Friday, June 3, 2011

Grow Your Own Practice by Bringing the Firm

Especially for winning the most transformative and consequential prospects, business development requires personal accountability and team effort. If you’re not using the full power of your firm and colleagues, you may be neglecting exceptional marketing assets.

And remember—if collaborative business development is going to be successful, you must cultivate your internal relationships just like you do your external referral sources.

How To:
  • Collaborate – Collaborate across your practice group, across offices, across your firm. As you do with targets, identify which colleagues are most likely to “fit” with you and your practice. Then cultivate the relationship. First, make sure your colleagues know what you’re famous for. And, you need to know what they’re famous for. Identify joint targets and approach together. Whenever possible, visit prospects and referral sources with a colleague in tow. For the biggest targets, consider putting a client pursuit team together across the practice or firm.
  • Surround the client – Collectively network across the firm to find out who knows whom at your key prospective clients. Knowing one person at the target is not enough. And, getting in front of more than one influencer or decision-maker at the prospect is more easily accomplished when you have more players on your team than just you. The more positive impressions you make on as many decision-participants at the prospect, the more likely you are to win and expand the business.
  • Include the client – Bring your client into your client team meetings on occasion; Invite your client to speak to your colleagues about how they manage certain aspects of their business. This lets them know that you are truly focused on them and exposes them to more professionals at your firm so they get a fuller sense for your capabilities and creates opportunities for relationship expansion.

Grow Your Practice by Understanding the Altitude of Growth

What business leaders can learn from pilots.

By Travis Dommert

What does your professional practice have in common with an airplane in flight?  A lot.  Both require careful and seasoned stewardship to stay aloft.  Both yield catastrophic consequences if they fall.  As professional advisors, consider these lessons we can learn from pilots and take action to make sure your practice isn’t losing altitude.

Part 1.  Gravity and drag…24/7

An airplane in level flight is a contradiction in terms.  Every second an airplane is in the air, it is in a fight to stay aloft.  Thousands of pounds of metal and wire are summoned to earth relentlessly by gravity, and drag pulls it backwards with every passing moment. 

The blessing, if there is one, is that pilots and engineers know this to be true.  The entire airplane was specially designed to maximize lift and minimize drag.  And, the pilots are trained repeatedly on the dangers that lurk below if they take their attention away from fighting gravity and drag.  They could lose their lives and those of their passengers and crew.  Shutting off the engines while they take a break or tend to other matters isn’t just dangerous, it’s idiotic.  Who would do that?

Well, how about us?  As professional services providers, do we ever idle our business development engines because “more pressing matters” are at hand?  If you are an accountant, do you really do a lot of selling during tax season?  If you are a consultant or attorney, do you really maintain all your sales and marketing activities after you land a big engagement or client? 

Hmm.  Should you be surprised that you have lost altitude the next time you get back into the market?  Probably not.  The fact is, your practice is under the same perpetual forces as the plane.  Client relationships that go unnourished fade and die.  Merely satisfied clients are the next to leave.  Competitors and new entrants are constantly looking for a bite out of your book of business.

So what do you do about it?

First, acknowledge these facts.  Just to maintain your practice revenues, you must constantly work to grow your business.  Sales and marketing aren’t for the good times or the slow times, they are for all the time.  You can’t afford a week to go by without sales and marketing activity.  Every week.  And, if you don’t have a dedicated business development team (frankly, even if you do), then YOU must be doing some of this work every week.

The exact prescription depends on your practice, but as a rule of thumb, think about what effort it would take to grow your professional practice revenues by 10%.  How many new clients, accounts, or sales would that be?  What does the prospect pipeline and business development cycle look like in reverse?  To yield a 10% gain, what recurring actions would you have to do each and every week?  Lead generation, prospect contacts, business development and client cultivation meetings, presentations, pitches, proposals, assessments, follow-up calls, touch-points, recommendations.  THAT is what you probably need to do just to stay even.

