Targeting the “right” clients can be a challenge. When working with large accounting firms, I sometimes will ask each partner to share their top targets with me. Surprisingly, they can’t name one target, nor can they explain what makes an ideal target client in their practice area. Most look at me with similarly raised eyebrows, and reply with the same nervous chuckle, “I don’t really have targets. I rely on referrals.”
Yes, referrals are incredibly important. But if you can articulate who your ideal clients are, how you or your firm has best served similar clients in the past, and why you enjoy working with those types of clients, it makes it far easier for connectors and referral sources in your network to make quality referrals. It also makes it easier to find additional connectors and referral sources.
Of course, before you can articulate your target to someone else, you have to be sure who your ideal client actually is. Business development coaches suggest that you consider what you love about what you do, who you enjoy helping, and why. What are the characteristics of those whom you serve? What is it about serving these clients that you enjoy? What does your firm do for them? How did they become clients?
The next step is to identify the stakeholders at your top clients with whom you have strong relationships. What do those people care about? Who else may influence or make decisions?
Next, identify who your clients’ competitors and peers are, as well as any companies tethered to the same space. Determine if any of them have any relationships with similar outside advisers, vendors, banks, or friends of important stakeholders that could drive a potential referral or introduction.
Are there any internal triggers that could possibly drive change at these organizations: leadership changes, new business initiatives, pressure from the board? Are there external triggers: regulatory and compliance issues, or market changes?
Focus Your Aim
At this point, identify where all of these factors intersect. Out of 100 potential targets, there are perhaps 10 good ones. Five is probably a better number to start with. For each potential target, we suggest doing the following:
- Develop and articulate a compelling story of why each one on the list is an ideal client/target.
- Gather client stories from others at your firm who serve similar clients.
- Research the executive team, board, additional stakeholders, financial information, investors, and influencers.
- Hold fact-finding meetings to understand the perspectives of each stakeholder to identify potential needs, prioritize and confirm those needs, and understand any obstacles or objections.
- Determine where the stakeholders spend their time. What trade organizations attract the enterprise, what foundations or causes are important? Is anyone at the firm connected to these organizations?
- Identify who at the target can be a champion and who will be a detractor; then determine how to leverage the champion and neutralize the detractor.
- Identify who the best resources are at the firm to address the prioritized needs of the client and develop a successful pursuit strategy.
- Identify potential benefits to satisfy confirmed needs and codevelop strategic solutions.
- Based upon everything you have learned, determine who the best potential introduction may be, and which opportunity to pursue first.
- Develop a touch strategy for each stakeholder and a pursuit plan for the target: who will do what, what type of interaction is appropriate, and what is the outreach frequency.
- Spend time with stakeholders, industry experts, outside advisers, and connectors and influencers. Prioritize, engage with, and develop a rapport with each.
If at any time during this process you discover that a particular target is not a fit, that is a good thing! You have done your job and saved yourself and your firm a considerable amount of time and money. Cross this target off your list, and choose a replacement to pursue.
Remember, whenever you meet a new connection or speak with someone in your current network, the better you articulate the types of people and companies that you enjoy helping, the reasons why, and the type of help your firm can provide, the better. The more stories you can share about your clients, and the more specific you can be about who or what makes for a good referral, the more efficient your referral sources and connectors will be in providing the right referrals. You also will more readily be able to convert that referral to real revenue.
Be the first one to ask someone else who a good referral for them would be, and always offer to help.
Dorothy Potash is cofounder and president of Development Dynamx LLC in Wayne. She can be reached at email@example.com.