Ian Brodie | Generate Lead - Build Authority - Win Clients
Working with consultants, coaches and other professionals to help them attract and win more clients without the pain and expense of traditional marketing. Get the latest blog posts on how to get more clients for your consulting or coaching business from best-selling author Ian Brodie.
Of all the problems I hear from people struggling to win enough clients, probably the most frequent is “I just can't find the time for marketing”.
It's an insidious problem. No matter how smart you are, no matter how brilliant the marketing strategies you're trying to implement: if you can't find the time for them then you won't get results.
And it's such an easy trap to fall into. If we're not naturals at marketing we probably don't know how to do it efficiently. And we probably don't enjoy it, so we kid ourselves that we're doing OK, we have enough clients for now, something will turn up anyway…and so we avoid doing the marketing we really need.
But it absolutely is possible to fit effective marketing into a busy schedule. What it takes is a combination of mindset, ruthless prioritisation, scheduling and techniques for doing your marketing efficiently. And that's exactly what you'll learn in this guide.
How Much Time Do You Need For Marketing?
Everyone's needs are different, but over the years I've found that for most small businesses or sole practitioners you need to devote a day per week to marketing and sales in order to keep filling your pipeline with new clients and growing your business.
If you're a well-established business with a steady flow of referrals and your marketing systems are set up and working for you, you can probably get by with less. Maybe half a day a week.
And if you're a new business or looking to grow fast, you'll need more time. The good news is that if you're a new business your schedule won't be packed with client work yet so you should easily have the time available.
The other situation where you'll require more time for marketing is if you're looking to establish yourself as a premium option and charge higher fees.
If you spend more time on your marketing to establish yourself as an authority in your field, you'll be able to charge higher fees and so you'll need to spend less time on client work to earn the same amount. Conversely, if you spend less time on marketing you'll be seen more as a commodity and have to take lower fees and work longer to earn the same amount.
It's a trade-off and it's up to you to decide where you want to fit on the spectrum (personally, I go for higher fees :) ).
Finally, different types of marketing need different patterns of time investment and you need to build that into your thinking.
Traditional marketing like networking, doing presentations, cold calling, personal follow-up (or these days cold emailing or networking on social media) is essentially a “pay as you go” model. You go to an event or you make a call and if you're lucky you end up with a lead who you follow up with and they may turn into a client.
You're investing a little bit of time week in, week out and each investment of time could result in a client.
With most online marketing, you tend to invest your time up front to set up your systems. You have to create a lead magnet, set up landing pages, create your follow-up emails; all before you can start to generate any leads at all. But once your system is set up you need to spend much less time on it on an ongoing basis.
That's a more sustainable model in my view, but you need to invest time up front before you start seeing any results rather than getting results as you go along.
So if you plan to start doing more online marketing make sure you build that initial investment of time into your plans. Especially if you're switching over from traditional marketing to online: you may get a dip in your pipeline of new clients as you stop doing traditional marketing and start setting up your online systems.
Does a day a week seem like a lot of time?
It's not if you think about it. One event and a couple of meetings with potential clients and associated prep and follow up calls will take you a day.
And if you think that you really can't afford to spend a day a week on marketing, that you need to be earning fees four and a half or even five days a week, then it's an indication that you may have a pricing issue.
To have a sustainable business, your fees need to be high enough that you can hit your revenue goals with 3-4 days of paid work per week; allowing you to invest the remaining time in building your business.
If you find that you can't afford to spend a day a week on marketing, your first step might well be to raise your fees so you can.
The Mindset You Need To Make The Time For Marketing
One of the biggest challenges we face when we're not professional marketers is just how easy it is to let marketing slip.
If marketing isn't our day job we can let other priorities take over. Especially if we're very client-focused and we always try to prioritise their needs.
Here are 4 simple things you can do to help make sure you have your mindset right to make sure your marketing happens.
Firstly, make sure that the importance of marketing is always near the top of your mind.
Don't allow your busyness with client work to distract you from the need to build your pipeline of new clients.
The best way to do that is to make sure you're absolutely clear on your “numbers”. Understand how many clients you need to hit your goals, how long each one typically stays with you, how many potential clients you need to talk with to land a new client, and how long that typically takes. That then allows you to set goals for how many new clients you need per month and how many meetings or calls you need to be having to get those new clients.
