For most B2B companies, there’s no reliable way to predict when a prospective client will purchase their product or engage their services, regardless of what their “marketing automation” expert promises.
This is particularly challenging for professional services firms – legal, accounting, investment advisory, technology, management consulting, recruiting or marketing – where top-of-mind awareness (getting people to remember you) is a critical part of business development.
Firms that have made an investment in establishing meaningful initial contact with prospective clients – notably through face-to-face interaction – will often make one of three errors:
Inconsistent / No Follow-up: These companies might send a “Enjoyed meeting you” email, and / or connect on LinkedIn, but will not establish a method for consistent and relevant contact with prospects.
Inappropriate Follow-up: These companies will send the firm’s standard “package” of sales and marketing materials, and then plug prospects into a mailing list to receive whatever information the marketing department generates…regardless of its relevance to a prospect’s specific needs.
Excessive Follow-up: These companies subject prospects to a constant barrage of email, direct mail and telephone contact that makes their firm appear desperate for work, and often kills any chance of their being hired.
The effort to generate top-of-mind awareness is a means to an end, not the goal. The business objective is to earn a position on the "short list" of 3 or 4 qualified firms that are called in by a prospect as a candidate for selection. (Or ideally, as the only firm under consideration.) If you're not on the short list, you're not in the game.
Making a Prospective Client’s Short List
B2B firms that are most successful in consistently making the short list apply the following disciplines:
STRONG CRM -- Effective database management is essential for firms that are serious about communicating with clients, prospects and referral sources. Overlooking or taking shortcuts in what admittedly is a tedious task will submarine any effort to build top-of-mind awareness. Senior management must make CRM discipline a priority.
PROCESS CONSISTENCY-- B2B firms often start out with the best intentions to communicate regularly with target audiences, but lose momentum for two reasons: they've not assigned adequate resources, or they are not truly committed to the program. To succeed, firms must communicate with target audiences at least on a quarterly basis, and that contact should not be postponed, skipped or stopped. Consistent application is critical.
RELEVANT CONTENT -- Some firms do a great job on CRM and contact consistency, and then hurt their brand by pushing content that's overly self-serving or of little interest to their targets. Canned newsletters, boring white papers or news items announcing the firm's new senior partner or service offering do not drive interest or top-of-mind awareness. Content based on intellectual capital, showcasing insight, experience and opinion, and providing helpful ideas or guidance, will be read and remembered.
PATIENCE -- In golf, the best putters are those who envision the path of the ball to the hole, and then commit to that line. They believe their putt will drop. Firms that succeed in making the short list believe that consistent, intelligent contact with target audiences will yield results. They also have the patience to wait for what sometimes can be a very long putt to drop.
Your firm’s chances of making the short list on a consistent basis will be driven by its ability to drive purposeful top-of-mind awareness among existing clients, prospects and referral sources. That function should be the marketing department’s #1 goal, and their performance metric should be the firm's short-list engagement.