How to Acquire Clients: Powerful Techniques for the Successful Practitioner / Edition 1 available in Paperback
Follow the expert advice in this bookthe fourth in The Ultimate Consultant Seriesand you won't fall victim to the success plateau that undermines many consultants. If you feel that your work has become easier, it may be that you're not climbing "up" but rather moving laterally. And, sooner or later, your plateau will begin to erode and you'll find yourself on a decline. In How to Acquire Clients, Alan Weiss, internationally recognized consultant and author of the best-selling Million Dollar Consulting, shows you how to continue to move "up the mountain."
About the Author
Alan Weiss-author, international consultant, highly sought keynotespeaker-is the founder and president of Summit Consulting Group.His clients have included Hewlett-Packard, State Street Corp.,Fleet Bank, Coldwell Banker, Merrill Lynch, American PressInstitute, Chase, Mercedes-Benz, GE, American Institute ofArchitects, and Arthur Andersen. He is the author of The UltimateConsultant (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2001) and Getting Started inConsulting (John Wiley & Sons, 2000). Weiss resides with hiswife Maria in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
How to Acquire ClientsPowerful Techniques for the Successful Practitioner
By Alan Weiss
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7879-5514-0
Chapter OneIdentifying Targets of Opportunity
You Seldom Awake in the Morning with People Waving Money in Your Face
There comes a time in every consultant's career when there is a need to identify and pursue new business and then wrestle it to the ground. Often, that occurs soon after the consultant has hung out a shingle and printed stationery. But, surprisingly, it often occurs only after several years when a highly successful consultant-by repute, contacts, and original momentum-has exhausted that fuel.
In fact, one of the primary reasons for the plateaus and even declines that haunt once-successful practices is that the consultant has never learned to acquire business, because it's always presented itself at the door. I've met people seeking to enter my mentor program, for example, with several years of success and mid-six-figure personal income, whose "marketing materials" are either non-existent or outright embarrassing. They've simply never had the need to sell.
Until next month's mortgage payment begins to loom. By then, it's somewhat late to hit the street.
Selling is a noble profession. It began at the time that technology enabled previously subsistence farmers-virtually everyone alive-to produce more than they could consume. At that moment they had a product to barter with those whoweren't such good farmers but had other talents, such as tool repair, music, or weaving. With the advent of currency, items could be sold for a commonly recognized instrument, which itself could be bartered in the future.
In this profession, we are bartering our talent to improve the client's condition. Thus, we'd better learn who the people are who have the shekels that will enable us to barter with the bank at a later time.
THREE CONDITIONS ESSENTIAL TO SUCCESSFUL SELLING
We don't sell in a vacuum. Indeed, we sell in a cross-current of dynamics that strongly influence who will buy and under what conditions. "The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong," observed writer and wit Damon Runyon, "but that's the way to bet." So how do we control, direct, and cajole those forces which, in turn, drive sales?
The highest quality and highest velocity sales I've seen occur at the confluence of three dynamics, as shown in Figure 1.1.
Market Need. This is the existing presence of desire for your services, or the creation of that desire through your marketing endeavors. It means that some buyer wants to achieve a condition which can, one hopes, be filled by your wares. People enter a McDonald's with the intent of buying food, not to browse. They pull into a gas station to fill the tank, not to bicker about price. (Increasingly, you can pull into a gas station and buy bread and coffee, which is a reflection of catering to additional need through an existing method of distribution.)
In consulting, there should ideally be a need for help in the flavors you offer. When major organizations have strategic needs, many automatically call McKinsey, just as purchasing managers with word processing needs called IBM twenty years ago.
Walt Disney created his own market by inventing the theme park, which no one had been seeking or even thinking about prior to that. In consulting, need is created all the time, as organizations are informed, injected, and overwhelmed with issues, which include diversity, shareholder value, globalization, retaining talent in low unemployment economies, workplace aggression, substance abuse, computer hacking, and so on.
Not many companies were aware of the need for ergonomically sound work stations until several lawsuits created an acute need. Now there are legions of consultants working on design and usage of everything from chairs to keyboards.
Note that there may be plenty of need out there, but that your competencies might not match up with them.
Consultant Competency. I can't fill the need to create more ergonomically sound workplaces because I don't have the skills and am not at all interested in acquiring them. Similarly, I can't meet the needs of clients who have balance sheet issues or technology problems. But I can improve my clients' condition in the areas of performance and leadership, for example, not because I was born with those innate skills, but because I gained them experientially and academically.
