Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Paradox Marketing for Professionals

If successful client development is just common sense, then how come it is so uncommon for professionals to market successfully? Why is it so hard for professionals to get a handle on client development? One reason may be that client development in professional service firms is fraught with paradoxes:

Paradox #1: Firm and Individual - Professionals work in Firms and that demands an institutional or team level of support for marketing. Yet the work that most professionals execute and the client development process itself are inherently individual efforts. Clients buy you, not just the firm, and they expect you to deliver.

Paradox #2: Urgency and Trust – We need a constant flow of new work and this requires us to market with a sense of urgency and at the same time we must establish trust with our prospective clients and rushing relationships is a great way to contaminate trust.

Paradox #3: Billable Time and Marketing Time – You have to book billable hours and you need to spend the time necessary to execute your work at the highest level of professionalism and you must also spend the time it takes to develop new business. Don’t worry; there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.

Paradox #4: Accumulating and Letting Go - You need all the referrals and prospects you can get, and you don’t need any. (To be explained shortly – read on…)

As part of our client development strategy and coaching activities, Creative Growth Group regularly helps professionals wrestle these paradoxes to the ground. Moving into 2008, it is the Letting Go paradox that has come up most frequently with our clients.

Paradox #4: Accumulating and Letting Go - You need all the referrals and prospects you can get, and you don’t need any.

A cautionary tale
He circled the conference table like a hungry Bengal tiger; hair slicked back like Gordon Gekko; eyes wild. “If you can’t convert at least one of your clients to a $1.2 million contract – full page, four color ad in every issue of our magazine – twelve times a year, I’ll find other salespeople who can,” he bellowed. Papers rustled on the mahogany table; a chill went through the room. The death eater at our throats published a nationally acclaimed consumer magazine – one page of advertising in one issue cost a marketer $100,000. Convincing companies to spend that much money each month just for this singular publication might mean capturing their entire ad budget– convincing them that our one publication would suffice to solely carry their company’s message to potential buyers was ballsy to say the least. “You are all replaceable,” the inflamed Publisher continued, “You need to sell like your lives depend on it. Because, at least, your livelihoods will.”

I was twenty-three years old when I sat in that Manhattan conference room, quivering at the command. That night, I returned to Atlanta to carry out my orders and I knew who I must contact in the morning: the only company, in fact, that I thought could stomach spending $1.2 million to advertise in one publication. At the time, the business I had in mind spent nearly $250,000 – not a paltry sum then or now - with our company each year and was my largest client. Now I would ask them to spend everything they had with me.

The meeting took just fifteen minutes. I sold like my life depended on it; I persuaded; pushed; asserted; cajoled; pleaded…until I was physically thrown out of my client’s office. Never to return again. No $1.2 million. No more $250,000.

You need all the referrals and prospects you can get
To some degree client development in professional services is a numbers game. The more credible referrals and on-target prospects you have, the more likely that a client engagement will emerge at any given time. Everyone you connect with in some way may be of help to you professionally. You just never know who knows who and how your encounter with them may boomerang to benefit or bite you. So, each conversation you have matters – each one carries high potential.

You don’t need any
At the same time, when we approach any given contact with the sense that our jobs depend on successfully “closing” an engagement with them, we are apt to behave in a way that destroys trust. Somehow, our anxiety about the situation will surface directly or subtly and our discussion will shift for the worse. You position yourself opposite your prospective client; convincing them to buy something they may not need rather than sitting on the same side of the table with them – working together to solve their business issues.

Instead, imagine (whether or not it may be true) that it really doesn’t matter whether or not this one project comes through. You’ve got plenty to keep you going. If it isn’t this one, it will be the next. It’s OK. Not mission critical. No big deal. If, in fact, any one potential engagement is going to make or break you or your firm, it is time to find another firm or another profession. “You don’t need any,” means entering each encounter with the underlying sense that this one discussion isn’t so desperately essential. It means focusing the attention not on the winning or losing of the “sale” but rather on being a great client advisor. Then several good things happen: 1) You align yourself appropriately with the potential client; 2) You demonstrate your capabilities – in a non-commercial way, you show how much different and better it is to work with you; 3) You put yourself in a mode in which you are more comfortable and your mind is taken off the urgent need to “close” the deal; and 4) You are much, much less likely to be bodily tossed out of an office.

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