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    Professional Business Development Articles

    A few hints, tips and advice from Alistair Marshall Consulting to help you to attract more customers and win more new business.


    Bigger is NOT always better.

    There is a current trend in business, particularly within the legal profession, for mergers and acquisitions. We must grow larger to survive I hear. Well it may not be right for everybody.

    Question: Would you rather be an excellent small business, an average medium sized one, or an awful large one?

    Many businesses will survive or fail on their client service delivery and there are many examples where the larger the business, the less they seem to care about the customer. Banks and utility companies continually get low scores in this area and my wife and I can tell horror stories involving large telecomms organizations such as EE and Vodafone that are frankly bordering on criminal.

    I wonder if in the case of floated companies this is due to shareholders being put first, then the customer and finally the staff. Anyone who has read Richard Branson's autobiography may well remember that the ethos at Virgin is to turn this idea on its head. Realising that disengaged staff rarely deliver excellent client service, they give priority to staff and clients which to me makes sense as then the financials should take care of themselves, reaping the rewards of excellent reputation for service delivery and word of mouth referrals.

    It is not only large corporates that should look at this service issue. Since relocating here to Australia our best friends were sourcing a wedding venue with a significant budget running into tens of thousands of dollars. They initially went to the supposed 'go to' venue in Sydney and were treated as if the venue was doing them a favour. Their attitude was arrogant and basically take it or leave it, with no more than two minutes from a junior team member invested in the process. Shocking. Instead they chose an independent venue that bothered to take the time to make them feel important and do the basics such as showing them photos of previous weddings at the venue on an ipad whilst offering complementary coffee and snacks. Marketing spend $50, return several hundred times that figure.

    The majority of clients I see ask for help to significantly grow their revenue streams. In many cases this is not the best course of action until systems and processes have been upgraded to cope with the new demand.

    In 2014 your potential clients will demand more for less. How are you going to please them?


    Hilary Meredith on Building a Niche Practice

    Regular readers will be used to me harping on about how you need to be able to answer the question 'Why should I use your firm rather than go to one of your competitors?' and the need to be able to stand out in an increasingly overcrowded marketplace.

    One individual who has been very successful at answering this is Hilary Meredith who over recent years has carved a great niche in the field of Military Injuries into a hugely successful Personal Injury legal practice.

    In a recent interview Hilary explained some of the steps taken that has allowed the firm to grow and prosper. Here is a short sample of our discussion.

    AM: What will clients receive that they might not get if they went to a general, personal injury practice? 

    HM: I think we’re looking to tailor each case to the individual.  Each individual has something different that is the most important thing to them. What we do is find out what the most important thing for that client is, immediately sort that out then deal with the injury case.  So if you’ve had a life changing event, what are you worried about?  Is it how I’m going to pay the mortgage?  Getting interim payments, speaking to the mortgage company, take the immediate stress away and the immediate worry and then that client is happy, you’ve instilled  trust, you have sorted the problem out.  And then we go on to do everything else. We think they deserve the best, so we use the best experts who are very rarely challenged in the courts.  And we hope to restore them back into their homes, their lives, everything they need to move forward before we settle the case.

    AM:  Could you share an example of what you might describe as an entrepreneurial approach to something you might have done here? 

    HM:    We took the decision to sack all the claims management companies we dealt with in the past and try and reclaim our route to market.  And I came up with the idea, from working with the armed forces, of pre-loading an iPad and giving it to the Military clients.  It’s preloaded with their case and useful information, they can Skype me, they can e-mail me, they can keep in touch with me, they can Skype their families while they’re in rehab; which is a big part of rehabilitation – speaking to wives and loved ones.  And we’ve developed an informative advert for the website but I liked it so much we put it on national TV.   It became our unique selling point.  So I think I’m the only person in the world who’s preloading an iPad at the moment. Apple, as soon as they heard it was for the armed forces were great.  It was just amazing, absolutely amazing.  They supported us throughout that initiative.    When the referral fee ban was imposed,  we’d already been advertising on TV and were ahead of the game in this.  Now many PI lawyers are advertising on TV.  We’re now 90% sufficient in bringing in our own work through client referrals, staff referrals, people who refer work to us - so it’s on reputation.  We then decided that we would change the partnership to a limited company.  I didn’t believe in LLP’s.  I think the future is transparency. Private partnership and LLP’s are not transparent.  So we changed it completely from a partnership into a limited company. 