Some of us are naturally good listeners or questioners. Some consulting methodology is simple to learn-focus group facilitation comes to mind. But while some people may be "natural" executive coaches, other have to learn the skills more methodically and gain mastery more systematically.
I advise new consultants to begin with what they're already good at, but to constantly learn new skills and acquire new competencies. But what about highly successful consultants who seek to gain new levels? They may have a somewhat tougher job in "unlearning" some of the skills that brought them to where they are in order to move on to the more sophisticated (or timely) skills needed in the future. For example, personality profiling ebbs and flows (although I wish it would permanently ebb), but 360° feedback seems to be a competency that fills more consistent needs. "Diversity training" will eventually run its course, but selling in a globally connected marketplace will be required for another decade.
When is the last time you brought new skills to your prospects, or to your existing clients? If you're hiring people, are you acquiring new skills or simply replicating those you already have? Is that a wise investment?
Passion. By this stage, you should know that you don't grow by finding something that may make a lot of money and trying to love it. Rather, you find something you love and throw yourself into it. George Merck, one of the founders and leaders of the highly respected pharmaceutical company, observed, "Do good and good will follow." He meant that if your intent is to help your customer, and you become adept at doing that and truly love doing that, you'll never fail to make a profit. Growing at an annual compound rate of over 20 percent for most of its recent history, Merck the company has proved Merck the prophet to be correct.
In Figure 1.2 we see three "typical" consulting trajectories.
Burnout. This is the newcomer to the business who is wildly passionate about the profession and his or her ability to help others. However, because this person quickly runs out of contacts, can't create new need, and doesn't really have unique and/or effective competencies, there is a relatively rapid decline. The "burnout" rate for such people is very high and very abrupt, since they're running on blind passion. They have ignored need and competence. These are often the people with a single "message" or methodology, who feel that mere intensity alone can create need in others. It can't.
Trapped. This is the profile of the more methodical consultants, who build a practice and become quite successful. Their passion climbs steadily until, subliminally and unperceived at the time, their ardor cools. Some retire early, others think of some way to try to sell their practice. Most continue to "go through the motions," but don't understand why the work isn't as much fun and the business isn't growing as it once did. I often refer to this as "the success trap." Consultants here are going through the motions, but are no longer enraptured by what they do, because they can do it in their sleep. They have, consciously or unconsciously, stopped developing their abilities and ceased acquiring new competencies.
Passion means that you are excited about what you do. You rejoice in the highs; you don't wallow in the lows. Passion is about being energized, being "psyched," being ready to go full-throttle every time. If that doesn't sound familiar, then you may well be in "the success trap."
Renewing. This is the constantly renewing consultant. This individual grows, takes some breathing room while success is absorbed and business is solidified, but then becomes passionate again about new clients, new markets, new skills, and new environments. The ultimate consultant is one who is constantly self-renewing, periodically re-energized, and continually thrilled about the nature of the work.
Your initial targets of opportunity to acquire new clients-no matter what the stage of your career-will be found at the confluence of market need, competence to meet that need, and passion for that competence. The bad news is that too few veteran consultants step back to admire that view. The good news is that all three dynamics, and hence the keys to new business acquisition, are within our own influence.
GENERALIZING AND SPECIALIZING: THE VIEW FROM CONTRARIAN LAND
There has been a rubric in our business about the need to "specialize or die," which sounds to me an awful lot like New Hampshire's license plate motto.
One can make a case for specializing early in one's career, when focus, a more limited skill set, the need for a quick "brand" in the marketplace, and other competitive factors mitigate against attempting to throw too wide a net into the ocean. But I don't think that's where ultimate consultants belong. In fact, I can make a case that generalization is where you thrive, while specialization allows you merely to survive.
The acquisition of new business is greatly enhanced when the number of potential clients (the breadth of the marketplace need you can meet with your competencies) is maximized. For example, the two "walls" that provide boundaries to my practice were those cited above: I don't do financial or technological work. But anything-and I mean anything-in the realm of individual and organizational performance between those walls is fair game for me. I have engaged in a strategy of trying to create the broadest possible range of prospects. I'd rather deselect those who aren't right for me than have the prospect deselect me on the basis of too narrow a specialty.