Think you can take the tax season off while you prepare returns?  No.  Think you can stop pursuing new client relationships while you work on the one you have?  No.  It won’t work.  You will be losing altitude.  And the scary thing about losing altitude is that you don’t even feel it.  Pull up and you’ll feel it in your gut; coast gradually into the side of a mountain and you may even enjoy the flight…until you notice what’s happened.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Don’t idle your engines.  Take time, even in the busiest of times, to sell.  Get focused on a few key recurring business development actions.  Keep track.  And, with a little luck you can smooth the ups and downs from your business cycle, gain ground from one season or project to the next, and stop scaring the passengers each time you go dashing back to the cockpit.

Part 2.  Reading your instruments.

We already talked about the fact that you can’t trust your gut instinct when flying an airplane.  A steady descent feels just fine, as does a slow turn or a gentle roll.  Pilots know that they are safer flying with no visibility and quality flight instruments than with blue sky and no instruments. 

With a half dozen gauges, they know the attitude of the airplane relative to the horizon, the speed through the air, the rate of climb or descent, the amount of fuel remaining, and the finer points regarding direction.

The question is—can you run your business or professional practice using your gut?  Many people seem to think so.  Or worse, whether they think so or not, they tend to do so because they don’t have any instruments.  Are you smarter than a pilot or just less attuned the perils of losing altitude? 

Okay, maybe both, but our pilot friends are generally a pretty smart bunch.  They know that a plane falling from the sky is bad.  A plane running out of gas is bad.  A plane flying at an unsustainable rate of climb or descent is bad.  They know exactly how bad, and they know how to make changes to sustain the delicate balance that is flight.

So what does this mean to you?  Well, for one thing, if you don’t have them already, develop a set of quality instruments.  Whether you call these key performance indicators (KPI’s) metrics, analytics, or just your rules of thumb, figure out the handful of measures that indicate that business is coming in the door (remember—if you aren’t gaining new business, you are losing altitude).  Figure out how much gas is in the tank (working capital, credit).  Assess the attitude of your operation—are clients and colleagues happy or under distress?

Then, once you understand your instruments, identify several key actions that keep them in a healthy state of operation.  What activity is required on a weekly basis to keep business coming in, keep colleagues engaged, keep service levels high, keep quality in check, and keep the tanks from running dry?  Delegate these actions to the appropriate team members and hold them accountable for making time each week for getting them done.

If you don’t undertake these actions, then don’t be surprised when the next time you consult your instruments, one or more of them signals trouble.

Travis Dommert is the Chief Operating Officer at two companies in the area of human performance and HR solutions, IRUNURUN LLC and The Lindquist Group.

Social Experiment – Part 3: Where Do I Find the Time for LinkedIN ?

In our last newsletter, we talked about your LinkedIN profile.

Here, Patricia Romboletti, Managing Director of Creative Growth Group and Creative Growth Talent, and a bona fide LinkedIN Guru, shares the third tip in her custom program, “Six LinkedIN Steps to Professional Services Growth in 2011.”

Where Do I Find the Time for LinkedIN?

Whenever I lead our LinkedIN training workshops, the issue of time management is one of the first ones raised. Included in that discussion is usually the assumption that I must spend hours a day or week on the site. Not true—and I will share my strategy for leveraging LinkedIN in about 1 ½ hours a week.

But first—let’s go back to Part 1 of this series where I suggested that you reframe your thinking about LinkedIN and look at it as a “live event” rather than a social media site. Now, let’s add another dimension to the reframe—it is a “live event” and your activity on the site, if used properly, falls into the realm of business development, not Web surfing.

So to carve out some time to effectively and proactively leverage LinkedIN, I suggest that you start by substituting one current BD activity for time on LinkedIN. If you look back over your schedule for the last few weeks, are there meetings that were not productive—that did not really move your BD initiatives forward? When working with clients, I have yet to find one person who was not able to find at least one hour per week that they could convert to their weekly LinkedIN hour. And actually, it is closer to 1 ½ hours that can be claimed since there is no commuting time involved.

