If you've been around in consulting, coaching, training or any profession for a while you'll know that bringing on board a steady flow of clients is often the most difficult job you've got.
It's especially true for those of us who don't feel like we're natural salespeople or super slick marketers.
So no matter how great we are at what we do, or how much value we have to bring to clients, we often find ourselves:
- Frustrated that our marketing doesn't seem to be working
- Overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes
- Fearful that we're going to end up in trouble if we can’t get it to work
- Confused by all the different options and different silver bullets being sold to us
- Unsure what will really work for us, where to start and how it all fits together
- Suspicious that all this marketing “stuff” doesn’t really work, or that we won’t be able to get it to work for us or that the latest “expert” doesn’t really have an answer that works in the real world we live in
- Worried that we'll have to somehow become a pushy salesperson, a tech genius or spend all our time doing marketing if we want to get it to work
And it's not getting any easier.
The last few years have seen an explosion of advice for consultants and coaches on how to get clients.
Most of it from people who don't seem to have ever consulted or coached properly themselves and seem to think it's normal to sit posting on social media all day or to try to learn complex technologies like Facebook Ads or Webinars as your first foray into marketing. Or that by renaming a hard-core sales call as a “strategy session” it somehow isn't salesy any more.
But times are changing.
Advertising costs have shot through the roof so that people who previously did OK are now losing money.
And clients have got smarter. They've been on so many “free webinars” that were just thinly disguised sales pitches that they're reluctant to sign up or show up live. And they know that if a guru offers you a strategy session their goal isn't to help you, it's to sell you.
They’re wise to cynical, manipulative techniques like fake scarcity, hyped-up product launches and paid recommendations from “influencers”.
It's time to move on from outdated, pushy marketing techniques. It's time to stop pitching and claiming you can help clients and start proving you can help them by actually helping them as part of your marketing.
It's time to do what consultants and coaches do best: to lead with value and to build true trust-based relationships. It's time our marketing reflected who we really are, not techniques borrowed from a get-rich-quick guru.
To do that, I recommend using an approach I call Value-Based Marketing.
What is Value-Based Marketing?
Value-Based Marketing starts with the recognition that when you're selling high-value services it's not enough to make a bold claim and then try to manipulate your potential client into buying using fake scarcity or countdown timers or content-free sales webinars.
High-value clients with big, important work to do need two things to be ready to hire you:
- Firstly, they need to know you can do the job at hand and get the results they're looking for. Whether that's growing their business, implementing an organisational change, improving their leadership or upskilling their team.
- Secondly, they need to know you can make your relationship with them and their organisation work. Savvy clients know that most projects and programs fail not because the consultant or coach didn't have the technical capabilities, but because they couldn't manage the change and the relationship with the client organisation.
So, how do you give potential clients confidence in your capabilities and trust that you'll be able to make the relationship work?
You do it by delivering value: demonstrating your capabilities and earning trust through your marketing.
Marketing is often seen as “showing off”. Telling people how great you are or what you can do for them. Making claims about the results they'll get if they worked with you.
But these days, clients simply don't believe you.
Every service provider under the sun has a list of testimonials as long as your arm.
None of that proves to a client you'll be able to deliver the results and value they're looking for.
What does prove you can deliver is to demonstrate rather than claim. To show you can help them by actually helping them as part of your marketing. By leading with value.
Now in truth, great professionals have always done this.
Bruce Henderson grew the Boston Consulting Group from a 1-man startup to the pre-eminent strategy consulting firm in the world by leading with value.
When he started BCG in 1963 he didn't have the contacts, the reputation or the inside-track to clients that his more established competitors like McKinsey or A D Little had.
But what he did have in abundance was ideas. Ideas that were valuable to his potential clients.
Rather than holding on to those ideas, he published the best of them in little pamphlets called “Perspectives” and mailed them to senior executives
in the client organisations he wanted to work with.
By leading with value and giving those ideas to potential clients he proved he understood their challenges and their goals and had new ideas and insights into strategy that could help them.
Within a few years, BCG had become the number one strategy consulting firm in the world and Henderson had cemented his place in history.
Of course, while direct mail is still a very viable strategy for connecting with hard-to-reach clients, we now have a much bigger portfolio of tools and tactics we can use.
But it's vital to remember, the important factor isn't the tools or tactics themselves. It's how we use them.
We can use online advertising, LinkedIn or face-to-face networking to pitch at potential clients and tell them how we can solve their problems and deliver all sorts of benefits to them.
Or, like Bruce Henderson, we can lead with value instead. Prove we can solve their problems by giving them value before we even start working with them.
Not only is this approach a much more effective strategy, it's one we can feel good about. And that means we'll do it.
Today, of course, leading with value is about a lot more than our initial connection.
For high-value services, 80 per cent, maybe 90 per cent or more of your potential clients won’t be ready to buy when you first come into contact with them.
You meet them at an event and they're interested in your presentation. They come to your website and download your free report or watch your insightful video.
But it needs more than that to turn them into a client.
It needs multiple value-adding interactions. You need to build credibility and trust in specific areas for them to feel ready to buy. And you need to be top of mind when the time is right for them.
That's why Value-Based Marketing is as much about your follow-up and how you nurture relationships as it is about how you start them.
And it's about how you continue to add value right through the client relationship as you talk to them about working together, and as you deliver your service to them.
And it continues after you've finished your work with them. Because your best new clients are always your old clients: the people who know for certain you can get results for them and that you can make the relationship work because you've done it before.
Value-Based Marketing: A Step-By-Step Guide
So how does Value-Based Marketing work?
As you'd expect, adding value to your clients is at the core of everything you do as you progress them through each step from potential client to paying client.
It starts with the Focus step.
This is the real foundation on which your marketing is based because it determines how attractive what you offer is to your potential clients.
In essence, if you're going to add value to clients through your marketing you need to focus on the clients you can best add value to and understand what it is they actually value.
If you get this right, you can have pretty mediocre marketing for every other step and still do well. If you get it wrong, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of your marketing is, you’re going to struggle.
Focus: The First Step in Value-Based Marketing
In order to focus your efforts in the areas of highest value to your clients and you, you need to:
- Figure out your ideal niche – the clients where you can add the most value and get the most value from working with.
- Build deep insight into the problems, challenges, goals and aspirations of the clients in that niche, and what they need to know and feel to be ready to hire you.
- And finally, to create a powerful value proposition that will clearly articulate why they should work with you and set you apart from your competitors.
Let's break each of those steps down.
Focus: Figure out your Ideal Niche
There’s a lot of nonsense talked about niche by people who haven’t got much real-world experience.
It’s very easy to say you need a narrow niche – but what does that actually mean? And how narrow is too narrow?
If you market, sell and deliver online you can have a very narrow niche because you can reach so many potential clients. But if you’re focused on a small geographic area, you can’t go so narrow because there simply won’t be enough clients for you.
So you want to be narrow enough that your focus gives you a perceived edge over more generic competitors. Usually, that comes because potential clients believe you'll understand them better and have more appropriate, tailored solutions for them because of your focus.
But you don’t want to be so narrow that the market isn’t viable for you. So you'll need to carefully evaluate potential niches for viability.
Ask yourself these 3 simple questions to come up with options:
- Who are the types of client most likely to have the problems or goals I can help with?
- Who are the types of client I have the most experience and expertise working with?
- Who are the types of client I absolutely love working with?
In other words, “who can I add the most value to?”
Asking yourself those questions should give you a good shortlist of different types of client you might be able to focus on.
For example, perhaps the clients who most often have problems you can help solve are marketing and sales teams in the pharmaceutical industry. Or perhaps you've got the most experience working with new startups or turnaround situations or with newly-promoted executives. Or maybe you enjoy and get the most fulfilment working with young leaders.
Your next step is to look at each of these options you've identified and evaluate how viable they really are.
And there are really three criteria that will help you determine how viable any niche is.
The first is the Economics of the niche. Or in real terms – can I make decent money from this niche?
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are there a significant number of potential clients who have this problem or goal?
- Is this an urgent problem for them? Is it near the top of their priority list? Will they be willing to pay a premium to have it solved?
- Do they have the money to pay for professional support? Are they used to hiring outside help? Are there others doing this type of thing and being successful with it?
- Can I reach them? Are they active on social media platforms? Do they visit certain websites? Read certain magazines? Go to certain conferences? Can I buy a list of them or find them on a Linkedin search?
Each point is important.
There clearly need to be enough of these potential clients to fill your pipeline easily. And if the problem you're solving isn't seen as urgent or important to these clients you'll struggle to motivate them to buy.
Over the years, one of the most important factors I've found in client niche selection is simply whether the client has the money available to be able to comfortably afford to hire you. That means that somewhat paradoxically it's often best to focus on businesses and individuals who are successful despite having the problem you help with rather than really struggling because of it. They may be more motivated in the latter case, but they're unlikely to be able to afford to hire you.
And finally, it's important that you can actually reach these potential clients with your marketing. For example, it's all well and good identifying “managers who've lost their mojo” as ideal clients for your motivational coaching services – but how do you find them? How can you tell from outside whether a manager has lost his or her mojo? What methods or media can you use to connect with them?
