By Bruce Katcher, Ph.D.
Most professional service providers will tell you that their first clients were people they had worked with in the past who already had confidence in their skills and abilities. Many will also tell you that trying to sell to people they didn't know was much more difficult.
The trick is to use the trust you have achieved with your clients to help you quickly establish credibility with new clients.
Here are seven techniques for leveraging the faith that your clients have in you to land new business.
1) GET INTRODUCTIONS AND REFERRALS
Here's an easy question. Which do you think would be more effective -- making a cold call to a prospect, or having a satisfied client recommend you? Of course, it's the latter.
Asking clients to introduce and refer you to new prospects is not easy. But it is important to ASK. If they are truly satisfied with the work you have performed for them, they will be happy to give you introductions and referrals. Make sure they know what type of people and organizations you want to do business with, and what types of problems you can help clients solve.
There are four possible ways that they can refer you:
a) Cold - They can just tell you someone they think you should contact even though they don't know that individual personally. This is a difficult lead to turn into business because you can't use your client's name when you call.
b) Warm - Your client can suggest someone for you to call and give you permission to use their name.
c) Hot - Your client can call ahead to the prospect to tell them about you and say you will be calling them.
d) Scalding - Your client could offer to go to lunch with you and the prospect to make a formal introduction.
Here's what I do.
I tell my clients that if they are satisfied with my services, I would greatly appreciate referrals to others who might be interested in conducting a similar project. I even sometimes insert a few paragraphs about this in my proposals.
2) DEVELOP A REFERENCE LIST
Ask your clients if they would be agreeable to serve as a reference. Then, insert a list of these clients and their contact information in your new business proposal. Also include what type of work you performed for this client.
The more references you have the better. That way, you can use the most appropriate client names for each proposal. For example, if you are proposing to do some work for a hospital, providing references from other hospitals is much more valuable than providing references from other industry sectors.
Here's what I do.
At the end of each project, I ask my clients if they would be willing to serve as a reference. I then tell them that any time I use their name I will let them know. The reason I say this is not to ask permission each time, but to give me a chance to brief the client on the opportunity I am pursuing and who might call them. This way they will know how to put me in the most favorable light. More importantly, they will be much more likely to return the call of my prospect. Also, if they are in the same industry sector, they may even know the prospect.
If I land the business, I also make a point of thanking the clients who provided the references.
3) GATHER TESTIMONIALS
Testimonials are extremely powerful. Here are a few from my Employee Opinion Survey clients:
“Discovery Surveys has conducted several employee surveys for our organization. They have been very flexible and responsive to our needs. We were particularly pleased with their creative solutions for communicating the results to employees, and the quality of their suggestions for addressing the issues identified via the survey."
Michael N. Piergrossi
Vice President of Human Resources and Organizational Development
“Although it is a small firm, Discovery Surveys shows remarkable flexibility, innovation, care for customers, and ability to meet tight deadlines. The consulting help in communicating results to management and employees has been exceptional. I'll continue to use the Discovery Surveys for any employee survey work - focus groups to paper and pencil or Internet. "
The Late Frances Gallitano
Vice President of Human Resources
Delta Dental Plan of Massachusetts
Here are two I recently received (after politely asking for them) from consulting colleagues for whom I recently provided mentoring services:
Bruce is a natural marketer for professionals. When my consulting business was having the lull most firms in our industry were experiencing last year, Bruce met with me for an hour over lunch and helped me turn it all around. He asked me tough questions, offered innovative strategies, and really helped me move forward.
Lew Stern, Ph.D.
Executive Coaching and organization Development Consulting
Even with very little prior knowledge of our industry, Bruce was able to suggest a breakthrough pricing strategy and fresh marketing ideas for our business.
Fifi Ball and Sally Brickell
If you haven't done this already, this is a MUST. Simply call or email your satisfied clients and ask them if they could put together a few sentences or a paragraph that you can use in your marketing activities. You will probably be pleasantly surprised when they write a more flattering testimonial than you could write if you tried to do it yourself.
Here's what I do.
I gather testimonials after every completed project and speech. I have put together several one-page listings of these testimonials -- one for my employee survey work, one for my customer satisfaction survey work, one for my consulting mentoring work, and another for my speaking services. I insert these in my proposals and on my web site.
4) CONDUCT JOINT ACTIVITIES
Recall that the goal is to transfer the credibility of your clients and their trust in you to your prospects. Another way to do this is to write professional papers jointly with your client or deliver a speech with your client. In this way, the credibility of your client's organization is transferred to you.
Here's what I did.
I conducted an employee opinion survey for an HMO. I then ran across a call for speech proposals from the national professional associations for HMOs. I contacted my client and asked her if she would be interested in jointly presenting a case study of the project and how it was helpful to her organization. She agreed. The program committee of the association loved the idea. We both got a free trip to Orlando and I was able to leave a favorable impression with many prospects. A win-win for all involved.
5) NAME DROP
I know that name-dropping has a negative connotation, but done properly it can really help your business. Use your clients' names on your web site, in your proposals, in your advertising, and in your speeches. Without permission, of course, it would be unethical to talk about exactly what you did for these clients and what results you achieved. But, I believe that their names and their positive impression are fair game.
Here's what I do.
When I speak at professional meetings, I write the introduction and bring it to the event. This introduction includes some of my larger clients like Alcoa, Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, Timberland, and W.R. Grace. Sounds impressive, doesn't it? Just dropping their names gives me instant credibility. You can do this too.
6) DEVELOP A "KEEP-IN-TOUCH" SYSTEM
If clients are going to keep on introducing, recommending and referring you to prospects, you've got to stay in their minds even well after you have completed your work with them. You don't want them to forget about you.
You can remain visible to them in a number of ways. Send them articles, call them periodically, attend the same professional meetings they attend, tell them when you are going to be speaking, and send them holiday cards.
You might also want to consider creating a spreadsheet with client names as rows, and months as columns. In each cell enter how you touched the client (i.e. meeting, email, letter, or phone call). This can help you make sure that you are regularly keeping in touch with your past clients.
Here's what I do.
One of my major methods of marketing is using ezines. I publish "Improving the Workplace" monthly and I publish this ezine every other month. Why? It helps me to stay in the minds of my network (i.e. clients, prospects, friends, relatives, and colleagues). Only good things can happen when people remember you.
7) CONDUCT AN ENDORSEMENT CAMPAIGN
This is a very powerful direct mail technique for transferring the credibility of your clients and their respect for you to prospects. Here are the basics. Write a promotional letter touting the value you brought to one of your clients. Then have that client sign the letter and send it to your prospects on their letterhead. Last, follow-up with a letter or telephone call.
An excellent tape is available on this approach from my colleague Bob Martel. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your best chance of landing new business is when one of your clients greases the skids for you. You need them to transfer their credibility and their respect for you to others.
This, however, is not something you can leave to chance. You need to proactively keep in the minds of your clients and ask for introductions, referrals, references, testimonials and endorsements.
About the author
Bruce Katcher, Ph.D. is president of The Discovery Consulting Group, Inc. He helps organizations reduce employee turnover and improve employee morale. He conducts employee and customer surveys and also provides individual and group coaching to solo practitioners and small professional services businesses to help them grow.
He is author of the award winning book "30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers: What Your Employees May Be Thinking and What You Can Do About It," published by AMACOM. His next book, "Starting and Growing an Independent Consulting Practice" will be published by AMACOM in 2009.
He can be reached at BKatcher@DiscoveryConsultingGroup.com/a> or 781-784-4367.