Today’s business development clinic has come to us via a conversation with an aspiring partner who was finding that he was spending too much time chasing potential clients which didn’t go anywhere. We asked him, did he qualify his leads at any stage in the business development process. He looked at us blankly…

This is the advice we gave him, based on an excerpt from our new book ‘The Go-To-Expert: How to be recognised, valued, booked and in demand for doing what you love”.

Anything related to marketing and selling is non-chargeable time, which takes you away from doing what you love – servicing your clients. Possibly the biggest business development time waster is generating and progress the wrong sort of leads i.e. the prospects who are never going to sign up to be a client, or if they do sign up are not the right type of client that you want. You need to make sure that when someone enquires about using your services, they are likely to become a client and a good fit for what you do.

When you are pre-qualifying a lead, and before you spend large amounts of time writing a proposal, you want to be finding out about the following four things:

  • Funds
  • Decision maker
  • Fit
  • Urgency

Funds

As early in the sales process as possible you want to ascertain that the prospect has the financial capacity or access to the funds to buy from you. If they state that they don’t have a budget for your services, this may not be a ‘game over’ sign, but indicates that you will need to decide whether you want to educate them as to the value of your services. In an early conversation with a prospect it often helps to let them know what your services are likely to cost. In this early conversation, try not to be too prescriptive with your fees, but let your prospective know the likely range of fees that they may need to fork out for.

For example:

“Clients with problems similar to yourself typically find that it will cost them between £5000 and £30000 for my assistance to solve these problems”

Decision maker

Very often the person who enquires about using you may not be the ultimate decision maker. Whilst they may seem to have the right title to take the decision, it may not always be the case. For example, when we sign up clients who are sole practitioners or aspiring partners who decide to pay for our services from their personal funds, we often find that they need the approval of their spouse before committing to work with us. As much as possible you need to be talking to the individuals who are the budget holder, and have the authority to allocate funds. When you are talking with a prospect you will need to investigate who else may need to be involved to hire you.

Fit

Not every client and professional advisor is a match made in heaven. Many a professional has become a cropper on an assignment or lead due to a lack of rapport between them and the client. As well as a good level of rapport, you need to make sure that the prospect has specific needs that you can solve. When you first speak to them, these needs may not be easily visible. In fact, the initial ‘presenting problem’, is often not what, after some investigation, what you end up solving. For example, we were initially asked whether we could help a large accountancy firm with some confidence and body language training (not what we do!). After just one short email exchange with the prospect, this turned into strategic networking training for their fee earners. However, you have to determine whether your potential client is truly interested to learn what is possible as a result of using your services, and is motivated to achieve this.

Urgency

When someone buys a professional service this normally represents a considered purchase. I.e. there is normally a high level of risk (be it money or reputation) if as a result of using your services; the desired end result is not achieved. Therefore, before you allocate a large proportion of time to developing a piece of business, you need to make sure that the prospect intends to make a purchase and has a specific timeframe for doing so.

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