Back when I was a young(ish) consultant working for Gemini Consulting I was lucky enough that my personal mentor was a very experienced marketer and business developer. He eventually went on to become head of Marketing and BD for Gemini globally.
I remember very clearly a discussion I had with him a few years into my career.
We were reviewing my performance appraisal for that year. I'd kind of hit my stride – had done really well and got great reviews. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, so I wasn't expecting Kieron's question:
“OK, that's all fine. But what do you want to be famous for?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, so far you've done a bit of everything. Strategy, marketing, supply chain work, change management. What are you going to focus on?”
“Can't I keep doing a bit of everything? I like the variety. ”
“Not if you want to progress. You might have been the star in your previous company – but everyone is a star here. Everyone is a high performer. Unless you focus and really build up your skills, there'll always be someone better than you at each of the things you do. You'll never be the first choice when a project manager has a role to fill.”
And he was right. Although it took me a couple more years to finally bite the bullet and specialise in marketing and sales.
Once I'd specialised I was doing more marketing and sales work. So I got better faster. Soon I was pretty much the “first name on the team sheet” for marketing and sales in my chosen sector. Then I became the first person the firm turned to to sell and lead marketing and sales projects in that area.
And it's the same with clients.
While we might enjoy variety, clients want the best person for the job. And that's usually a specialist.
If you have a water leak you call a plumber, not a general handyman. If you have epilepsy, you need a neurologist or epileptologist, not a GP.
Later on, once you've established your expertise, the client may broaden the range of questions they ask you. You may establish enough credibility in wider areas that they come to see you as a trusted advisor.
But it starts with “earning your spurs” by doing a brilliant job at helping them with the initial problem they have.
And to do that job brilliantly, you need to focus so that you develop real expertise in that area.
Years later, I read a quote which really brought that point home to me. It was from magician David Devant – the leading turn-of-the-century conjurer and first ever president of the Magic Circle in London.
When approached backstage by a young amateur magician who told him he knew about three hundred tricks and asked how many Devant knew, Devant's answer was: “I know only eight. But I know them very well“.
As Devant highlights, you can only be a true master of a small number of things. Be they magic tricks, business disciplines, areas of the law or client industry sectors.
It may be painful, but to be the greatest value to clients, to help them with the trickiest challenges (and therefore the most lucrative work) you must become a master. And in my mentor's words – you must become famous for it.
So what are your “eight tricks”? What are you going to be famous for?
I first heard those words about 5 or 6 years ago from Mahan Khalsa, author of the excellent book Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play.
(Which, believe it or not is a book about selling consulting services).
A few years earlier I'd been working in Basel in Switzerland, doing some strategy work for a large pharmaceutical firm.
Back then my favourite pastime outside of work was magic. Not the “sequinned suit, girls jumping in and out of boxes” type. But close up magic – the sort done right under your nose that leaves you completely mystified.
I was pretty good (I had a lot of time to practice in hotel rooms working away from home so much). I'd performed professionally a few times in restaurants and at parties. And I wanted to take my skills to the next level.
It was never going to be a career option. Frankly, unless you're really, really good, it just doesn't pay well enough compared to consulting. But I wanted to be the best I could be.
I found out that Roberto Giobbi, famous magic author, inventor, collector, and one of the world's leading teachers, lived in Muttenz a short distance away from Basel. So I booked a lesson.
I remember my taxi pulling up at Roberto's house and studio one evening in the rain, and feeling both excited and apprehensive in equal measure at meeting someone whose work I'd read for so long and who I'd seen perform many times on DVD.
After looking round Roberto's studio and some of his collection of historical manuscripts and books we got down to work.
I did a short routine for him (a combination “ambitious card”, “Triumph” and “card to impossible location” if you're interested).
We then sat back and analysed the routine.
What I'd expected was to focus on my technique. Roberto is schooled in the “Spanish style” – complex yet artistic sleight of hand.
What we did was very different.
Roberto asked me what I was trying to achieve with my magic. What I wanted my audience to experience and to feel as a result.
Tough question. But a good one.
Was I trying to fool them? Amuse them? Astound them? Make them laugh? Give them a once in a lifetime experience of sheer wonder?
And who was I trying to be? A suave entertainer, a clown, a skilful cardsharp?
Roberto and I worked through these questions over a number of hours and a couple of drinks too. It was hard work. These were questions I'd never really thought about much before.
But it turns out Roberto was right. If your goal is to entertain your audience. If you're playing with them, rather than trying to outwit them – then they play nicely back.
