THIS FOR YOU AND THAT FOR YOU
Categories Of Prospects
If all the world
of the legal and accounting professions are defined by the rule of billable hours, which
says that thou shalt feel guilty about any hours spent that are non-billable, and at the
same time you realize that some time must be spent in practice development, then a way
must be found to make your practice development hours more productive. For which read -- greater
results with less expenditure of time and money.
There are many ways to do this, but one of the best is to understand
the categories of prospective clients. The value here is that if you know the categories,
then you can allocate different degrees of effort -- and urgency -- to prospects in each
category. It's as simple as understanding that the urgency in chasing down a lead from a
reliable source is greater than it is for a client you're carefully nurturing for the
future. Let's look at the categories, in order of the urgency of your response.
- The prospect at the threshold. This is the prospect that's hooked, but not yet
reeled in. What's holding that prospect back? It could be a problem deciding between you
and several of your competitors. It could be failure to understand the real nature of his
or her problem. The trick is to find out what the holdup is, and respond to it. Sometime a
simple note with an article or advisory you've written on the subject works. It keeps a
gentle pressure on the prospect, and reinforces your expertise. (Sometimes a golf game
helps, but that's hardly within the realm of marketing theory.) As any suitor knows,
sometimes the best thing to do is simply to ask. Ask about the impediments to a decision
and ask about the prospect's problems. The more you understand about the prospect's needs,
the better you are able to demonstrate your ability to meet those needs.
One caution. Don't rely on cosmetics or the age of your firm ("...a legal
tradition since the ice age."). Focus on the prospect's problem and your ability
to solve that problem, and address those needs.
- The Serendipity prospect. This is the prospect that virtually walks in off the
street. It helps to know why that prospect chose your door rather than another's to walk
through. You can then reinforce the reasons for that choice. How did the prospect know of
you? What does he or she know about you? What is the problem that brought the prospect to
your door? This is what marketing is supposed to do -- bring prospects into your sights.
For this category, then, it's a straight selling situation. If the prospect knows a lot
about you from your marketing efforts, then you can move more quickly to your ability to
address the prospect's problem.
- The "Charley asked me to call you" prospect. You call, and clarify
why Charley though you could help. You can usually tell in the first few minutes how
imminent this prospect is. It might lead to a meeting. If the prospect's problem or needs
have materialized, then you can immediately call him a hot prospect, and you can address
the problem. If the problem isn't imminent, then you move the prospect into the next
category -- I'm here when you need me.
- The "I'm here when you need me" prospect. This is the prospect who
doesn't need you now, but will sometime in the future. Pursuing this prospect requires low
-- but consistent -- maintenance. Put this prospect on a mailing list for your periodic
mailing of clippings, articles, reprints, advisories -- the steady stream of material that
keeps prospects aware of your knowledge of their problems and your interest in serving
them. The idea is that when that prospect's need for your services surface, yours is the
first firm that comes to mind, and the prospect moves quickly to the first category -- the
prospect on the threshold.
- The "I don't know you -- you don't know me" prospect. Here is where your
future lies -- the prospect that should be your client because you can help, because it
fits into your long range plan, because it represents the kind of clientele you're
striving to build. What you want to do with this prospect, in order of importance and a
timeline, is ...
- Build name recognition
- Establish your capabilities, particularly in the client's industry and business
- Ultimately, establish a meeting, at which time you begin the selling process, and move
the client to The prospect at the threshold.
This last category may be not only the most important, but it's also
a process that can take a year or more, unless the configuration of the stars (the
prospect's problems and your ability to help) fall into line sooner than that. It's
accomplished by a routine of mailings (four to six weeks apart), which, with a good
mailing list structure, becomes almost automatic and low maintenance. Simple notes with
simple enclosures do it. Then, at some point (after three to six such mailings), you call
and say, "We've been sending you material for a while now. By now, you know a great
deal about us, but we know too little about you. Can we meet next Thursday so that I can
learn more about you and your company?" If the mailings have been simple and low
pressure, and informative, as many as 50% of your calls should result in a meeting.
- The "I got you, can I keep you?" client. It costs several
times more to get a client than to keep one you have, and yet so little attention is paid
to client retention. Most of what you have to do to keep a good client is obvious. Pay
attention. Be responsive. Do good work. But there's one thing more, and it's not client
surveys ("How am I doing? Do you like my services? Do you like my office? Do you
like my receptionist?") No, it's more valuable to keep asking questions about
the client's business. What are you doing? What's happening in your company that I
don't know about? What's happening in your industry and your business environment? I see a
potential problem for you that we can help you with. That's how you keep clients.
- The "I loved you when I had you but I've moved" prospect. Today,
client relationships are usually not with a company so much as with an individual within
the company. In this dynamic environment, people change jobs. The client contact who
thought you were great has moved to another company. First, be sure that he or she has
arranged for you to meet the successor, if possible. Next, stay with the contact. Keep in
touch. Keep him or her in your loop. In the contact's new job, there may be an opportunity
to bring you in - but only if you keep in touch. A note or phone call now and then. An
occasional lunch. Keep the contact on your mailing list.
- The "We're sorry you left us but we still love you" client. That's
the guy or woman who left you to go to another firm, or a company. A nugget. Sooner or
later his or her new firm is going to have a need for you because you can handle something
they can't. Or the person who left you to go to a company. Alumni, as sources for new
business, are a gold mine. Put 'em on your mailing list. Keep in touch. Write often. And
if you automate your mailing list, it should not be a time consumer.
- The "I know somebody who..." prospect. This is the banker, the lawyer, the
accountant, the consultant who knows somebody who can use your services. This is the
influential who's in a position to tout your skills. But this person has to know about
your skills. This is the person who should be on your list for periodic mailings of
information about your firm, its skills, it's accomplishments. These people make great
lunch companions, too. An important category that requires relatively little maintenance,
so long as it's regular. Definitely not the out of sight out of mind group.
Look again at each of these categories. Each requires a different
amount of attention at any given moment, and requires a different degree of urgency. The
first three categories leave you no option about urgency -- they are opportunity knocking.
The longer range categories can be put on automatic, requiring little attention in the
early stages, and more as each prospect moves up to the next category.
Understand, too, that there's a difference between getting clients
and building a practice. Getting clients is relatively easy. Getting the kind of clients
you want for your idea of the ideal practice for you requires a little longer term
In this pursuit, and recognizing the limited number of non-billable
hours you or your firm can accept, seeing prospects in terms of these categories allows
you to organize your marketing effort more effectively. It relieves the guilt of
non-billable hours, too.