That way, even when you're busy with client work, you know that if you need to be having 4 calls with potential clients every month and you've only had 1 so far this month, you need to get your skates on. Those hard numbers prevent you from engaging in wishful thinking and assuming things are going to be OK.
Secondly, make commitments that lead to habits.
Now you know your goals for your key marketing milestones you can decide what activities you'll do to achieve them. What are you going to do to get you those meetings and calls? Is it presentations, networking, online marketing? Whatever it is (and I'll have more to say on how to choose later in this guide), make a commitment to how often and when you'll do it.
Maybe that means one presentation to a group of at least a dozen potential clients every month. Maybe it means writing one blog post or sending three emails a week.
Whatever your chosen activity: commit to doing it. Repeatedly making good on your commitments turns them into habits. And I can tell you: habits work. I've sent an email at least once a week to my subscribers for over 5 years now and it's where the vast majority of my new business comes from. Today it’s almost harder for me not to send an email every Sunday morning than it is to send one it's become such an ingrained habit.
Thirdly, “trick” yourself into prioritising marketing.
Chances are if you're reading this you're the sort of person who will pull out all the stops to deliver for your clients. You won't just go the extra mile, you'll half kill yourself doing it!
Yet when it comes to our own needs – like marketing – we're quite content to let ourselves down. We take second place to clients.
So if you want to get more marketing done, turn it into client work.
If you need to write a blog post: tell a client who's interested in the topic that you'll be writing it and tell them when you'll have it ready for them to look at. That way you now have a client commitment to live up to.
Or if you want to create and launch a new product but just can’t find the time: pre-sell it to a handful of clients as a pilot and commit to when you'll launch it for them. Again, you're turning marketing you're doing for yourself into a client commitment. And client commitments are what you're great at living up to.
Finally, recognise that sometimes you just have to work that bit harder to get things going.
Tough as it sounds, sometimes if you want to get something started you just have to work harder for a while. That might mean working a weekend. It might mean missing that regular TV show you love for a while. I'm not a big proponent of letting work take over your life, but as a one-off to break the back of an important marketing task you might just need to do it.
How To Make The Time For Marketing Through Ruthless Prioritization
Ever been told that the way to get clients is to “be everywhere on social media”? Or that you need to network, network, network. Or you need to send an email a day, write a blog post a week, make videos, do livestreaming and a whole host of other hugely time-consuming activities?
Of course, the people giving this advice don't live in the same world the rest of us do. They either work full time on marketing with no client delivery or they have a team to support them.
For those of us who have to work for clients, run masterminds, do coaching or create products as well as do client work, we simply can't do everything the experts say we need to do to win clients.
So I'm going to suggest something rather radical.
In contrast to probably every bit of marketing advice you've had which normally gives a list of additional things you need to do, I'm going to say that the most important thing you can do to improve your marketing is to start doing less: cutting out most of what you currently do.
Let's be honest, if everything you're doing right now was working brilliantly, you wouldn't be reading this article. Something needs to change.
So let's look at some ways you can cut down what you're currently doing to make more time for marketing that actually works.
Firstly, it's important you understand what marketing you're currently doing and whether it's working.
So make a list of the marketing activities you currently spend time on and how much time you're spending on each one. Then look at each one and try to assess which ones are actually working to bring you clients and which ones aren't.
To be frank, this isn't an easy exercise. Sometimes it takes a combination of activities to win a client. And if it was blatantly obvious that something wasn't working you'd probably have noticed, wouldn't you?
But the truth is that many of the marketing activities we do happen out of habit and because they're easy, not because they're effective.
We go to that monthly networking event because we've always gone to that monthly networking event. And we don't need to prep for it, we don't need to create anything new. It's full of familiar faces so we don't feel uncomfortable having to introduce ourselves to new people all the time. And we kind of vaguely remember that a few people there have given us referrals and probably some of those turned into clients, didn't they?
We log on to Linkedin and answer questions in our favourite groups because, well, it's easier than sitting down with a blank sheet of paper to write an email. And it does help our business to be helpful and be seen as knowledgeable in these groups, doesn’t it?