Rather than your performance being you trying to impress them – to “make” them laugh, to “make” them like you – it becomes one where you work together with the audience to help them have a good time.
When they know they're in safe hands. That you're not trying to make fun of them or embarrass them. Then they can relax and enjoy the ride.
In magic, intent is more important than technique.
Though as Mahan would say – technique is still important. Clumsy technique spoils the illusion, breaks the spell.
But if your audience doesn't choose to join you. If it's you vs them rather than you with them – then all the technique in the world won't save you.
Marketing is like magic.
You must start with the right intent. Your goal must be to help your clients succeed, not merely to sell them your stuff. You with them not you vs them.
When your potential clients see your intent, they too can relax knowing they're in safe hands.
So before you go into any sales meeting, ask yourself the questions Roberto asked me. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want your clients to feel and experience?
Get that clear and you'll see a difference in how they react to you.
Ask any senior professional about the books that have had the most influence on them and The Trusted Advisor by David Maister, Charles H Green and Rob Galford is almost certain to be up their near the top of the list.
It was a landmark work – explaining why trust needs to be at the centre of any professional relationship – and how to earn it with your clients.
The good news for us fans of the book is that Charles H Green has teamed up with Andrea Howe to write a follow-up book: The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook. This book takes up where The Trusted Advisor left off and dives into practical details on how to:
Develop business with trust
Nurture trust-based relationships
Build and run a trustworthy organization, and
Develop your trust skill set
One of the tools Charles and the team over at Trusted Advisor Associates use in their work is the Trust Quotient Self Assessment. This tool allows you to see which elements of trust you're strong at, and where you have weaknesses.
Rather impulsively, I agreed to be a guinuea pig for the tool – and to video the results live with Charles.
On the video we look at my Trust Profile, and talk about how to go about improving your trustworthiness using the tool as a guide.
You can check it out here, find out what my profile is, and how to improve your trust:
One of the biggest barriers many consultants, coaches and other professionals have that stands between them and achieving their business goals is their own mindset and attitude towards marketing and selling.
I can't tell you the number of people I meet who absolutely know they need to be more effective at marketing and sales – yet who feel incredibly uncomfortable doing it.
And I have to admit, I used to feel that way too.
In fact, I'm still not a “hardcore” sales person ruthlessly focused on getting the sale. My primary concern is getting the best outcome for my clients. And I'm happy that way.
But what I've found is a way of thinking about marketing and sales – mindset “hacks” – that allow me to remain fully congruent with my primary goal of helping clients, while still being effective at marketing and selling.
I'm not saying you have to share all my beliefs and ways of thinking about marketing and sales. But I have found that the more of these you internalise and believe in, the more successful you're likely to be at sales.
Mindset 1: Taking Control A lot of consultants and coaches have a very passive mindset about marketing and selling. “If I do good work, people will hear about me”, “Word of mouth is the best marketing”, “Something will turn up, it always does”, “Once the recovery kicks in…”.
These may all be true – but if you let them dominate your thinking, it causes you to be passive. To sit back and wait for things to happen. If you want to be successful in marketing and sales you must decide to take things into your own hands: to choose Action over Hope.
Mindset 2: Focus We’re so overwhelmed with opportunities and information these days it's very easy to lose focus. Every day I read reports of others “crushing it” with webinars, events, product launches, direct mail…
It’s so tempting to become distracted – to try to do everything. To try out every shiny new method you hear about in the hope it will magically bring you in clients without a lot of work.
But the truth is that if we split our focus and keep trying new things, we'll never get good at any of them. We'll never develop the skills or the reputation for any of them to pay off. The path to success is to pick two or three proven approaches and stick with them.
Mindset 3: The SACI Principle This builds on the principle of focus – and it's something I've written about in detail here.
The SACI principle is that success comes not from silver bullets or one big amazing event – but from Simple Actions Consistently Implemented.
We all know we should keep in touch with our contacts and nurture our relationships. A simple action. But how many of us do it consistently? The same applies across all our marketing and sales. It's consistency that counts.
Mindset 4: Systematize This was quite a tough principle for me to get to grips with. I love to try new things, to innovate and play around with my marketing. But once you've found something that works, you need to set it on “autopilot”. You need it to be working day in, day out without having to think about it all the time.
That doesn't mean it has to be automated – much of it can't be. But it does mean that – for example – if you've chosen to write articles or blog posts to attract clients, then you need to have a plan for what you're going to write and you need to dedicate a morning a week to doing it. Rather than just aiming to grab some time when you can and make it up as you go along.