What to do in that 1 ½ hours? Let me share my routine with you. Each morning I take about 5 minutes (usually less, but seldom more) to go my LinkedIN Home page. There, I review the “Updates” section to see the new connections added by my Level 1 connections. If I see that they have connected to someone that I would like to know, I reach out to my contact either by phone or email and ask if they would be willing to introduce me to their new connection. My assumption, and it has held true, is that my contact has recently had an interaction with their new connection—the relationship is fresh and that person is top-of-mind for them.

I then look further down on the Updates section to see if anyone has posted a status update such as a promotion or some other noteworthy event and I send a note to that person acknowledging their achievement. It is a simple, quick and easy way to stay in touch with my connections and one that is always appreciated.

I also take a minute to click on the link “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” located on the right-hand side of the home page. You will be surprised what that exercise can tell you.

I subscribe to a very targeted article consolidation service through SmartBriefs on topics that are of interest to me and to my network. They come to my Inbox each morning and usually contain valuable information that my network could benefit from reading. Each article includes a LinkedIN Share button allowing me to post great articles to my status update in a matter of seconds. I have my Twitter account tied into my LinkedIN account so I can post to both sites with one click so I make that part of my daily 5 minute session.

I schedule the rest of my time---the weekly hour, for Friday morning. In that focused hour, I review and accept (or ignore if appropriate) any invitations sent during the week. By using a standard feature on LinkedIN (that is—you don’t need an upgraded account), I can create one message welcoming my new connections to my network and again with only one click, I can send an individual message to each new connection. Occasionally I will accept other connections in between my weekly Friday session, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.

I allocate some time—typically no more than 15 minutes during my hour, to browse the contacts of my new connections. If I find a contact that I would like to know, I reach out to my connection, either by phone (I will cover the online to off-line/on the phone strategy in a future Post) or email to ask for an introduction. I also have a goal to make at least one introduction/connection weekly during this time to two people in my network who would really benefit from knowing each other.

I belong to a number of Groups on LinkedIN and would not have time to stay active in each one on a daily or even weekly basis. So instead, I select 3-4 of my Groups each week and during my Friday hour, I “visit” those Groups and engage in a current discussion or begin a new discussion. It really is like attending 3-4 SIG events in about 15 minutes.

Next, if time permits, I go to the Q&A section to see if there is a question in my area of expertise that I can answer or an opportunity for me to ask a question, thus engaging in “dialog” across my network.

And, if I still have time within my hour (and I typically do—none of the above really takes a lot of time) I leverage additional LinkedIN features such as Amazon Books to find a way to engage in “dialog” with my network or I research clients and prospects in the Company section of LinkedIN.

Of course, if I have a specific need to do research in between my Friday sessions for a particular client or prospect, I do that. But this routine accomplishes a couple of things. One, by scheduling and limiting my time, I make sure that I do not get drawn into a big black hole---that is easy to do on a site with so much rich opportunity to network. Two, I ensure that I am visible, proactive and engaged with my network on a weekly basis.

As we discuss in detail in our LinkedIN workshop, each activity described briefly above ties directly to business development.

The routine is deceptively simple but significantly impacts your BD efforts.

If you missed Part 2 of this series, click here to read it

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Your Career as a Business Development Test Pilot

The history of the word experience aligns it closely with the concept of experiment. Building a great client experience – especially during the client attraction stage – is often an experimental initiative.

Larry Fussell is a Business Development Director at PwC. He’s also an experimental airplane pilot and craftsman. Larry is an instrument rated pilot who began flying in earnest in the late 1990’s. Somewhere along the line, he decided that flying the planes wasn’t enough. Larry helped build the Defiant - a twin engine all composite aircraft designed by Burt Rutan – the famous American aerospace engineer who designed record-breaking Voyager, which was the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. Most recently, Larry built an RV-7A kit aircraft that maintains cruise speeds near or even above 200 mph. Can you imagine building your own plane and being the one person who will test it – by going up in the sky – to make sure it works OK? We asked Larry Fussell to relate his experiences building and flying experimental aircraft to his experience doing business development for one of the world’s largest accounting firms. As Larry explained, it starts with the vision . . .

