Some professionals always seem to be in the right place at the right time to win new clients.
They just happen to call a potential client when they really need help. Or they bump into them in the early stages of decision-making. Or the client remembers their face and calls them first when they need to chat over an issue that ends up turning into a project.
Most likely not.
Very many professional services are Demand Driven. Clients only buy them when they have a real, pressing need (unlike, say, a luxury good where potential customers can be persuaded they want something even if there's no deep underlying need).
And nowadays, even if there's discretion over timing, clients are increasingly resistant to sellers' efforts to “push” services at them. They are used to buying on their own terms, if and when they feel the time is right.
So we could say that the secret to selling professional services is in the timing.
If you can engage with a potential client when the time is right for them – then you're in pole position to win the work.
But how on earth do you know in advance – and from “outside” – when the time is right?
Here are a couple of ideas that can help you be “in the right place at the right time”:
1. Spot a Need in Advance
Sometimes it's possible to spot an emerging need even before a client realises they have one. There are sometimes external signs that “something is about to happen” which allow the professional to know when to make contact with a potential client to be there when they need you.
For HR consultants for example, the announcement of a merger or acquisition often signals that a couple of months down the line, the companies involved will need HR support to sort out the “fallout”. Conversely, however, by the time a merger is announced, it's usually too late for an M&A specialist to get involved – they'll have been hired well before the public announcement.
2. Be Easy to Find
When needs sneak up on clients (as is the case with many “distress purchases” like insolvency services or litigation) they don't invest the time in advance to build up relationships with potential service providers. Instead, they wait until the need hits them and then start (quickly) looking around.
Smart professionals know where their clients look for help. Chances are for most clients it's not the Yellow Pages. It's google, and it's referrals from trusted sources.
Find out who those trusted sources are for high potential clients, build a relationship with them where you demonstrate your capabilities and get them to like and trust you – and you're well on your way to getting the lion's share of referrals.
And, of course, make sure you rank well in google for the keywords that clients search for when their need arises.
3. Nurture Relationships
In very many cases, although we don't know exactly when a need will become urgent for a potential client – we do know which type of clients are most likely to need our services – and which will make the best clients.
In these cases, building a relationship with that high potential client in advance of their need becoming urgent is your strongest strategy by far.
Think week-in, week-out: how can I help them? How can I add value? What useful material can I send them? Who can I introduce them to? What can I invite them to?
You won't find something for them every week – but by reviewing their needs every week you'll make sure you're alert to things that would be useful to them. And so you'll find something most weeks.
As you begin your relationship, think: what specifically must they know and feel about me to feel confident hiring me. Make sure that over time you address these factors.
For less high potential clients – automate the nurturing process with an email newsletter.
Doing this means that when their need finally arises, you'll be the first person they think of.
You won't win every piece of work. But you'll win far more than your fair share.
And eveyone else will be thinking “they always seem to be in the right place at the right time”.