Friday, October 2, 2009

The Three R's of Professional Services Marketing

C.J. Hayden is a marketing expert whose advice often applies to salespeople who do their own lead generation. That's why I found this article so interesting - you may not be in marketing, but a marketing viewpoint when it comes to leads never hurts!

Hayden suggests you incorporate into your back-to-business agenda the back-to-basics curriculum of the Three R's of professional services marketing: relationship, referral, and reach.

#1: Relationship

The cornerstone of every independent professional's marketing strategy should be relationship-building. If a marketing tactic you're considering contributes to stronger relationships between you and your prospects, it's worthy of your attention. If it doesn't, think twice before using it, and certainly don't rely on it.

Marketing that leads to better relationships includes activities like lunch and coffee dates, giving educational talks, and personal exchanges via phone, email, or social networking. Marketing that rarely leads to - better relationships - and can sometimes damage them - includes phone calls, letters, and emails with over-the-top hype for your services, anonymous online ads, and besieging your social networking contacts with promotional announcements.

Don't be misled by advice pushing the flavor of the week in marketing. If a new tactic suggested to you isn't relationship-oriented, it probably isn't worth your time.

#2: Referral

Prospects who come to you by way of a referral are more likely to become clients than those who you connect with in almost any other way. They have often already decided to work with you when you hear from them, and are less likely to question your rates or your expertise.

Generating more referrals, then, should be an essential component of your marketing. Instead of expending all your effort on filling the pipeline with unknown prospects and making cold approaches, spend more time cultivating relationships with likely referral sources.

Many professionals mistakenly believe that if they simply provide good service to their clients, the referrals that naturally result will be enough. But this is rarely the case. The best referrals often come from people who have never been your clients - members of your trade association or networking group, other professionals who serve your market, and centers of influence in your community. Time spent getting to know these folks better can be much more productive than approaching strangers.

#3: Reach


Clients don't appear just because you are there waiting for them. You have to reach out. In marketing, reach takes many different forms - for example, you reaching out to people you already know to build better relationships, you reaching out to new potential referral sources, and you reaching outside your comfort zone to have personal interactions with prospects.

The point is that you do have to reach out rather than simply wait and react, even though outreach is often more uncomfortable. It's tempting to rely on build-it-and-they-will-come marketing like websites consisting solely of sales letters, or online "networking" platforms populated by people you don't even know, or classified ads, or directory listings. And there are plenty of vendors doing their own outreach to sell you on these approaches so you don't even have to go looking for them.

But if it was really that easy to get clients - just launch a website, say, or buy an ad, and you'll have all the clients you need - why haven't all the folks selling you these strategies retired to tropical islands by now?

As far as marketing tactics go, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So get back to basics with your marketing this fall. Build relationships, cultivate referrals, and reach out proactively to prospects and referral sources rather than waiting for them to find you. With the Three R's as your guide, you'll have everything you need to go to the head of the class.

C.J. Hayden is the author of Get Clients Now! Thousands of business owners and independent professionals have used her simple sales and marketing system to double or triple their income. For more information, please visit www.GetClientsNow.com

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Friday, July 10, 2009

If You Dread Follow-Up Calls, So Will Your Prospects

When marketing expert C.J. Hayden first started her business she was uncomfortable making follow-up calls, like many people. After all, you're basically saying, "So are you going to hire me?" and that can be an uncomfortable question for everyone involved. Hayden thought up a different approach to follow-up calls that made her and her clients feel comfortable. Read on for her tips!

"When I first started marketing my own business, one of the first things I noticed was how difficult it was for me to call people and ask if they were ready to hire me," says Hayden. "But I'm no recluse; I enjoy interacting with people. In fact, I even enjoy talking on the phone. So what was it about these particular calls I found so distasteful?"

Being the analytical sort, I decided to identify exactly what it was about these calls that I disliked and avoided. Here are the elements I identified:

1. Asking for a sale or referral.
2. Calling just to "say hello."
3. Making small talk about generic topics.
4. Fearing rejection.
5. Telling people how great I was.
6. Calling back someone who had already said no.
7. Feeling as if my call was an imposition.

"Reviewing this list, it seemed to me that the secret to enjoyable follow-up (that would actually get done) was to eliminate these elements that I didn't like and replace them with ones I did," continues Hayden. "This reverse engineering didn't happen overnight, but over time, I began to find more and more ways to follow up agreeably. Here are the alternative approaches I discovered to make follow-up a pleasure instead of a chore."

