Traditionally, small businesses have adopted many ways of getting clients: advertising (whether print, posters, radio), cold calling, direct mail, and networking among others. All of these techniques will generate leads. But in each case, the questions to be answered are:
Sinking money and other resources into one form of getting clients inevitably withholds it from others. So, at issue is not just the absolute quantity of resources needed to generate leads by a certain method, but the loss of opportunity to do it in some other way. Cost per lead is a good measure in many respects. But it’s also necessary to consider quality of leads.
A ‘good’ lead is one which not only is likely to turn into a prospective client (prospect) and then into a client, but also one where the eventual client is good for the business. One that will assist in furthering the business by developing a desired market sector, stretches the people in it by developing new skills or just one that pays up on time.
Poor leads can bring a relatively large amount of trouble and possibly not bring in the income that a more select set can.
A client is someone or an organisation for which you do work and for which (usually) you are paid.
A prospect is a prospective client, ie someone who you know is likely to become a client (because you have done the legwork in terms of meetings, conversations, possibly proposals and bids and so on). They haven’t actually signed the contract yet.
A lead is someone who had been mentioned to you (or whom you have contacted, eg by cold calling) who may become a prospect.
If Kay suggests to Fred Bloggs that he contacts you to discuss his becoming a client of yours, then she is referring him to you. Sometimes, colloquially, people get this the wrong way round. But think of it terms of your GP referring you to a specialist (the GP is not referring the specialist to you).
Fred Bloggs might trust Kay so implicitly that she only has to mention someone’s name to him and that constitutes a recommendation in his eyes. However most of the time, the person doing the referral has to talk to the person being referred (Fred) and, in that conversation, the referrer is advocating you.
Word of mouth is used loosely for advocacy. Of course emails, letters, social media and so on could be used as well as face to face speech. There is a sense, though, in which word of mouth is unfocussed and just “put out there”, as in a tweet.
Most businesses will get clients from several sources. This course addresses one of those routes: referral by an advocate. The advocate can be a businessperson that has been groomed for the job or it can be a client.
There is an old adage:
people buy from people.
Whilst it’s true that people increasingly buy ‘things’ online (just a reinvented form of mail order), few people buy professional services on line without a discussion, often a face to face discussion, with someone representing the business which hopes to supply them. And, when it comes to higher value goods, many people will want to buy from a real person.
So, while it is probably not worth throwing the baby out with the bath water and abandoning all other means of getting clients, equally, one should not avoid looking at how businesses get clients from referral (or word of mouth as it is often called).
Many businesses use cold calling as their method of getting to talk to prospects. On the face of it, it is a plausible technique.
It provides an opportunity to meet the need of the seller to explore with the receiver of the call what the latter might need (an opportunity not always taken, alas). And, of course, depending on what the caller is aiming to get from the call, it can be sufficiently brief and discreet that the main conversation with the potential prospect is had later under better circumstances.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to do cold calling well and risks the person being called feeling imposed on.
One of the emotionally intelligent principles of networking is to:
attract people to you rather than push yourself on them.
(Of course, this applies to getting clients as well.) The problem with cold calling is that it cannot help but be interpreted as pushing. It is an unasked for, unexpected interruption in the recipient’s day. Pushing creates resistance which wasn’t there before the pushing started. The key point is that it doesn’t matter whether the caller believes he or she is or is not pushing. If the receiver thinks so, then pushing is what’s going on.
So, cold calling has its place, but it is hard to think of any circumstances when it is more appropriate (because more cost-effective and generating better leads) than generating leads through referral.
Most businesses get some of their clients through word of mouth, or referral. Arguably, there is something amiss if clients aren’t sufficiently enthusiastic about what you do for them that they wouldn’t mention you, sooner or later, to their contacts. This applies as much to funeral directors and plumbers as it does to accountants and IT developers.
Most businesses would like to get more clients by this route. After all, what better scenario than to have the phone ring and someone you don’t know say “My friend Kay suggested I call you as I understand you’re very good at providing X and that’s what I need some of”?
The reason why most businesses get less work by word of mouth than they would like is that they don’t have a systematic process for bringing it about.
A business person’s advocacy of another business person is almost always haphazard, unplanned, unfocussed, possibly inaccurate and reactive (amongst other unhelpful things). So, whilst useful, and we should be grateful for it, it isn’t as useful as it could be.
A properly set up advocacy relationship can be planned, targetted, predictable, focussed (in terms of recipient of the message and message itself) and proactive.
However it takes time to set up advocacy relationships properly, and it takes considerable care when choosing with whom to set up the relationship.
Plenty about these techniques here: Networking guide
Of course, an essential component of an advocacy relationship is that, if you are receiving from the advocate, you need to be giving to them at least as much. Often they will want you to advocate them though, sometimes, other rewards are possible. For example financial businesses are often used to paying for good leads (or leads that become clients) and, whilst this isn’t entirely satisfactory from an emotional intelligence perspective, if it works, go for it.
Although not explicitly covered in this course, informal joint ventures are an excellent way of partnering with other businesses to get work. For example a Health and Safety specialist might work with an HR consultant – each can not only readily identify clients of the other, but there is the opportunity to develop and market a joint product which relies on the expertise of both parties.
The techniques needed to identify suitable informal joint venture partners are the same as for advocacy partners.
by Jeremy Marchant . © 2011 Jeremy Marchant Limited . uploaded 6 february 2016. image: Free images
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