Mindset 5: Client Focus We all talk about being client focused. But in this context, what I mean is that when you have a sales meeting with a client, you're overriding thought should be “how can I help?” – not “how can I sell?”.
What I mean by that is if you go into the meeting (or if you're on a call with a potential client) thinking that your goal is to sell them your services, that a succesful result from that meeting is to emerge with a paying client. Then the chances are you're not going to sell.
You see, more often than not your potential client will pick up on your motivation. If they think that your goal is to sell them, then they won't trust your advice to be independent and in their best interests. They'll second guess what you're saying and resist your recommendations – unsure whether you're making them because you think it's right, or whether you're making them in your own self interest.
However, if you go into the meeting thinking your goal is to help your potential client – and to discover if working together would be the right option – then things change.
When your potential client picks up that your overriding goal is to act in their best interests – and they will pick up on it – then they'll trust your advice and recommendations. If at some point you suggest that working together would benefit them, they're an awful lot likelier to accept that suggestion as being genuine advice rather than a self interested sales pitch than they would be if they felt your goal was to get the sale.
Mindset 6: Belief in Your Value and Expertise Hand in hand with your focus on helping clients needs to be your belief in the value of what you do and in the strength of your expertise.
The risk with client focus is that you can become subservient – just doing whatever they ask. That's not in their best interests. You need to have a strong belief in your own knowledge and capabilities – and in the value you bring them.
If you don't believe in the tremendous results your potential clients will get if they work with you, then you'll be unable to convincingly communicate that to them. You'll be tentative. You'll feel uncomfortable quoting the high fees you deserve.
In many ways, the first marketing battle is to sell your value to yourself.
Mindset 7: Make “No” An OK Answer In other words – take the pressure off.
A lot of sales techniques involve putting subtle (or not so subtle) pressure on your potential clients. Deadlines, scarcity, the risk of others getting this deal if they hesitate.
All designed to put a little pressure on your potential client to overcome procrastination and get them to make a decision.
And they work – in their place.
But with complex, costly, intangible services, there's a lot of risk and uncertainty for your potential clients. they need to see a lot of evidence that this will pay off and that you're the right person before they'll be ready to buy.
If you pressure them before they're ready, it'll backfire. They'll feel manipulated and uncomfortable – and they won't buy.
One of the best ways to overcome this – and to build trust – is to make it clear early on that them saying “no” – choosing not to do this – is an absolutely OK option and not one you're going to fight. Going back to our Client Focus mindset – your goal is to figure out whether working together is the right thing for both sides – not to try to force them to say yes.
Take the pressure off by saying up front that it's absolutely fine if you come to the end of the meeting and either of you decides it's not the best option.
Without that pressure, your potential clients will open up much more, you'll be able to build a more trusting relationship, and you're more likely to get the sale.
Review some of your own beliefs about marketing and selling.
Are they helpful or counterproductive?
Would it be possible to change them?
What should you change them to?
Drop me a note in the comments to say what mindsets – either helpful or unhelpful – you have towards marketing and selling.
If you're like me and you subscribe to a zillion email newsletters and blogs, you probably hear the following type of stories fairly regularly:
“Jane got chatting to the guy sitting next to her in the dentist. The topic got around to business, they exchanged cards, and a few calls later she had a new client.”
“I met Bill at a conference. We got talking and I mentioned an article I'd written on cost reduction. Later I sent it to him and followed up with a call. He was interested and after a brief meeting he hired me to help them reduce their indirect spend by 20%.”
“John was at a party a few weeks ago. The conversation turned to what everyone in the group did for a living. John shared his “elevator pitch” and two of the people there followed up with him later – one becoming a client within a few weeks.”
Now I don't know about you, but whenever I read these stories, or hear similar ones from people talking about their experiences, my immediate reaction is “how come that never happens to me?”
When I go to the dentist, the topic never gets round to business. When I meet people at parties, the conversation usually turns to football, not marketing.
So how come these folks in the stories seem to have so much success turning social situations into business? Is there a secret they're not sharing that they do and we don't? Some amazing technique we've not heard of?
Well, there is a secret. But it's not a clever technique.
You see, what the stories usually omit is that the people they're talking about initiate conversations EVERY time they're at the dentist (or the doctors, or at the hairdressers, or in a queue for tickets, or…). Only one in twenty turns into a business discussion – and that's the one you hear in the story. Of course, one in twenty is one more than you get if you don't initiate any conversations at all.
