4 new ways to build your sales pipeline

Guide

If you’re finding it harder to achieve organic growth these days, you’re not alone. The shift in control from service provider to service consumer is well-documented. With so much information available online, a prospect can already know a great deal more about your service, expertise and offer than you know about them before they make contact.

“We’ve certainly found we have to work harder to find new clients and we're hearing that from our clients as well,” says Grant Robson, Executive Director at Macquarie Business Banking.

Robson points to the commoditisation of standard professional services work and the importance of persuading multiple decision makers as just two of the challenges sales teams are facing.

“It’s not possible to differentiate by simply being ‘the best’ anymore. The biggest decision driver is not what’s done, but how it’s done.”

It’s also not possible to assume you’ll get organic growth from your existing client base either. So with this in mind, here are four new ways to build a solid lead pipeline in your firm.

1. Combine old and new in your social strategy

“Many people fall into the trap of putting all their efforts into social media,” Robson comments. “We’re past doing things the old way, but it’s still a transition. A combination of old and new skills.”

“It’s not possible to differentiate by simply being ‘the best’ anymore. The biggest decision driver is not what’s done, but how it’s done.”
Grant Robson, Executive Director at Macquarie Business Banking

Macquarie’s 2015 Legal Benchmarking report found LinkedIn is now the second most popular marketing channel – after a website – with 70 per cent of law firms using it. Thirty-seven per cent are using Facebook (the same proportion as Yellow Pages) and 31 per cent Twitter.

Robson suggests seeing these channels simply as a way to get in front of a prospect, then building the relationship using tried and tested face-to-face techniques, particularly if you are selling a complex service.

Social is not a ‘set and forget’ strategy. “It’s as disciplined as the old-school cold call process,” he says.

In fact, with so much clutter on these channels you may have to work a lot harder to make them effective sales tools.

“The people in our team who invest time in LinkedIn, such as sending messages, commenting on posts and following up with questions are having great success. It can certainly be a faster way to build a relationship.”

2. Bring deep understanding to every conversation

‘Insight selling’, creating value by demonstrating in depth understanding of client and industry challenges, is not that new. It takes time and commitment to execute effectively, but it can be a way to differentiate in today’s market.

“We invest a great deal into this, for our prospects and our existing clients,” Robson comments, acknowledging many prospects eventually come on board after receiving so much value, such as ideas for growth opportunities, before they become a client.

In rogenSi’s 2015 global report What it takes to win new business1, its global survey findings highlight the importance of communicating value, credibility and knowledge of a customer’s business. ‘Understanding my situation’ is now the number one factor in the customer buying decision (30 per cent), with ‘lack of subject area knowledge’ one of the main reasons not to buy (after ‘not listening’).

“Buyers expect sales professionals to be genuinely curious about their business and to be more courageous by challenging them with knowledge relevant to them,” the report explains. “Customers are drowning in information, but thirsty for insight.”

Patience is the key. “Most professional service firms underestimate their sales cycle,” says Robson. “It’s very rare that the cycle is inside three months. You must have come across them at the precise moment an incumbent wasn’t meeting their needs if they are an immediate convert.” As an extreme example, he’s just had one real estate client come on board after eight years of nurturing.

3. Be proactive and specific: new rules for referrals

Word of mouth marketing is still the most effective way to get new clients on board. Macquarie’s 2015 Legal Benchmarking report found high performance firms are more adept at getting referrals from satisfied clients and converting them into new business opportunities.

Robson says this should start with a self-audit. Look at how your clients came to you – those who were referred to you will be more likely to refer you on.

Don’t assume your client will refer to you simply because they've been with you for many years. “You need to check in, ask them how your service is and whether you delivered what you said you would over the past year.”

Do a little research first to identify a specific contact or organisation you’d like to be introduced to. “If you just ask a client to refer you, you're asking them to do some work, to think about who and the context. But if you mention you know they’re connected with someone, and you have expertise in that person’s area, you’re just asking them to facilitate.”

Robson uses this as an opportunity to be politely curious. “For example, ‘I notice you use XYZ as your accountant, financial adviser or lawyer…’”

4. Make every employee a sales advocate

“Many of our most successful clients make business development the responsibility of every staff member, not just the partners or owners,” says Robson. “You need to encourage them and reward them appropriately and provide them with the tools.”

Your employees may be your best word of mouth resource. Given content shared by employees is eight times more effective2 than that shared by brand channels, you could be missing a real opportunity if you’re not empowering them with brand stories or an elevator pitch.

“Everyone should know how every client came to be with your business,” says Robson. “For example, if more staff know that your latest client was introduced by the administration assistant, it might inspire them to also look for opportunities.”

He says it’s important to make any financial incentives clear too. “For example, they might get a percentage of the fee, or if they’re working towards partnership, you could offer a discount for the value of the client base they’ve already brought on board themselves.”

Old skills, new tools

Networking and referrals are not new. Proven sales skills: listening, curiosity, asking the right questions and nurturing relationships are as essential as ever. These new channels and disciplines are simply extra tools for the sales kit and if you embed them into your processes and training, you may find that elusive organic growth is just a little less challenging.

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This material has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 ("Macquarie") for general discussion purposes only, without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this general information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. The information provided is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any accounting, tax or other professional advice, consultation or service.