If you can't reach your ideal clients (or they can't reach you), they're never going to be able to hire you.
By the way, here's a quick tip to see if there are potential clients actively looking for solutions: harness the power of the web. There are a couple of free tools you can use that tell you what people are searching for on Google.
The first is Ubersuggest which will tell you the approximate search volumes for keywords and related phrases you put into it. Put in your services, the problems you solve and related phrases as keywords. you'll often be surprised at what people are really searching for and what they're not.
Another good source of ideas is answerthepublic.com. This site takes a keyword and looks at the typical questions people type into Google about it and turns them into a visualisation like this:
Perhaps the ideal situation is to find a particular problem or issue that many people in a particular sector or industry have.
The problem provides the motivation to hire you. The sector specialisation makes them easier to reach.
The second factor is your Expertise and Experience.
What knowledge, skills, relationships, experience or other factors do you have that will make you a credible choice for clients and set you above your competitors to make you the obvious choice in your niche?
Sometimes just focusing on the niche is enough in the early days if you're the only one doing it. But if the niche is attractive it won't be long before you've got company. There seem to be an awful lot more marketing consultants targeting consultants and coaches these days than when I started up, for example.
To prosper in an attractive niche you need to stand out in some way. To be able to deliver better results to your clients, or do it in a different way to your competitors. I'll be coming back to this important area when we talk about Value Propositions.
The final factor is your Energy and Enthusiasm.
Why is enthusiasm so important?
Well, if you're passionate about a niche, you'll go the extra mile or two to succeed in it. You'll continue to grow your capabilities and stay ahead of the competition.
You'll have a natural interest in your clients – so you'll get to know them inside-out.
You'll stay focused during tough times. You'll spend your spare time talking about the subject on social media and making connections.
Your passion will rub off on the people you meet.
And eventually, it will pay off.
You'll become well known in your niche. Someone people go to for help and advice. You'll be the first port of call.
And so when your clients need services like yours – you'll be the first person they call.
Of course, passion on its own isn't enough. It's perfectly possible to be passionate about something no one is willing to pay for. Or that you're a real novice in and don't have useful expertise to share (you should see me trying to play football, for example).
And don't be lulled into the popular notion that you somehow need a “calling” to a certain area or to feel like you were born to do it to be passionate about it.
The evidence from many studies on career satisfaction has shown that what we really need to spark our passion and enthusiasm is to do work where we have autonomy, where we're working with good people, where we have a chance to master what we're doing, where we get feedback, and where we feel we're contributing.
You can get that in many areas.
My first passion at work was IT (yeah, they had computers in those days, though admittedly some pretty big ones). When doing an MBA to improve my management skills I got more and more interested in business strategy and then over time in marketing.
If you'd asked me back in 1988 when I entered the world of work whether I was passionate about marketing I'd have said you were crazy. But now, it's the thing I get most excited about.
So for a profitable niche, you need all three: something you're passionate about, you have distinctive capabilities in, and where the economics work.
Focus: Build Deep Client Insight
Once you’ve decided on a niche to focus on, the next step is to build your understanding of the clients in that niche. Because it’s that understanding and insight that determines whether your marketing hits the spot or goes wide of the mark.
And I have to say here that a mistake I see time and time again is people assuming they know all they need to know about their potential clients without checking.
It’s a huge mistake because we simply don’t know. We have our own experiences and biases which are different to our clients.
So you need to use research to validate what you think you know about them.
Worst case, it’ll confirm you're right and you can proceed with confidence. More likely, it’ll highlight all sorts of new ideas and insights that can transform the effectiveness of your marketing by giving you actionable insights: insights into your potential clients you can do something with.
For a small business or sole practitioner, you don't need to commission a huge research program. One or two of the following simple research methods will give you what you need to know:
- 1-1 “Interviews”. I say interviews in quotes because these can be simple informal chats over coffee. What you're looking to do is speak to representative clients and potential clients from your chosen niche and get solid qualitative information about their main problems, challenges, goals and aspirations.
- Direct Observation. With direct observation you actually watch clients and potential clients to see their problems and challenges play out in real life. That might involve “shadowing” a client for a few hours (with permission of course). Or you can go along to conferences and meetings that they attend and just listen in to the informal discussions about the frustrations they face or the exciting new things they're trying to do.
- Desk Research. In many fields, you can often find previous research that others have done that will give you insights into the niche. Sometimes it's quite pricey. But sometimes you can find free or relatively low-cost research. A great free resource to investigate is Amazon reviews for books in your field. You can often find out from the reviews the thing people valued in the book, the problems it helped them with, and what was missing that they wanted to see. Finally, using the Ubersuggest and Answer the Public tools you can get a decent idea of what people are looking for online which gives an insight into their problems and goals.
- Short Surveys. These are great to get quantitative backup for the qualitative findings emerging from your other research. For example, you can list the main problems and challenges people mentioned in your 1-1 interviews and ask survey respondents to pick the biggest one for them. You can then ask more open-ended questions to get more details and demographic/sociographic questions segment the different types of respondent. You can run short surveys to an existing email list, share them in a relevant group online or even do them with your Linkedin connections.
- Historical Analysis. Here you simply look through your notes on previous clients and contacts to categorise their main problems and goals, the barriers that got in their way, etc. Because of things like recency bias, we often think we know what the majority of our clients were focused on, but when we actually review it systematically we find out we're mistaken. So do go back and analyse your previous clients in a structured way rather than assuming you know what the biggest issues for them were.
After gathering your raw information from your research and personal experience, you need to turn it into Actionable Insights: insights into your clients and potential clients you can do something with in your marketing.
The easiest way to do that is to create an Ideal Client Persona or Avatar.
What you're trying to do is build a picture of a single real or imagined potential client to give you a target to aim for when you're planning your marketing. Even if they don’t exactly match all your ideal clients, a specific individual will clarify your thinking and make your marketing much more concrete and powerful than trying to work towards a generic description.
Over time you may need a handful of personas – but it's best to start with one and focus on that.
To create your persona, read through your research with your clients and then try to identify who they typically are as a person. Are they typically male or female? Or maybe it doesn’t matter. Are they old or young, what’s their level of education, what are their interests?
This begins to kind of make them more concrete in your mind – and it also tells you a bit about how you can reach them. You won’t necessarily know the answers to all questions (and some won’t be relevant) – but write down what you know and what seems to be important
Next, you have two crucial categories. From your knowledge and your research, what are their main problems and challenges and their goals and aspirations?
These are crucial because they tell you what you need to deliver through your services to bring real value to them. And they also tell you what you need to include in your marketing because any time you're talking about your ideal clients' goals and aspirations, problems and challenges they'll be interested.
But just focusing on their problems and goals isn’t enough. We need to go a bit deeper in a couple of areas.
Firstly we need to understand their values and beliefs. Because it’s whichever values and beliefs you share with them that create a sense of affinity – of feeling you’re on the same side. So we want to know what those are so we can communicate in the right way.
And then finally we need to understand what they need to know and feel to be ready to hire you.
Some of those factors are rational, conscious ones; and some of them are more unconscious emotional factors. But they’re all vital and you need to satisfy those factors before someone will feel comfortable hiring you.
These factors will be specific to your ideal clients but they usually include things like:
- Believing that hitting their goal or solving their problem is actually possible and achievable for them
- That if they achieve their goal it will have a big, positive impact on their business or life
- That doing more of what they’re doing today won’t get them to where they need to be
- That you understand them and that you’re on their side
- That your approach is new and different and will work even if they’ve failed before
- That now is the right time for them to do this
Once you've completed your persona it's a good idea to give them a name and a picture to represent them so they become more “alive”.
In this video I walk you through the process of creating an Ideal Client Persona. it's an exercise that'll take you something like 10-20 minutes to do the first time but will really pay dividends in terms of the impact on the effectiveness of the marketing you do as a result.
Focus: Create a Powerful Value Proposition
The previous two steps have been all about building our own understanding of who to focus our efforts on client-wise and what they really care about.
Those steps are vital because if we're going to base all our marketing around giving value to potential clients, we need to know who they are and what they actually value.
In this third focus step we're going to look at how to best articulate the value we bring to clients. Because if they can't quickly see the value in what we do they're not going to invest time in building a relationship with us.
That articulation of value is usually known as a Value Proposition or Unique Selling Proposition.
It’s something you'll use in many places in your marketing. It's how you describe what it is you do on your website, when you meet people, in your Linkedin profile – basically any time you want potential clients to understand why they should hire you. And the two key components of a Value Proposition are Value and Difference.
Now Value is the big one. If clients don’t see value in what you have to offer, then they don’t buy. Difference then separates you from others offering a similar service with similar value
And it’s all about perception. If you see the value but they don’t, then you get nowhere.
Getting your value proposition right is particularly important where your service delivers intangible value.
If you help clients with leadership or team building or anything where there’s not an immediate dollar value associated with the results you get for them then you need to find a way of making that value more tangible and visible. Because at the end of the day no matter how enthusiastic your client is to work with you, when they have to go and get the budget and compete against all the other people looking to spend that same pot of money, they need a really strong business case for why they should be spending it with you.