Larry Fussell:

Building /flying Experimental aircraft and business development carry many of the same requirements. First is the vision. I can tell you that when I built the first part for my airplane I could not sleep that night because I could envision the day I took off for the first time. Next is the determination to follow through. Building an airplane is a huge undertaking requiring 1000s of hours and making decisions along the way that could cause the project to fail or cost a bundle to repair. You also find yourself changing plans as technology/circumstance both evolve. Constant problem solving and acquisition of new skills are a major part of the project. Then the day finally arrives where you put all your faith in the skills you have developed and the quality of work that you have done. The engine fires, you roll out onto the runway, everything is in the green, you're scared to death but confident in your work product/skills, full throttle, dancing with the stick and rudder just like you were taught and then comes the moment that your vision feels the wind under her belly and flies. It is almost a religious experience. Which explains why there are so many serial builders in the sport. Now comes many hours of tests and tweaking. A project like this is never done. You are always making adjustments, but you're also having fun expanding your horizons and looking for the next big breakthrough in your skills.

So how does this all relate to Business Development?

  • Vision - what do you want to do (and with whom). By the way this has to be your vision. You have to be committed to it and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve the vision.
  • Investment - a business development role done properly takes well more than the traditional 40 hours per week. You have to know about the company, the people you will be working with, their families, their interests, their personal drivers and what makes your relationship a win for them.
  • Skills - You must constantly acquire new skills to solve the problems that will inevitably present themselves. Find a mentor, enroll in skills classes, and experiment on a small scale. 
  • Judgment - How are your actions bringing you closer to your vision? 
  • Enjoyment - you must enjoy the small wins along the way or the journey will become too arduous to continue. 
  • Bring your skills and confidence to the table each time you are in front of the client. Watch your vision become reality and dance with the ever changing environment knowing that you have done the work properly, sought training as needed, and built a beautiful machine(relationship) that will meet the client’s needs as well as you own. By the way, this has to be real; fake it and you will, I guarantee, auger into a flaming hole.
  • Enjoy the ride - To me, Business Development is about the relationships that you build and the richness that those relationships add to your life and that of your clients. Yes, if you do it right you will be rewarded in both finances and career. But you will find the real joy comes from the ride.

CGG CMO Dinner and Dialogue in Chicago

On Thursday March 10th, 2011, the Chicago skyline served as the backdrop for a dinner hosted by Creative Growth Group. We gathered our Chicago-based clients and friends into the Signature Room on top of the John Hancock building for a dinner discussion focused on growing professional services. Our dinner guests included Managing Directors and Chief Marketing Officers from a number of leading accounting, public relations, legal, engineering and consulting firms. We asked two renowned marketing gurus to serve as first among equals at the dinner table to jump-start the conversation. The discussion lasted well past dessert, and we have included just a couple of top-line highlights of the evening’s discussion here.

Serving as catalysts for the discussion around the table were:

  • Tom Collinger: Chair of the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Additionally, he’s an Associate Professor and Associate Dean of Medill.
  • Karl Hellman: Founder and President of Resultrek, a global marketing consulting firm dedicated to creating great marketers. Karl co-authored The Customer Learning Curve and is also the primary driver and author of Kotler Marketing Group’s 2011 Marketing in Hard Times Study of CMOs.


The Mind of the CMO

Karl Hellman provided us with a summary of the research that he conducted with the consulting firm, Kotler Marketing Group, founded by famed Northwestern University, Kellogg School professor, Philip Kotler. The study was of nearly 200 senior marketing executives from major U.S. corporations including professional services and financial services firms.

