Situation: An early stage company has assembled an impressive team and has a solid service offering. The immediate challenge is bringing in clients to fuel growth. The team has the capacity but needs some creative ideas on where they should focus their efforts. How do you fuel early stage growth?
Advice from the CEOs:
Fully utilize the team’s talents. Team members with established expertise can offer clinics featuring the company’s service offering at local colleges, business organizations and other venues to target audiences. Think about business organizations with members who would benefit from the company’s services. Also reach out to venture capitalists and the entrepreneurial market.
Develop a strong value proposition:
Eyeballs on the market
Links to highly qualified resources
Demonstrated expertise in your space
Claims tied to the top priorities of target clients
For start-up and entrepreneur client targets:
Offer a packaged set of services for a fixed fee. Be open to creative payment options to fit the financial needs of entrepreneurs.
Start developing a full suite of services. Start by assessing the need and developing a target list of early clients. VC portfolio companies can be a great target.
Build a good web-based communications interface for client use. Think of what is needed to create an attractive menu and let this drive service development.
Develop a separate brand for ancillary services that will complement the current offering, but which is outside of the current offering. Look at markets which would benefit from the service, including medical and nursing providers.
Situation: A CEO is concerned that his company’s sales and marketing efforts are not effective. Too often the sales team finds a good prospect, but fails to convert them to the company’s offering. How can the company improve its sales conversion rate? How do you optimize your buy/sell funnels?
Advice from the CEOs:
To improve both your marketing and sales functions, it is essential to move the company’s perspective from the Sales side of the Seller’s Funnel to the Marketing side of the Buyer’s Funnel. Only by understanding your customers can you:
Create awareness of their needs,
Acknowledge interest in a solution to their needs,
Consider options and develop preferences among the possible solutions, and
Determine how to effectively communicate with them through your marketing and sales efforts.
In today’s world, a quality web site is essential to your business. The objective of the web site is to convince the customer that they want to talk to or do business with you. Your web site must tell them:
Who you are.
What your values are.
Why you are special.
And it must include a “call to action” – a convincing reason for them to call you.
To better qualify your prospective clients:
Develop a scripted telephone interview that can be conducted by your sales people or less expensive inside sales/marketing people to qualify prospects before you spend the time and effort for an in-person sales call.
Use targeted marketing programs to leverage references to prospective customers.
Have lots of conversations with potential customers to understand their needs. Tailor your value creation process to address these needs.
Special Thanks to Craig Olson of MXL Partners for his contribution to this discussion.
Situation: A professional services company has developed a new trial offer to promote their services to prospective clients. The offer includes a discount for an initial evaluation accompanied by a discount on services should the client choose to proceed with recommended solutions. They seek guidance on whether this is an effective approach. How do you craft and effective trial offer?
Advice from the CEOs:
The suggested approach is similar to what others offer to new prospects, but only goes half way. A discounted offer only works if you’ve convinced the prospective client that first, they need your services, and second, that there will be a positive financial impact to their bottom line if they agree to your trail offer. You need to add recommendations that will demonstrate a significant short term financial benefit.
Target your message. Give the prospect a reason to spend scarce dollars now.
Offer to apply all or some of the initial fee to future expenses if they contract you to solve problems that you identify in your initial review.
An example of a more targeted offer would be as follows – we will audit your accounts receivable as well as any debts that you’ve written off last in the last 2-3 years. Based on this audit, our past experience has been that you can boost short-term collectibles from these accounts by 30%. An offer like this demonstrates an immediate impact on cash flow.
Do you feel comfortable offering a guarantee? You will save the client $X over a guaranteed period or the service will be free.
Interview with Keith Merron, CEO, Avista Consulting Group
Situation: Ongoing uncertainty makes it difficult to clarify strategies going forward. What are the bases for these uncertainties and how do you manage opportunities in this economy?
The world is moving so rapidly that they key to success is differentiation. There is so much information about how to do this that companies start to look similar very quickly. The ability to stand out as different is critical. Ask yourself:
What is my target market?
What are the needs that my offer will satisfy?
What is my unique approach that is distinct from other solutions which meet these needs?
Once you identify the answers, you need to back these up.
One has the opportunity to write the future. If you can get one step ahead of the curve this is a huge advantage.
Products that died were often two steps ahead.
Successful visionaries see patterns that are emerging, sense what is next, and speak to that.
Because information is at your fingertips through the Internet anyone can set up a business. The Challenges are viability and sustainability. If these are present the opportunities are huge.
The web is a place where you can share information. How to monetize this is unclear.
Once you have a following you can offer things for sale that are valued by your following. When this happens, the potential for fast growth is more available than ever. So is the flip side. If a restaurant gets trashed on Yelp this can kill it!
In a recession, M&A activity is faster. This enables one to establish a presence much more easily.
There are many virtual companies. You no longer have to be in the same place to work together! There are also many ways to partner or co-brand via the Internet.
What’s hard is to create tensile strength in the relationship. Because it is so quick and easy to cobble together relationships, the biggest challenges are creating loyalty and commitment.
The needs are communications, motivation, commitment and follow-through – just like in a traditional company but in a virtual space. This creates a true bond.