The first step in developing a powerful value proposition is to review your insights from your ideal client persona to identify their biggest problems, challenges, goals and aspirations that you can help them with. Choose the ones with the greatest financial and strategic impact.
If you end up with a long list, narrow it down to the ones where what you deliver is the most different to what your competitors offer.
Next, you need to articulate that value in a way that's instantly clear to potential clients.
A good way to do this is to try to put your value into a series of value proposition templates:
- I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] (or I help [target clients] [solve unwanted problem])
- I help [target clients] get [functional value] which results in [bottom line/emotional value]
- I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] without [undesired side effect]
- I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] even if [typical objection]
- I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] with [additional benefit]
- I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] in [specific timeframe]
- I help [target clients] get [desired outcome] using [unique approach]
- The only [unique difference/outcome] designed specifically for [target clients]
The first template is one you'd use in a relatively new or immature market where clients know they have a problem they want to get rid of or an outcome they want to achieve, but there aren't a lot of alternative solutions for them available in the marketplace.
In that case, just telling them you can solve their problem is enough. If you have an issue that's causing a lot of pain but you've never heard anyone offer a solution before it's a huge relief when someone says they can help with your specific problem and you tend not to need a lot more persuading.
More usually though, there will already be people offering to help them with that problem. So you need to offer a solution they see as a better fit for them.
That might be a solution without some of the undesired side effects that normally go with it (e.g. “more sales without becoming a pushy salesperson”) or a solution that addresses some of the common objections your ideal clients have (e.g. “build your own website even if you can barely use Microsoft Word”).
Or it might be they get additional benefits from your particular service, or you get them those benefits in a specific timeframe or with a guarantee, etc.
Use the templates as starting points and triggers for your thinking – not a straightjacket. And get your ideas out on paper first before worrying about wordsmithing them. Once you've identified a value proposition statement that feels the most attractive to potential clients you can strengthen it by making it more specific, succinct and memorable.
In practice, you won't necessarily use the “I help…” format everywhere. It's just a good way of starting your thinking.
On your website home page, you'll probably want to word your value proposition more in terms of what your clients will get. For example “Rapid Sales Growth for Software Startups”.
In that case, you might use “I help software startups grow their sales quickly” in your Linkedin profile or on your About page. But on your home page, you want to make it more about them than you.
Lead Generation: Making First Contact With Potential Clients
Next, we're going to start generating leads: initial contacts with potential clients. But this is where we're going to do things a little bit differently to how you may have seen lead generation in the past.
When most people jump in to lead generation the focus is very much on the tactics. Should we be using Facebook Ads? Or building Linkedin connections? Or SEO or face to face networking or a whole host of other techniques it’s easy to become obsessed with.
But what actually determines whether you get a steady flow of high-quality leads isn’t what tactic you choose, it’s the value clients believe they’re going to get.
Now I don’t mean here the value they’re going to get if they choose to work with you – that’s important, but they’re not thinking about that yet.
At this first stage of the process, they’ve just got a problem or goal and they’re looking for ideas. They’re trying to think about how they might be able to make improvements and they’re not looking to hire anyone yet.
So the value that’s important is the value they believe they’re going to get from engaging with your marketing. So if they meet you, if they go to a presentation you’re doing, if they click on your advert, if they listen to your podcast – what value are they going to get from that?
Just to illustrate that, imagine I offer you the opportunity to meet with one of my friends, Mark.
Mark’s a great guy, I’m sure you’d like him. He’s a real estate salesperson and if you meet him he’d like to ask you some questions and talk about this great property he’s got that he’s sure you’d love.
Or you could meet my other friend Richard. Richard’s also a great guy, he’s quite a successful businessperson. And if you meet Richard he’ll share some of his best tips for running your business and being an entrepreneur.
So which one do you want to meet with?
Unless you’re being deliberately contrary, it’s Richard.
And the reason you want to meet with Branson isn’t just that he’s famous, it’s that it’s very clear that in the meeting with him you’d get a tremendous amount of value. Whereas if you met Mark you wouldn’t get any value in the meeting itself. You might if you bought the house and it was great. But there’s no incentive to take the meeting unless you’re already on the lookout for a new house.
And the truth is when it comes to our products and services, 90 or so per cent of the time our potential clients aren’t actively looking to buy right now. So we need to offer them something as part of our marketing that actually gives them value in advance of working with us and gets them interested – that gets them to want to meet with us or watch our presentation or click our ad to go to our website.
And since we’re not Richard Branson, we need something tangible to do that.
That tangible thing that will get the attention of your ideal clients is a Lead Magnet. It could be a free report, an email series, a video – anything you can offer for free (ideally at scale) that potential clients will find valuable.
Then, of course, you have to be able deliver it to potential clients and you need to get your Lead Magnet visible to them so they know about it and can sign up for it.
Lead Generation: Create a Compelling Lead Magnet
No doubt you've tried to use a Lead Magnet in your business before, or at least heard of one. But it’s worth reiterating just how powerful a good lead magnet can be.
- An effective Lead Magnet will get noticed by potential clients above all the noise and other clutter in their lives because it focuses on helping them with one of their big problems or goals.
- It draws potential clients to you, rather than you having to sell to them.
- It starts your relationship with a potential client by building credibility and trust rather than with a sales pitch.
- When they sign up for it, you can then communicate on a regular basis – giving you an easy way of getting the multiple “touches” needed to get a sale.
- Because you’re giving value first, you feel good about it so you market more rather than shying away from marketing.
A lead magnet has two goals. One it to attract your ideal clients – and that’s the one most often focused on. The other, equally as important goal, is to build their momentum towards wanting to work with you.
We’ve all signed up for a free report or other lead magnets full of anticipation but then been disappointed because it hasn’t delivered or it’s just the same old ideas we’ve seen time and time again. There’s no point getting people to sign up to your lead magnet if you then disappoint them and make them less likely to hire you not more.
A good lead magnet will tick off most of the criteria on the Lead Magnet Checklist.
The first criteria is that it has to be high perceived value – in other words solve a problem or help them achieve a goal that’s worth achieving.
And that problem or goal needs to be in a priority area for them – something that’s top of mind so they notice it when they’re skimming their feed or emails.
It’s got to be different to what they’ve seen before – and this is where lots of lead magnets go wrong. In rush to just do something quickly people just rehash old content – but if it’s not new to your audience why should they bother signing up?
It’s got to seem practical and easy to do – you’re early on in your relationship with them so most of them aren’t going to be ready to invest a ton of time on this yet.
And ideally it should have curiosity value so when you offer it they’re interested in signing up even if only to find out what it is – and that often comes from the name or the way you describe it.
Then once they’ve signed up for your lead magnet it has to deliver value quickly. It’s that speed of delivering value that builds momentum and gives them confidence that if they signed up to work with you they’d be able to get results.
You also want to demonstrate your credibility and expertise – so it needs to be your original ideas and examples.
And you want to create the lead magnet in a way that your personality comes through in the writing or the video so you begin to build a relationship with your potential client.
And finally, while the primary purpose of the lead magnet is to help your potential client with a problem, you also want to highlight a bigger issue that you can help with on a paid basis. So perhaps the lead magnet solves one part of a bigger problem or takes them one step towards their goal. Valuable in its own right, but also a natural lead-in to bigger work rather than a dead end.
You can build a lead magnet around any one of many different ways of adding value to clients:
- Get them started on the path towards their goal. e.g. for a “build your own website” course, the lead magnet could be a guide to installing wordpress and a basic theme.
- Get them one (or a small number) of what they want many of. e.g. for sales coaching that teaches them how to get more leads, the lead magnet could be a guide to getting 5 new leads from referrals from your existing customer base.
- Solve one part of the overall problem. e.g. for a Google Adwords agency, the lead magnet could show them the structure of an effective ad (or how to track ad performance or how to set up an account etc).
- Show them what others are doing about this problem. e.g. for a consultancy that improves customer service, the lead magnet could be a benchmarking report on customer service best practices in a specific industry.
- Show them how to hire the right person to help them (or avoid getting ripped off). e.g. for a web design agency, the lead magnet could be “How to hire the right web developer: and make sure you don’t spend a fortune on a website that gets you no results”.
- Show them the big trends and changes they will have to adapt to in the near future. e.g. for a retail strategy consultancy, the lead magnet could be “the top 10 ecommerce trends of 2019: and what to do about them”.
- Give them clarity on what their whole journey will be and what they need to do. e.g. for a digital marketing consultancy, that works with traditionally offline companies to get them online the lead magnet could be “the digital marketing blueprint”.
- Give them new ideas on a particularly tricky problem. e.g. for a leadership coach, the lead magnet could be “Intelligent Leadership: the three simple changes that can make all your leaders more effective”.
- Give them useful starting points, tools or templates to help them. e.g. for a Facebook Advertising agency, the lead magnet could be “7 Powerful Facebook Ad Templates”.