1. Offering something instead of asking for anything. Like many professional service providers, giving advice, making connections, and sharing resources comes naturally to me. Instead of focusing on what I wanted to get from the person I was calling, I switched my emphasis to what I could give them.

2. Calling with a specific, helpful purpose. I've had many salespeople call me just to "stay in touch," and it always feels like a waste of my time. Instead of calling people just to chat, I would call to invite them to a networking event, introduce them to a new contact, or let them know about a book, article, or workshop they might find valuable.

3. Having meaningful conversations about what's going on in peoples' lives. Making small talk about weather, sports, or entertainment news has never been one of my favorite pastimes. But hearing what's
going on in someone's life, career, or business fascinates me. Those were the topics I began introducing in my follow-up calls.

4. Avoiding rejection by staying away from selling. Phoning someone to ask whether they're ready to hire me feels awkward and pushy, and I'm sure my prospects often feel the same. I'd much rather help people than sell to them. Unless I was calling someone to follow up on a specific deal already in progress, I stopped asking for business and focused on having helpful, meaningful exchanges.

5. Telling people how great my clients were. While talking myself up feels uncomfortable, talking about my clients' successes comes easily. I began describing my work by sharing my clients' accomplishments instead of my own (honoring client confidentiality, of course). These success stories turned out to be much more effective than simply telling prospects what I could do.

6. Letting go of sales that were too hard to close. It's important to be persistent and follow up multiple times with prospects who don't respond or say they're not ready, but calling back someone who has actually said no can be pretty confronting. I realized that if I had a long enough follow-up list, I didn't really need to call those prospects at all. I could spend my time instead with people who were more likely to be interested.

7. Designing a call that anyone would welcome. If making a call just to push for business isn't a good experience for me OR to the person I'm calling, why make it? I'd much rather spend my time having conversations both sides can enjoy. I discovered that if I contacted people in a spirit of friendliness and generosity, instead of acting like a salesperson, plenty of sales and referrals resulted without asking for them directly.

"Now, I'm not talking about using these principles as a way to avoid answering direct questions or provide needed clarity, when those are called for," says Hayden. "If prospects ask about your ability to do the job, by all means, you should tell them about your skills and experience. If you've submitted a proposal, and are waiting for the prospect to tell you whether he or she has accepted it, asking whether you got the order is completely appropriate and usually necessary."

"But what I am suggesting is that you can design much more pleasurable, helpful, and relationship-oriented reasons to pick up the phone and call your prospects and referral sources, just once or many times throughout the year. And THAT can transform making follow-up calls from a dreaded task into a welcome activity -- for both you and the people you call."

C.J. Hayden is the author of Get Clients Now! Thousands of business owners and independent professionals have used her simple sales and marketing system to double or triple their income. For more information, please visit www.GetClientsNow.com

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is This a Bad Time to Market?

The holiday season plus economic downturn does not equal many happy salespeople. The time of the year that is usually the slowest has been hit even harder - so what should you do to increase your business in this difficult time? Business coach C.J. Hayden says, "Professionals who have built successful long-term businesses have learned that continuing to market pays off in both the best of times and the worst of times. Here are six suggestions for how to keep your marketing up when the overall business climate is down."

1. Turn up the volume.
When people are distracted by bad news, economic concerns, or holiday plans, you may need to communicate more often or more visibly. Where an email might have done the job before, now you may need to pick up the phone or send a postcard. Instead of just one follow-up call, you may need to make two or three. If your business is slowing down, make use of the extra time you have available to ramp up all your marketing efforts.

2. Become a necessity.
When clients are cutting back on discretionary spending, they need to perceive your services as essential. Look for ways to "dollarize" the value of your services. How can you help your clients save money, cut expenses, or work more efficiently? Will your services help them gain more customers, increase their income, or experience less stress in tough times? Tell your prospects exactly why they need you, and why they shouldn't wait to get started.

3. Make use of your existing network.
It's always easier to get your foot in the door when someone is holding it open. In a slow market, referrals and introductions can be the key to getting new business. Seek out opportunities to propose repeat business with former clients, too. Uncertain times encourage more reliance on trusted sources and known quantities, so warm approaches and existing contacts will pay off better than cold calls or mass mailings.

4. Explore partnerships.

Working with a partner can create more opportunities for both of you. By sharing contacts, you each increase the size of your network. Together, you can multiply your marketing efforts and share expenses. A partner with a complementary business can allow you to offer a more complete solution than your competitors can. A photographer could team up with a graphic designer, for example.