It's easy to fool ourselves like this. So to counteract it you need to be systematic about identifying where your clients really came from. Look at the clients you won in the last 6 or 12 months: how many of those did you first meet at that networking event or get referred to by people you met there? How many enquiries and clients have you had who are in those Linkedin groups you spend so much time interacting and answering questions in?
If you can't clearly identify at least one client you won associated with that marketing activity then mark a red flag next to it.
Next, extend your analysis by keeping a diary of how you spend your time over the next week and highlight the marketing related activities.
I know this sounds painful, but I've seen time and time again that we often burn hours a week on “marketing” activities without realising how much time we're spending on them. How long did it really take us to write that blog post? How much time did we spend researching that presentation (or rather, how much time did we spend messing around on Google long after we'd found all the information we needed)? Did we really spend that long on Twitter chatting with “influencers”?
It's only when you keep a diary that you realise just how time-consuming some of the things you do actually are. So painful though it sounds, it's well worth doing.
The next step, of course, is to match up those activities with clients you've won as above and flag up any activities where you can't clearly identify an impact on winning clients.
So far you've identified what you're currently doing and whether it's paying off. Now, you're going to figure out what activities to cut and what to keep or add.
Obviously, any activities that showed up from your earlier analysis of your current activities as clearly leading to clients or clearly not should go on your shortlist for keeping and cutting.
Try to identify what activities are most likely to work for you in your particular industry.
You might have heard all sorts of generic advice on what marketing works best, but the truth is that different approaches work in different situations.
And unfortunately, most of the people dishing out marketing advice have little experience outside the field of marketing. So their advice tends to be heavily biased towards what works for marketing type businesses and they assume the same holds true for every business. It doesn't.
So while it might generally be true that long articles do well in Google, or that you need to post frequently, or that videos get shared more than other content, maybe that's not true for you and your specific audience.
As a quick case in point: I googled “teambuilding techniques” and looked at the word count of the top 5 articles for that topic. Far from needing to write huge 2,000+ word articles as content marketing gurus would have you believe, not one of the top 5 articles was over 1,600 words and the average word count was just 873.
Don't take generic advice: check out what really works for your type of business.
So to see what works in Google for you, search for the keywords your clients would use and see what shows up in the top 10 results. Then see whether the top sites are filled with ultra long articles, videos or other content and how frequently they publish. Then check Buzzsumo to see what the most shared websites and pages are for the same keywords and again, see what kind of content does the best in terms of sharing.
It's not a hard and fast rule, but if videos are ranking well in Google and getting shared the most, then the chances are that creating videos will work for you. If long-form articles (rather like this one) are ranking well in Google and getting shared the most, then that's probably the thing for you to focus on. And if the top sites in your field only publish a new blog post every month there's absolutely no need for you to do daily or weekly updates.
Next criteria: when it comes to choosing between different marketing approaches, I would always choose “leadership” rather than “follower” activities.
Leadership activities are things like presenting at an event, setting up your own Facebook group and posting there, regularly publishing an email newsletter.
Follower activities are things like attending events to network there, being part of someone else's Facebook group and commenting on their posts and answering questions, replying to someone else's emails or commenting on their blog posts.
Follower activities can work, but leadership activities have far more impact.
Leadership activities not only position you as an expert that others listen to, they give you more airtime. People pay attention to the presenter at an event. When they're talking with you during networking time half their attention is on what they're going to say next or who else they'd like to meet.
It might seem that by answering questions in someone else's group or by commenting insightfully on other people's posts that you're showcasing your expertise. But psychologically, others will see you as a peer, not as someone who's that step ahead. It feels like by responding to others rather than initiating, you're doing something they could do themselves and so they see you as being on the same level as them.
Final criteria: do marketing you enjoy and that you feel proud of.
I know that doesn't sound very businesslike, but in many ways it’s the most important criteria.
Partly because if your marketing doesn’t fill you with energy, you won't do it.
But just as importantly, you must always remember that your business exists to support you and what you want to do, not vice versa. Even if your marketing was amazingly successful, if you hated doing it then what's the point? Your business is supposed to be something that you love and that gives you the life you want. It's not supposed to be something you dread working on.