- Show them some of the common mistakes and problems people like them typically make. e.g. for a sales trainer, the lead magnet could be “10 huge sales mistakes almost every salesperson is making”
- Show them a surprising technique that is the opposite of what everyone else is advising. e.g. for a productivity coach, the lead magnet could be: “tear up your to-do list: use this simple technique for getting things done instead”.
- Lead them step by step to a milestone on their journey. e.g. for a fitness trainer, the lead magnet could be “the 5-day deadlift challenge”
You'll see a lot of advice suggesting you go for a simple and quick lead magnet – a cheat sheet or checklist for example. But my preference for a service business like a consultancy or coaching business is for something bigger like a blueprint. The reason for this is that it will attract the right type of client for you.
If you help your clients make a significant change such as improving their leadership, growing the sales of their business or doing a major re-organisation, then your ideal clients are really those who want to make that big transformation, not just get a couple of easy quick wins.
Of course, clients who get easy quick wins may go on to decide they want something bigger. But it's better to start by trying to attract clients who are already thinking bigger, even if they're not ready to buy yet.
Clients thinking of making a significant change are likely to be at the stage where they know what their problem is and have some idea of their overall goal. But they're not sure about the different options, what the overall roadmap looks like, and how to get started.
That means they'll get tremendous value from a blueprint that lays out all the steps needed to achieve their goal because it deals with exactly the issue they have right now. And if you've demonstrated you know the steps to achieve their big goal and all the pitfalls they need to avoid on the way, then you're the natural choice to help them on that journey. Especially if you use real examples and case studies from your work with clients to illustrate the blueprint.
Lead Generation: Delivering Your Lead Magnet
Once you've created your lead magnet you need to be able to get it into the hands of your potential clients. And you need to follow-up quickly afterwards to start them on their journey towards successfully solving their issues.
Initially you'll do a lot of that by hand: personally emailing the lead magnet to people who ask for it and personally following up. That will allow you to get started fast and give you more direct access to feedback on your lead magnet.
But in order to scale up to getting more leads and clients you'll need to be able to automate this. That means:
- Having an Optin Page that allows people to sign up for your lead magnet and regular emails.
- Having a Thank You Page that offers them a next step after signing up.
- Having a Download Page where they can get access to their lead magnet (and gives you another chance to offer a next step).
- Having a series of Welcome Emails that accompany the lead magnet to help new signups get the most value from it and quickly build more credibility and trust.
For your optin page there are effective designs built-in to pretty much every modern web page building tool.
The most important factor in getting signups is less the design of the page and more the attractiveness of your lead magnet to the potential clients who visit the page and how well you explain what they’ll get from it.
That said, you can increase signups with a good optin page that has:
- No big distractions on the page. The only focus should be on getting visitors to subscribe. So no social media buttons or links to your latest blog posts. And any menus should be de-emphasised, for example by putting them at the bottom of the page.
- A pre-headline that calls out the audience. For example “Exclusive Report for Founders of Tech Startups…”. A pre-headline like this can reinforce your focus on your niche and the sense you've developed something just for the person reading it or people like them.
- A strong benefits-focused headline that tells your potential client exactly what they'll get from the lead magnet in terms of the results it will help them achieve or the problem it will solve. A good template for this is [Acquisition Verb] [Specific Benefit] [Without Unwanted Side Effect/Even If Common Objection/With Additional Benefit] – for example “Get 5 Simple Marketing Tweaks That Will Get You More Clients Even if You're Brand New to Marketing” or “Discover A Drop-Dead Simple Method For Cutting Your Energy Bill By Up To 27% Without Needing To Buy Expensive Equipment”.
- Supporting bullet points, if needed, to further expand on the benefits.
- A clear call to action button with “micro-copy” that says what you'll get by clicking.
- Social proof, in the form of testimonials for the lead magnet or logos of companies you've worked for or where your work has appeared
- A “hero shot” of the lead magnet itself or the creator if well-known.
- Consistency with the source of the traffic/ For example if visitors to the page came from a Facebook ad make sure you use the same imagery and calls to action as the ad.
You don't need every element for a good optin page. You can get away with a strong headline on a distraction-free page. But it's worth testing the additional elements to see how much of a bump in signups they can get you.
One final word on optin pages: you'll need to make sure they're GDPR compliant.
That means when people sign up they're either signing up for one purpose, or you have separate checkboxes for each purpose they're signing up for. In my case both my lead magnet and follow-up email have the exact same purpose: they share valuable information, build credibility and trust, and promote my services. If for some reason, you're going to be using your follow-up emails for a purpose that's different to the lead magnet then you'll need to have a separate checkbox for people to consent to those emails too.
The Most Overlooked Page on Your Site: Your Thank You Page
What do you see when you sign up to most email lists or to get most lead magnets? Usually, all you'll get is a quick message thanking you for signing up and maybe a link to download their lead magnet.
What a huge missed opportunity!
When someone has just signed up for your lead magnet they're at their most “activated”: ready to take action. So give them an action to take that will further build your relationship.
Of course, the vast majority won't be ready to buy yet. But a small percentage will, and that's a very valuable group. So you might want to give them the opportunity to move forward by offering them the chance to speak to you directly.
A bigger percentage will be willing to take the smaller (but still valuable) step of signing up for a free webinar or watching a video or joining a group.
Don't miss that opportunity. Give your new subscribers the opportunity to quickly engage more with you by offering one of these options depending on your priorities and what you have available for them to do.
But whatever you do, don't just say “thanks” and leave them there standing.
It's a similar picture with your welcome emails: the first few emails new subscribers get after signing up for your lead magnet.
You want to build your relationship with these new subscribers as fast as possible. It doesn't take long for someone to “tune out” of your emails if they're not getting value from them.
In order to do that you need to deliver value fast in your emails. And you need to begin engaging with your readers in a way that goes beyond them just passively reading. You need them to take action and ideally to interact with you.
Usually, the goal of the first email you send after they subscribe is to send them the link where they can download (or watch) your lead magnet.
It's amazing, however, just how many people sign up for a free report or video but never get round to consume it. So in your first email don't assume you just need to send the link and everyone will head off to take action.
Instead, you need to re-sell the benefits they'll get from your lead magnet. Ideally, add a little curiosity. Tell them about the powerful tip on page 5 that will immediately knock 8% off their purchasing costs. Or the simple visualisation technique you reveal at 3m45s into the video that will make their meeting preparation much quicker and more effective.
Your second email is a chance to interact. I like to ask if they managed to download the report (or watch the video or whatever the lead magnet was). I ask them to hit reply to tell me, and give them the link again if they haven't. I'll usually remind them of the offer I made (for a call or webinar or video) on the thank you page.
This does a couple of good things for you.
Firstly, it's another chance to get them to consume your lead magnet. Because if they don't, they won't get the value from it that will bring them closer to buying from you.
Secondly, it begins to establish you as someone they interact with, rather than someone who just sends them stuff they maybe read or maybe file away.
Thirdly, if they do reply it signals to their email system that they’re interested in your emails which improves the likelihood that future ones will get through to their inbox and also the inboxes of other subscribers who use the same system.
In the next email, I like to add a bit of unexpected value. I'll send them a tip related to the topic of the lead magnet, but that doesn't appear in the lead magnet itself.
Not only is it good to add value in your emails like this, it sets the precedent that your emails will continue to give them new and valuable information and won't just rehash what they've seen before. So they'll pay attention to them.
Ideally, I'll wrap this tip in a personal story. So if it was a tip on sales, the story might be about my first ever sales meeting and what I learned from it. That way you're beginning to get across your personality and build more of relationship with your potential clients.
In the final welcome email, I'll typically repeat the offer I used on the thank you page. Particularly if there's a genuine deadline for it. Wherever possible I'll also try to add a small piece of insight or new idea to continue the process of adding value.
Lead Generation: Generating Leads
Once you’ve got your lead magnet and you’re able to deliver it through optin and thank you pages and welcome emails, you need to start actually generating leads. In other words, getting the offer of your lead magnet in front of potential clients.
This is where a lot of people get led astray. And it's where I’m going to disagree with most of the training you’ll probably find today on how to get clients.
If you've bought one of those expensive courses or coaching programs on getting clients then nine times out of ten you'll have been told you should be running Facebook ads leading to a webinar. It seems to be kind of guru union rules. They all say the same thing.
And the reason they say it is that Facebook ads can be incredibly effective – if you can target your audience on Facebook – and more importantly, if you’re good at running ads.
And the reason they say you should use webinars is that webinars can be incredibly effective at delivering value and building credibility and trust and selling – if you’re good at webinars.
The problem for most of us is that Facebook ads and webinars are some of the most complex and difficult marketing you can do.
The learning curve is incredibly steep and it takes an age to get them right.
And even if you get your ads right, these days the competition on facebook is brutal and the cost of advertising has shot up. So 5 years ago, even 2 or 3 years ago when a lot of these courses were written, you just had to have a basic knowledge of ads and you could do alright. These days you have to be really good or you’re going to get eaten alive.
And that’s fine if you’re a full-time marketing expert and you spend all your time on it. But for the vast majority of us who spend most of our time working with clients, it’s absolutely not the best place to start.
