Winning new clients is hard work. But it becomes a lot easier if you hit them with your pitch when they’re actually receptive to it.
Here are 8 triggers I’ve noticed that will make a potential client open their ears to the message of an adviser they haven’t yet worked with, whether that’s a lawyer, an accountant, a consultant or any other skilled professional.
1. The decision maker changes
A new decision maker - such as CFO, CEO or department head - doesn’t just bring new ideas into an organisation, they also often want a fresh start when it comes to their advisers. That can spell bad news for the incumbent (unless, of course, the decision maker moves on and takes you with them to their new role). But it can be a godsend if you’ve been on the outer.
A European member of the Crowe Horwath network of firms conducted a terrific longitudinal study of where new business came from over a period of about 7 years. The study tracked key people who took transformational leadership roles in business, usually for about a 2 - 3 year tenure.
It found that when advisers got ‘sticky’ with businesses run by these types of executives they didn’t lose work when the executive's role came to an end. Instead, they tended to stay on as the incumbent for that business and would also pick up new work from the executive’s next posting. This would often lead to exponential growth.
2. The business expands
Where a company opens a new office, expands across borders or looks to crack a new market, chances are they’ll also need new advisers who are familiar with the terrain. If you can position yourself as the advisor with the inside word on the market they’re trying to crack, you’re in.
This is where your industry, business and market networks can give you a real advantage. Think about what steps a business needs to take when they’re expanding and what to watch out for. For example, if they start quietly registering trademarks or brands in new markets or apply for a new scope of IP protection, it’s usually a good sign for new opportunities.
3. They get too big
As advisers, we want our clients to grow and flourish. But the reality is that sometimes a business can get too big for their advisers. A startup has very different needs to a business with 100 employees and 5 offices. And that business will, in turn, have different needs to a multi-national. So when a client jumps from one category to the next, they usually also look for advisers who are experienced players at the same level….
4. There’s a restructure
Restructures don’t just affect employees, they can have profound implications for service providers too. When a new department is created or two merge, if an office closes or a new one opens, there’s also usually an opportunity for new work.
The trick here is to be front of the client’s mind early on in the planning process. So profile your expertise with good content, including practical examples and case studies. Focus especially on showcasing your experience in markets that are prone to change or rationalisation. And keep an eye on M&A activity, as well as any analysts’ assessments and financial warnings.
5. They’re tightening their belts
In most business relationships there comes a time when a client starts to question costs. When that happens, they’ll probably start looking around for alternatives. (Even if it’s just to keep the bastards honest). If you fit the bill, you’re in with a shot … So keep an eye on companies in your market which report a squeeze on profits, an increase in competition or a slump in their market. And remember, being an alternative option doesn’t necessarily have to come down to discounting your rates, it can also be about using a different model for delivering your services.
6. The law changes
As advisers, we rely to some extent on the government changing the law or our clients changing what they do so that new laws apply. If there’s legislative or regulatory change and you’ve demonstrated your mastery of the new environment, you could be on the path to a new client.
This is the time to be direct.
7. They change their key suppliers
Back when Jack Welch was CEO of GE he used to always have two suppliers for everything, plus one waiting in the wings. That way, he reasoned he’d keep everyone on their toes and if one supplier didn’t meet expectations he’d have someone to bring in immediately. Most businesses aren’t quite so brutal but at some stage almost every organisation will go through their supplier list and give it a shakeup. When this happens they’ll often put out a Request For Proposal and ask you to pitch for their work. Keep a register of when significant players in your market tender their work and check that you are registered for tender alerts in areas relevant to your practice.
Even if the opportunity’s not for you it may be a great trigger to connect with a target or client who would appreciate you thinking of them.
8. They’re unhappy with the incumbent
Finally, there’s always the chance that a potential client won’t be happy with the advice they’re currently getting. When that happens, it’s your chance to show you can bring to the table what their current advisers can’t. This is more difficult to spot formally but you can dial yourself into the corporate grapevine with a strong network, a track record of introducing opportunities to others, and contacts who are motivated to keep an eye out for you.
To tap into most of these opportunities, you’ll probably need market intelligence and data analytics. But if you don't have a team of business analysts to help you, the good news is there is a range of tools and sources that will scan the environment and bring opportunities to you. (Contact me if you’d like to find out what the best advisory firms are using.)
And remember, hitting someone when they’re receptive to your message is only part of the secret to winning new work. You also need to know how to get in front of them in the first place and, most importantly, you also need to have a message that resonates with them.
If you want to sharpen your business development skills and learn how to win more work in today’s market, Joel Barolsky and I will be showing you how to do this and more at our Practice Reboot seminar.
We’ll be in Melbourne on 15 March 2016 and Sydney on 16 March 2016.