Welcome to Part 2 of our three-part series on growing a consulting firm with an outbound authority-based sales strategy.
In Part 1 we described the “growth trap” nearly every 10-200 employee consulting firm faces, and why relying exclusively on inbound marketing severely limits your firm’s growth trajectory.
In this article we introduce a highly successful outbound client acquisition strategy to grow your mid-size consulting firm. This includes the tactics, tools and team needed to execute it.
This Is HIGHLY Valuable Knowledge
As mentioned previously, even a minor investment of $25-30k in this strategy can yield several high-paying clients worth 3-10X your investment.
There is NO BETTER INVESTMENT in your firm’s future than implementing a consistent, effective client acquisition program.
You might ask: “Why would you share this type of knowledge openly? If it’s valuable IP, wouldn’t you hide it from the prying eyes of your competitors and consulting firms who will just do it themselves?”
Growing a consulting business is challenging and complex.
Understanding this strategy is one thing. ACTUALLY EXECUTING IT is another. There is a lot of “there there”. It doesn’t just magically happen overnight. Not everybody can (or wants to) invest in the knowledge, systems and team to orchestrate an effective outbound client acquisition program.
Our goal is to LEAD WITH VALUE here. If this is relevant to your business, we sincerely hope you get SIGNIFICANT VALUE from it. This is the same philosophy we encourage our consulting clients to follow when they approach new clients.
NOTE: This “value first” philosophy is based on Eben Pagan’s concept of “Moving the Free Line” (Google it). Essentially, the more value you provide up-front, the higher your perceived authority, and the greater investment a prospective client will make in your services.
Let’s press on…
Leveraging “Authority Content” for Outbound Sales
At its core, an effective outbound client acquisition strategy relies on the premise that the best way to develop a new business relationship is to prove your expertise in a tangible manner.
In simple terms this means “leading with value” — real, significant, tangible value.
Not “kinda there” value or “marketing speak” value. Value that actually helps your prospect solve a specific pain or problem in their business.
This doesn’t mean giving away all of your expertise. It simply means helping your prospect by sharing some of what you know.
The best and most scalable way to do this is through high-quality content delivered directly to your target prospects.
This content must be unbiased, helpful, and delivered directly to ideal clients. It should also be moderately sized for easy consumption.
Selling consulting services involves personally uncovering problems and proposing smart solutions that lead to tangible benefits. Consulting deals are typically won only after in-depth discovery sessions between the prospect’s team and yours. This value-added process is essential to developing the trust and two-way communication needed to reach successful outcomes.
What happens if we move this knowledge sharing forward so it occurs much earlier in the client acquisition process?
By sharing your expertise earlier, before the project discovery phase, you can establish your authority earlier, which accelerates the sales process and gets you more meetings with potential clients.
What happens when you deliver significant value up-front?
Some prospects will view it as “just marketing” and discount the value you share. These are NOT the ideal clients you’re looking for. No real loss there.
Most prospective clients will view the value you provide favorably. Some may actually implement your suggestions and obtain tangible business value. Others may weave the knowledge into their business strategy for the future.
Two positive outcomes result:
1) Your perceived expertise, authority, and credibility go way up.
2) The recipient believes that the value of what you HAVE NOT SHARED — the knowledge and value you MIGHT provide in the FUTURE should the relationship go farther — could be much greater.
The first outcome is strong brand creation. Essentially you’re establishing yourself and your firm as “one of the good guys.”
The second outcome POSITIONS YOU AT A MUCH HIGHER PERCEIVED VALUE POINT. The prospect begins to think “If they GIVE AWAY away this type of value, then what they actually charge for must be MASSIVELY VALUABLE.”
This is “moving the free line”. Your prospect’s “window of perceived value” moves up the more value you give away up-front. The more value you give, the more your prospect imagines your future value might be.
Both of these factors help land new clients willing to pay much more for your firm’s services.
Mercedes Benz is a perfect example. Mercedes Benz does not give away things often. When they do it is only to carefully selected potential buyers, and the value they give away is significant. Companies make millions selling what Mercedes gives away. Mercedes does this because it significantly increases the perceived value of the cars they sell. They can sell at a premium price and invest the profits into providing even greater value.
Leading with high-value “authority content” allows potential clients to take advantage of a small part of your expertise. This lowers barriers and elevates your perceived value.
The Authority Content You Need
Let’s dive into the type of content you will need for your outbound client acquisition campaign.
