Beyond networking

So what are some of the best methods to win new clients that work today? Alastair Campbell from the Ideal Marketing Company explains the three key areas that every organisation should now be looking into.

Some say that selling and marketing is a numbers game. It’s a question of getting out there and speaking to as many people as possible, but I’m not so sure. Think of it like this. You want to make a hole in the wall, so you run at it as hard as you can. You knock yourself out; when you regain consciousness you walk back 20 feet and run at the wall again. You can do this all day, but you aren’t going to make much impression on the wall – and I’d suggest that you’ll end up in a worse state by the end of the day than you were at the start.

What if there was a better way of knocking a hole in the wall, or perhaps better still, walking around it?

I’d suggest that a way of getting around the wall is to focus on three essential areas of marketing:

  • Attention
  • Conversion
  • Retention

The problem is, if we put all our new business focus on any one of these (and ignore the others), then results are likely to be patchy at best. So here are a few ideas for specific marketing in each area – and how to apply them.

Gaining people’s attention
You can’t sell to somebody until you have their attention. You need to interrupt people’s thought pattern with your message before you can explain the service you offer. For example, nobody is walking around thinking ‘I’d love to speak to a builder’. But they might be walking around thinking ‘how much is this roof repair going to cost me?’ or ‘what is the best way to extend my house?’ This gives you a chance to get people to tune in to your message, to get their attention. One of the best ways to do this is to create an information rich product with a compelling headline / title. A builder could mail a booklet offering free advice on the most creative ways to add space to your home. Other businesses could consider some of the following:

  • A free e-book on preparing your business for sale
  • A recruitment agency may create a short video demonstrating interview techniques to get the best out of candidates
  • A law firm might publish a free report on the six questions you should ask a divorce lawyer before engaging them.

In each case, you are creating a valuable, but low cost product that is of great interest to a targeted group of people. Some people will not be interested in specific activities, for example, some companies will not be hiring at the moment, but for those who are, or considering doing so in the near future, the video is certainly going to be of interest.

Any of these guides (and hundreds of variations thereof) will get the attention of the people you want to speak to, when you want to speak to them.

Once you’ve prepared the guide, you now have a reason to speak to people, call them, write to them and e-mail them. You also have something to post on your blog, tweet about and post on your LinkedIn or Facebook pages. Each time there is something in the news about the subject, you have another reason to repeat the message with a new topical twist.

Converting the curious
Getting people’s attention is the hard part. However, even when you have a prospect in front of you, it’s easy to let them slip away. High pressure sales techniques are almost certain to do more harm than good, so here are a few ideas to gently give confidence in your services if you are meeting clients at your offices.

Make the meeting room comfortable, uncluttered and professional. Messy files piled high, a bulging in-tray or a constantly ringing phone give the impression that their work won’t be given the priority it deserves. Where possible, a special meeting room for prospects should be used rather than an individual’s office.

What proof do you have of your previous successes? Convincing evidence can come from four possible areas.

1. Awards, accreditations, qualifications – any certificates, awards, photos of prizes being handed over all help to add credibility to your professional status.

2. Media coverage – have you been featured in the press commenting on industry matters, helping community causes or perhaps winning some of the above mentioned awards? If so, why not highlight these press cuttings in a cuttings book on the table? A second copy of this book could be in the reception area.

3. Case studies – for many people new areas of investment are the ultimate grudge spend. Given the choice, they’d either do it themselves or are hesitant to work with someone new. In fact, they are not buying your time; they are buying the RESULTS that they want you to achieve. So, in order to make them feel better about the hiring process, you can show how you have specifically helped other people. A collection of case studies could include examples of different problems within one industry, or problems relevant to different sectors within the same industry. Each should show how, by employing your services, your clients were able to turn things around and get better than expected results. You might not always need to go into precise details, or even name names, but 300 – 500 words that explain the results you were able to achieve with past clients can be a significant reassurance to a reluctant visitor.

4. Testimonials – similar to case studies, but usually much shorter and written word for word by happy clients. Testimonials are an endorsement of what you’ve done. The best way to get a client to say something about what you have done is to ask them – either in person, in an individual e-mail or as part of a survey. One client of ours received about 3 letters a year without asking, but over 60 a year when his clients were prompted gently – quite an improvement.

In all cases, these subtle messages are there to reassure and reinforce your words and deeds.

Another simple way to help the conversion process is simply to keep your word. If you say that you’ll send a letter the next day, do it. If you say you will call at 3pm, make sure you do so – or if you don’t have the answer, still call and explain why you haven’t got the information and when you will have it.

The better the relationship you can build and the more confidence and trust you create, the more likely you are to leave the meeting with a new client.

Retaining the business
Some clients may appear to be ‘one offs’ at first. But it is useful to consider how people will recall you. Most people will remember the service they received rather than the details, in a similar way that people think about their doctor or their dentist. You will remain their point of contact unless something changes the situation – or if you do a very bad job (as they perceive it).

A gentle, perhaps annual reminder that you are still there, still thinking about them, is always a good idea to stimulate memories and subtly keep you at the back of their mind. It’s also why regular publicity in the local press is a good idea to remind people that your company is doing good / interesting / helpful things in the community.

For business to business clients, it’s a different situation as you are likely to be called upon on a more regular basis. The focus here should be on education and support.

Education is about explaining the different range of services that you can offer. The company may have used you for a specific project, but making them aware that your skills can be applied to other areas of their business is important. This involves regular communication, explanations and campaigns that will help with awareness of your services.

Support can be through a variety of ventures. One popular area is joint seminars. In the past, I’ve run seminars with solicitors on creating a brand, whilst they have talked about how to legally protect a brand and trademark. Running regular events for clients (and prospects for that matter), is an excellent way of positioning yourself as the expert at the centre of activities. It gives companies a reason to stay with you, and enhances your reputation.

If it’s hard to win new clients in the first place, the good news is that it’s relatively easy to retain them. Your job is really to keep clients updated on the full range of services that you could offer them, and explain how your services rather than cost them money, can in many cases actually save them money – or at least protect them from serious potential risk.

Some further thoughts
The three stages of marketing hold true for most organisations, but are certainly true in the most competitive business environments. By splitting your activity into the holy trinity of marketing: attention, conversion and retention; you can be sure that you are making the most of your marketing spend.

However, in 2014, you may need to go a little further. We are living in a world of information overload, where the under 20s are just as likely to learn about the latest news stories on Twitter or Facebook as they are from the TV news. Tomorrow’s newspaper is an age away for many. With hundreds of e-mails pouring in every day, and a hundred demands on our time – where are your communications going to sit with prospects and clients?

Most will be ignored of course (and this has always been the case), but now more than ever we need to create messages that are ‘remarkable’. Standing out from the crowd is the only way to get noticed today and so, even doing all the right things is not always enough. Creating a strong benefit led message, creating a brand around it and presenting it in a way that people will notice and remember should be central to your strategy. If you can’t cut through all the other messages, then you won’t get far.

Ultimately, effective marketing is far more than a firm handshake over a glass of warm Chardonnay at a Holiday Inn. If you are to succeed and thrive in today’s competitive economic climate, it must be a central and ongoing part of your business growth plans.

Alastair Campbell is MD of The Ideal Marketing Company (www.idealmarketingcompany.com) and author of ‘52 Ways to Grow your Business,’ available at Amazon.

Image: Networking via Shutterstock

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