While Karl’s findings were comprehensive – one of the key highlights that stimulated much discussion was around the idea that “Innovation is the Road to Recovery: Hellman and Kotler’s study found that the companies which performed best during the recession emphasized “New Product/Solution Innovation” in their study responses and in their market actions. Though it may be somewhat more challenging to pursue service innovation in a professional firm, Karl suggested adopting an “agile service development” model akin to what technology firms use when developing software. Involving the client in this collaborative and iterative process is also associated with agile development to ensure that new solutions are best-fits for the client audience. Agile development also connotes a diverse portfolio of new service creation taking place at any one time.

CMO as Chief Media Officer

Tom Collinger challenged our guests to think of the CMO as “Chief Media Officer” “What I think is the sea change is that all companies, all brands, have both the opportunity and the necessity to operate the way media companies operate,” Tom said. “Media is concerned with building a marketable audience franchise through information, news that matters and in some cases entertainment for purposes of engaging their constituents in an ongoing dialogue. “

Adopting the media company model calls for more than a change in the marketing communications function. Consider, Tom suggested, what kinds of talents would be needed in the enterprise if you were to follow a media model; how your enterprises might be organized differently; what kind of partners you might need to be bring in to help behave differently. Other roles Tom suggest the CMO of the future may need to take on included Chief Trend Spotter, Chief Content Officer or simply Chief Media Officer in addition to being a superb block-and-tackle marketer.

The evening was full of provocative discourse and gave everyone much to think about. We hope these two highlights stimulate your thinking as well.

Social Experiment – Part 2 – Your LinkedIN Profile

In our last newsletter, we talked about shifting your perspective from online to offline.

Professional services firm leaders are engaging Patricia Romboletti, Managing Director of Creative Growth Group and Creative Growth Talent, and a bona fide LinkedIN Guru, to share her custom program, “Six LinkedIN Steps to Professional Services Growth in 2011.”

Here, we provide you with a second tip from Patricia’s repository of social networking knowledge.

Your Profile – Showcasing Your Claim to Fame

Your LinkedIN profile has really become your personal Web site. It is the first place people go now to find out more about you.

I challenge you to read yours over and to answer the question---could most everyone else with my position say the same thing, or does this free and yet very valuable real estate showcase my “claim to fame” --- or to say it another way, does it tell what you are famous for?

If it doesn’t, then I urge you to schedule time each week to hone your profile until you can uniquely own it. Most important, make sure that when a client or prospect reads it, they know that you have a clear understanding of their problems/ issues/ concerns or needs and the results you can help them achieve.

And one more thing—be sure that after reading it, they conclude that you, among many other professionals, can do it better than anyone else.

Monday, March 14, 2011

2010 Community Involvement Award Winners Kathy Bremer and Charles Edwards

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Kathy Bremer and Charles Edwards
To get a sense for the impact that professional services firms have on any local community, all you have to do is look at the Board rosters of any major not-for-profit, institute of higher education and business association and you’ll see immediately that the leaders hail from professional services. Increasingly, Atlanta’s professional services firms are joining forces with their clients to increase their community impact. The Client Advisor Community Involvement Award recognizes one professional service firm and client pair for their joint efforts on behalf of the public good.

We were honored to have the 2010 Winners of the Community Involvement Award, Kathy Bremer, Managing Director of Boardwalk Consulting and Charles Edwards, President and CEO for the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency (ACSS) on our radio show.

ACSS resulted from the May 2010 merger of the Samaritan House of Atlanta and Atlanta Enterprise Center, two non-profits that had been helping Atlanta's homeless and near homeless achieve self sufficiency for more than 20 years. And as our guests explained, that merger resulted in their crossing paths.

As Kathy explained, her firm focuses fully on non-profit leadership, including board enrichment, executive search and non-profit strategy on a national basis. She noted, “as a non-profit, when you have the leadership piece right, you are going to be able to help more people.”