So stick to doing marketing that you enjoy and you feel proud of.
Next, be brave and use the “rule of one”.
It's common advice to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket and to use multiple methods in your marketing. And while that makes sense for big and established businesses with lots of people working on marketing, if you're a smaller business it's much more important to put enough focus into a small number of activities to make them work and to get good at them.
So choose one method of lead generation (meeting new potential clients) only.
Choose one method of nurturing relationships only.
And choose one method of enrolling clients (sales calls or meetings) only.
And, of course, make sure they match. If you're generating leads personally through presentations, then follow up personally by phone or email. If you're generating leads via a webinar, use email marketing to follow-up.
Now I know the thought of radically cutting down to just three primary marketing and sales activities like this can seem a little scary.
What if you miss the one networking event where you would have met a brilliant client? What if those social media posts would have put you in touch with a key influencer in your sector?
Well, they might. But the chances are they won't.
And by focusing on a small number of activities you stand a much better chance of making those work than spreading yourself thinly.
But if the thought of cutting out all those events you've been going to and all those blog posts and social media updates you've been writing is just a bit too scary then try this:
Just do it for a month.
Cut down to just one of each core activity for a month. By the end of the month, you should have a good feel for how well things are going and if your new approach is making a difference. And by then you might even have broken your addiction to those networking events!
And if you're still not sure either way, try it for another month.
Now once you've got your core marketing systems in place you can think about adding back other activities to get even better results. But until your system is working to deliver you leads and clients on a regular basis, stick to one lead generation approach, one nurture strategy and one method for enrolling new clients.
Use Scheduling To Ensure You Get Your Marketing Done
Far too many great marketing intentions fall by the wayside when the real world intrudes.
If your marketing activities remain as items on a to-do list or a set of goals then unfortunately when the inevitable emergencies hit or client deadlines loom, they'll get pushed aside in favour of seemingly more urgent needs.
Instead, schedule your marketing activities into your calendar just like they were an important client meeting or a project task. And once they're in, hold those times sacred. Don't cancel or move them because something else comes up. Block off the time properly and schedule other things around them.
Here are some of the scheduling strategies I've found to be the most useful to help me get more marketing done in less time:
Schedule a significant chunk of time to do marketing work at the same time week in, week out.
Regularity breeds habit. And habit breeds success.
Personally, I like to schedule all of Monday morning to work on my important planning and marketing tasks. I start off by reviewing my overall goals and current projects and my big “to dos” and mark down all the tasks I want to get done this week. Then I schedule time during the week to do those important tasks.
As part of that, I'll schedule my most important marketing tasks to be done during the remainder of Monday morning.
Some tasks need a good chunk of time planned so you can “build up a head of steam” rather than trying to pick away at them a little bit at a time. Writing or other creative work is a good example of that. You'll make much more progress setting aside a couple of hours to write an article than trying to do it little at a time. So that type of creative work is ideal for you to do on a Monday morning (especially since your head is likely to be a lot clearer than after you've had a bunch of meetings, emails and other pressures pile on during the week).
A little while ago, after being named by OpenView Labs as one of their Top 25 Sales Influencers – their list of “25 of the most powerful thought leaders in the world of sales management, lead generation, and more” – I wrote an article on 3 relentless trends that are disrupting marketing.
Let's take a look to see how they turned out…
The first big trend I identified was that our clients just have so much less time available than ever before.
Now I'm sure you've noted this for yourself. We're all busier and busier these days.
But it's a vital issue for marketing because what's happening is that our clients are reducing or withdrawing from a lot of activities that used to bring them into early contact with professionals.
The days of clients holding speculative meetings with potential suppliers “just in case” something useful might come out of it, or to “discuss their needs” are long gone.
And I don't know about you, but whereas even a few years ago when I went to networking events and met interesting people who I didn't see an immediate opportunity to work with – I'd arrange a “follow up coffee” and we'd explore each other's businesses and maybe something would roll out of it downstream.
I just don't do those sort of meetings anymore. And neither do clients. No time.
And that means that networking and trying to get those early discussion meetings with clients is becoming increasingly less effective as a marketing approach.
