they spend very little time or energy working to cultivate referrals. Typically, they focus on servicing their clients well and expect their clients to bring up, on their own, people in their personal network that might be a prospective client. The reality is that 60% of people are unlikely to provide you referrals until you prompt them. Technique The best referrals are client introductions – situations where your clients actively introduce you to someone they think would benefit from talking to you. There are two steps to actively generate client introductions: First, ask your clients about a very specific prospect profile, in a manner that prompts them to deny your question. If you were a human resources attorney looking to represent small businesses, you might ask, “You probably don’t know anyone who recently started their own business and is thinking of hiring their first staff?” Second, if your client does know someone who might be interested in talking to you, coach them on how they might introduce the idea to their contact. Something like, “I’d hate to call someone who wasn’t interested in taking my call. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share with them how you and I have worked together, and why you thought they might be interested in talking with me?” Tips and Traps • Do develop a series of client profiles, examples of people in specific situations that might make them a candidate for your services. You can attempt to prompt your clients every time you talk, so long as you have a different client profile to bounce off them. • Don’t use a general description when prompting your clients. “Do you know anyone” just doesn’t open the mind like a specific profile does. • Do ask for introductions often. Remember, the majority of clients will at least try to think of someone to introduce you to if you prompt them gracefully. • Don’t forget to give referrals whenever possible. The law of reciprocity states that people will feel they owe you whenever you do them a favor. The rule is “give more to get more”. • Do get over your own comfort zone issues that get in the way of your prompting clients for referrals. Any fears you have about losing credibility with clients are simply unfounded. • Don’t wimp out and settle for a name and phone number. A cold referral is not much better than a name in the phone book. Make it a habit to coach your clients for introductions whenever they have a prospective client to refer to you. Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 2 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 4. Strategy 2: Website - Your Firm, Online Your prospective clients will likely know more about you from your website than any other source. Most people these days go to the web for background information when they are considering contacting a professional service provider. It’s where you need to clearly communicate what you do and who you do it for, and generate action on their part to establish contact. Technique You know your capabilities and strengths, but how do you make sure your prospective clients can easily find out what they are? Your website should: • Describe your main area of focus (services, geography, ideal client type) “above the fold” on your home page. Don’t list everything you could do, have a short paragraph that succinctly describes what you do best. • Make it easy for prospective clients to find information on your services, including client testimonials. Make sure your navigation icons and headlines are in their language, not yours. • Present a professional image. Your website is your new office lobby – keep it clean and up-to-date, with a business look and feel. • Maintain your site. People value dependability in their professional service providers. Out-of-date information, broken links, and pages under construction are all signals that you may not be a reliable professional. • Make it easy for them to connect with you – your phone number should always be one click away on a “Contact Us” page. Have a form so they can provide you with their information for follow-up – and link to this form throughout your website wherever they might see something that would compel them to want to talk to you. Tips and Traps • Do provide background information on your company, including key staff, on an “About Us” page. • Don’t clutter your home page with background information – use the home page for the most important information from your prospective client’s perspective. • Do review the websites of other professional service firms for ideas, analyzing them from the perspective of a prospective client. • Don’t bury events. If you have upcoming events, make sure they are prominently displayed on your home page, with links to more information and online registration. • Do scan the websites of successful web designers and search engine marketers as examples of productive online marketing – they might know a thing or two about effective websites! Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 3 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 5. Strategy 3: Fuzzy File Fuzzy files are simply an organized way to catalogue your personal knowledge of your clients as individuals. They play an important role in client retention, particularly if you review them periodically and act on the information to build the personal bond between you and your client. Technique First, develop a list of personal and professional facts that you would like to collect for each of your clients. Examples are hometown (where they grew up), hobbies, schools they graduated from, current family, and countries they’ve visited. Next, fill in your fuzzy files. You might start by asking a couple of questions when you bring on a new client. Then, after every time you talk to your client, look over your fuzzy file and see if you can fill in any missing blanks. The last part is acting on the information you have. Make it a habit to forward interesting stories you read that relate to their personal interests, universities, etc. It costs nothing and demonstrates to them that they are important to you. Tips and Traps • Do create a file for every client, with a set of pre-determined questions. Anything from a paper form to a sophisticated database will do. • Don’t forget to review the fuzzy file before you talk with a client and update it afterwards. There’s almost always an opportunity to ask them about something that’s important to them personally (if you know what those things are). • Do make it a habit to update your fuzzy file after every client conversation. Personal tidbits have a very short half-life in your memory, so commit what you learn to paper. • Don’t be patronizing or fake. You are systemizing your ability to be thoughtful about your clients’ interests, there’s no reason it can’t be real. • Do use fuzzy files with existing clients only. Prospective clients could perceive your effort to build a personal relationship as less than genuine, since you don’t have a business relationship established yet. Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 4 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 6. Strategy 4: 30-Second Commercial A 30-second commercial is a variation on the elevator pitch. The main distinction is that a 30-second commercial focuses on the listener rather than the presenter, avoiding the usual “blah, blah, blah” that most people hear when we talk about ourselves and our services. Use your 30-second commercial whenever someone asks you “what do you do?”, or any occasion where you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a group. Technique Introduce yourself in a standard manner. Example: “Good morning, I’m Mike Wynn with Sandler Training.” Next, describe what you do for your clients using emotional phrases such as fed up, worried, or anxious. Example: “Our clients come to us when they are frustrated with their sales results.” Then, describe what you do for your clients and how it helps them. Example: “They tell me we help them adapt their client development activities to be more proactive while avoiding things like doing a lot of unpaid consulting. Finally, end with a short question that asks them to deny they have the problem you’ve described. Example: “I don’t imagine you find yourself getting caught up in a lot of unpaid consulting?” Tips and Traps • Do keep your language conversational and informal. • Don’t use buzzwords or industry jargon. • Do focus on a specific example of something you do. If you ask about a specific problem, you may find that someone has that issue. But if you keep it general, no one will respond. • Don’t go on too long. People will tune in for 20 seconds, maybe 30, but you’ll never get them to listen to you much longer than that. • Do create different 30-second commercials for different audiences. Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 5 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 7. Strategy 5: Drip Marketing Stay in front of your prospective clients and build your credibility by routinely providing useful information through a variety of channels. Drip marketing, through a combination of email and direct mail, accomplishes three goals: 1. Helps you avoid the “roller coaster” cycle of sell-produce-sell because you are staying in touch with prospective clients even when you are too busy delivering services to reach out to them personally. 2. Builds your credibility with prospective clients by providing information useful to them, and associating it with your “brand”. 3. Ensures that your contact information is within easy reach for prospective clients whenever a problem arises that they need your help – no need for them to have to search their memory because your contact information is still in their in-box (and will be arriving again soon). Note that drip marketing is not a substitute for active prospecting, it’s a complement to the personal contact that is critical to growing a professional practice. Technique Provide information that’s useful to your prospective clients, such as “expert tips”. Plan a variety of modes of communication to ensure you reach everyone, regardless of their preferences (and their spam filters). Make sure that your logo and contact information is prominently displayed – remember, one of your goals is to build your brand. Tips and Traps • Do use a combination of emails (at least monthly), e-newsletters (as email attachments), and direct mail (postcards or hard copy newsletters, at least 4 times a year). • Don’t email on Mondays or Fridays. • Do add and build to your database all the time. • Don’t spam – only send to people who want something from your firm, and make it easy for them to “opt out” if they no longer want to receive your communications. • Do include hyperlinks in your emails so they can easily get to your website. • Don’t write about yourself. Write from your clients’ point of view, solving a problem or issue that’s important to them. • Do use an “email engine” such as Constant Contact or iContact that helps you automate the process (costs are very reasonable). Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 6 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 8. Strategy 6: Presentations Workshops, seminars, and talks are one of the best ways to reach a large number of prospective clients and build your credibility as a solution to their problems. Presentations can be arranged through industry and professional associations, local business organizations (chamber of commerce, Rotary, etc.), and clients (offering them as a free benefit for their clients). Technique First, you need to secure the presentation. This requires you to market yourself to the person in charge of arranging presentations, which is not that different from how you market your services. Be prepared to reach out to several organizations, and get started early – most groups schedule their meetings 6 to 12 months in advance. You’ll need to have an outline of your presentation that demonstrates that you can talk to their audience’s problems in terms they can understand. Next, you need to deliver the presentation. It’s critical that you provide valuable information and don’t “sell from the platform”. Information is valuable only if it speaks to the audience’s problems, in their language – this is not an exercise in demonstrating your technical expertise. Close the presentation by collecting business cards (offer to send your slides or raffle off a relevant book), and be sure to tell them to write “yes” on their cards if they would like to talk to you about further assistance. Collect the cards personally. Finally, you should follow up to your presentation within 48 hours. Call the individuals who wrote “yes” and determine if it makes sense to schedule a meeting, or not. Be sure to ask them if they belong to any other associations or groups that might need a speaker for a similar topic. Tips and Traps • Do fulfill your obligation to present a useful and entertaining talk on the topic publicized. • Don’t present to your peers (and competition) – present at venues likely to attract your prospective clients. • Do use visuals such a PowerPoint or flip charts, but as enhancements only (never read your slides to the audience). • Don’t “spew facts” or use technical jargon. The more you relate to your audience and their problems, the more likely they will view you as a potential resource. • Do publicize your presentations. People who don’t come will still be impressed that you are recognized as an expert. • Don’t talk about your expertise and your services, talk about how you help your clients solve their problems. Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 7 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 9. Strategy 7: Networking Networking is simply attending events that are likely to put you in contact with prospective clients or referral sources. These may include networking events put on by chambers of commerce or industry organizations, referral groups and lead exchanges, professional organizations, local charity boards, and service organizations (Rotary, Lions, Jaycees, etc.). Technique The general rules for networking are “target a few rather than many” and “give more to get more”. “Target networking” helps you focus on those activities that are likely to be most fruitful for building your practice. It’s more effective to be actively involved in a few groups than to be part of the crowd in many. Get to know people by spending quality time at the events – don’t just focus on “getting leads”. Emerson’s Rule of Compensation “Give more to get more” should be your mindset. When you focus on giving referrals, people will see you as a source of abundance and want to help you. The opposite is true for those who are always “ready to pounce” – no one wants to tell them anything because they’re afraid they’ll be trapped into a long conversation with someone they have no interest in talking to. Tips and Traps • Do focus on the people you meet rather than yourself. Give them a chance to ask what you do, then respond conversationally with your 30-second commercial. • Don’t commit to joining any organizations until you attend an event first. • Do always set goals before you attend an event, and make them specific – for example, the number of follow-ups you want to schedule, the number of referrals you want to give. • Don’t give people your business card unless there is a good reason to do so (your goal is to collect information, not distribute it). • Do focus on helping others. Ask people who they are hoping to meet, and do your best to make helpful introductions. • Don’t spend too much time talking to people you already know, remember that you are there to network for prospective clients, not to socialize. • Do follow up with a phone call to the people you meet. It’s ok to say something like “I don’t remember everything we talked about, was there a specific reason we wanted to connect?” Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 8 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 10. Strategy 8: Client Testimonials Prospective clients often look for “third party” endorsements of their potential providers of professional services. They want to be assured that the individuals and firms they engage are not only technically competent, but also credible and reliable. Client testimonials are a great way to demonstrate your past clients’ satisfaction with your services. Technique Client testimonials are frequently displayed in four forms: 1. Framed letters in high visibility locations in your office. 2. In marketing materials (as excerpts or as attachments). 3. On firm websites. 