Charles took advantage of the opportunity to “brag on Kathy” in our interview, noting that her role in the success of the merger was “absolutely essential.” He explained that she served as the facilitator as the two merging organizations created the initial plan for ACSS, including accessing the target market that the organization would serve and identifying the imperatives for success of the merger----all through the lens of leadership.

Having fully defined the role, she began her search for a unique, entrepreneurial-minded visionary leader who could build something that did not previously exits. Charles Edwards was just such a leader.

As a seasoned business executive, he brought a fresh approach and a passion to fulfill the mission of ACSS. As Charles noted, “ACSS empowers homeless individuals to achieve economic self sufficiency and their ultimate potential to thrive in life.”

Charles explained that he was attracted to the role because he could see that it would allow him to make a major new impact on the Atlanta community by breaking the cycle of homelessness forever. The motto for ACSS: Inspire Hope and Make it Real—and that is exactly what he is doing.

His growth goals for the organization are ambitious—ACSS currently serves 500 individuals per year who are capable of achieving self-sufficiency. In the next 4 to 5 years, the goal is to grow that by a factor of 4X. Charles stressed the import role that professionals from firms throughout the Atlanta area will play in achieving that goal. As he noted, the professionals really get excited about figuring out how to grow the organization---and in turn—they realize personal growth as well.

Kathy and Charles stressed the need his organization and many others in Atlanta have for individuals from professional service firms. They also noted the benefits that those volunteers realize. And both stressed that you can start small----volunteer at a food bank, get on a committee----just get involved.

To learn more about how to get involved in non-profit service, to hear about the difference that you can make and the unique opportunities at ACSS, and to tap into Kathy’s expertise, we invite you to download the full interview.

Our guests:

Kathy Bremer, Managing Director, Boardwalk Consulting

Charles Edwards, CEO, Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency

Kathy Bremer has spent her entire career raising aspirations in corporate, nonprofit and community settings. She is known for her tenacious pursuit of excellence, whether on behalf of clients, colleagues or the larger community.

Kathy joined BoardWalk after eight years as Partner and Atlanta Managing Director with Porter Novelli, where she led a ten-fold growth in revenues and profits. Clients she served personally include such best-in-class organizations as the national offices of American Cancer Society and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Aflac, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta Women’s Foundation and Georgia-Pacific.

Prior to Porter Novelli, Kathy served from 1991 to 1998 as Senior Vice President of External Relations for CARE, one of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations.

Kathy’s commitment to the nonprofit sector is pervasive. She has chaired or served on over a dozen nonprofit boards. She recently completed a four-year term as board chair of the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, a thriving organization that is the statewide advocate for the nonprofit sector. She currently chairs the Board of CHRIS Kids and serves on the American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Cabinet and several nonprofit boards. Kathy is a frequent speaker on nonprofit and career issues, and a facilitator of strategic planning for numerous nonprofits.

Earlier in her career, Kathy was Senior Vice President at NW Ayer advertising. At Ayer and a prior agency, she headed accounts including Procter & Gamble, Minolta and the Ad Council. During a two-year stint in Tokyo, Kathy edited international corporate publications and wrote for Newsweek and NHK radio news. She authored several books for Japanese students of English and contributed two chapters to the book Discover Japan.

Charles R. Edwards
President and CEO

Charles R. Edwards became president and CEO of the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency (ACSS) upon its founding on May 1, 2010. Prior to ACSS, Charles served more than four years as assistant dean of corporate relations and assistant dean of development at Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Before his time in academia, Charles enjoyed working four years as chief marketing officer of the 1996 Paralympic Games and more than five years as an executive search consultant. He also helped lead a successful Internet infrastructure venture as co-CEO during a one-year sabbatical from his executive search practice. Charles launched his career with IBM, where he was an executive in sales and marketing for over 15 years. Academically, Charles earned a bachelor of science in Industrial Engineering and a master in business administration from the University of Michigan, and a master of science in Industrial Engineering from Wayne State University.