First the why…now the how.

In our last post, we talked about why industry specialization is a good idea, especially for business development purposes.  So now let’s talk about how to drive growth with industry specialization.

First, it’s important to recognize that you can’t just decide you’re a specialist and start promoting it overnight; there is a process to building a niche. In our work with professional service firms, we’ve identified four phases of this process:

  1. Exploration
  2. Knowledge and content building
  3. Practice building
  4. Recognition as specialists

Below is a description of each of the four phases, including tips for how to make progress.  It’s important to err on the side of taking action; don’t feel as if you have to reach perfection in each phase before moving on.  You likely have competitors who are building industry practices and promoting their firms as specialists. Don’t lose market position by spending too much time planning and preparing.

Exploration

This is the phase when you’ll decide what industry(s) make most sense. You’ll need to determine:

  • Whether there is enough of a market available
  • How entrenched your competitors are in the industry
  • Whether you have a compelling story to tell and the right people to work the niche

Some additional things to think about to decide if building the niche is feasible:

  • Do you have a strong champion for the niche?
  • Are there several professionals in the firm who are willing to commit to working the majority of their time in the industry, get the technical/industry training, and do the business development work?
  • Does the firm have at least a few clients in the industry and one or two high-visibility clients who will serve as references?
  • Do you offer the range of services necessary to address the needs of companies in the industry?
  • Are you willing to budget the time and dollars necessary for training, certifications, and business development?

Knowledge and Content Building

The first step in this phase is to determine what industry associations and publications are available. Professionals can learn the industry language, trends, hot topics and more just by attending association meetings and reading publications. Some additional ideas for gaining industry knowledge:

  • Job shadow clients
  • Industry Web sites
  • Social media groups and company pages

As your professionals learn more about hot topics, issues and trends, they can start to develop relevant industry-targeted content to use in the practice building phase. Speaker presentations, journal articles, and white papers are all examples of content you’ll want to have on-hand for business development purposes. And once you have an inventory of content, there will be opportunities to re-purpose these items in multiple channels.

Practice Building

Equipped with a champion and a team of professionals who have identified a target industry and invested time to acquire knowledge and build content, you’re now ready to promote your niche practice. As discussed previously, this promotion is made easier by the focus you have within the industry. Here are the steps:

Define the target market

Define the geography and size of companies within the industry that make the most sense for you to target. Decide whether there are sub-industry groups you can target to further narrow your focus.

Focused activities

Once the target market is defined, the next step is to put together a schedule of marketing activities to build a position for your firm in that market. Examples of focused activities include:

  • Industry association participation
  • Industry-specific blog
  • Bio/online profile updates
  • Networking with key industry players
  • Referral source networking
  • Direct mail
  • Content marketing with relevant industry topics
  • Cross-selling to existing clients in the industryTransitioning from Marketing to Sales:

Once your niche team has invested the appropriate amount of time in building their market position, it’s time to start getting a return on that investment; that will happen when your team members transition from pure marketing activity to more proactive sales behaviors. With the ultimate sales goal of being face-to-face with interested prospects, examples of transition activities include doing telephone follow-up after direct mail to set sales appointments, identifying key prospects from industry associations and extending personal invitations for one-on-one meetings and lunches, and collecting contact information from speaking engagements to follow up with attendees.

Recognition as Specialists

The Holy Grail — in this final phase, when the target market recognizes your firm as specialists in their industry, business development and growth become infinitely easier (and potentially less expensive). Through personal experience and word of mouth, companies in the industry know to come to you when they need help and/or are ready to switch providers. The need for your firm to invest in extensive branding and positioning activity lessens (although it never totally goes away!) and your professionals can spend more time in front of interested industry prospects and clients, selling and delivering services to increase revenue.

Getting to the Second Date

Everyone can probably agree — first dates are tough! We’ve all felt the butterflies, and let’s face it — dread — anticipating a first date. The good news, though, is if the date goes well you usually have a pretty good feeling that a second date is likely. Not so in the business world! You can meet a prospective client and have a great conversation, even share some valuable ideas — and never hear from them again. And it doesn’t mean that he/she’s just not that into you! In business relationships, you have to proactively work to get to the second date.

Read more

Make 2013 Your Year to Grow

New Year. New Goals. How will you find growth this year? There are lots of new tools out there to help you market your firm and grow your top line, but sometimes the best new tools are the old tools implemented in a different or better way.

Grow Your Client Relationships
Read more

Busy Season Year Round

Sometimes it’s difficult to look past our own busiest times of year and think about business development. For professionals who also sell it can be one of the biggest challenges to maintaining consistent growth. But, the most successful firms are those that take their own busy times out of the equation and adopt a more year-round approach to growth. (Which, incidentally, is also usually more market focused.)

There are four main methods for prospecting. Some you can work into your schedule even when you are busy serving clients. Some you should think about for once your busiest time is through. But a mix of all should be implemented consistently to help even out the peaks and valleys of your growth results. Planning ahead helps make sure you’re getting the right mix and helps you be more effective at implementation.

