Having The Right Conversation With Prospective Clients.
Are you still having the same tired conversations with prospective clients or are you having the right conversations? Do you still go to networking events and try to work the room but achieve mediocre results? Are your conversations about you and what you can do? Even more importantly, is your conversion rate from these conversations too low to deliver a decent living from your consulting practice, resulting in a cash flow roller coaster? These are all really important questions.
The social setting, and the direct feedback you are getting from the people to whom you are speaking, should determine how you ought to proceed with the conversations.
Conversations with potential consulting clients at a networking event need to be about them and not about you. Nobody likes to be approached with a sales pitch, particularly at a networking event. Networking is not about selling. It is all about listening. Most people’s favorite topic is themselves, and they rarely tire talking about this topic. If you actively listen and show empathy, then you will learn a great deal about the people you meet, and perhaps their business issues as well.
This allows you respond with information that may be of use to the people you talk with, but it is still too early to consider selling. Push out the free line and give your perspective on their situation, only if invited to do so. Otherwise continue listening and prompting the person you are speaking with to tell you more, if they are comfortable doing so.
Be courteous and friendly but don’t become a showoff or a bore. You were born with 2 ears and one mouth for a reason and you need to use these gifts in the right proportion. When the conversation naturally concludes, you can always offer to exchange business cards and seek permission to keep in touch. Above all, don’t be pushy and do leave the selling until another occasion.
Within a couple of days of the networking event, it is perfectly reasonable to communicate with the people with whom you have exchanged business cards, particularly if you have something of value to share with them. This might be a relevant book title, an article, a blog post, or some market intelligence that could be useful to them.
Seek confirmation that they would like you to keep in touch. If they show no interest in what you are sending them or if they seem reluctant to speak with you, then it is time to move on. Avoid making a proposal unless invited to do so and never engage in hard sell tactics.
The rules are a little bit different for speaking engagements, wherein you are one of the so-called experts presenting to a group. In this scenario, and provided that your content and delivery go down well with the audience, you will find that audience members will approach you with questions and observations relating to your presentation.
Again, you need to be respectful and to listen attentively to what you are being asked. In this scenario, you are encouraged to give additional information on the subject matter you spoke about. Rather than speaking about yourself or your business, you should ask clarifying questions that uncover what the audience member is trying to find out. If you are asked directly about what you do or how much you charge for it, it is perfectly okay to respond to this. However, don’t be tempted to get into sales mode.
Rather than getting into detailed discussion about providing solutions that the audience member seemingly wants, try to find a mutually suitable time and place to have a deeper discussion, without the distraction of other audience members, and in a place where private information can be exchanged comfortably. Never get tempted to have this conversation while other audience members are hovering around you.
It is becoming increasingly important for consultants to write a blog, wherein they are frequently sharing information that may be useful to clients and prospective clients. This has a number of advantages. Firstly, it establishes the consultants as leaders or authority figures in their own field. Secondly, it allows the consultants to address business issues where they have useful knowledge or expertise, but in an informal and informative way, without seeming to be making a sales pitch. Thirdly, if they share this information through social media channels, it provides backlinks to their website, where anyone with an interest in what they are doing, can find out more about them and what they may have to offer.
If used properly, the blog can become the first step in developing relationships with your audience. Regular visitors can be offered free subscriptions or a valuable report or eBook, in exchange for their name and email address. This can lead to two-way conversations, by way of the comments section of the blog, and a greater understanding of what your subscribers want can emerge. This in turn allows you to create periodic offers (at different price points) that meet the specific needs of your subscribers, while allowing you to start monetizing your business in an online environment. With the building of trust, and the desire on the part of the visitor to your website to reciprocate in some way, you may also get direct enquiries for your professional services.
Referrals and Direct Approaches
The most frequent way that prospective clients get to know you is through referrals from someone who has worked with you before. This has high value for your business, as every introduction is warm rather than cold. When a potential client is referred to you by someone you already know, it is likely that the referrer can give you some background information on the potential client, and so you can have a reasonably clear idea if they are someone with whom you can do your best work before you have your first face-to-face meeting. This can be invaluable, and the likelihood of a conversion from prospect to client tends to be extremely high.
Direct approaches from potential clients you don’t know, and particularly for ones that have not been referred to you by someone you know and already have a trust relationship with, requires a different type of conversation. In my view, you should have a pre-screening protocol in place that allows you to gather key information about the potential client, before you get to meet them face-to-face for an exploratory session. This prevents time being wasted on unsuitable prospects and screens out tire-kickers that you are unlikely to choose to work with anyway.
Although this may seem a little bit calculating and perhaps even somewhat negative, you must remember that you are running a business and that the scarcest resource you have as a business consultant is your time. The pre-screening process allows you to gather key information that will serve both the potential client and the consultant in equal measure, and so that any conversation you subsequently may have, will be of high value for both parties. This is the classic win-win situation that we all strive for.