Ring a bell? This trend has not only continued – it's accelerated. New technology that was supposed to save us time has done the opposite – it's made us more accessible and made it easier for our schedules to fill up. As a result, we're sidelining all the normal early stage meetups and networking we might have done otherwise.
The second big trend is that we're all becoming much more resistant to – even resentful of – being “sold to”.
We want to be in control of how we buy and decide. We hate being pushed or manipulated. The old advice to salespeople that they must “control the process” is a surefire route to losing the sale these days.
A few months ago, for example, I wanted to change my business bank account and was about to start looking around when I got a phone call from a nice lady from Barclays Bank offering to tell me about their business account and the benefits it would bring me.
Great timing seemingly. Just what I wanted.
Except I said “no thanks, if I want to find out about your account I'll look it up online”.
It was a knee-jerk reaction to avoid being sold to. But it made sense too. We've all experienced that when we actively search for things we want rather than passively reacting to salespeople, we get a much better deal.
The impact: marketing methods like cold calling or advertising that interrupt our clients and where we try to “push” our stuff on them just don't work anymore.
Well, they still work a bit. But they're a lot, lot harder work.
I'm sure you've noticed this trend has continued. The increased control we now have over our buying process online has made us expect that everywhere. We don't like being pushed around and sellers who try to interrupt and manipulate us find out pretty quickly that those techniques just don't work anymore.
And the final trend? We all have so much more choice available to us.
Or more accurately, we now have much more visibility of our choices – we can see what's out there.
In the “old days” – perhaps only a few years ago – when a client hired a new professional to work with them it was a huge leap of faith.
Usually, the client wasn't an expert in the area, and they had very little to go on: a CV, some references (but everyone has great references don't they? Even the duffers). And their experience of the person when they met them.
So very often once a client found someone who did a good job for them they'd keep using them. Often in areas where they weren't a real expert.
The fact that they could trust them, that they worked hard and hit their deadlines made them a “safe pair of hands”. They were a much less risky option than the potential expert who the client just didn't know.
But nowadays when you're looking for a professional, for very many (myself included) you can watch a video of them on the web. You can read a bunch of their articles and get a sense of whether they really know their stuff. You can get a feeling for whether you'd be able to work with them.
It's not the same as having worked with them before. But it's very often enough to tip the balance in their favour vs the safe pair of hands.
As a result, “client loyalty” is declining.
I say “client loyalty” in quotes as in many cases it wasn't that the client was loyal – it was just that the other options seemed too risky. Now they don't.
So now the easy option for professionals of just doing project after project for a client that sees them as a safe option is declining too.
Again, it's easy to see how this trend has continued and in many ways accelerated. Just being good at what you do is now a commodity and it's not nearly enough to guarantee you win a sale.
Now, these forces all look on the face of it like big risks. Decreasing loyalty, resistance to “selling”, no time to meet us.
But they're also a huge opportunity too. A growing cadre of potential clients being marketed to in ineffective ways by your competitors means a big opening for you.
I‘m sure you've noticed that becoming seen as an authority or “go to expert” has become rather fashionable as a marketing strategy. It seems that no matter what new tactic, tool or technique is being promoted, one of the main selling points is always that it will help you become seen as an authority in your field.
Write a book and become seen as an authority in your field. Do guest blog posts and become seen as an authority in your field. Do a podcast and become seen as an authority in your field. Be everywhere on social media and become seen as an authority in your field. Do live video…you get the idea.
Every guru and marketing trainer seems to want to teach you how to become seen as an authority.
Maybe you're a little bit skeptical?
I don't blame you.
The truth is that hundreds of thousands of people write books, yet only a tiny fraction of them are seen as authorities.
Millions of hours are spent on guest blog posts, podcasts and live video and again, very few people who do it are known as authorities.
And “being everywhere” on social media? Even if you had the time, there are countless thousands of other people doing it too – and again, very few of them ever get close to authority status.
The Truth About Authority
I'm lucky enough that today, within my own little field, many people regard me as an authority.
It means that I get people coming to me wanting to work with me and I don't need to “sell them” (or at least I don't need to work as hard as I would if I didn't have that authority status).