Instead, I recommend taking a “stepping stone” approach to building your marketing system. Or in simple terms: don’t run before you can walk.
When you’re trying to establish your marketing system don’t jump straight in with the most complex tactics – that’s like trying to learn Phil Mickelson's flop shot on your first day of golf lessons.
Start off with high-touch, low-tech marketing where you’re actually interacting with your potential clients, you’re getting feedback, you’re refining your targeting, getting your value proposition right and getting your lead magnet right.
When you’ve nailed that you can then turn it into a repeatable system you can do time and time again in a more leveraged manner. And then if you want you can either automate or outsource it using Facebook ads or whatever is working best at the time.
But don’t jump straight to automating first – or you’ll end up doing the equivalent of putting a turbocharged engine in a car where you haven’t got the wheels and the steering working yet.
It’s not going to end well.
The best place to start is very different. It's with the people you stand the highest chance of converting into clients: your existing contacts.
Focus on Your Highest Potential Clients: People You Already Know
Now I know that doesn't sound very sexy. It always seems much better to bring in brand new leads from cold.
And if you already know these people surely you don't need to do anything with them? If they want to buy they'll just buy, right?
If you're not actively strengthening your relationship with a potential client then behind the scenes it's actually decaying.
The sad truth is that people forget very easily. no matter how great a job you did for them. No matter how well you established your expertise. Different priorities take over and you drift to the back of their mind.
If a new problem comes up that you could help with there's a chance they'll remember you. But usually, they don't.
And there's nothing quite as frustrating as speaking to a potential client after the event and hearing them say “oh yeah, that's something you could have done…I just didn't connect the dots”.
There are four groups of potential clients you already know who might be ripe for reconnecting with and progressing them into becoming paying clients:
- Ex-clients: might be ready to do something new
- Current clients: might be able to work with you in new areas
- Dropped prospects: might have something new, or might be ready to try again
- Warmed-up prospects: now might finally be the right time
We tend to assume that our work with ex-clients is done. We did a great job, their problem is solved, so they don't need us any more.
But of anyone, ex-clients have the most trust in us and our credibility is the highest with them. They know we can get great results for them because we've already done it.
And the reality is that they often have plenty more work for us, if only we were open to it.
They might need us to extend our previous work and reach more people in their organisation. Or take the improvements to a higher level. Or do the same thing in a different function or region of their business. Or maybe there are other things we can help with that they didn't know we were good at.
With current clients, we tend to stay focused on the work we're currently doing rather than keeping an eye open for further opportunities.
Of course, we have to deliver on what we've been hired for. The client doesn't want to see us selling on their dime, especially early on before we've got any results for them.
But when we've had some early successes and we're familiar with their organisation the time is often ripe to have a gentle conversation with them about other areas we've spotted where we could help them make major improvements.
“Dropped Prospects” are potential clients that you’ve talked to before about working together – but it just didn’t happen for one reason or another.
Now human nature being human nature, our natural tendency is to assume the worst.
So we assume that they didn’t like us…or we screwed up the proposal…or they’re never going to go ahead…or they much prefer someone else.
But the truth is there can be a whole number of other reasons why a project doesn’t go ahead.
The timing might not have been quite right – but it might be now. Or they couldn’t find the budget at the time – but they might have it now. Another priority might have popped up that got in the way – but that might well have been sorted by now.
Or they could well have gone with someone else – but it might not have worked out and so they could be open to offers of help again.
In each of those cases, it didn’t work out at the time. You didn’t manage to bring them on board as clients. But it might well work out now.
And finally, Warm Prospects are contacts and potential clients who you've been speaking to for a while but who haven't progressed into becoming clients yet. But, of course, with a bit of strategic nurturing, they might just tip over.
The trick with each of these groups is to reconnect with them in a way that gets them engaged and doesn't just come across as you trying to sell something to them. And that's where your lead magnet is so valuable.
By getting back in touch to offer a copy of your lead magnet (provided it's appropriate to them) you're giving them value as part of your marketing. You're not starting off this cycle of your relationship by begging a favour or asking for a sale. You're asking them if they'd like to get something hugely valuable.
If they say no, then no harm no foul. In fact, they'll think better of you because you offered it even if they're not interested at the moment. So the worst case is that you've reminded them you exist and you've shown you're thinking of them and your intent is to be a useful resource to them.
And the best case is that this is something they're interested in right now and you've opened up a discussion with them in a way that demonstrates your expertise in this area and shows you're interested in helping.
Here's an example of an email to reconnect with an ex-client that does just that:
Notice how there's no overt attempt to sell or say how brilliant the report is. Instead, it uses facts (“It’s based on our recent work with a number of clients where we’ve been able to reduce their baseline energy costs by between 12 and 23 % per year”) to establish its credibility. And the email is written very informally. It's not a sales email sent to someone you don't know. It's an email sent to a friend with something useful in it for them.
Once you've reconnected and you've alerted them to this area where there's an opportunity for them, it can be a fairly short path to them becoming a client because the hard work of building credibility and trust has already happened.
Next: Look at Referrals
If your first port of call for lead generation should be the people you already know, your next stop should be referrals from people you know to people they know.
Referrals work through transferred trust. Your best contacts who trust you and know you can do great work will pass on a degree of this trust when they recommend you to others.
The problem though is that it's quite uncomfortable to recommend someone if you're not sure whether the person you're introducing them to needs their services. It feels like there's a good chance you're wasting both of their time.
And depending on how well they know you, they may be a little bit worried they're lining up their friend for a sales meeting.
This is where (yet again) your lead magnet comes to the rescue.
You can increase your chances of getting an introduction to a potential client significantly by making the referral focused on getting them a free copy of your lead magnet rather than a personal introduction to talk about working together.
Feel the difference between these two requests:
“Hi John, I noticed on Linkedin you're connected to Pete Smith of Smith & Co. I think Pete would really benefit from some of the work we do on customer service. Would you be willing to make an introduction?”
“Hi John, I noticed on Linkedin you're connected to Pete Smith of Smith & Co. As you might know, we've recently completed a benchmarking study on customer service best practices and we've just published the results in a short report. I thought Pete might find the results very useful and wondered what the best way of getting a copy to him would be. What are your thoughts?”
The first example feels risky to John. He's basically selling on your behalf. Some people are fine with that – especially if they owe you a favour. But most people are hesitant. There's a risk they'll be introducing their friend to a sales pitch.
In the second example, it feels to John like he'd be doing Pete a favour. There's no risk involved. If Pete finds the benchmarking report useful then great. If he doesn't then he's not really lost anything other than a few minutes to scan it over. And he'll be grateful to John for thinking of him anyway.
And in the second case, Pete is much more likely to say yes to receiving a free benchmarking report in an area that's relevant for him rather than having a meeting set up with someone he doesn't know that's going to take at least an hour of his time.
So the lead-with-value approach of using a lead magnet to get a referral is going to get you orders of magnitude more introductions. And the referrer can do them at scale too. They can send out an email to a group of their connections – something they're unlikely to do with a personal introduction.
Once you've used your existing contacts and referrals fully, it's time to move on to generating leads more widely with a colder audience.
The advantage now is that you've had feedback to refine and improve your lead magnet and any landing pages and welcome emails you've used. And you've already been able to generate leads and start them on their journey to becoming clients before needing to make any big investments of time or money into lead generation.
And, of course, for all of them you've led with value. You have positive relationships and a budding tribe of people you've already helped.
When it comes to moving to broader lead generation it's best to start by aiming to master just one approach at a time.
Which one should you start with?
The first question to ask yourself is whether you're in a “one-to-few” business where you tend to work with a small number of very high-value clients? For example, a consultant working with 2 or 3 clients a year, some perhaps paying a six-figure sum or more per engagement.
Or whether you're in a “one-to-many” business where you work with a larger number of clients each paying a smaller amount? For example, a coach working with a few dozen or so clients on an ongoing basis. Or like me, you might run a membership program with potentially hundreds of members.
If you're in a “one to few” business it means two things:
Firstly, because each client engagement is big, you'll have to build a really strong relationship with your prospective client to win it. Potentially talking to many people in the client organisation many times and maybe going through a formal procurement process.
Secondly, you can afford to spend more time winning each one because of the high ROI you get if you win.
So putting those together implies you need to focus and target a small number of potential clients and put a lot of personal effort into winning each engagement. Spread yourself too thin and you won't win any of them.
That means that the sort of marketing that will work best for you will be very targeted. Things like referrals, working your personal network. Contacting high-value potential clients and offering to do a presentation for them on trends in their industry.
And your follow-up will often be quite manually-driven and personalised.
By contrast, if you're in a “one to many” business and work with a large number of clients every year, it means you need your marketing to reach much wider. And you can't afford to invest so much of your time per potential client on each opportunity.
That means we're talking about much more automated or leveraged marketing – at least initially until an opportunity becomes likely to close.
That might mean doing presentations at industry conferences. Using online advertising leading people to a lead magnet and nurture emails. Or using content marketing or SEO to get people to that lead magnet.
