As a consultant, you will rarely have a new client drop into your lap, just like that.
And if they do drop into your lap, it’s usually after they’ve moved through your sales cycle.
(If you just asked yourself: “what’s a sales cycle?” Then, my friend, we have a problem.)
But there’s a method to having clients come along steadily, even if they don’t drop in your lap (that would be weird.)
It’s one thing to get the attention of prospects, but a sale and new engagement doesn’t happen at first point of contact.
The key, especially for a relationship-drive business like consulting, lies with the follow-up.
Persistence, as they say, is the mother of sales.
So, as a consultant, how should you go about all this?
A commonly used statistic is that 80% of your sales will be made between the fifth and the twelfth contact.
How scientifically accurate that is might be debatable, but the fundamental truth is:
A strong follow-up system will generate more clients consistently, and a weak follow-up could be costing you big-time in missed sales.
Consultants, as well as professionals and salespeople, need a solid system in place for contacting likely buyers over the full time period of the sales cycle.
For How Long, Exactly, Should You Keep Trying?
In 2007 a study by TeleNet and Ovation Sales Group showed that it took 3.8 cold calls to reach the prospect. And today, that number is around 8.
Now compare that to the fact that salespeople usually make 2 (two!) attempts to reach prospects, according to Sirius Decisions.
And you, as a consultant, how many do you make?
One? That’s not uncommon.
You don’t necessarily see yourself as a “salesperson”. Your default reaction to no contact, reply or interest on the part of a prospect is to assume that they simply aren’t interested.
So you don’t want to bother them.
That’s nice – until your consulting firm stands there with little or no revenue.
Sales by the Numbers
- 2% of the sales you make happen on the first contact. If you’re one of the many who make just one phone call, look at that number. You’re getting 2% of your possible clients with this kind of follow-up. Can you stay in business with that rate of return?
- 3% are made on the second contact.
- 5% happen on the third contact.
- 10% on the fourth.
- 80% on the fifth to twelfth contact.
When is the last time you followed through, staying in touch with a prospect with five to eleven contacts? Not many, if you’re like most consultants.
Clearly, you need to follow up.
Get it out of your head that you’re being pushy (unless, of course, you’re actually being pushy in your manners – but simply contacting people again is not being pushy.)
Skilled, targeted persistence is key to growing your consulting practice.
It comes down to nurturing leads, but not with a generic “newsletter” or random “I’m just checking in” emails.
And it gets better. Did you know that the more often you contact prospects, the more they buy from you? It’s true.
Nurtured leads buy 47% more than non-nurtured leads, according to Annuitas Group.
5 Strategies & Steps to Better Follow-up
Here is a look at five proven strategies and steps that have proven themselves in getting more clients when following up with nurtured leads.
Strategy #1: Offer value (duh, but really, are you doing this? Many aren’t)
You’re not pushy if you are providing value in your repeated contacts.
When you offer something that helps the prospect, you give yourself a good reason for the contact, whether it is a letter, phone call or email.
Ever sent a curated email with, say, top 5 important events or news that happened this week in your prospect’s industry? You’re being helpful if you do and build your own authority.
What would they be more interested to hear about? A monologue from you on your consulting, or industry news, events that they wouldn’t have time to find, gather, and share?
Yeah, I thought so.
If you ever do talk about your consulting, focus on the solution or outcome that your product or service offers. Tell your prospect specifically how you can solve a problem for him or help him achieve a goal.
Always make the content of your message geared to your prospect and his needs. It isn’t about you at all. It’s most definitely about them.
Strategy #2: Relate success stories
Share a case study or an example of a recent customer who benefited by using your consulting services.
When you craft your emails, back it up with facts. Tell it like a real story, with a beginning, middle and end. Don’t just recite random numbers or points, but put the situation in context, bring the people to life. This way your prospect can identify with the success story and find parallels in his own business.
If you regularly send emails like these, you get to paint the future for your prospects and have them imagine what it’s like to work with you and what they can achieve.
Show your prospect how someone else in a similar situation actually benefited, spell out the return on investment, or ROI, he received. Show your prospect how he can gain that type of ROI when he uses your service.
And you know what? Why not highlight success by others who might not even have hired you for consulting, but perhaps they won an award, or acquired another company, or seen growth.
If you become their champion, you’re stacking goodwill and value, which is easier to convert into paid engagements.
Strategy #3: Learn as much as possible about your prospect
This starts with the needs and challenges of his particular industry. Learn enough to talk knowledgeably about the current events in the field.
When you come across a news article or blog relating to his field, one that might interest your prospect, email it to him. Add a quick note along the lines of, “I was reading this and thought you’d be interested. I’d enjoy sharing some ideas on this with you.”
It gives your prospect the feeling that you are keeping his needs in mind. It also shows you are conversant with what’s happening in the industry.
What you also end up doing is building a relationship, albeit via email, but it’s less intrusive than just cold calling people.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though: you should call people, if you can, but reference an email you just sent when doing so.
Emails are great for making an initial contact, and also keeping in touch. Don’t forget to personalize it by actually, you know, personalizing an email.
Strategy #4: It’s OK not to have an answer
You don’t have to know it all, even when you’re a consultant. That’s a relief, isn’t it?!
But you can also use this as a strategy (oh dear, being ignorant can be good?)
If you’re in a meeting with your prospect and he asks a question that you can’t answer, relax. Just say, “Good question. I’ll do some checking and send you what I find.”