But 10 years ago when I set up my business that was far from the case.
When I first set out I arrogantly assumed that because I *knew* I was an expert, clients would beat down my door wanting to work with me.
Of course, they didn't.
I found myself increasingly frustrated as I went to networking events and found that other consultants who I thought weren't as experienced or skilled as I was left the room with new clients and I didn't.
For a while, I tried to copy them. I thought that if I could develop their level of networking skills and salesmanship I'd win the business too.
But that was a mistake. I'm not a natural salesperson or a polished networker. In fact, I don't particularly enjoy either activity.
I learnt that instead, I needed to compete on my own terms. I needed to find ways of being seen as an authority so I didn't have to be great at networking or schmoozing or all those things I just don't like doing.
Of course, I made a ton of mistakes and went up many blind alleys along the way. So here, with the benefit of a lot of hindsight, are the top 5 things I wish I'd known about becoming seen as an authority when I first set up my business.
Hopefully, you'll find them useful and you can avoid the same pitfalls as I fell into :)
Celebrity is NOT Authority
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that being seen as an authority means you need to follow the same publicity-seeking path as the many mini-Kardashians you see so often on social media.
Not that the Kardashians are doing badly. It's just that they have different “skills” to you and me.
The celebrity model is based on spending 80% of your time on self-promotion and making your money from activities that don't really involve much of your own time: endorsements, branded products, work done by others.
For those of us who don't enjoy self-promotion and who need to spend time working with clients and mastering our craft, it's not the ideal model to go down.
You've got to wonder when those people who are constantly active on social media actually spend time working with their clients? The answer is they don't. They either don't really have many, or other people are doing that for them.
Authority is not about getting maximum visibility. It's not about having a clever name or strapline for your business (please, for heaven's sake, don't waste a day in a workshop worrying about clever names, logos and your brand identity. At least not when you're starting up and have real work to do).
As Dutch photographer and filmmaker Anton Corbijn said, “I’m not famous, I’m simply very well-known to certain people”.
Now if you’re anything like me when I first read this quote you probably have no idea who Anton Corbijn is.
And that’s kind of the point. Most of us haven’t heard of him. But back in the day, if you were a big name indie band like Nirvana or Depeche Mode or Joy Division or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers then you absolutely knew who Anton Corbijn was. And he was the guy you wanted to make your music videos if you could afford him.
Becoming an authority becomes an awful lot simpler if you can focus on a very tightly defined group of people who you can focus your efforts on becoming an authority for – and obviously, you want them to be the ideal clients you’d love to work with.
If you do that, you don't need to be a celebrity. You don't need to live on social media or constantly be self-promoting.
Authority is NOT About the Tactics
Marketing teachers seem to have an obsession with tactics (and I'm guilty of that too). I think there's a natural human tendency to attribute the cause of a success or failure to the thing you did just prior to that success or failure.
So if we send an email and we get new clients, we assume it was the email that did it. We forget about all the relationship building we did beforehand. In a way, it's a bit like watching Brad Pitt ask someone out and assuming the reason they said yes was because of the chat-up line rather than the fact that it was Brad Pitt who asked.
My guess is that if you or I tried the same dating tactics as Brad Pitt, they wouldn't quite work so well for us. It's not the tactics that get Brad the date.
Lots of authorities have written books. But does writing a book make you an authority? Not really.
The last time I looked on Amazon there were 60,091 books on business strategy.
How many of those authors are seen as authorities on strategy? One percent? Half a percent? Maybe fewer.
We think of Michael Porter as an authority on business strategy not because he's written a bunch of books on the topic, but because the ideas contained within those books were revolutionary (at least at the time).
Those same models and frameworks are still being used by executives and consultants to help them create their strategies over 35 years after they were created.
Tactics don't make you an authority. Your experience, expertise, ideas and insights do.
Building Authority is NOT a One-Off Event
Let's be honest, we've all wished that we could do one amazing thing with our marketing and suddenly everyone would see us as an authority and want to work with us.
It doesn't work like that, of course. But that doesn't stop us hoping that this time we'll hit it out of the park and be set for life. At least that's what I hope for every time anyway :)
But what I've learned works much better is to build authority over time. To establish a platform for regular communication with your audience.