  1. Who’s Your Friend? You’ve just finished. or are doing a lot of work for a lot of happy clients, right? Now is good time to call and ask for referrals. Thank them for any referrals you receive and touch base again to let them know the outcome. Be sure to follow-up right away with the referred company. You can do this while you’re meeting with and delivering value to your clients.
  2. COI Development: Develop relationships with centers of influence or evaluate current relationships you have with COIs and see if they are willing to provide any sales leads. Get back to this activity shortly after your busy time is over.
  3. Get Involved! If you’re not already, become active in local community or industry groups. Membership in area associations is a great networking tool. This personal marketing effort should eventually transition to sales, don’t just wait for referrals. After you’ve established relationships ask about your prospect’s business—and how you can help. Once you’ve checked in and picked up with your COI relationships look to broaden your efforts with this type of activity. Most community and industry groups publish an annual calendar of activities so you can look ahead and decide the activities that best fit into your schedule.
  4. Dear Prospect: Acquire a list of companies that meet your target criteria and send a direct mail piece. Follow-up with a phone call and set appointments with interested prospects. As long as you are willing to do the follow-up and work the sales cycle, direct marketing can often be a fairly quick and effective method for generating leads.

Use this big-picture approach to planning your prospecting activities and spend less time thinking about what you should do to grow your practice, and more time growing it!

Middle of the Funnel Marketing

Check out this interesting article about how to more effectively move opportunities from the top of your sales funnel to the bottom by employing these nurturing techniques in the middle.

A Guest Post by Alan Vitberg, Owner, VitbergLLC

Combine Telemarketing with Marketing Automation for a Powerful 1-2 New Business Punch

We’re reading and hearing more about the leadership at professional services firms saying that top line growth is their key objective for 2012. So, they’re either asking partners to take more accountability for developing relationships and working their contacts for new business opportunities, or they’re turning to inbound marketing and outbound marketing techniques like telemarketing to fill the top of the sales funnel.

But the real test of new business development not only comes at the top of the funnel, but how effectively the firm nurtures leads in the middle of the sales funnel. According to a recent study by Marketing Sherpa, 79% of marketing leads never convert into sales. Yet, other studies like the one done by DemandGen Report show nurtured leads produce on average a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads.

As much as managing and niche practice partners would like to think that prospects are pacing the floor awaiting their call, the fact is that most leads acquired with top of the funnel marketing activities just aren’t sales ready. In fact, about 8 out ten prospects just aren’t ready to sign a contract after one touch, regardless of the strength of your company or personal brand. But, according to Marketo, an average of 20% of leads that are nurtured will convert to sales-ready leads within 12 months.

That’s a powerful argument for professional services firms to consider a dedicated lead nurturing program, and one of the most powerful nurturing programs you can construct will come from combining telemarketing touches with touches delivered through marketing automation technology.

Marketing automation is executed using software that reduces repetitive tasks associated with marketing processes, including customer segmentation and campaign management. One of the key benefits of automation in lead generation is the ability to set up a campaign that automatically sends messages to prospects on a regularly scheduled basis. Another key benefit is the ability of the automation software to track responses, both at the campaign level and at a level that identifies if the prospect has engaged with the campaign by opening or clicking though a message.

To make a lead generation and nurturing campaign successful, personal need to be woven into the campaign schedule, and that’s where telemarketing can and should play an important role. Start with a campaign plan that includes a two or more offers (i.e. whitepapers, seat at a webinar), landing pages on your web site supporting the offers, and the outbound and inbound marketing tactics you’ll use to deliver the offer. Telemarketing can play an important role in the outbound promotional components of the plan.

So here’s how a lead nurturing process can be executed by integrating automation with telemarketing:

1. Touch 1: Prospect is driven to a landing page where they complete a form in order to get an offer (i.e. “free whitepaper”). Consider using telemarketing at this point to inform prospects of the offer and where and how they can redeem the offer.

2. Touch 2: An automated thank you response is delivered to the prospects

3. Touch 3: Use telemarketing to make an introductory phone call to the prospect, with the objective of exploring their issues

4. Touch 4: 30 days later, send an automated e-mail with a case study

5. Touch 5: 45 days later: send the prospect another offer (i.e., a webinar) that requires an action, like filling out a form again. This should be set up and automated at the beginning of the campaign and triggered by time after first contact

6. Touch 6: Make a phone call to personally invite the prospect to redeem the offer

7. Touch 7: 60 days later: send an automated invite to the prospect inviting them to subscribe to your blog

8. Touch 8: 75 days later: call for an appointment

The combination of telemarketing with automated marketing touches can be a powerful combination for nurturing prospects though the sales funnel. These campaigns need to be designed and timed and fully complete even before the first outbound or inbound promotion is launched, and along the way, measuring conversion rates of leads to qualified leads to sales ready leads is a prudent step as it will provide insights as to effective techniques and approaches for future campaigns.

Alan Vitberg is owner of VitbergLLC, a marketing agency that works with professional services firms, specializing in inbound marketing, internet marketing and lead generation. He can be reached at avitberg@vitbergllc.com or at (585) 425-2552.