    AM: What are you most proud of?

    HM: Eleven awards.  We’re nine years old in October and we’ve won 11 awards since we started off.  And that’s pretty good going – only nine years old.   I think the first award we entered was the Lawyer Awards and we entered law firm or the year.  The Lawyer Awards is always the big one entered by the London city boys. It’s very rare that a PI Firm will win.  And we won it.  And we couldn’t believe it.  That was 2006. That put us on the map – to win that award in that arena.  People started to take notice.  It is down to PR and marketing.  And it is quite exhausting, the expense of doing it.  It’s very nice to win and it’s recognition from your peer group. I think Awards are definitely a networking arena if you use them the right way.

    AM: It’s nice to have recognition from your peers, but it’s ultimately the end user who perceives that you are an expert.

    HM:  Yes.  I think it gives comfort to the client that they’re going to somebody that knows what they’re doing.  And it’s very scary for clients. I'm always thinking, “What will make a client come to us?”  “If you were lying in a hospital bed and you’d just been run over, how would you get to me?”  So that’s what we’re always thinking about – how we meet.   We’re known within the military.  So as I said, 90% of our work now is probably word of mouth.  It’s a fantastic position because that’s coming in on reputation. I mean it’s taken me 25 years to build a law firm where 90% of the work is word of mouth. 

    AM:  Happy, engaged staff work better.  Lots of the places I go to, there is a gap between the finders, minders and grinders.  It doesn’t make for a happy work environment. 

    HM:  Nobody leaves a job just for more money.  It’s something else that happens first, and then remuniration becomes an issue.  So if staff are happy in their job and their working environment and what they’re doing,  remuniration is not such an issue.  I also feel there’s a massive pool of women who’ve worked in Manchester, have had children but live in the South side, want to be near the schools, want to work part-time.  Our three biggest fee earners are part-time mums who work between three to four days a week. So there’s a great pool of talent that’s intact here.


    A full more indepth transcript will be available in a future publication featuring all the interviews done in this series around how you achieve a successful firm.


    Make Every Client/Prospect Meeting Count

    1.     Do Your Homework

     How much do you know about the company/client you are going to see? Use Google, Dun & Bradstreet or call their sales department. How much do you know about the contact? As an individual you can check them out at LinkedIn or Twitter. Set up a Google alert or talk to others who have ‘previous”.

    2.     Your Reputation Precedes your Revenue

    Prepare a brief outline of how you plan to invest the client’s time and  get feedback and buy-in on the proposed agenda. It's better if you both know in advance the purpose of the call, the potential pay off for the customer and the process/agenda you are proposing.


    3.     3. It’s difficult to take back a First Impression

    A phrase worth remembering. In preparation for our meeting I took some time to……  

    4.     4. If you aim at Nothing, you’ll Hit it Every Time

    What do you want? What is your objective for having this conversation? What is the possible benefit if the customer agrees to move forward? The objective should direct and guide the call. The customer should be clear why you are there. Focused conversations save wasting time. Every call should have a measurable outcome.

    5.     5. You can Never have enough Credibility

    Use a 3rd party email or phone call from a top customer. Give them a bonus or a free piece of work 3 or 4 times per year to talk to a potential customer. Get them to talk about the excellent results, service and overall relationship.

    6.     6. The more they talk the Better they like us

    Worry less about being interesting and focus more on being interested. Ask “What are some of the things that have helped you get to where you are Today?” Listen out for “hard work” or “great relationships”.

    “With all the choices available, how did you choose to pursue this as a career?”. Find out their favourite suppliers and why. What else would they like you to provide them with?

    7.     7. Prepare for the “Buts”.

    You know what the major objections are going to be so why not prepare for them in advance? Have responses prepared for time, price, effort, satisfaction and previous bad experiences. What will you say when they say they will think about it?

    8.     8. Got any Questions?

    Always be discovering throughout your presentation. Get the customer to start thinking differently and stir up emotion. Be thought provoking.

    “What’s going to be the biggest difference between the one accountant who will win your business and the ¾ others that won’t?”

    “Can we plan to get back to each other on a day and time that works for you? I find this prevents us from having to chase each other down. What does your diary look like on Thursday 10th?”.

    9.    9. Always leave them Wanting More

    Be brief and be gone. Be a great source of information and they will always be glad to hear more.