When you have come as far in your career as the reader of this book presumably has, there should be a tropism at work forcing more of a generalist view, despite the specialties that may have been responsible for getting you where you are. Those influences include both the obvious and the subtle.
Factors Supporting Moves Toward Generalist Positions
A veteran consultant's experiential base has become significant, and the nature and breadth of assignments will have inevitably created the basis for appealing to wider needs with increasing competencies.
One's name and/or "brand" has developed to the point that credibility is attached to your repute, not solely earned through future projects. Buyers will trust your ability to do what you say you can do.
Relationship skills will have been developed to the point where trust is formed with key buyers early rather than late. The veteran has heard all the objections there are to hear and is prepared to deal with them smoothly (or shame on the consultant).
One probably has acquired additional resources-subcontractors, employees, alliance partners-that provide additional competencies and abilities at the disposal of the consultant.
The nature of client concerns, the economy, the environment, and social conditions have continued to change and evolve, so that the consultant, while not abandoning original skills, has at least had to modify and develop them to stay abreast of need over the long term.
There's simply more challenge and fun in trying new things and learning new skills, and the successful consultant has more confidence and resiliency (toleration of failure) than a less experienced person. I've heard a great many consultants, about to try something new, say, "What's the worst that can happen? There is no boss to fire me!"
At any stage in one's career, whether neophyte or veteran, struggler or impresario, there is a constant need to refresh the practice with new business. The dynamics you can quickly and effectively manipulate are the needs of the market, your competencies to meet them, and your passion to undertake the initiatives. If that's the "arrow," then the size of the target is determined by how much of a generalist you decide-emphasis on the phrase you decide-to become.
If your target is tiny, represented by a highly specialized skill aimed at a narrow range of prospects, then your aim has to be precise and you have to hit the target before other marksmen-both the competing specialists and the generalists who also embrace that need-hit it before you do. However, if your target is much wider and more general, not only do the demands on your accuracy decline, but you'll also find targets of opportunity abounding, many of which have few if any competitors shooting at the same mark.
There should be a natural movement toward a more generalist position as your career progresses and thrives. Don't dampen it; encourage it. Your ability to attract new business and new clients will be directly proportional to your ability to position yourself as most appealing to most people. In other words, you don't want to be the equivalent of William Tell.
CUSTOMIZED ASSAULTS: WHEN THERE IS A SINGLE TARGET TOO APPEALING TO RESIST
The stereotypical "target of opportunity" is an organization the needs of which represent a particular match for your competencies and passion. We see this with executives-Gordon Bethune was the perfect leader to turn around Continental Airlines because he refocused on performance and not the marketplace fads-and the same holds true for consultants.
Pursuing a target "cold" is difficult for the best of us, no matter how strong our brand or deep our experience. But when the "call of the prospect" is overwhelming, and you don't have a particular "in" or introduction to a buyer, there are some criteria to use to determine whether a customized "assault" on this target makes economic sense.
Ten Criteria to Test "Cold Call" Viability
1. Do you have strong experience in the target's industry?
2. Do you have strong experience with the type of issues the target is grappling with?
3. Can you cite a third party the client respects who can validate your work?
4. Can you visit the target economically (target is in your area, or you can easily be in his or her area, since multiple visits will probably be necessary)?
5. Can you reach and influence people who can help pave the way, for example, trade association executives, vendors, customers, and so forth?
6. Can you arrange to speak in front of key managers from that company at some common, external event?
7. Can you publish something in the trade press or a specialized publication which key managers are likely to read or be familiar with?
