By Robert Middleton – Action Plan Marketing
There are a lot of ways to market your professional services and more of them are being promoted every day.
Unfortunately, many of them are overly complex, take a huge amount of time and require a lot of technical expertise.
When I work with my own clients, I'm interested in them getting results as fast as possible without too many complex steps.
I also emphasize that the clients who work with them are looking for a more personal connection with someone they can trust. This really fits for Independent Professional services and programs.
And the best way to accomplish this is through what I call "Direct Outreach."
Direct Outreach means exactly that – reaching out to prospective clients through personalized emails and phone calls (as opposed to dozens of impersonal autoresponder messages).
However, I'm not talking about cold calls. I'm referring to keep-in-touch contacts, introduction calls and other types of warm calls.
Do you have people you know in business whom you've worked with in the past? Perhaps they attended a workshop, did some coaching or consulting with you, but haven't been in touch with you for awhile?
One of my current client is having great success with this. She's sending very personalized emails to rekindle relationships with these people. When she sends these emails she gets an almost immediate and positive response.
She had recently redesigned her website and is offering a new packaging of her services, so it was a good time for her to reach out. Now she's setting up several phone meetings and in-person appointments to explore the possibilities.
I've noticed that very few independent professionals do this kind of outreach, let alone do it well or consistently. All you need is a friendly, upbeat email and an invitation to connect.
When I moved my business from my home to the Financial District in San Francisco in the early 90's, I joined the chamber of commerce and then used the chamber's business directory to identify prospective clients.
I sent a one-page letter mentioning that I was also chamber member and discussed how I helped businesses like theirs improve their marketing. Then I followed up by phone to introduce myself.
On the call I reiterated how I helped my clients and asked them about their business and marketing. Nobody hung up on me and I had a lot of great conversations. As we wound down I suggested a face-to-face meeting and most people said yes (somewhat to my surprise)!
Even better, most of those meetings resulted in my securing a new client. I remember how one of these clients mentioned how naturally and spontaneously this had happened. Nobody had ever called her like this before!
What made this approach work? A few things. One was the affiliation with the chamber of commerce. Another was that I was calling to introduce myself and create a connection, not to make a sale. By being interested in them and really listening, they wanted to explore further.
Other Warm Calls
You can make the same kinds of calls (usually preceded by an email) to people who are referred to you, to those attending a talk you gave and people you meet at a networking meeting, business event or conference.
One of my current clients lives in Upstate New York and has had great success in calling SHRM (Society of Human Resource Managers) chapters in several area cities. He's booked talks in most of these chapters, gets leads from those who attend, and his follow-up with them has resulted in several very good clients.
When I'm developing a direct outreach strategy with clients we look at all the current factors in their business and design the best approach for them. What you do depends on your list, the services you offer, and what you feel most comfortable doing. It's not all that hard, but it does require some planning and focus.
Why many people avoid this marketing approach
Many people have shared the following worries with me: "If I reach out like this I'll sound like I'm begging; I might get rejected; I don't know what to say," and, "Nobody will be interested anyway."
It's both funny and tragic how our thinking, based on past circumstances (and blown out of proportion), can hijack what we really want. So many have failed in their businesses because of the resistance to simply reaching out.
A few tips to make this work
1. Make a list of all the things you need to do in a direct outreach campaign:
- Assemble a list
- Develop a phone script
- Send your emails
- Do follow-up calls until you get a conversation
- Don't sell on the call. Ask some key questions and listen closely
- Set up meetings with those who show the most interest
- Conduct your "selling conversations" and get commitments to work with you
Put all of these into a weekly chart and check off the outreach activities you do each day. This will keep you honest with yourself and on track.
2. Practice your conversations. Once you've fine-tuned your emails, it gets pretty simple. But being comfortable making the actual outreach calls can feel scary and intimidating. The only solution is to practice out loud, preferably into a mirror. Nothing works better to get past your awkwardness and start to feel natural and authentic on the phone.
3. Track your activity. A few outreach calls here and there won't get the job done. You need to make several outreach calls every single week. Be consistent.
4. Find someone to keep your feet to the fire. When you make a promise and are accountable to someone else you procrastinate less and finally get into enough of a routine that the task becomes easier. Then it becomes more and more effective and you're motivated to make it a long-term habit.
If you're doing a lot of other marketing activities, such as content marketing and social media (which can be good long-term strategies), but aren't getting short term results, I highly recommend you give direct outreach an honest try.