    10 Thanks for Your Time

    A phrase worth remembering. A closing question before you close.

    “On a scale of 1 to 10 how close are we to doing business here?”

    “What if anything, would prevent us from taking the next step?”


    Always close with a call to action What happens next? People respond well to direction.


    Being Good is No longer Enough

    There are thousands of Professionals everywhere whose technical skills are excellent but who earn considerably less than they are capable of. This is because they don’t know the real secret to achieving exceptional financial success in their profession which is:

    The winners who make the most money in any field of professional services –are the ones who really understand how to market and sell themselves and their practices.  Professional competence, while a component, is not in and of itself persuasive. There are just too many options for clients Today.  If you’re not in front of them with an intelligent, compelling message, they won’t come looking for you. So, how does a Professional drive their average or below average practice to become a top player generating high income?

    Incorporating the following areas into your firm will have a positive effect upon your revenue & cash flow and moving your firm up the rankings in terms of prestige and visibility.

    #1        Your practice needs differentiation.  The population who use service providers think they are all pretty much the same, offering similar services with essentially the same skill level.  If you look at your business and conclude you really don’t appear to be any different than your competitors then create a difference … a niche, one with a good population of prospects.  You have probably got a Unique Selling Proposition, used by other businesses to describe their services or products.  USP applies to your practice, too.  For Example, Are you the accountant known to all the local Internet Businesses as someone who understands their tax issues.  What can your USP be?  Remember, you can have more than one.

    #2        Obtain more visibility and credibility.  This directly impacts your perceived reputation and can position you as a recognised expert.  I’m sure you can immediately see how #1 above overlaps this second area.  What are some of the things you can do to positively influence this area?  Write articles, give speeches, take part in panel discussions, express opinions (e.g. Join in discussions on LinkedIn groups, etc.), take up causes, enhance your web site, publish a newsletter, join appropriate groups and get involved, etc.  Again, the examples are many.  Recognising you only have limited marketing time, I suggest you show caution at joining any group that has a lot of other providers all searching for more business, seeking connections, trying to add to their networks, etc. 

    #3        Engage in activities that generate leads or referrals.  If you have chosen a niche market you can overlap #2 with this area and promote directly to that group with, e.g. a newsletter, seeking to speak to their group, etc.  Here’s another, surveys show how much clients value attention and personal treatment.  Give clients attention with lunches, phone calls, games of golf, hand written notes and the like and they will sing your praises to all their contacts.  This directly translates to more referrals.

    #4        Effectively convert your prospects into clients.  Get good at this most vital phase of the business development process. Learn how to present effectively and persuasively. Learn how to use testimonials and case studies to full effect. It is possible to go from say converting 1 in 3 prospects to 1 in 2 with the correct training. When you put together your marketing plan for next year please consider these four areas.  If you address each with even minor success it will enhance your bottom line.


    How to use Research to drive Profits in your Organization


    I am often asked by clients how to become seen as an expert and so avoid the trials and tribulations of basement level pricing and discounts to clients who struggle to see the value in your offer. In depth research into issues in particular sectors can be seen as a key differential and if you publish such material in a report or white paper that can be used in a lead generation program I guarantee it will produce results. Maybe you should start with questions about yourself.

     You may think you know your clients pretty well. But how well do you know your audience ... really? Can systematic research on your target market impact the growth and profitability of your firm? Well it has been reported that firms that conduct systematic research on their current and potential clients grow from 3 to 10 times faster and are up to 2 times more profitable. It’s certainly a finding of mine that firms do not know their clients and particularly the markets they work in as well as they think.

    Sample questions you might ask:

    Why do your top customers choose you over others?

    Who do they see as your competition?

    What do clients see as largest challenges going forward and how can you help them?

    What is the real benefit of working with your particular firm?

    What is the best way to market and communicate with your primary target market and clients?

    How should we price our services?

    How do you feel about our current service levels and would you recommend us?

    Research can be undertaken by the primary client contact, another person within your business or even an outside provider. Remember that the relationship owner is perhaps the least likely person to get honest feedback whether by way of a face to face interview or a telephone conversation. If you want to talk to large groups of clients at once then a focus group may suit your needs better.

    The return on investment of time and money is often better for larger organizations but I strongly recommend businesses of all sizes to look at this method to make you stand out in what is a very overcrowded marketplace. Few will make the effort and reap the rewards on offer. Will You?