Celebrate!

It’s that time of year — holiday parties, events, open houses — likely you’re hosting at least one and attending a few. And while we aren’t in favor of commercializing the holidays, it’s the plain truth that these events can be opportunities to interact with clients, prospects, referral sources and others who influence your success. Here are some ideas to ensure your holiday celebrations lead to celebrations of your success in 2012:

  • Before your firm’s annual event, pull your people together and share the invitation/RSVP list. Encourage your staff to identify who they want to make sure they speak with and to be proactive about seeking out those people at the event.
  • Remind your people not to cluster together in large groups at your event or any other. It’s not very inviting and limits your ability to interact with others.
  • Review your firm’s 30-second speech or key branding talking points. You and your staff will likely be meeting new people at holiday events; now is the time to build a consistent brand image for your firm so that future marketing efforts are successful.
  • Share some ideas for how to follow up with contacts your people make during holiday events when the situation warrants follow-up. Activities could include an invitation to an industry event, a personal note attached to an article or newsletter, a phone call to set up lunch, or simply a nice-to-see-you email.

‘Tis the Season

No, it’s not the holiday season, yet. Although that will be upon us before we know it. It’s lead generation season! Itâ’s time to reap the rewards of all the time and money you’ve invested in marketing and positioning activities throughout the year. All those endless mixers, tradeshows, golf outings, ad campaigns, social media efforts, etc. have led to this.

Marketing and sales, while two separate and distinct disciplines are directly related. Marketing without sales leads to large investments of time and money with little return. Sales without marketing leads to low close rates and lots of frustration on the part of the sales force (partners). A balance is ideal and transition from marketing to sales is critical. See the following illustration:

Marketing (blue line) activity is high when your prospects are just starting to get to know you. Activities that help with this are listed at the far left.

Sales (red line) activity starts after a certain period of marketing. Typical “sales” activities are listed at the far right.

Activities in the middle can help you transition from marketing to sales–assuming you take the necessary step to get face-to-face with a prospect so you can start the process.

Late summer/early fall is one of the most productive seasons for proactive telephone lead generation to help transition your firm for three reasons:

#1: Many of your prospects are starting their budgeting process.

#2: If you’ve been marketing throughout the year, your firm is well positioned to transition to sales by scheduling face-to-face meetings.

#3: Seasonal services such as tax, employee benefit plan audit services and financial planning are top of mind for CEOs/CFOs in the fall.

Now is the time to start planning how your firm will accomplish that transition to sales. Whether you choose to make the follow up phone calls internally or to outsource, make sure callers are prepared and understand the objective of the follow up call. (Setting up meetings is radically different from selling solutions on the phone.)

Remember that the follow up call also serves as an extension of your firm’s brand, so make sure it’s conducted in a professional manner by a well prepared caller. Prospects will sense anxiety or lack of preparedness with the acuteness of a shark sensing blood. This can reflect negatively on your firm.

Also, be sure the person who will be following up with the leads understands the objective of the first meeting. Meetings from proactive phone follow up feel different from meetings from a referral. Engage in pre-meeting training to ensure the person going on the appointment is prepared for the difference.

With a little time and effort to follow up while the iron is hot, your firm can reap the rewards of lead generation season.

Win More.

We talk about your competitive edge a lot. It’s in our tagline, our brand promise. Ever wonder what we’re talking about? How about an example: think about increasing your proposal win-rate and getting a higher return on your time invested in proposals. Now that’s an edge over the competition! So let’s talk details — take a look at our five sure-fire ways to improve proposals and increase win-rates:

  1. Start with the prospect’s needs — don’t even begin writing the proposal until you have a meeting, phone conversation, or at the very least an email exchange to make sure you know what the prospect is looking for, including both services needed and desired service attributes. Start your proposal document by restating these needs – you’ll set your proposal apart from the others and let the prospect know you’re listening!
  2. Talk benefits  — many of us in the professional services industry love to talk about what we do. How effective is that in proposals if your prospects don’t understand what’s in it for them? Of course you have to describe how you’ll meet the prospect’s needs, but don’t stop there —  state clearly what result you will bring to the prospect, what will improve in their business, what problems you will solve for them. And even better? Quantify the benefits you’ll deliver when at all possible.
  3. Differentiate — ever notice when you’re looking at your competitors’ Web sites how similar they all sound? It can be tough to differentiate in a competitive market, but if you don’t — you’re competing on price and price alone. What makes you the right choice for the prospect? What are your strengths vis-à-vis your competitors’ vulnerabilities? Don’t be afraid to point these out directly — but professionally — in your proposal.
  4. Deliver the proposal in person — Don’t email, mail, or even just drop off your proposal if at all possible. Schedule a face-to-face meeting with your prospect to go through the document and highlight the important elements — this is the only way to make sure your prospect sees all those benefits and differentiators you worked so hard to incorporate!
  5. Follow up — If the decision date passes, don’t give up. Continue to follow up, offering to help with the decision process or answer any questions that have arisen. The extra effort will let your prospect know they’d be an important client to your firm and just might tip the decision in your favor.