This saves you from the embarrassment of giving a half-baked answer, which someone well versed in an industry will spot immediately.
Instead, you come across as sensible and informed—in fact, like a skilled, experienced consultant. The prospect will admire you for not squirming and making excuses for not knowing the answer.
And, you probably noticed, this gives you the perfect excuse to follow up!
Do the research, find an answer or some context for the question and shoot him an email. He will appreciate your prompt response.
Did you know that most people don’t get back to a prospect with information in response to a question when they say they will?
By telling your prospect honestly that you don’t have the answer, you are treating them with respect.
By researching the question and getting back to them with the answer, you show that you are competent, informed and reliable. And you impress the heck out of your prospects!
Strategy #5: Help them with an introduction
The more you give, the more you get.
And it’s never more true than in business situations.
Do you know someone who could benefit this prospect? Introduce them to each other.
For example, if they are dealing with a litigation problem, introduce them to a lawyer who specializes in the type of case they need help with. If they can’t find the right person for an essential position, ask around, find a couple potential good fits and introduce them.
Generosity like this gets noticed. The benefit to you might not happen this month or next, but at some point down the road, you will be repaid.
Bonus Strategy: Before you end your current meeting or call with your prospect, set up your next contact
Never end without setting a clear “next step”.
A meeting is always best because face-to-face contact is most effective. But a phone call is ok. Or try video conferencing. Or even a Google Hangout.
This simple strategy will get you from the point of initial contact, either phone call or meeting, to agreement and to a proposal and to the final sale much faster.
It streamlines the follow-up process exponentially.
Implement And Refine Your Strategies, Continuously
You might need to tweak how you implement strategies 1 through 5 listed above. Here are some suggestions.
When you make one of your follow-up phone calls, be sure to stand out from the pack. Don’t sound like a salesperson.
How do you do that? Offer value! It always comes back to Strategy #1. For example, when you get voicemail, don’t say, “Chris, This is John Doe, just checking in.” That is a guaranteed delete.
Instead show you care about their current dilemma. For example, say, “Chris, in our earlier talk you mentioned how concerned you were about delays. I know you’re anxious to eliminate redundancies by the end of the year. Let’s set up a time to talk, so I can help you move ahead on this.”
Consistently send articles that deal with your prospect’s challenges. Add a note about it and add that you’d like to set up a time to talk about his questions.
Provide value and you will get a response. Show an informed awareness of your prospect’s needs and he will look favorably upon your continued contacts.
And Don’t Forget Streamlining The Process With Email Automation
This is a lot of work, no question. But the results are worth it. If you can increase sales from 2% to 80%, your consulting business will prosper and you’ll be the go-to person in your area of expertise.
There are ways to streamline the process, while still making use of the strategies outlined above. One of the best ways is to make the best use of email. This is one of the prime ways that businesses communicate.
According to studies, email is the preferred method of contact for most managers because it allows them to control when and where they engage with others.
Make the best use possible of this fact and use it to your advantage.
Here are 3 ways to design an email follow-up campaign, one of the least intrusive and time-effective methods of keeping in contact with your prospects.
1. Get them to take action
Share your success stories via email. Send a case study. Teach by example. Offer a short course that provides a solution to one of their problems.
This keeps them interested and, again, provides value. If you remember just this one thing about all the strategies mentioned, you will flourish. It’s all about offering value to your prospect.
When you do this, you move from seller-to-prospect interactions to a relationship of trust.
2. Offer a less expensive option
Somewhere in the middle of the sales cycle, if your prospect is still friendly but not moving with any appreciable speed to buy a consulting package, how about offering a less expensive option?
Do you have an ebook on the question? Do you have a course for sale, one that goes into more detail than the free one you’ve already offered? Do you have a one-time consulting session? Or a group consulting option, with several executives meeting over the phone or online?
Offering a less expensive product is an excellent way to give him an easy way to say yes. You build brand loyalty, you offer value and you now have an additional reason to keep in touch. Because now you can offer customer support for the product he just bought.
3. Automate the process
Subscribe to email automation software to handle your emails throughout the sales cycle. For example, here is a possible sequence to keep in contact with your consulting prospects:
- Let the first email tell them what sets you apart from other consultants in your industry. Send this three or four days after your initial contact.
- Five days later send out one that offers a possible solution to a problem that is common in the industry. Be sure to send it on a weekday. With email automation software, you can select the exact days and times you choose to send out each email in the sequence.
- If you don’t get a reply, send out the next in the sequence in the following week, providing info that isn’t on your website and is of value to your prospect.
- At each point you can pause and stop the sequence in order to make direct contact. You can also personalize emails by segmenting your prospects by their specific interests or where they are in the sales cycle.
Automating personal contact sounds like a contradiction in terms, but software makes it possible. You can gently engage prospects with targeted emails that provide value and build a relationship.
Without automated replies, you are at the mercy of your personal schedule. When you get busy, it can be impossible to stick to a schedule of follow-up with prospects. But if you don’t do the follow-up, your client base will dry up.
Strategies Need Implementation, And Email Marketing Automation Can Help You
Email automation software is an essential tool in your follow-up system. With it you can keep in touch consistently and with a large number of prospects, wherever they are in the sales cycle.
Use all of these strategies to contact your prospects. They take some time, effort and money.
And they result in a constant flow of new sales, strong relationships and a solid reputation in your industry.