AAM Minute: Business Development News
By: Susan Tatum, founding partner, The Conversion Company
In years past, new business prospecting centered around the use of networking events, email and the phone to reach out to potential new clients. Today, cold emails are easily and often deleted, few business people actually answer their phones and in-person networking just isn’t enough.
Fortunately there’s another place to look. A place where buyers are more open to connecting with people they don’t already know — especially if that person can help them solve a problem. That place is online, in various communities known as social media. And, for accounting firms seeking to expand their business-to-business services, the most effective channel for connecting is LinkedIn.
Here are 7 tips, tested over time, that will accelerate your social prospecting efforts and put you in front of the people you want to meet.
One: Start by clearly defining your ideal client
New business prospecting – even for high value, highly complex accounting services – is a numbers game. The more qualified potential new clients you reach, the more new clients you’ll ultimately have. And the fewer unqualified people you waste time with, the more time you have for those qualified clients.
All business development professionals worthy of the title arm themselves with the basics — usually industry, size of company, geography and job titles. But taking the time to go a little further can allow you to weed out poor prospects long before you spend much time chasing them.
For example, are you looking for clients that operate internationally? Would certain strategic initiatives make a difference? How about the types of experience they have on staff?
Your ideal client definition should help you quickly and easily identify those with high potential as well as those you want to avoid.
Two: Know your best buyers
Once you’ve defined your best accounts, think about the decision makers. Start at a high level based on their job responsibilities. Are you trying to reach CFOs? Accounting VPs? As a group, what are their objectives and pain points? What problems are they trying to solve that you can help them with? If your firm’s marketing team has created buyer personas and value propositions, you’re in luck! You can use those.
As you identify specific buyers within your ideal client companies, you can use their LinkedIn profiles to get to know the individuals. These profiles can be a great source of info about their professional interests, accomplishments, job responsibilities and background. Armed with this info, you can tailor your outreach and messaging to engage faster and more frequently with your ideal prospects.
Three: Position yourself as a valued advisor
Few people today leap for joy at the chance to be sold to. In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual global study of how much we trust individuals, governments and corporations, has shown that 80 percent of buyers do not trust companies and their sales people. The good news is these same people do trust experts who provide value and help them solve or avoid problems.
To position yourself as a valued advisor, start with your LinkedIn profile. This is the modern business card. It’s often where potential new clients form their first impression of you. An incomplete profile and lack of activity can turn them off. Worse, it’s an easy jump to your competitors’ profiles.
If you followed the Linkedin wizard to create your profile, you probably have a very good online resume. It’s likely to appeal to recruiters and hiring managers, but it can easily turn off buyers. There are many online articles about building a great business development profile.
Four: Curate and publish useful content
You don’t have to be a writer to be a thought leader. In fact, the fastest path to establishing credibility on social is carefully selecting, sharing and adding value to content that is already out there. This includes original content produced by your firm and — equally important for credibility — content published by trusted third parties.
As you look for content to share, remember your audience. Who are your ideal buyers? What do they care about? You can simplify your search for content by setting up free/low cost applications such as Google Alerts or Feedly to find content for you.
You’ll use this content in two ways: 1) publishing regular status updates and 2) sending one-to-one messages or InMails.
Five: Build your personal network
Your personal LinkedIn network is made up of people you are connected to directly or indirectly (i.e., people your first degree connections are connected to). This network provides you three important benefits: access to other LinkedIn members, increased visibility of your status updates and credibility.
- LinkedIn does not allow everyone to find and potentially communicate with all 550+ million members, which when you think about it is probably a good thing. Instead it provides access based on your current connections and their connections. The more prospects you are connected to, the more you’ll be able to see.
- Visibility – Exposure. Just as more connections means access to more members, it also means more people will potentially see you and your LinkedIn activity. Each time you post a status update, LinkedIn includes that update in the news feeds of your connections and other people it thinks will find the content relevant.
- “You are known by the company you keep” has been said, in one way or another, by so many people that the exact origin doesn’t show up on a Google search. Regardless of where it started, its meaning survives on social, where your “personal brand” can be highly influenced by who you are connected to.
Six: Prove your value before asking for a meeting
To use a well-worn analogy, getting a new client requires some dating before you propose marriage. You must give your prospect a reason to want to meet with you; and that reason must be important to them — not to you.
When you’re outbound prospecting, on average only 3 percent of the people you contact are actively looking for what you’re providing. Another 7 percent are open to hearing about what you have to offer and 30 percent know they don’t want it. The majority – 60 percent – either don’t know they need what you have or they aren’t sure how your offering is relevant to them, according to the book Predictable Prospecting. You’re going to have to educate them.
Paving the road with valuable content and non-salesy messages gives prospects a chance to get to know, like and trust you. They’ll be much more receptive to a meeting suggestion once that happens.
Seven: Give it time
Overall, the average number of touches required to secure a meeting has been getting higher and higher year after year while the number of attempts sales and BD people are willing to make doesn’t go up. The most successful business development pros don’t stop after one or two attempts.
Sounds like a good opportunity, doesn’t it?