5. Meet people where they are.
In a down economy and at holiday time, prospects are even more price sensitive than usual. Instead of slashing your rates to get their business, propose a get-acquainted offer. A professional organizer or image consultant could offer a reduced price half-day package for new clients. A management consultant or executive coach could propose a staff seminar instead of consulting/coaching work. Once clients see you in action, they'll be more willing to spend.

6. Find the silver linings.

When companies cut back on staff, opportunities are created. With fewer people on the payroll to handle essential tasks, downsized organizations present possibilities for project work, interim assignments, and outsourced functions. Economic changes beget other needs. People who are out of work need resume writers and career coaches. Folks concerned about their finances need investment advisors and financial planners.

"Landing clients during a down period requires not just more marketing, but more strategic marketing," says Hayden. "So instead of getting depressed by the news, get inspired by it. When you hear about coming layoffs, consider how your services could benefit those companies. When you read about negative consumer attitudes, use those words to better target your marketing copy. When prospects say, "not this year," craft a proposal that ensures your place in their 2009 budget. For the successful independent professional, there's no such thing as a bad time to market."

C.J. Hayden, MCC, is a business coach who teaches people to make a better living doing what they love. Her company, Wings Business Coaching, specializes in working with business owners, self-employed professionals, and people in marketing and sales. Learn more at www.getclientsnow.com

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Eliminating the Sleaze Factor in Sales

In her 15-plus years teaching entrepreneurs about sales and marketing, business coach C.J. Hayden has found that many of her clients say the most significant barrier to success is that they simply don't like to sell.

"The roots of this dislike are varied," says Hayden. "Sometimes what gets in the way is fear of rejection, or self-doubt of one's abilities. Other times it's lack of knowledge or inexperience; most of us don't like to do things when we feel we can't do them well. But a theme that rears its ugly head over and over again is this: a belief that sales and marketing is dishonest, manipulative, and sleazy."

"You might expect me to argue that these negative portrayals of marketing are not true," continues Hayden. "But in reality, they often are. Most of us experience on a daily basis inauthentic marketing, manipulative selling, and attempts at persuasion that rub us the wrong way."

"I'm not suggesting that you, the person reading this, are a sleazy salesperson," says Hayden. "In fact, I suspect it's much more likely that you aren't. But it just may be that you need to convince yourself of that truth in order to raise your comfort level about sales and marketing. To that end, I offer the following guidelines."

You are NOT a sleazy salesperson, if:

You only promise what you know you can deliver.
You don't make unrealistic promises and overblown claims, because you know they backfire in the long run. Even when exaggerations like these convince customers to buy, when their purchase doesn't live up to the hype, they feel misled and dissatisfied. Unhappy customers don't make repeat purchases or refer others.

You always represent your abilities and experience accurately.
You're not afraid to let customers know how good you are at what you do, but you don't feel the need to fabricate a background that doesn't exist. Instead, you play up your strengths, tell stories about past successes, and rely on positive references.

You explain why you are good rather than why the competition is bad.
You know that running down the competition only makes you look jealous or defensive. Your competitors are also your colleagues, and can often become some of your best referral sources. You don't hesitate to stress your unique competitive advantages and emphasize the benefits of your products and services, but you do so without disparaging others.

You never trick people into taking or returning your calls.
You wouldn't think of asking someone's receptionist to put through your call by giving misleading information. Nor do you leave voice mail messages implying that your call is for a purpose other than the real one. The most productive sales conversations are always with people who are open to having them.

You ask for permission to follow up or to add prospects to your list.
When you ask a prospect "may I call you again next quarter?" you are both agreeing that a follow-up conversation is worth having. You'll feel more confident making future contacts when you know they are welcome. You also know that subscribing people to your email list without permission only annoys them, so you always ask first.

You stop selling when it's clear the customer doesn't need what you're offering.
In a sales conversation, of course you respond to objections with counterpoints, but you do so respectfully, and never push customers past their own comfort zone. When prospects make it clear that they don't have a current need for your products and services and don't wish to continue hearing about them, you thank them for their time and move on.

"Post this list by your computer and your telephone," says Hayden. "Read it over before making sales calls. Do whatever it takes to reassure yourself that your own sales and marketing is honest, ethical, and authentic."

C.J. Hayden, MCC, is a business coach who teaches people to make a better living doing what they love. Her company, Wings Business Coaching, specializes in working with business owners, self-employed professionals, and people in marketing and sales. Learn more at www.getclientsnow.com

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