And your follow-up is much more likely to be automated – email marketing being the usual suspect.
Quite a different strategy.
Of course, most businesses will lie somewhere in between these extremes. And many of us have a range of service offers including both “one to many” and “one to few”. Nonetheless, understanding where the majority of your clients and engagements lie on this spectrum will give you crucial insights into what marketing approaches will work best for you.
Next, look at three factors to identify the specific types of marketing you should focus on:
- What is the reach of this approach? In other words how many of your potential clients to it get you in front of? For example, personal networking may connect you with dozens of people, an article in a trade journal may reach thousands.
- How deep will the impact of this approach be on each potential client you reach with it? In particular, how much will it establish credibility and trust? For example, an article in an industry journal will probably do a lot to raise your credibility but because you're not interacting with people personally it probably won't do much for trust. A small scale seminar may hit both credibility and trust.
- Will you enjoy doing it and are you good at it? It's all well and good figuring out that presentations at big conferences will build credibility with your ideal clients, but if the thought of speaking on stage turns your stomach it's probably not the best method for you right now.
As you can imagine, if you're in a one-to-many business you'll need an approach that primarily gives you a lot of reach. The more impact it has the better, but you don't need a huge degree of impact for someone to buy a fairly low-cost service from you.
On the other hand, if you're in a one-to-few business you'll need an approach that gives you as much impact as possible and reach is less important.
In both cases though, you need an approach you can make work for you. One that's within your technical capabilities, fits into the time you have available and is something you feel comfortable doing (and ideally enjoy).
The following chart gives a guide to the typical reach and impact of some of the more common lead generation tactics. In practice, the reach and impact of a tactic for you and your specific audience may be different. For example, your reach with networking events is likely to be much higher if your audience is small businesses or specific professions rather than executives in corporates. But the chart is a great starting point for you to base your analysis of your specific situation on:
Ongoing Nurture: Adding Value Throughout Your Relationship
After you've generated leads and built an initial level of credibility and trust through your lead magnet and welcome emails, you need to start nurturing your relationships with potential clients.
This phase is vital – because as we've said when we’re talking about high-value services like consulting or coaching or training then 80 to 90 per cent or more of the time your potential clients won’t be ready to buy when you first connect with them.
Maybe the timing isn’t right for them yet. Or they don’t realise how urgent their problem is. Or you just haven’t built enough credibility or trust yet.
Now a lot of people at this point just focus on the small percentage of “hot leads” who are ready to buy.
But that’s a huge mistake. Partly because it’s only a small percentage. And partly because there’s a good chance that although you’ve only just connected with them, someone else has been building a relationship with them for a while – so you’re having to come from behind to win them as clients.
And what happens if you only focus on the people who are ready to buy is you keep hopping from hot lead to hot lead and all the while in the background that 80 or 90 per cent of people who weren’t ready initially are now getting closer and closer to being ready to buy.
And who are they most likely to go with when they're finally ready?
The person who ignored them when they found out they weren’t ready? Or the person who kept in touch, kept adding value, kept being helpful, kept top of mind by nurturing their relationship?
So if you want to avoid peaks and troughs and constantly chasing and being in second place, you need to nurture your relationship with the leads you’ve generated and stick with them until they’re ready to buy and they turn to you first.
Ongoing Nurture: Prioritising Your Potential Clients
Not all potential clients are created equal.
Some could become perfect clients for you, bringing you big exciting projects and staying with you for years.
Others could be good or OK clients. Doing one small piece of work with you or a few little projects in dribs or drabs. Or maybe decent work, but not exactly the kind of thing you want to be doing all the time.
Obviously, you'll want to differentiate between different types of client when it comes to nurturing your relationships. You need to spend more time and potentially more money to personally nurture relationships with your very best potential clients and do more automated nurturing for the rest.
I recommend keeping things as simple as possible here. The system I use is to categorise prospects as A, B and C.
“A” category prospects would be your very highest potential clients or partners who meet all your key criteria and who you can envision doing a lot of business with. You might decide you want to follow up with them every 30 days, ideally.
Depending on how much time you have available for marketing, and whether you typically work with a small number of high-value clients or a larger number of lower value clients, you might typically have 8-12 prospects in this category at any given time.
“B” category prospects would be a good fit, but not perfect. Or perhaps you believe they have significant potential but are a long way out from being ready to buy. You might decide to follow up with them every 90 days. And you might have 20-30 prospects in this category.
“C” category prospects are those where you think there is some potential and you’d like to keep in touch, but they’re unlikely to turn into your very best potential clients or refer a lot of business to you. However, since you never know with absolute certainty how things are going to work out, it’s worth keeping in touch to some degree.
With C category prospects you might follow up once a year. You can typically have very many prospects in this category, especially if you automate the follow-up.
Your mode of follow-up may also vary based on the category of prospect. With A category prospects, your potential returns are very high, so you essentially do what it takes to build a strong relationship. You’ll email, of course. But you might send them a book through the post, or invite them to meet for a chat over coffee. High investment, high return.
With B category prospects you’ll be emailing. Maybe using the post or phone. But your basic interactions won’t be too high cost unless you spot a specific opportunity.
With C category prospects you’re basically keeping in touch, but without a lot of individual tailoring. So you might send them your regular email newsletter (with permission). Or the occasional piece via personal email.
But until you see them engaging more or you note that they may be a better fit than you originally thought (and so move them into a higher category), you tend not to invest a lot in the relationship.
Over time prospects may move between categories. After spending time nurturing a relationship with an A category prospect you may realise they’re not as good a fit as you originally thought. Or they might make it clear they're unlikely to ever be interested. Or a B category prospect that looked like they wouldn’t be ready to work with you for a long time may accelerate their timeframe.
For some businesses, your categorisation might be even simpler. If you only ever work with 2 or 3 clients per year and have a prospect list of 8-10 potential clients you can (and should) do it all through personal nurture. If your entire business is focused on selling low-cost online courses you may never do any personal nurture at all – except perhaps with partners you do joint-ventures with rather than clients.
But for most businesses, you'll have a mix of A, B and C prospects.
Ongoing Nurture: Personally Nurturing Your Highest Potential Clients
The key to nurturing your relationship with high potential clients personally is to turn it into a systematic process. If you try to do it ad-hoc or fit it in when you have time free it just won't happen.
My advice is to set aside at least 30 minutes on Monday morning every couple of weeks. That way you're coming at it fresh.
In that time, review your A prospects every 2 weeks and your B prospects every month or 2 months depending on how much time you have available.
In your review you're going to read through your notes on each prospect, in particular:
- Their goals, aspirations, problems and challenges
- Their business and personal interests
- What you think they would need to know and feel to be ready to hire you
- What interactions you’ve already had with them
These are similar categories to the analysis you did for your ideal client persona except now you're doing it for an individual client based on what you know about them specifically.
Based on that review, you're going to brainstorm potential activities you can do in the upcoming 2-week period to add value to that particular client:
- What information could you share with them that would help them with their goals, aspirations, problems or challenges?
- What could you send them that relates to their particular interests?
- What events could you invite them to that they’d value attending?
- Who could you introduce them to who would be a useful resource for them?
- Is there something you could do that would just be friendly – e.g. an invite for a coffee to chat?
Then for every activity, you're going to identify whether you can use that activity to address one of the “know and feel factors” that need to be in place before they'll be ready to buy. For example:
- If you’re sending useful content – ideally make it content you’ve created and with case studies and examples in from your work to illustrate the ideas
- If you’re inviting them to an event – ideally make it an event you’re running or presenting at
- If you’re introducing them to someone – ideally make it someone who will speak positively about you
By doing this you're adding value, but doing so in a way which also progresses them to being closer to hiring you.
I'd advise build these nurture reviews into your schedule and protecting that time. Don't let the usual “urgent but unimportant” tasks that pop up deflect you from this critical activity. Protect the time as if it was a meeting with a client that you can't move.
At the end of the nurture review, update your schedule and build in time to implement the actions you identified in the review and again, protect that time during the week.
You won’t be able to identify a nurture action for every potential client at every review, but you will identify a lot more than if you just do it ad-hoc. And during the week after your review, your potential clients will be top of mind for you and you’ll automatically spot more ways to build your relationship.
Over time these small little acts of adding value and building your relationship compound and create a strong sense in potential clients that you're the person they want to work with.
Automated Nurture: Using Technology to Build Relationships at Scale
There are some people who say you can't build relationships online or using automated tools. I've not found that to be the case at all. Some of my best business relationships started online. And some have remained purely online with people around the world I would never be able to meet face to face.
Obviously, there are certain levels of relationship that can only be forged by meeting someone or speaking to them over the phone. But those levels aren't needed all the time. And they can be started online, even if they eventually need to progress to an in-person call or meeting.
Typically the type of relationship you need to build to sell something to a client mirrors the type of relationship you'll have when you're working with them:
- If someone is going to hire you for a very large project (for example 6 figures) they typically want to meet you face to face. Especially if that project will involve extensive work with them and their team.
- If they're going to hire you as a coach or mentor or have some sort of quite close 1-1 relationship then they'll want to at least speak to you on the phone beforehand unless you have a very big reputation backing you up.
