It can take a while to win work and get that all important "yes" from clients. Anything from a few weeks, a few months or even up to a year or more is entirely normal. So how do you encourage prospective clients to buy from you? What makes them take that final step and appoint you as their adviser?
Assuming for a moment that you've decided which clients you really want to work with and that they will fit in with your vision of the future, then it's all about two things: building a relationship and building their motivation to buy from you.
Easy as 1-2-3
We've all experienced sales people who we wouldn't buy from in a month of Sundays. I had a call recently from a utilities company who wanted to sell me a monthly plan to cover repair costs for our boiler and heating. It might have been a great offer, but the only trouble was that they wanted me to make a decision there and then on the phone, and they wouldn't even send me some written information so that I could look at the options and decide in my own time. I couldn't even confirm they were who they said they were. I would have been amazed if their selling techniques were successful not least since they had done nothing to find out what would make me actually purchase this plan.
Whilst professionals need to win new business, no-one would feel comfortable with this kind of manipulative, pressure selling. A better way to develop business effectively is to ‘build the motivation to buy'. There are three aspects to this:
1. Building - it takes time, it's a gradual process so be prepared to invest in a relationship
2. Buy - the client buys from you; you are not selling to them
3. Motivation - the energy and decision comes from the client
Winning business involves a number of steps which you take with the client. To successfully arrive at the end of this journey, together, you need to climb at the same pace - and because of this, any kind of pushing or coercion is inappropriate.
This journey involves, at the outset, making yourself known to them through carefully thought-through and targeted marketing (what issues do they face about which you have something to say?) and carries on through a first and hopefully subsequent meetings, and possibly a proposal or more formal tender. The final step is when that prospect gives you work.
The timescale for the journey is set by the client, however much you'd like to win their business this quarter. And that's why it can take weeks or months to complete the journey and get that positive decision. It all depends what's happening in their business and when the time is right for them to buy your solution. A decision could happen quickly - and sometimes does; the point is that you need to go at a pace that is right for the client: not too quickly which would hurry them before they are ready, nor too slowly which might mean you miss the opportunity.
Before they buy, however, and to help you build that relationship so that they are more likely to come to you, you need two things. The first is a really good understanding of your potential client and why they would buy and the second is trust.
Everyone - you and the client - is motivated by both needs (the must haves, the more rational things which are easy to explain) and wants (the nice to haves, the emotional ‘desires'). We might not be conscious of the motivations that lie beneath the surface, and we are often not as articulate about them, but they are there behind each and everything we buy.
To really understand a prospective client, you need to find out what those motivations are - both needs and wants - and the best way of doing this is through research and, when you meet them, by asking them the right questions.
In order for them to open up to you and share ‘what lies beneath', they need to be able to trust you, which brings me to the second part of building a successful relationship.
Trust is made up of several components and you'll recognise this from your own experience as a professional adviser:
1. Credibility - confidence, being honest and delivering as promised on even the smallest thing.
2. Competence - not only being knowledgeable and having the right expertise and track record, but asking insightful questions so that the client can see you know what you're talking about.
3. Compatability - certainly being able to ‘click' with the client is important, but equally valuable is showing your human side and that you are genuinely interested in them.
4. Consistency - and finally being credible, competent and compatible to different people consistently over time.
If you can demonstrate these four traits, you stand a good chance of being viewed as a ‘trusted adviser' and prospective clients are more likely to open up and tell you more about them and their business, what's happening in their world and the reasons behind their decisions.
From that information, you will be able to tell what will meet their needs/wants and when the right time might be to demonstrate what you know and what you have to offer, tailored to their current situation.
So what about the 8 years? I've been with my husband for twenty years, but it took him 8 of those years to propose. In fact, I had already asked him to marry me - twice. At those points, I was asking him to move too quickly in the relationship, before he was ready. So after 8 years he finally proposed to me and I said "yes". Although there are plenty of examples of whirlwind romances, this wasn't one of them, but like all good relationships, it was definitely worth the patience and the investment!
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