Finding clients is hard work. So many people seem to run from networking event to networking event, collecting stacks of business cards, hoping and praying that someone might someday need their services, actually remember them, and call. Truth is, they’re wasting their time.
Here is one entrepreneur’s experience in how to get more clients and ultimately prosper in business. The system outlined here has helped me personally grow several companies with a wide variety of target markets. My hope is that it serves you just as well.
When I first started my business, I didn’t know who my target market was. To me, a target market was anyone willing to write me a check for what I did (or for whatever I could theoretically deliver). For two years, I went to an average of 8 networking events a week, accumulating hundreds of business cards that I always told myself I was going to turn into this awesome email marketing database. I never had time, though…because I was always networking! During that time, I ran around making just enough money to get by–never getting anywhere–until I stumbled on the formula:
Perceived Expertise + Visibility = Credibility
Credibility + Sales System = More Clients
People don’t buy services from companies, they buy from people. Simply meeting someone at a networking event doesn’t make you the person they’ll buy from, either. Building a network of clients who choose to buy from you when they have a need takes time and a planned out system. It’s not hard to create a system; it just takes a little strategy. Let’s break down the steps to creating that strategy:
Step 1: Decide
Who has the greatest ability to buy your product or service? Is it a consumer, a small business owner, or a corporation? How much money are they going to have to spend on your product or service to be happy with it? We’ll use a hypothetical professional service as our example. While you know that small businesses could use your service, you know it’s most likely that only multi-state companies with Human Resource departments are prime candidates, so you’re looking for larger corporations. This–in my experience–tends to be a market with a high degree of difficulty, but the degree of difficulty doesn’t change the steps.
Now that you can see your target, determine who in the organization would want your help. In this case, looking at the HR department. Once you have that narrowed down, look at who is most likely to pay for your offering (side note–most managers don’t have check-writing authority, so stick to the directors and up as often as you can).
Now, we’ve profiled the target: Director-level personnel in the HR departments of large corporations. Let’s discuss how to find them.
Step 2: Go Hunting: Hang Out Near What They NEED
You don’t go to the desert to duck hunt. Ducks need water, so you would set up your blind someplace near a pond or a lake. Finding clients is the exact same. Whoever you are looking for, find out what they need to succeed, and go to the events that cater to that need.
When you’re hunting your upper-level corporate target market, you won’t find them hanging out at small business networking events. Small business professionals are looking to drive their bottom line. They need clients and cash, and are the primary attendees of the networking events. Corporate employees need to find ways to become more valuable to their managers and corporations, so they spend their time on improvement and learning. They are spending their time at professional development seminars and at peer-to-peer networking events. These events include continuing education events, professional certifications, industry expos, and other niche information hubs.
You know where they’re congregating. So how do you get their attention?
Step 3: Become the (Perceived) Expert
Nobody wants to deal with amateurs–it’s not a safe bet. People want to deal with experts. All you have to do is become the (perceived) expert.
When I started my first company, I was 22 years old and trying to convince MasterCard that I knew what the heck I was talking about. I had to become the (perceived) expert. An expert is just someone who knows more than someone else on a given topic. Perception is reality. If people believe that you are the expert, then you are the expert.
For me, becoming the expert meant I had researching and spending more time studying my area of expertise than the people in my target market. After I amassed all of that book knowledge, how did I let people know that I was the expert? I contacted specific organizations and offered to speak on my expertise–over the phone they didn’t know how young I was. I aggregated and reposted all the statistics and research on my expertise from across the internet on my website to show that I was the authority. I wrote articles and submitted them to different publications, peppering industry magazines and blogs with my expertise.
Perception is reality. When you are trying to find clients for the first time, it’s often hard to overcome the old “who else have you done this for?” question. I found that speaking engagements and published articles became the third-party endorsements that changed their perception of “this kid trying to sell something,” and my target market stopped asking these questions of me, now the (perceived) expert.
Once you’ve established yourself, it’s not time to simply sit back and wait for the sales to roll in. These ducks aren’t going to hunt themselves.
Step 4: Get Involved and Stay Visible
This is an absolute must. You have to get involved in the organizations, boards, committees, volunteer efforts, or whatever your target market does in their spare time. When I was selling to corporations, I joined a non-profit that helped companies prepare for the next Pandemic–I swear. My affiliation with the organization helped establish credibility, and got me networking with individuals–those HR Directors at large corporations that saw me as the expert in my field–that I wanted to do business with. These various provide a structure and a regular meeting schedule that forces your target market to interact with you on a regular basis. The more time you spend with people, the better relationships you have. Over time, those people hire you…and refer you to more people just like them.
By now you are networking with your target clients, you are an expert in your field (or perceived to be), you have third party verification of your expertise, and you are involved in different organizations that keep you visible. You have now achieved perceived expertise and visibility which equals credibility (remember the equation?). In the next step, we leverage all of that groundwork against a solid system.
Step 5: Build/Execute Your Sales System
When your target market raises their hand and asks, “how much does your service cost?” Do you give them a price? Most people do. How many prospective clients have you met that understand your business so well that they could quote it? In their eagerness to make the sale, most people will allow their prospect define the scope, the work, and the value of your service.
When you have a system, you can afford to bury the lead. When your system is firing on all cylinders, you can confidently meet your prospect’s inquiry with, “Great question, my company specializes in X (making sure to restate your definition of your service) and we have found that in order to give a price, it’s best to work through our process to to better understand your needs and provide an accurate scope for meeting those needs. How about we set a time to meet and we’ll see if we might be a good fit?”
Don’t be defined by other people’s perceptions of your product or service. Your sales system reinforces your credibility with your target client and increases the value of your product or service in your prospect’s eye and allows you to charge the right price for your products or services.
- Your sales system will be unique to your industry and to your business, but any solid sales system will hinge on a series of meetings. Determine the information that you need in order to give an accurate proposal, and schedule your meetings accordingly. Currently, I use a 3-meeting process, consisting of: Fact-Finding/Discovery, Report Back, and Proposal Review. Whatever your meeting schedule is, book them in advance. This shows that your what you are doing is, indeed, a process, and not simply a waste of time.
- Use separate meetings for learning about the client and for presenting solutions. Always “come back” with additional research and information, increasing the value of your product or service.
- When you are selling to a corporation, you need to get more than one person in the room. Individuals in corporations don’t make decisions alone. Decisions are made in committee, therefore it’s important that a presentation to the committee be part of your process.
- When you’re scheduling the meetings, tell your prospect who you expect to be at those meetings, and what you will accomplish at each stage of the process.
By following these steps, I’m betting that you will greatly increase the amount of prospects you meet with, the sales you close, and–most importantly–the money you make. Business is not hard, it just requires a simple strategy and system executed over and over.
Brandon Dempsey is a managing partner at goBRANDgo!, a Saint Louis, MO-based marketing firm. He has been a featured expert in numerous online and print outlets on topics ranging from entrepreneurship and open-book management to telecommuting and brand development. He is quickly becoming known as the go-to voice for leaders looking to groom their image: maximizing their impact on their businesses, their communities, and the world.
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Category: Startup Advice