- For buying online or other “remote” programs from you where the main interaction will be via email or messaging, people are quite prepared to buy based on limited online interactions with you
- In very many cases, even when you need to meet someone face to face to “seal the deal”, you can progress the relationship quite far online via email or messaging before you ever meet. To the point where the meeting just becomes a confirmation of what you've discussed online
One of the very best ways to use automated tools to nurture relationships is to use them to trigger conversations with your most interested prospects which you then pick up personally.
For example, an email to thousands of subscribers sharing a story of a challenge you had in your early days and how you overcame it will give value to all your readers. Adding a call to action asking people to reply to tell you about their biggest challenge right now might result in a handful of responses. Replying personally to those with some ideas to help will add more value, and potentially a more in-depth email exchange with a couple of them, leading to a phone call and a strong enough personal relationship for someone to become a coaching client.
So in other words, your initial automated emails build a degree of credibility and trust by sharing valuable content and a personal story; then prompt those who are interested and ready to go further to contact you to take the relationship further.
That way you're gradually building your relationship with all your subscribers while accelerating the relationship building with people who are closer to being ready to buy.
That combination just isn't possible without automation. If you tried to do it all personally you simply wouldn't be able to make initial contact with enough people. Even if you could, you'd be wasting time with the huge number of people who weren't ready yet and annoying them in the process by trying to progress the relationship too fast for them.
So far from it not being possible to build relationships online, you can actually build more and better ones – at least in combination with more traditional approaches.
Getting Started With Automated Nurture
In the future, there's no doubt that it will be possible to nurture relationships through a variety of messaging platforms. It's already possible via chatbots on Facebook Messenger (though with increasing restrictions).
Right now though, the platform of choice for nurturing relationships automatically is email. Email is still the most widely available and most used messaging system, especially in business.
As part of Lead Generation, you've already connected with your potential clients and got them to sign up for regular communication with you via your lead magnet and optin page. And you've sent your first few welcome emails. You now need to use your emails to build your relationship with the people who weren't ready to take action immediately.
Your goal is to create emails your prospects will find valuable and want to open and that will move them closer to buying.
What kind of emails will your prospects find valuable? Anything that talks about their problems, challenges, goals and aspirations and that provides them with useful, actionable information. In other words, what you identified in your ideal client persona.
And what will move them closer to buying? Anything that shows them:
- That achieving their goal (or solving their problem) is possible and achievable for them
- That if they achieve their goal it will have a big, positive impact on their business or life
- That doing more of what they’re doing today won’t get them to where they need to be
- That you understand them and are on their side
- That your approach is new and different and will work even if they’ve failed before
- That now is the right time for them to do this
In other words the know and feel factors from your ideal client persona.
If you want to get them ready to buy while sending valuable and interesting emails then the trick is to make the topic of the emails relate to their problems, challenges, goals and aspirations and illustrate that topic through stories and examples which address the know and feel factors.
For example, if you were a Linkedin trainer you might make the topic of an email about how to create an effective Linkedin profile. And you might illustrate that email by sharing an example of a client of yours and the three big changes they made to their profile that resulted in a huge increase in enquires.
Your potential clients get value from the email by learning about three effective changes they can make to their emails. But they also get the impression that you work with people like them (because you ensured the client in the example you used was typical of your ideal clients) and they get to see that people who work with you get results from it.
Use Email Series
Rather than just writing a collection of unrelated emails, it's better to write short series of emails on related topics. This allows you to quickly build up significant credibility in an individual area where a client might want to hire you. And you can link emails in the series, adding cliffhangers or previews of upcoming content to keep your readers engaged and “tuning in” for the next email.
A typical series could look like:
- Email 1: Introduce the problem, some of the symptoms (so they know if they’ve got it) why it’s so bad, and hint at the solutions that will be coming
- Email 2: Reveal the root cause of the problem
- Email 3: Introduce the big new idea that lies at the core of the solution
- Email 4: Show an example of someone who solved the problem with your big new idea
- Email 5: Share the practical steps to get started solving the problem
Or a different series could be:
- Email 1: Introduce the problem, some of the symptoms (so they know if they’ve got it) why it’s so bad, and hint at the solutions that will be coming
- Email 2: Share the first step to solving the problem
- Email 3: Share the second step to solving the problem
- Email 4: Share the third step to solving the problem
- Email 5: Share a typical obstacle or barrier often faced when trying to implement a solution
- Email 6: Show how to bring everything together and get started
There's no rocket science to these series, just a logical presentation of valuable information in a way that's easy for your readers to consume in bite-sized chunks. And most importantly, easy for them to implement.
Remember, the best way a potential client has of judging whether they'll get the results they want from working with you is the results they get from your free advice.
You can email these series to your subscribers as broadcasts: meaning that all your subscribers get the same emails at the same time. Or my preference is to set them up as predefined sequences or “autoresponders” which subscribers get in order after they sign up. That means that everyone gets your very best emails that are most likely to turn them into buyers. But it does mean you have to make your emails timeless rather than basing them on current events.
The 4S Model for Effective Emails
In terms of writing individual emails, a good starting point is to make each one follow the “4S” model:
- Simple. Keep the formatting simple and easy to read. Write the email like you’re writing to one person. Make one main point and have one call to action. You’re fighting against a limited attention span, so keep everything as simple as possible.
- Surprising. Don’t just go over the same old content and topics that everyone else uses. Give your audience something unexpected and new, give them something they’ll remember because it’s different.
- Stories. Rather than lecturing people or telling them what to do or filling up your emails with facts and figures – illustrate your points with stories. They’re more interesting, they’re more memorable, and they drive more action.
- With a So What. Make sure what you send is relevant to your readers, that you draw out the implications for them so they’re able to take what you send and use it to get improvements and results in their business or lives.
You won't necessarily hit all 4 of those factors in each email – but if you’re getting 2 or 3 you know you’re going to have a good email that will work.
The Structure of an Email
There are 4 components to almost every email:
- The Subject Line – whose primary purpose is to get people to open the email. Or more accurately, it's to get the right people to open the email with the right intent. You can get some of my most effective email subject lines here.
- The Lead – the first few sentences of the email where the person who's just opened the email decides whether they're going to read the full email or not. Your goal here is to build on the initial interest of your potential reader and motivate them to keep reading. Usually by highlighting the value of what they'll get, or by enticing them in with a good story hook.
- The Body – where you deliver the content of your email, paying off the promise of the subject line and lead and motivating the right prospects to take your desired call to action.
- The Call to Action – where you prompt readers to take some kind of desired action. This could be to take up your offer (strategy call, webinar, product sale page, etc.), to email you back or respond in some way to answer a question, to take a survey, to ask you a question. It could be to click a link to a more detailed resource like an article or video on your website. It could be a request for them to help you somehow like sharing or tweeting about something. Or it could be something you want them to do in the real world like commit to making a change in their life.
Your call to action needs to be a logical progression from the rest of your email. For example, if the topic of your email is about improving your Linkedin profile you're rather more likely to get people clicking on a link to find out more about your online training program on using Linkedin to land your next job than you are for a program on interview techniques.
Use Different Email Styles for Impact
I'd advise varying the style of email you use rather than just sticking to one type. Common templates I use for my emails include:
- Personal stories establish your credibility, show you understand their problems and build rapport
- Client stories (use with permission, of course) show that you get real results fro people just like them
- Inspirational emails harness emotion and build empathy with your potential clients
- List emails allow you to build credibility by getting across a lot of content in a short email
- Rant emails give you a chance to show your personality and position yourself for or against something that your clients also feel strongly about
- Q&A emails allow you to address specific questions and objections your potential clients might have
Varying the style of email you use allows you to keep your readers interested even if the topics of your emails are quite narrowly focused.
Use a Good Email Marketing System
There are a myriad of email marketing systems available ranging from completely free open source systems like Mautic through entry level systems like Mailchimp or Aweber, up to multi-functional business systems like Infusionsoft (now called Keap) or Ontraport.
My own preference is for mid-level marketing automation systems. These have all the advanced automation features of Infusionsoft or Ontraport, but without all the additional shopping cart, affiliate system, page building tools and other features you either don't need or can get better standalone versions of.
Personally, I use Active Campaign for my email. You can read a detailed review here. But other tools like Convertkit or Drip will work fine. Active Campaign has more features and is more integrated with other systems. Convertkit is probably easier to get into for novice users. And Drip is more focused on ecommerce type businesses.
Winning Clients: The Final Step Step of Converting Potential Clients into Paying Clients
Now you're focused on the right clients, you've made first contact and nurtured your relationship with them, your final step is to bring them on board as paying clients.
As with each of the Value-Based-Marketing steps, you're going to lead with value here too.
So rather than just having a traditional sales meeting where you ask your potential clients a bunch of questions to explore their problems then recommend your solution to them, you're going to use an approach to sales that adds value during your meeting or call itself.
Exactly how you do that depends on the type of service you offer and the type of clients you're looking for. Here are two typical examples:
If you're a consultant selling your expertise to work on high-value projects (5/6 figure+) then my recommendation is to invest in offering a High-Value Briefing to potential clients.