4. Recommendations on social media services such as LinkedIn. To gather client testimonials, make client interviews a routine part of your ongoing communication with clients (see Strategy 10: CESAR reviews). Whenever they say something positive, ask them if they would be willing to write a testimonial for you. Ask for either a written letter or an online recommendation (whichever you prefer), and tell them that you’d like to post it within your office wall and website as well. Most often, satisfied clients will be happy to help. Tips and Traps • Do hang framed client testimonial letters, on their letterhead, in your reception area and conference rooms. • Don’t put pressure on clients to say what you want, or deliver in the time frame you request. • Do offer to write a rough draft for them – and be sure to summarize what they said, not adding your own comments. • Don’t edit your client comments when transferring to your website. Excerpts are expected, but editing can appear that you are “putting words in their mouth.” • Do make it a habit to write LinkedIn recommendations for others. Make your recommendations truthful and sincere, and the favor will be returned. • Don’t write LinkedIn recommendations as soon as someone writes one for you. You can lose credibility if it appears you both agreed to support each other. • Do get permission in advance to use your client’s testimonial in various forms (web site, marketing materials, etc.). Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 9 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 11. Strategy 9: Start a Peer Group A peer groups is an ongoing relationship between three to fifteen people whose sole function is to introduce clients/acquaintances to other members of the group. The goal is to create a “referral community” that geometrically expands each participant’s network. Peer groups are similar to lead exchanges, such as BNI (Business Network International) and LBN (Local Business Network), except you are creating the group yourself, and consequently can establish the rules, expectations, and activities to better fit your goals. Technique To start a peer group, invite another professional that you already know to join. They should be someone who serves the same types of clients as you, but is not a competitor. Make it a condition of joining that they invite someone they know to join as well. As each person joins, they invite another, until the group grows to a maximum of 15 members. Establish a regular meeting time and place, typically weekly or bi-weekly. Ensure that everyone has an opportunity to describe their services and their ideal referral each meeting. Often times it’s useful to rotate among the members for 10-minute presentations so everyone gets to know each other’s business a little more in depth. Tips and Traps • Do focus on giving referrals – demonstrate Emerson’s Rule “Give more to get more”. • Don’t invite competitors to participate – keep group membership exclusive to one of each type of professional practice. • Do require members to participate in each meeting, and develop a “sub” list of alternates they can invite to attend if they can’t make a meeting. • Don’t schedule a meal for the meeting – eating can get in the way of networking. • Do develop an agenda for each meeting, with a mix of prescribed activities (such as each person describing their specialties and their “ideal” referral) and open networking time. • Don’t forget to highlight and celebrate successful referrals during the meetings. • Do encourage members to meet for breakfast or lunch one-on-one outside of the regular meetings, for the purpose of identifying referral opportunities. Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 10 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor
  • 12. Strategy 10: CESAR Review Your best prospects are your existing clients. They already that know you will perform to their expectations, and you’ve developed a level of trust that just can’t be achieved with non-clients. CESAR stands for Chief Executive Semi Annual Review – a meeting you set up every six months with the highest-level person in your client organization who knows you exist as a provider to them. Ask for 15 minutes of their time, best in person but on the phone if necessary, to review the progress you’ve made together and ensure you are delivering to their expectations. Technique Ask your “Chief Executive” five questions. The wording and order of the questions are important. 1. Why did you originally bring us in – what problems were you hoping to solve? 2. How are we doing on that? 3. What would get us fired? 4. What else should we be doing for you? 5. Who else do you know that I should be talking to – inside or outside your company? Tips and Traps • Do keep the meeting to 15 minutes – unless they give permission to keep going. • Don’t wimp out and hold the CESAR review with your primary contact – go to the top of the organization you work for. • Do ask all five questions – the first three set the stage for thoughtful answers to questions 4 & 5. • Don’t let your gut work against you – you probably aren’t used to asking your best clients directly for additional work, and this isn’t going to be easy for you, but it will pay off and they will not be offended that you asked. • Do you homework – learn all you can about the company, their leadership teams’ goals, and the services you have provided. • Don’t try to “up sell” – this isn’t a sales call, it’s a client interview meant to build trust and further your client relationship. Sandler Training – 501 Avis Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48108 11 www.sandlerannarbor.com - (734) 821-4830 © 2009 Copyright Sandler Training Center – Ann Arbor