There are three types of “authority content” you can use:
1) A long form article (1000-3000 words)
2) A 30-45 minute webinar
3) A 5-10 page strategy paper (essentially what you’re reading now in PDF format)
The KEY with this piece of content is to HELP your prospective client solve a critical, high-value problem in their business. This doesn’t mean you need to actually solve the entire problem. In fact, giving somebody a framework or strategy for solving the problem, or even a portion of the problem, can work great.
It must be 100% client-serving. Your sole purpose here is to HELP. If it’s a marketing piece it will raise red alerts immediately and you’ll be dead in the water.
Why This is Magic for Getting New Clients
You are DEMONSTRATING you know how to solve the prospect’s problems by:
a) Providing instructions on how to solve all or part of a problem, OR
b) Showing how to think differently to devise a better solution.
Once you’ve demonstrated you can solve ONE problem, the prospect naturally begins to assume you can solve MORE problems and deliver MORE value.
The prospect not only remembers you (basic awareness), but has learned what you do (your expertise), and received actual benefit (tangible value).
Because you’ve given away something of high value already, the prospect automatically assumes your firm can deliver much higher value. “Moving the free line” like this positions you as a market leader, which leads to more profitable client engagements.
How the Process Works
In its most basic form, here’s how this authority-based client acquisition process works:
1) Define your ideal prospects and a specific pain or set of pains they have that your firm is good at solving.
2) Create a high-value piece of authority content that helps solve all or part of that pain.
3) Target and deliver your authority content piece directly to prospects.
4) Do it across multiple outbound channels.
5) Follow up in a collegial low-pressure way and initiate discovery calls
Targeting Ideal Client Prospects
Outbound targeting is very different than inbound targeting.
With inbound methods such as PPC ads and content marketing, you can target specific keywords your ideal prospects search for online. If search volume is high enough your ads and Google searches will drive at least some inbound leads. If your inbound marketing efforts don’t work, the loss is relatively minimal.
With an outbound campaign, you MUST target prospects who are LIKELY TO BUY your consulting services in the next 3-12 months.
This is a classic “needle in a haystack” problem.
How do you find these “ready to sign up” clients? Companies don’t publicize their management discussions around hiring a consulting firm.
The “80/20” here is this: You MUST whittle down your initial target list to viable potential clients exhibiting some evidence of buying intent.
An outbound client acquisition program should never target everybody on a giant list. Poorly targeted outbound “carpet-bombing” approaches don’t work. It’s too expensive and takes too much time to generate viable leads. You need to “80/20” that list somehow beforehand.
Two targeting techniques can be used to “80/20” the market down to a list of viable targets:
Technique #1: Deep Web Research
This involves building an initial target list, then unearthing indications of potential buying behavior using advanced web research. Buying indicators might include a job move, press releases, acquisitions, or job listings describing specific projects and skills needed. Involvement in an industry group, research house or investment firm may indicate knowledge of potential projects. Questions in public forums like Quora, LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook Groups can uncover relevant pockets of interest.
This deep research technique has lost effectiveness in recent years as online conversation platforms have become more locked-down. It might work OK for consumers looking to buy a car, but not for specialized B2B consulting services.
In a nutshell, this approach is slow, expensive, and often does not turn up helpful information.
Technique #2: Buying Intent Data
Buying intent is behavior which suggests a potential future purchase. Examples of buying intent include focused research, visiting particular websites, and responding to targeted advertisements.
There are two ways to obtain buying intent data on the Internet:
Run PPC ads to a landing page offering a relevant piece of content. Essentially you’re generating your own buying intent data in the form of “marketing qualified leads” (opt-ins). This can be effective when the keyword search volume is high enough, but suffers from problems like personal email addresses, junior employees doing the research, competitors downloading your white papers, etc. In most specialized consulting niches it is hard to generate enough opt-ins to build a sizable target list.
Purchase third-party buying intent data. This is data that the major online ad platforms have agreed to aggregate, normalize, and sell to marketers. Rather than relying solely on your own ad campaigns, third-party intent data captures buying behavior from virtually ALL Internet ad campaigns and website visits. The premise is that a high concentration of ad clicks and web visits from a single company on a particular topic indicates buying interest.
Filtering down your initial target list using some form of buying intent is mandatory for an outbound campaign to work well.
It takes significant investment and effort to run an outbound client acquisition program. If successful, your campaigns will generate substantial client growth and ROI for your firm. It is critical to apply “80/20” targeting techniques at the front of the process to maximize the probability of success.
Next, we’ll talk about how to reach high-probability prospects across multiple channels, and how to build the team to do it right.
Get the next “value bomb” in Part 3…