How to develop centers of influence and bring in new clients

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How is your firm developing new client relationships? We know you are thinking that referrals are a major source of your new business. And that’s great. And that will serve your organization well, but that’s not enough.

There needs to be a proactive, systematic and consistent prospecting plan in place to successfully sustain your business. And let’s consider this in the context of the confusion surrounding whatever may develop in the future with healthcare reform legislation. There isn’t a client firm out there that isn’t willing to talk to someone that may have some answers to their questions, or potential solutions to their problems. Shouldn’t employers in your area be talking to you and your team?

If you are not proactively pursuing information-hungry prospective clients, you can be quite confident that your more aggressive competition will. So let’s review a few effective business development strategies that you may not have considered before, but that can also enable you to simultaneously take advantage of the current need for information.

Developing centers of influence is essential to the long-term growth of your business. You want to be perceived as a “trusted adviser,” right? Well then, start acting like one and begin to associate with your prospective clients’ other trusted advisers. Who exactly are we talking about? Well, certainly their accountant and attorney are in that category. They are definitely insiders, which is where you want to be. So aligning yourself with these firms is an important activity that needs to be managed on a systematic basis.

Perhaps you can start with a simple survey of your current clients to learn which accounting and law firms represent your current clients. If you knew that you shared five clients in common, wouldn’t that be worthwhile and powerful information? It would be very easy to schedule a luncheon meeting to discuss your mutual client interests. Right? But maybe even more importantly is discussing what your firms might accomplish jointly. Having a conversation about facilitating introductions to your respective client and prospective clients would be extremely valuable to both firms.

And one effective business development strategy is to conduct information seminars for decision makers. Think about topics that are of concern to CEOs, CFOs, HR VPs and members of the benefits committee. Healthcare reform legislation and its mandates is a logical place to start. As events unfold, there may be changes in the legislation, tax rulings, or court challenges and decisions. Or the emphasis could be on benefits cost containment strategies. It could be something specific to your geographic market, or information that is relevant to a particular industry group that you serve. Or it might be on the topic of benefits strategic planning, including benefits budget forecasting and contingency planning.

The list of topics is virtually unlimited. Regardless, establishing a series of relevant seminars can be a great way to position your firm as an industry leader or an authoritative source of information.

Breakfast meetings could be scheduled at the beginning of the workday, or a meeting and reception could be held early evening. Either way, it’s a great way to meet prospects face-to-face. And you are meeting under the most favorable terms since you will be perceived as an authoritative resource, a trusted adviser. Now there’s real power in that approach. Remember, it takes a minimum of three positive contacts to convert a suspect to a prospect.

Information seminars could be the right starting point in establishing relationships for your firm. Once established, this process is really quite easy to maintain. And if you have the resources and contacts, consider authoring a series of articles in local or industry publications that reinforces your firm’s positioning as an authoritative, industry leader. It could be a very powerful adjunct method of promoting your firm in a very positive manner.

The hard part of the job is prospecting; the easy part is selling. Approaching someone’s existing customers makes everything easier. So make your business development activities a systematic, constructive work habit, and you will find that attracting and selling new clients will get that much easier.

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