In new business development efforts, B2B firms of all types are often challenged by prospective clients with this question: “Do you have any experience working for companies in my industry?”
Very often, the answer to that question can be a deal-killer for B2B firms without an appropriate client list or some other means to demonstrate industry-specific credentials.
Lacking the proper “just like me” credentials, some firms will argue that the skills and experience they currently possess can be applied across all types of industries. And although this may be true, that response typically fails to convince the prospect, and can even backfire. Because most companies believe their situation and the challenges they face are unique, suggesting otherwise usually will end the sales process.
Short of a firm merger or hiring an individual with the experience in a targeted industry, there are a few ways that professional services firms can gain business outside of the constraints of their current industry credentials. For example:
Recast Your Value Proposition: Take an inventory of your firm’s experience and capabilities, and identify those elements that are likely to address the current needs and opportunities of the industry you’re seeking to break into. By re-casting your public facing materials, or creating new marketing collateral and thought leadership that’s focused on your target industry, you can establish a baseline level of credibility that serves to offset the lack of actual client work in that field.
Seek Expertise in Individuals: Your firm may not possess the desired industry credentials, but some of your employees might. Ask all of your associates if their professional experience includes work either for or with companies in a targeted industry, and “borrow” those credentials, with their permission. Prospects often don’t care where your firm has gained the requisite industry knowledge, as long as they are confident that it exists.
Engage Freelance Talent: There are plenty of freelance practitioners with deep credentials in your target industry who are willing to lend their credibility and expertise to help make a sale, if they stand to benefit from the transaction. This is also a way to test the business potential of a new industry vertical without hiring an employee.
Earn Your Credentials: If you’re serious about breaking into a new industry, you’ll need to become a student of what makes it tick: the economics, the core issues, the competitive landscape, and how it is currently being serviced by your peers. This means following trade journals; reading relevant books and academic research; attending leading conferences and trade shows; studying the opinions of its thought leaders; talking to people who are considered “experts” in that field; and contributing comments and questions in relevant online / offline industry platforms. Chances are that this work will eventually generate insights, discussions and relationships that foster tangible business engagements in that industry.
What’s important to remember is that, regardless of the target industry, your credentials are only one part of the sales process. Once you overcome the “clients just like me” hurdle, the prospect will be interested in how you intend to address their specific problem or opportunity. And that’s where you should work to direct the conversation.