The Secret Formula for Getting New Clients

The 16-step plan to focus on landing one new client at a time.

by Bruce W. Marcus
Professional Services Marketing 3.0

Here’s a little secret about accounting marketing.

It always comes down to selling the individual clients — one by one.

Bruce W. Marcus

Bruce W. Marcus

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You can talk about strategies, and image, and niche marketing and branding. You can talk about blogs, and social media, and press releases and webinars. But it always comes down to selling the individual clients — one by one.

Well… if you’re going to have to do that anyway, why not start with target marketing to begin with?

One of the greatest ads of its kind, for McGraw Hill, says it all. It showed a dour, forbidding looking man, seated in a chair, glowering off the page straight at you.

He is saying,

I don’t know who you are… I don’t know your company… I don’t know your company’s product… I don’t know what your company stands for… I don’t know your company’s customers… I don’t know your company’s record… I don’t know your company’s reputation. Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?”

All those tools and strategies of marketing build a context to facilitate getting to the individual client prospect, and supplying a background to target marketing. In the highly competitive arena that now constitutes professional services, all of the mass marketing techniques build reputation and name recognition. They attract prospects, and define a firm as a foundation for moving those contacts into your arena. Then target marketing comes into play, enhanced by a kind of pre-selling.

This is why marketing efforts, prior to the face-to-face contact, are important.

What does target marketing mean? It means identifying and choosing your prospective client by name, and going after that prospect with a broad spectrum of techniques, supported by a mass market campaign.

Let’s take it step by step.

  1. Define the client you want. A lot of ways to do this. Location. Size. Industry. Specialized need. Your fee range. An industry configuration that requires a specific service. Industry-related arena. Your definition, but do it in great detail.
  2. Identify the company or individual that fits your prospect profile – the one that best defines the kind of client you want for the kind of practice you want. Identify what it is you want to sell (and assumes that you’ve already determined that a market exists). Then you identify the companies in your market area that you think would be great clients for you, because they fit your client profile. You find these prospects by…
  3. Scouring your own lists of existing clients and prospects. There’s more gold there than you think. Why existing clients? Because the chances are that you’ve got clients for other of your services who don’t have the slightest idea that you can do this new thing for them, and that they need it.
  4. Doing some simple secondary research. Get online — or hire a research firm — and look up companies that you think might fit the bill. Use simple research sources, such as Google, LinkedIn, Dun & Bradstreet, Standard& Poor’s and so forth. It only takes a hundred or so companies to start with. And how many of those companies, turned into clients, does it take to make the whole effort worthwhile?
  5. Prospecting. Have a good agency do a great series of inexpensive ads that include requests for literature. If the ads are well done, and placed in the right publications, and the material you’re offering is worthwhile, you will quickly assemble a terrific list of targets. Under some circumstances, telemarketing is a good prospecting tool. Or do a mailing offering a brochure.
  6. Hold a seminar, with material aimed at the kind of client you want. The attendees not only comprise a mailing list, but they become your first contact in a networking program.
  7. Devise your campaign strategy.
  8. If you’re playing off a specialty you have, then use that skill for a kind of mass marketing campaign. But remember, that campaign is only the backdrop for target marketing. You’re still going to have to go after each company individually.
  9. Identify the key people who make buying decisions in the prospective company. This is your target.
  10. Deal directly with that person to establish a relationship. Write. Phone. Do a seminar and invite him or her. Set up a regimen of regular mailings — articles, reprints, brochures, newsletters, etc. Client advisories. A newsletter. Advertising in trade journals read by the prospect. Your objective, ultimately, is to build a relationship that facilitates the prospect’s getting to know you and your skills and what you have to offer.
  11. Do it. Strategy is a wonderful word. It rolls nicely on the tongue. But to make strategy more than a buzz word, you’ve got to…
  12. Have a plan that’s realistic. No wishful thinking. Know what’s doable, and who’s going to do it. Don’t identify and market to 500 companies if you can’t cover more than 50 in one crack.
  13. Be precise in your profile of your prospective client. Start with the clients you have, as a guide to what you do for them and what you can’t do.
  14. Be realistic about your partners’ commitment. Everybody wants new clients. Everybody wants to be in the swing of marketing. Not everybody is willing to do it, or has the self-confidence and eagerness to do it. It’s easy to say yes to a strategy, and then get busy with billable hours.
  15. Be professional in your marketing tools. Writing a direct mail letter isn’t the same as writing a letter to a client. And even the newsletter you buy from a service should be looked at carefully to be sure that it’s specific to your firm, your service, your market, your needs.
  16. Be organized. Get it down on paper. Who does what, and by when. More good plans slip away undone for lack of drive and organization and a good manager.

There’s a large element of networking in targeted marketing, as there is in any professional services marketing. It can’t be done from a distance, in the abstract, like product marketing. Somebody has got to get out there and meet and court the prospect, in order to make it happen.

There is one more important factor in target marketing, one that’s perhaps the most important of all, especially for a growing firm.

A manufacturing company is defined by its products. A professional firm is defined by its client base, and the services the firm offers those clients.

Target marketing — choosing your clients and then going after them with whatever it takes to win them — defines your practice and defines your firm. If you are what you serve, and to whom you serve it, then you’re better off hand-picking your clients than you are firing a load of buckshot, and eating whatever it is that you hit. That’s why target marketing is better than mass marketing.

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Bruce W. Marcus is a pioneer in professional services marketing and coauthor of “Client at the Core.” This is adapted from his new book, “Professional Services Marketing 3.0,” available for purchase here.

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