For today’s professional services firms, new clients are a critical part of meeting business growth objectives, and tapping personal networks is no longer enough. You have to find and woo strangers – get their attention, then their interest, and often educate them a bit – before you ever have a chance for a meeting.

In sales and business development, this is called prospecting. It isn’t easy; and it can eat up a lot of time with unproductive activities.

Here are 8 secrets, tested over time, that will accelerate your firm’s prospecting efforts and put you in front of the people you want to meet.

One: Take the time to clearly define your ideal client

Although we may not like to admit it, new business prospecting – even for high value, highly complex products and services – is a numbers game. The more qualified potential new clients you reach, the more new clients you’ll ultimately have. And the fewer unqualified people you waste time with, the more time you have for those qualified clients.

All business development professionals worthy of the title arm themselves with the basics — usually industry, size of company, geography and title. But taking the time to go a little further can allow you to weed out poor prospects long before you spend much time chasing them.

For example, does the financial health of a company have an effect on whether or not they’d be a good client? How about the types of experience they have on staff? What about a willingness to outsource?

Your ideal client definition should help you quickly and easily identify those with high potential as well as those you want to avoid.

Two: Get to know your prospects

Once you’ve defined your best prospects, do your homework. With all the information publicly available, there’s no excuse for not learning what drives the individual.

Depending on who in an organization you are targeting, you can find valuable information on the company website and blog, in LinkedIn profiles and, if the company publicly owned, in government filings. Even looking at job descriptions on a site like indeed.com can give you useful insight into the responsibilities, challenges and priorities your prospects are facing.

Armed with that info, you can tailor your outreach and increase your ability to get your prospects’ interest.

Three: Don’t expect Partners to prospect

Asking busy, high dollar partners and others like them to spend time cold prospecting is not a good strategy for a whole raft of reasons. For one thing they probably aren’t very good at it. For another, it isn’t a great use of their time.

It’s best to focus Partner involvement on current clients or strategic account efforts or until it’s really needed — later in the business development process. Assign someone else to do the low value stuff. You’ll be pleased with the result.

Four: Prove your value before asking for a meeting

To use a well-worn analogy, getting a new client requires some dating before you propose marriage. You must give your prospect a reason to want to meet with you; and that reason must be important to them — not to you.

When you’re outbound prospecting, on average only 3% of the people you contact are actively looking for what you’re providing.  Another 7% are open to hearing about what you have to offer and 30% know they don’t want it. The majority – 60% – either don’t know they need what you have or they aren’t sure how your offering is relevant to them (source).

You’re going to have to educate them.

Paving the road with valuable content and non-salesy messages gives prospects a chance to get to know, like and trust you. They’ll be much more receptive to a meeting suggestion once that happens.

Five: Use multiple communication channels

Sticking with a single method of communication reduces your chances of success because different people respond better to different types of communication. Some prefer email; others are more apt to return phone calls, and a growing number are responsive to contact made through social media such as LinkedIn and Twitter. Pick just one and you could be eliminating those who prefer the others.

Multiple touch points also strengthen your standing in the mind of the buyer. Robert Caldini, author of the best selling book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and its followup Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade, tells us “anything that draws focus to itself can lead observers to overestimate its importance”.

In this use, “overestimate” is not a bad thing. Within reason, the more your prospects see you and your company in a good light, the more important they will think you are; and the more open they will be to your messages.

Six: Look good on social media 

A 2014 study of professional services buyers found that 59.9% of them check providers out on social media as part of making a purchasing decision (source). That number is undoubtedly higher now.

When you reach out to potential new clients, they come looking for you and they will often draw a first impression from your profile and your own status updates. (Read why executives need a great profile). An incomplete profile and lack of activity can turn them off. Worse, it’s an easy jump to your competitors’ profiles.

So polish your profile, post interesting relevant and useful status updates and reach out one-on-one to your prospects. They’re often much more willing to respond to social media outreach than any other type.

Seven: Spoon feed your value proposition

Professional marketers, sales and business development people are trained to think in terms of features and benefits, but these alone require a mental leap on the part of the buyer – a leap that buyers can be too busy to make.

For example, The Conversion Company develops, among other things, social prospecting systems for professional services firms. One of the features is “Do It For You” implementation. The benefit is a consistent stream of well-defined prospective new clients filling your sales pipeline while your best business development reps and partners work on other things.

But what’s the actual value to you? Would you rather I tell you – or make you figure it out for yourself?

To get from the features and benefits to the value you’re offering, just keep asking yourself “so what?”

Eight: Give it time

Overall, the average number of touches required to secure a meeting has been getting higher and higher year after year while the number of attempts sales and BD people are willing to make doesn’t go up.

Sounds like a good opportunity, doesn’t it?

The most successful business development pros don’t stop after one or two attempts.

Prospecting works better with a system in place. Don’t have time to create one yourself? Just contact us to talk about how The Conversion Company can help.