I began my last post remembering audience attendees from a conference back in 2009, and the pervasive anxiety that so many had back then (at the beginning of the great recession) with “what to say to clients, when you don’t know what to say.” With so much change and uncertainty in that moment, few professionals had any idea of where we were or where we were headed – and thus not many answers. Today, well, here we are again – uncertainty, volatility, change, disruption.
My thesis (then and now) is simple: it’s less about saying the right thing, and more about saying something. Showing up. Being there. Caring.
I ended this last letter with some specific suggestions for business development, first in the sales phase of the effort (prospects to projects), and then in the project execution phase (projects to clients). Today I’ll finish this thread with some additional actions for you to consider in the remaining two phases: client management (clients to new leads) and general marketing (leads to prospects).
Here again is our diagram of the Business Development Diamond, to help show how things all fit together:
With Inactive Clients (Relationships):
You have bunches of clients, colleagues, and other connections you’ve enjoyed in the past, but that aren’t hot right now. This is normal, the natural ebb and flow of business, and almost none of us keep up with these like we’d want. But unfortunately, as time flies, these warm relationships become less so, then cooler, then cold. Now what? How do I rekindle? How do we start? What can I say? Will my motives be questioned? Are my motives really altruistic, or simply selfish?
Well, here’s the magic answer: just go. Start. Pick up the phone, or send the message. Go first. Add value. Expect nothing. And remember always that the worst thing that can happen is nothing – which is about where you are right now. No worse for trying.
A couple of thoughts here concerning how: first, get more people involved. Many hands make lighter work. It’s one thing to try to call twenty-five former clients (along with everything else you’ve got to do). Dividing up the work so that we’re all just calling five makes much more sense. And, so important, remember that the only thing you’re ‘selling’ here is a conversation – what’s up, what’s working (or not), what’s next. Just selling aconversation.
Second, think primary research. Instead of a bunch of you charging out in a dozen directions, spend a little time first talking about questions – and what sort of information we’d like to get. What feedback, input, or knowledge does the firm need – what would most help you to move forward, adjusting and adapting to the road ahead? The goal here is a list of 5-10 key questions to use as a loose guide for more focused, targeted conversations.
Then, after you’ve spoken to a number of these client contacts – you’ll have both rekindled relationships that may further develop, and you’ll have some real, data-driven insights into the business today to use in your messaging – demonstrating your ‘hand on the pulse’ of the markets you serve.
With the Market (Marketing):
Marketing is one of the most misused terms in professional services today. About 80% of the time our ‘marketing’ work boils down to chasing already identified opportunities (proposals, presentations, scope negotiations). That’s sales. And even in our bona fide marketing efforts (like working a trade show) we manage our expectations poorly (did ya win any work)? Fundamentally, marketing is about creating awareness and building demand. Setting up the conditions that lead to prospects, sales, and projects. Not just catching fish, but fishing. To do this means reaching out for those who don’t yet know you well – new leads, new connections, new possibilities.
And that research we mentioned above might come in handy here. Converting market intelligence – in part from client discussions – into value-focused messages is worth doing. Imagine titles like ‘What Clients Say Today About the Future of Business,’ or ‘How Design Will Change Most in a Post-Pandemic World,’ or ‘Everything You Thought You Knew About Construction Management is Wrong …’. I’d read all of those. This is the stuff of content marketing, permission marketing, pull marketing. So, go.
Now might also be a good time for initiating those marketing projects you’ve put off for months or years (because you were so busy that you didn’t have any time to market). Now you do. Remember though that great marketing campaigns still take time and effort to succeed – planting seeds, leading to conversations, and then to trust, and then to opportunity. Perhaps this is the time to (finally) reach out for those other seven regional hospital groups, or the big five commercial developers in town, or the top twenty industrial firms with large environmental spends … (I know you have these lists, right)? What would we say to them, right now, today? Why might they want to connect with us? How do we start? A marketing campaign.
Over the last several years (before Coronavirus messed with everything) I have had conversations with many, many professionals – partners, principals, and project managers – who share a common lament about the hyper-competition of business. Where pre-bid meetings once might have attracted a handful, now there are 11 representatives (or 14) – including even some of the big guys. Sound familiar?
OK, so now imagine today (sticking with the pre-bid metaphor) that the client has called a similar sort of meeting – but nobody else shows up. [Please see this picture explicitly: your client is there, in the conference room, and no one else but she is there].
Now picture, instead, that the client is there, in the room – and so are you. Get it?
In a crazy, topsy-turvy moment like this, when you can’t figure out what end is up, and you don’t know exactly what to say to clients that will help – then just show up and say that. Take action, lean in, do something. There are many activities you can pursue that may be appropriate and valuable – across all dimensions of the business development system.
The trick is simply to do. To get going. To move out. “Now, go do, that voodoo, that you do, so well …”