We’ve all done it. We’ve waited until the “alarm bells” signaling a drop-off in project backlog begin ringing to get on the phone/meet with past, current and prospective clients to drum up leads and work. And we’ve contacted a past or current client with whom we’ve been out of touch because we read or heard something that suggests they may have a near-term need.
Don’t get me wrong. If it’s a choice of reaching out or not reaching out, I’d opt for making the call. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” “If you don’t ask, you won’t get.” You fill in the appropriate idiom.
But this “dialing for dollars” exercise has become problematic because:
- With the softness in many markets (particularly commercial), more A/E/C business developers are having to do this.
- Owners have less time and patience than ever to field these calls.
- You’ve been out of touch in the first place.
Clients see through this form of ambulance-chasing — and based on a number of recent client studies I’ve conducted, they don’t appreciate it. I’ve had interviewees express skepticism as to whether my client really wanted or needed the work, or was somehow “expecting” it. Why? Their competitors have been more diligent about staying in touch on a regular basis and express greater hunger and desire.
In spite of what the recession has taught us, for many firms, a foolish lack of discipline, planning, and patience has won out over the more effective ongoing, systematized approach to marketing and business development.
Avoiding the ambulance-chasing, dialing for dollars approach, from the standpoint of marketing, means your firm:
- Provides useful information, advice and intel through direct marketing.
- Delivers industry-specific professional association talks and workshops.
- Gets published in industry-specific blogs, online newsletters and trade journals.
Yes, a significant gestation period is required for this approach. It takes time to enhance your firm’s name recognition and position it as a thought leader and subject matter expert. That means the time to employ these higher return-on-investment (ROI) strategies is now (or two years ago!). The longer you wait, the longer it takes to bear fruit in the form of project leads or even next steps that may result in leads such as meetings, in-house workshops, opportunities to co-present, etc.
On the business development side, it’s more important than ever to employ a long-term, finessed approach when reaching out to clients and prospective clients. These days, they’re being bombarded by your traditional competitors and others who’ve decided to poach on your turf. Here are some suggested approaches for building relationships, fostering goodwill, and generating leads:
- Serve on a non-profit board or committee alongside clients and influencers.
- Conduct post-occupancy/post-project follow-up debriefs and assessments.
- Provide assistance to clients/prospects/influencers who lose their job or reach out on behalf of someone they know. (Suggest people they should meet; make an introduction or review their resume. In this economy, this is a quick, enduring strategy that not only feels good, it will likely pay off in the future.)
- Share links to useful articles and market intelligence. (Be sure to create a template and send a customized e-mail to each client rather than using a broadcast e-mail.)
If your clients are active on social media, read their Facebook page and Twitter stream. Sign up for their news feeds and blog updates and engage with them.
- Drop a quick e-mail/call on a regular basis to ask how they’re doing (This is a no-brainer, right? The most common mistake is abandoning this tactic because you don’t get a response. Clients will remember this and reference it in person or over the phone at a later date.)
- Use LinkedIn to provide links to useful articles and talks and to promote your own workshops and articles. (Be sure you’re “connected” to your clients or belong to the same LinkedIn affinity group.)
- Interview clients and prospects for your company’s electronic newsletter or original research. (This is a very effective strategy with a high response rate. Yet the necessary planning and forethought scares off many folks.)
- Follow up on news items about clients or their organization. (Sign up for Google News Alerts or read the press releases posted on their web site.)
Co-present at a conference. (This requires significant focus and planning. However, as a strategic business development endeavor, it typically has a high ROI and significant residual value in the form of re-packaging potential.)
- Send congratulatory (or sympathetic) hand-written personal notes. (Don’t expect a response. Show them that the personal touch is alive and well as I discussed in the May 2008 The Friedman File.)
These approaches, of course, are in addition to the tried and true strategies of relationship-building that involve breaking bread with your clients and prospects and attending cultural, entertainment, and athletic events with them. Let me know what works for you. Call or e-mail me (508-276-1101; firstname.lastname@example.org).