Winning Clients: High-Value Briefings
A High-Value Briefing is a meeting or call or mini-workshop with a potential client where the primary goal is for you to share your expert knowledge with that client and then to discuss how what you discussed could be applied to their business.
For example, you could run a High-Value Briefing to:
- Examine the top 7 trends that will impact their business over the next 2-3 years
- Review of a benchmarking study into best practices in an area of their business you've just completed
- Share a small number of case studies of organisations who've implemented leading practices in the areas this client is looking to improve
In each case, the High-Value Briefing is a data-rich presentation you prepare in advance that you can offer to multiple potential clients (with some tailoring for each one).
The perceived value of the High-Value Briefing is much higher if it's based on facts and research rather than just your opinion. For example, an offer to review a benchmarking study you've recently completed will be seen as potentially very useful by clients interested in the topic. An offer to come and share some ideas you have about improving their business sounds like you're just “winging it” to try to get a sales meeting with them.
It will also be perceived as more valuable if it's information that can't be found easily anywhere else.
Because it involved an investment to develop the briefing and then to tailor and deliver it, it's something you'd reserve for very high potential clients where you could win a significant piece of work as a result.
Ideally, you offer to run it as an interactive 1-1 session with a senior client decision-maker. That makes it much easier to start talking about their business and how what you've shared could apply to them. In the process, opening up the discussion to begin to talk about working with them to help them implement what you've talked about.
The key to the briefing is to make it interactive. In a one-hour meeting, you want to spend no more than 20 minutes or so presenting your trends or benchmarking. Then open it up to the client to tell you which of the areas you discussed is the most relevant to them or the biggest problem so you can focus the rest of the discussion on those areas. This then allows you to probe in more detail what their challenges are in those areas, what they're hoping to achieve, what they've tried before etc. Then you can share more of the relevant details from your briefing.
If all goes well, the client will see how implementing what you've shared could be valuable to them and they'll begin to ask you specific questions about what could be done. Even in the worst case you've still built significant credibility in an area of potential need for a client and built a fledgeling personal relationship with a key decision-maker you can then continue to nurture.
But if it does go well, it's a very easy transition to talking about how you could help them, the problems you could solve for them, the value of addressing them, and what a program to do so could look like.
Winning Clients: Enrolment Calls
If you don't work with clients where the value per project justifies preparing an in-depth briefing for them. Or if clients are hiring you to work with them as a coach rather than for specific expertise you could demonstrate in a briefing, then an enrolment call may be a more appropriate way of getting into a sales discussion.
With an enrolment call, you're still adding value to your potential client. But this time you're doing it through the process of the meeting or call and your skill as a coach rather than through the content you share or expertise you demonstrate.
Typically you might talk to a potential client about a problem or challenge they have and help them to clarify it, understand what's preventing them from making progress, and to map out a plan of action for moving forward.
This can be immensely valuable to a potential client, but usually it will need to come further in to your relationship.
You can run a High-Value Briefing for a client fairly early on in your relationship because the overt agenda of the meeting is about you sharing valuable information. With an enrolment call the discussion is all about a problem they have. So they're going to have to have a stronger relationship with you to feel confident in opening up about that problem and trusting your skills to help guide them through it.
Just as with the High-Value Briefing though, it's a natural lead-in to talking about how you could help them implement their plan of action.
Lead With Value – Even During Sales
Although these two approaches to getting into sales discussions with clients are different, they both focus on adding value to potential clients during the sales process. They're not just about finding out about a client's problems so that you can offer a solution to them. They're about giving value to those clients in the meetings and calls you have with them as a way of demonstrating what it would be like to work with you.
If you're going to get hired for your expertise, use an approach to sales where you demonstrate that expertise.
If you're going to get hired for your skills as a coach, use an approach to sales where you demonstrate those skills.
By adding value during the sales process you:
- Make it more likely that a potential client will hire you
- Start your relationship with them as a client off on the right foot (rather than them feeling they've been “sold”)
- Strengthen your reputation and relationship with them even if they don't hire you
- Make it much more likely you'll actually set up sales meetings and calls since you'll feel like you're helping a potential client with them rather than being some kind of pushy salesperson
Putting Value-Based Marketing to Work
We've now seen all the 4 Key steps of Value-Based Marketing.
- Focus your efforts on the clients you can bring the most value to
- Lead Generation to make contact with the right potential clients by offering value through your lead magnet and initial contact
- Ongoing Nurture to build credibility and trust through regular value-led communications
- Winning Clients by adding value in your sales process
So how do you get started? What do you implement first?
The path is slightly different depending on whether you're just starting out, or you have an established business with an existing base of clients and potential clients.
If you're just starting out, then follow the steps sequentially:
- Use the Focus step to make sure you're setting out on the right foot by targeting the right clients with the right offer. One piece of advice here: don’t get stuck in paralysis-by-analysis. You want to get your focus as good as you can right from the start, but inevitably you need to test your ideas out to know if they're going to work. So treat this as an iterative process. Identify your initial focus but be prepared to revisit this step if it needs refining based on feedback from the marketplace.
- Your main priority as a new business will be Lead Generation. The good news is that you can still harness your existing contacts from previous roles to get you started. And you can use validation of your focus and your initial ideas for your lead magnet as a way of establishing contact with potential clients and referrers.
- Initially, you can handle Ongoing Nurture on an as-needed basis personally as the first of your new leads come on board and you can tailor your follow-up to their needs specifically. use this initial phase to build up a database of follow-up activities and messages you can then re-use when you start systematising your follow-up.
- If you get the earlier steps right, Winning Clients should be the easiest step in the process, primarily confirming their desire to work with you and that they're a good fit. in the early days, try to have as many in-person conversations with potential clients as you can: the feedback and insight you get will be invaluable. Over time you can start qualifying more and automating stages of the process based on what you've learnt.
If you already have an established business, then you'll do the steps in a slightly different order:
- Use the Focus step to validate your current client targeting, insights and value proposition and make adjustments as needed. Ideally, this will confirm you're on the right track. But it's surprising how easy it is to miss changes in the marketplace or lose track of the big picture when you have your head down in client work each week. I like to revisit my Focus steps every year and I never fail to identify a new insight or tweak that will improve all my marketing.
- Next, look at Ongoing Nurture. With an existing business, you'll already have generated a number of leads over the years. And very many of those leads are likely to be rather more active than you realise and won't take too much nurturing before being ready to buy. So prioritise those leads to identify the highest potential ones, then start your personal nurture program for those priority prospects. Next, refresh your automated nurture system to make sure you're keeping in regular contact with all your potential clients and adding value in each interaction to build credibility and trust.
- Winning Clients is the next step to look at as more of your nurtured prospects become ready to discuss working with you. Make sure you're clear on what value-adding sales approach to use (e.g. a High-Value Briefing or an Enrolment Call) and make sure you have the structure of each of these approaches mapped out so you can consistently deliver a great experience for every potential client who goes through your process.
- Finally, head back to the Lead Generation step and review whether the methods you're currently using are bringing you in enough of the right type of leads. Make sure you understand whether you're in a “one to few” or a “one to many” business and make sure your lead generation methods give you the right scale and impact for that type of business. And, of course, make sure you're using approaches you enjoy and are good at. Don't get sucked into the latest silver bullet marketing tool if it's not a good fit for you or your clients.
How to Make Sure You Get Results Fast from Value-Based Marketing
There are 3 approaches you could take to implement Value-Based Marketing.
- Firstly, you can run with what you've learned in this in-depth article. There's a lot of material here that can set you on the right track. Of course, you'll need to fill in the gaps and find more detailed training to show you exactly how to do each of the steps. And you can expect a lot of stops and starts and learning through trial and error. But it's a viable path for those who like to go it alone and learn things from scratch their own way.
- Secondly, you can join my Rapid Results Program course that takes you step-by-step through every detail of setting up your Value-Based Marketing Program. The Rapid Results program is $397 USD (£316 GBP) + VAT if you're in the UK/EU and you can find out more about the Rapid Results Program here.
- Thirdly, you can get my help to work through each step as part of my Momentum Club membership program. Momentum Club is just $97 USD per month (£80 GBP) + VAT if you're in the UK/EU and includes free access to the Rapid Results Program. The bonus with Momentum Club is that you can get direct support from me through regular Q&A calls, our Momentum Club forum and personal support via email and live chat. You can find out more about Momentum Club here.
The choice is up to you.
Value-Based Marketing is the fastest, most effective approach to marketing for consultants and coaches who want to get the clients they need, without somehow becoming super-slick salespeople, or needing to spend all their time on marketing.
Implementing a consistent Value-Based Marketing approach will allow you to grow your business while working with clients you love on projects that excite you. By delivering value throughout your marketing you'll feel good about what you're doing and your clients will value you as a trusted advisor to their business. It'll allow you to escape from the rollercoaster peaks and troughs that plague most service businesses and instead build a healthy, vibrant business that delivers you the kind of work you want to do and the kind of life you want to lead.