February 19

Painlessly Prospecting For Customers

The single most important thing any professional service organization can do to ensure it’s long term existence is to create and maintain a systematic, ongoing business development and lead generation machine. New prospects are the lifeblood of every business and a steady flow of them will ensure your continued existence.

To learn how you can do this for your business, check out our Painless Prospecting for Agencies course. 

Here’s what you can expect to learn.

The Traditional Professional Services Sales Process

It used to be that if a prospective buyer was interested in hiring a new lawyer, CPA, advertising or public relations firm, the buyer had relatively few options to research the purchase before making a decision. Basically the buyer could do one of three things. They could ask friends and colleagues for recommendations and referrals. They could pay attention to the media both locally and nationally to catch news about firms. Or they could just start calling firms in the phone book.

From there, they could request a credentials kit or issue some kind of formal RFQ. This was both time consuming and opened the buyer up to sales calls from the firms now and in the future. The issuing of an RFQ is a pretty strong buying signal, and smart firms would jump on the opportunity to try and snare the buyer’s business.

Lastly, after creating a short-list, the buyer would have to interview each firm face-to-face. In the case of advertising and public relations firms, this might even include some kind of speculative creative or campaign presentation.

The Invisible Sale

But times have changed. After working with a number of clients recently to help them through RFP processes, I’m struck by one thing — they hate hiring new firms as much as firms hate going through the song and dance of getting hired.

Clients are loathe to issue an RFQ unless it is absolutely essential. They have not the time nor the stomach for the “pitch process.” Instead, like B2B buyers all over the world, professional services buyers are moving from the visible to the invisible sales funnel. They’re joining the legions of self-educating buyers who are hiding behind the secrecy of Google to do their due diligence and research prospective firms.

And the numbers are staggering. In fact, the number of B2B buyers responding to a recent DemandGen Study claiming to initiate contact with vendors only AFTER compiling a short list of candidates jumped from 24% in 2011 to 51% in the 2012 study. The study and others like it show that the number one resource for doing the pre-short list selection research is ONLINE.

According to this study and many others like it, if you’re company doesn’t have a robust online footprint, chances are you may be losing up to half of your sales opportunities and not even know it. It’s The Invisible Sale — the one you don’t even know you’ve lost.

How To Win The Invisible Sale

There is no silver bullet to winning the Invisible Sale. Why? Because that sale still involves a very visible element — you. Professional Services, like almost all B2B purchases still (and always will in my opinion) involve face-to-face selling to close the deal. Prospects want to work with folks they like, trust and feel will deliver great value. While you can certainly get a good sense of that from a company’s online content, it’s hard to know for sure until you’ve sat across the table from them and looked them in the eye.

But there are three key things every professional services firm should be doing right now to help them penetrate the Invisible Funnel and put themselves in a position to win the Invisible Sale.

First, stop thinking in terms of Top-of-Mind-Awareness and start thinking in terms of Top-of-Mind-Preference. One gets you in the consideration set and the second gets you to the front of the line prior to that all-important face-to-face meeting. To do this, you’ll need to move away from traditional shout and spray marketing and embrace something more elegant and relevant in today’s digitally centric world — Propinquity Marketing.

Second, get rid of your “look at us and how cool we are” website. That’s right destroy it and replace it with a Funnel Optimized website. The latter is built on the principle of helping vs selling and it’s designed to guide and in some cases force your website visitors down certain information funnels. Each of the funnels have different goals and outcomes but all are designed to work in concert to move self-educating prospects down the propinquity curve and ensure that when the time comes, your firm is “in that number” as we say here in New Orleans.

Third, start creating content at the right level. For most professional service marketers, online content is created at the blog post level. Blog posts are great Cobblestones, but creating a lot of them can get downright difficult if not impossible. Eventually billable work gets in the way of non-billable marketing effort and those Cobblestone pieces appear farther and farther apart until there is no longer a nice, easy path for prospects to follow.

Want More Information On How To Win The Invisible Sale?

If you’re going to be in or around Atlanta at the SoloPR Summit, this week, I’ll be sharing 45 minutes of practical, implement tomorrow ideas and tactics to help social media, public relations, advertising and marketing consultants and firms prepare to prospect inside that Invisible Funnel. Unfortunately, it’s sold out so if you don’t already have a ticket, you won’t be able to catch this presentation live.

But you’re in luck. Because you’re a loyal reader here, and I want to make sure you get access to all the best information we can provide, you can watch a shortened version of my SharpSpring Agency Business Development webinar. And yes, you can tell a friend, just share this post and tell them they owe you one.


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  1. Tremendous post Tom and I am looking forward to your presentation in video format. Wish I could be there. I totally agree on a website that focuses on the customer journey and mapping out ahead of time the journey you want them to take. This is an art and a science and one that very few have mastered. I still think many professional service firms are looking at the website as a ‘necessary evil’ rather than an opportunity. I guess that is bad for service industries and good for us that are competing in these industries. i would be interested in seeing how you map these experiences and then how that gets translated to the website. I’d also be interested in how you might audit a site to make sure they are following that flow. Again, great stuff. As a marketing research and analytics geek I always enjoy when you substantiate and back up your facts with real-life research.

    1. Keith,

      Thanks… good to see I’m not alone here. I think the art often gets in the way of the science, which is why so many sites end up not really driving the leads like they should — especially in the professional services arena. I”ll ping ya when the presentation video is available for download.

  2. Tom, your presentation at the SoloPR Summit really made an impact – it was just the cure I needed to rid myself of Cobbler’s Kid Syndrome! From your opening question to your closing summary I was “all in.” Most importantly, this is not information that left me with a “conference high” but actually compelled me to take action and put your tips to use. I have a lot of work to do but thanks to you I have a clear blueprint for success!

    1. Thanks Karen! Can’t tell you how happy I am to hear that, especially the “getting started” part. Stay tuned because this year we’re going to be putting out a lot more content that I think you’ll find very helpful as you begin moving into the wonderful world of Painless Prospecting!

  3. It was great meeting you Tom. I’m recapping the Summit and it’s almost impossible to limit this to just a couple of bullets; totally rocked. Like Karen I’m more committed than ever to find a way to get those Cobbler’s kids some shoes already… thanks for the kick in the pants.

    1. Davina

      It was GREAT to meet you at #SoloPR last week. Love hearing that y’all enjoyed the presentation so much. We’re working hard to get it up online so I can email y’all a final copy! Stay tuned.


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