When they're at parties, the conversation doesn't always turn to business. It's just that they go to more parties than us, and they're the ones bringing up business.
In short, they turn more social situations into business than you or I because they put themselves in more social situations than you or I, they proactively talk to more people than you or I, and they bring up business more than you or I.
The rather simple logic is that all other things being equal, if you want to win more business, you've got to do more business development.
Or to paraphrase the old joke: it's no good just praying to win the lottery – you have to give your deity of choice a fighting chance by actually buying a ticket.
In the world of espionage they call it your “legend”. In drama, it's a character's “backstory”. In marketing we often call it a “persona”.
In essence, it's the stories about you, your history, your experiences which uniquely qualify you to do the things you claim you can do. The things that give credibility to your services.
If you're a an innovation consultant, perhaps you spent 10 years at Apple and know how the very best do it. If you're an IT outsourcer, perhaps you used to be the CIO of a major corporation and know just what CIOs need from outsourcing. If you're a leadership coach, perhaps you interviewed the 10 most prominent leaders in your sector and know what they do that makes them so effective.
In my post on Marketing Half-Truths I showed how important this backstory can be. How it can give you significant credibility and also make you more interesting to clients.
I'm not talking here just about your achievements or your CV. Just a list of stuff you've done is neither interesting nor memorable.
What I'm talking about is crafting a coherent and memorable story that brings a logical underpinning to your capabilities and services.
It works best if you can sum it up in one sentence. “<your name> can <do what you say you can do> because <your story which justifies it>”.
In my case, I can help consultants and coaches get more clients because I've done it myself – despite being far from a natural at business development.
Here are some others from my Authority Marketing podcast interviews:
Drayton Bird can do world-class copywriting because he's an obsessive student of the art and learned personally from the very best.
Greg Alexander can use benchmarking to improve sales performance because he's an ex-Sales VP who teamed up with a benchmarking geek to devise a method that really measures what drives sales success.
Tom Searcy can help small businesses beat their bigger competitors to land huge clients because he's done it time and time again himself and has turned his experience into a practical methodology.
In each of the cases, the history of the person lends credibility to what they say they can do.
Knowing their backstory, I'm going to hire each of them ahead of someone who claims to be able to do the same, but doesn't have the same credibility in their story.
So do you have a credible backstory like this?
I'm not suggesting you make one up if you don't. But what you can do is identify and focus on the elements in your own history which support your claims. This could be jobs you've done, experiences you've had, something you've studied, or a quirk of your personality.
What sort of stories typically work well?
In no particular order, here's a list of types of backstory which can work well. See if your experience can fit into any of these templates:
“I've done what you want to do”. This is a particularly powerful one. If you've done yourself what you're advising others to do (turned around a company, led a large organisation, doubled the sales of your business) then it makes sense to people that your advice will be good.
“The researcher“. You may not have done yourself what you're advising people about – but you've studied those who have and become an expert on what drives success based on multiple examples.
“The power behind the throne”. You were the guy behind the scenes advising, guiding and coaching others who've become big successes in the way your potential clients want to. Who did Roger Federer turn to recently to revitalise his career? Paul Annacone, the guy who helped Pete Sampras to nine of his Grand Slam victories.
“The pioneer”. You've the guy who's come up with new ideas in your field. A new theory of leadership. The first application of benchmarking to HR or whatever.
“The man on a mission”. You're dedicated to a cause – reducing waste in the public sector, democratising leadership.
“The champion”. This time you're dedicated to a particular type of business. Like Tom Searcy, for example, who champions small companies in their fight to win big deals against their big competitors.
“The safe pair of hands”. You want someone to manage a big IT project? This guy's done dozens. He knows every trick in the book and lives and breathes these projects.
“The engineer”. The guy who sees everything as a puzzle to be solved. Incredibly curious and obsessive about cracking every problem he gets given. You have a tough marketing challenge? Give it to him and he'll figure it out.
And, of course, there could be a whole bunch more.
In every case, something about the character or the experience of the persona gives credibility to why you should hire them. People can understand simple stereotypes like this. The can mentally file them and associate them with good things.
And if they're playing their role well, their behaviour and the stories they tell should be congruent with that stereotype.
So what's your story?
PS For more information on using personas as part of business development, check out Dan Kennedy's work on Personality in Copy, and Jay Abraham and Rich Schefren on Maven Marketing.