"We need more leads!" Not necessarily.
To produce long-term growth, you will always need a marketing and sales engine that generates new opportunities. You can never upsell and get repeated business from 100% of your clients, and even your most satisfied ones may pause their engagements.
But consultants often ask me for suggestions for winning short-term business when things get tough. There are several tactics I usually recommend. The most powerful one? Finding opportunities in your existing network.
Most of us have some kind of system to keep track of our contacts - it may be a CRM tool, a list of contacts in your email account or LinkedIn account, or even physical files (address books or pile of business cards). Some will be from clients, some prospects, and some random people you won’t remember, no matter how hard you try.
We have a methodology that allows us to nurture, reactivate, and make the best of your network. But you can generate 80% of the results with 3 simple activities:
- Segment your contacts;
- Create a plan of action for each segment;
- Implement that plan.
Let's take a look at each one of them.
Segmenting your contacts
Adding your contacts to different groups will allow you not only to have a clear map of your network, but to prioritize some people over others. I suggest you centralize all the information in one digital file (CRM tool or a spreadsheet) and start scanning the list to assign contacts to segments.
Most of us consultants have a bigger network than we think. Break it up into manageable chunks over a week or two, so the task doesn’t drive you crazy. If you plan to do a clean-up and delete some contacts, make sure you have them on a backup file.
I recommend you use two "tags" for each prospect: one for the segment, and another one for the priority.
Here's a suggestion on how you can segment the contacts:
- Current clients.
- Past clients.
- Past prospects.
- Cold leads or social connections.
- Business partners and collaborators.
- Industry influencers.
How do you prioritize? Here's a suggestion:
- Current clients.
- Past clients, with whom you haven’t spoken for six months or more.
- Past prospects who received a proposal, but with whom you weren’t able to secure the business.
- Past prospects which never reached the proposal stage but within which you met the decision-maker.
- Influencers who are non-prospects, but promising recommenders or publicity sources.
- Social connections with whom you corresponded or spoke.
- Leads which you contacted but never secured a chat with.
Create a plan of action for each segment
Once you have your list ready and segmented, it's time to decide how you’ll reengage with each one of your contacts. If you've been consulting for a while you will probably have at least a couple hundred people that know and like you, so the chance of generating a good number of opportunities is high.
It's important to keep it simple. The number one goal here, just like in the outbound prospecting process, is to start a conversation. Here's a suggestion on how you can reach them:
- For the high priorities, make a phone call. That's the quickest and easiest way to contact the people that know and trust you. If you can't reach them, send a text message to their phone or email.
- For the medium priorities, start with an email. If they respond to it, you can call or schedule a chat.
- For low priorities, I'd start with either an email or a private message on the social platform they use the most.
More important than where you reach them is what you say to them. If you're not used to reaching out to previous contacts, the conversations can often become a polite exchange with no clear benefit for both parties.
I recommend writing down what's the main outcome you want from the chat, and what are the activities you want to do with each contact:
- Nurture the relationship through a quick exchange;
- Schedule a meeting to share unique insights;
- Ask for referrals or introductions;
- Introduce them to someone else.
Implement that plan.
Ideas without execution won't make any impact on your business. Finding business in your network can be especially tricky since it's virtually impossible to delegate - the nature of the relationship and previous engagements are all in our heads and can't be shared with a VA or contractor.
Here are some wise words from Alan Weiss on leveraging your network:
Some of you may be thinking that this requires a lot of work, and you’re right. But we are in the marketing business, and this is a marketing opportunity that costs you virtually nothing, can be done at your leisure (but should be done with discipline and care), and doesn’t require you to leave the office.
There are people and businesses out there who legitimately wanted to do business with you but the timing was just not right. Others may need your help but simply forgot you're still there. Nurturing your network and staying top-of-mind is a win-win for everyone, and the biggest sign you are a professional consultant.