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Table of Contents
Introduction.C H A P T E R 1 Identifying Targets of Opportunity: You SeldomAwake in the Morning withPeople Waving Money in Your Face.Three Conditions Essential to SuccessfulSelling.Generalizing and Specializing: The Viewfrom Contrarian Land.Customized Assaults: When There Is aSingle Target Too Appealing toResist.Strategies for Isolating and Hitting NewTargets ofOpportunity.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 2 How to Prepare for Success inAcquiring NewBusiness: The Allies Didn t Simply Decide to Take a TripAcross theEnglish Channel One Morning.The Frontal Attack.The Flanking Maneuver.Infiltration.When the Buyer Comes to You (Build It,and They Will Come).From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 3 How to Build Relationships withEconomic Buyers:Most Consultants Don t Stop Selling LongEnough to Really Make aSale.Behavioral Predispositions: Funny ThingsThat Buyers Do.Controlling the Discussion (Killing MeSoftly with His Song . ..).Emotional Targeting.Drawing a Line in the Sand for UnacceptableBehaviors.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 4 Rebutting Objections Once and for All: If You Heara New Objection, Then You Haven tBeen Listening in the Past.The Four Major Areas of Objections.Rebutting Arguments in the FourBasic Areas.Visualizing the Future.Sample Objections and Rebuttals.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 5 Sixteen Great Acquisition Sources: Why Go Aroundthe Block to Get Next Door?The First Four.The Second Four.The Third Four.The Fourth Four.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 6 Winning Friends and InfluencingPeople: How to BuildSupport from Those Who LoatheYour Arrival.Providing Value Early and for Free.Building Momentum Among Key Advisors.Dealing with Committees.Overcoming Threat Factors.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 7 Gaining Market Share from Others: Stealing Is Legalin the Sales Business.Harvesting Low Hanging Fruit .Creating High Visibility.Waiting for Someone Else s Bad News.More Techniques to Trespass on OthersProperty.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 8 Guaranteeing the Ultimate Business:RepeatBusiness;How to Think of the Fourth Sale First.What Is the Fourth Sale?The Three Keys to Cementing RelationshipsRather Than SellingBusiness.Developing Trust Through Pushback.The Present-Value Discount Principle in Action.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 9 A Dozen New Sources of Clients: The World IsChanging and So Are Your Prospects.1. Global Alliances.2. Remote Learning.3. Entrepreneurs.4. Universities and Higher Education.5. The Professions: Medical, Legal,Accounting.6. Mature High-Tech.7. The Retired, the Recreating, the Hobbyist.8. Behavior Modification.9. Life Balance.10. Sales Skills.11. Cultural Accommodation.12. Knowledge Assimilation/ManagementApplication.From My Time in the Trenches.C H A P T E R 10 The Process of Selective Acquisition: How toReject and Abandon Business in Orderto Grow.The Ten Very Good Reasons for RejectingProspective Business.The Five Very Good Reasons for Pullingthe Plug on ExistingBusiness.Managing New Business Potential and Profit.The Mercedes-Benz Syndrome.From My Time in the Trenches: Chapter 10.From My Time in the Trenches: The Book.Index.
What People are Saying About This
"Alan Weiss's wisdom wins contacts, clients, and contracts. Buythis book and use it every day." Jeff Gitomer, author, TheSales Bible and Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, CustomerLoyalty is Priceless
"Concise, practical, real-world strategies to get the contract.Weiss reveals how to land the big business fast." Randy Gage,president, Gage Direct Marketing
"Alan Weiss has done it again! This book is a real eye openerfor those of us who may have fallen into what he describes as 'thesuccess trap.' Incredible insight into how to recharge yourmarketing and sales batteries!" George Morrisey, authorMorrisey on Planning series
"How to Acquire Clients should be required reading for anyonewho sells for a living. I read this book and was struck by howrelevant Alan's advise is to what we need to doand keep doing."Jarvis Coffin, CEO, BURST! Multimedia, LLC
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This purchase was a real waste of money. The books keeps promising of better things to come up until the last chapter. Alan Weiss is not really a management consultant but probably more of a HR consultant. I think his active consulting days are more than two or three decades away and it tells. I tried most of the techniques he preaches and came up with naught! You will burn through a lot of money if you try out Weiss' client winning techniques. Some of the long term ones: get an MBA, get a PHD, get published, volunteer, teach at college, try different forms of advertising. WOW. Couldn't figure those out by myself. I felt cheated out of my money. But Weiss is a great salesman, he is really good at selling himself. That may have worked three decades ago but it no longer does in today's competitive environment. Do a search for "management consulting on the B&N search box above and you will see much more relevant titles.
When it comes to the consulting business, Alan Weiss has been there, done that and probably consulted for the T-shirt company that sold you the T-shirt. So what does a consultant do when he¿s mastered the consulting business? Why, he becomes a consultant to consultants of course. Weiss has perfected his craft. His book takes you into the buyer¿s office, a rarified atmosphere where being too anxious to please can cost you business fast. Weiss has an instinctive understanding of the relationship between prospect and consultant, and an uncanny ability to communicate it. He makes you feel empowered to strike out and start your own seven-figure consultancy ¿ except you¿d be competing against the likes of Alan Weiss. We from getAbstract strongly recommend his book to both veteran consultants and neophytes.