Love at first sight does happen. But far more common is that relationships grow over time. It's the same with authority.
When I opened up my Authority Breakthrough program this week for new members I got a message from someone who had been quietly getting my emails for three years. Their message: “just tell me how to pay”.
It wasn't the launch, my recent videos or any big event that made them want to buy. It was the three years of adding value and establishing myself as an authority through regular communications.
Authorities Today are Relatable
Not long ago the people we looked up to were always distant from us. The closest fans got to their favourite pop stars or movie icons was screaming from behind barriers when their planes landed at airports. And management gurus made a big deal of how unapproachable they were and the hoops you had to jump through to speak to them.
Today we expect to be closer to the people we look up to. We “follow” stars on social media and get to see behind the scenes to their real lives.
And when it comes to authorities, we want them to be relatable. We want to know that their expertise and experience is relevant to our world.
These days we're more likely to follow someone who's a couple of years ahead of us in their journey than a couple of decades.
I sat down with sales expert Jill Konrath recently to ask her about her path to becoming an authority. Jill is super-smart and super-successful, but what I found hugely interesting is that she took a deliberate decision early on to be very transparent about her own problems and challenges when it came to sales.
She decided that her purpose wasn't to be seen as knowing all the answers, nor was it to give the highest level techniques to people who were already good at sales. It was to help the typical man or woman on the street struggling with sales and especially to give them confidence that they could do this.
So she made sure that all her material was written for those people and that instead of her showing off her expertise, she opened up and showed her failings and fragility so that they would gain confidence that they too could succeed. In many ways, she was ensuring she built very deep empathy with her audience – knowing who that audience was (and it wasn’t the top performing sales reps in big companies), where they were psychologically, and what would help them the most.
People in small businesses who needed to sell fell in love with Jill and saw her as their authority because she was like them, but a few steps ahead.
Authority is a Way of Life, NOT Just a Way of Getting What You Want
What I mean by that is that I've seen very many people get interested in becoming seen as an authority because they realise it's a great way to attract more high paying clients.
But they see it as a tactic. Just something they do to get clients.
Authority is much, much more than that. It comes with responsibility.
As an authority, it's your job to be able to give the very best advice you can in your area of expertise. It's your job to come up with new ideas in your field and push it further. It's your job to share your ideas and to help others.
If the thought of doing those things doesn't fill you with excitement, then being an authority isn't for you.
If the only reason you want to be an authority is because of what you'll get from it, then being an authority isn't for you.
Being an authority takes lots of work. You have to stay at the top of your game. You have to keep learning, keep trying new things, keep sharing.
If you don't enjoy doing those things for themselves, then you won't stick at them enough to really play your role as an authority. And your audience will see through you.
You've got to want to be an authority, not just want what authority brings you.
Is it worth it?
Abvsolutely. If it's right for you.
And if it is, there's no better start than my 5 Day Authority Challenge.
In just 5 days you'll discover what it *really* takes to become an authority in your field – and build your roadmap for getting there.
You can sign up for the challenge by clicking the button below.
Back in the late 1990s I had one of those “duh” moments.
I was attending a workshop on selling consulting services run by my employer, Gemini Consulting. One of the core lessons from the workshop was the observation that your sales processes should be based on how your buyers buy, not on how you want to sell.
Simple. Obvious. Yet I hadn't thought of it like that at all.
Fast forward to today and that simple observation still applies to sales processes both offline and online.
But does your website really match how your buyers buy? In particular:
What phases do they go through in their decision-making process?
What do they look for at each stage?
Have you made it incredibly easy for them to find what they're looking for on your website at each stage?
From a hard-nosed commercial perspective, you want the visitors to your website to do what you want them to do. But in the real world, they're only going to do what you want them to do if it matches what they want and need to do.
Or to use Zig Ziglar's more positive version, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.”
In the current frenzy of excitement about designing complex “marketing funnels” to maximise our sales we seem to have lost sight of the fact that your clients have their own objectives. And if your website doesn't help them achieve those objectives then they won't stick around, no matter how clever your funnels are.
So what is it that our clients want when they visit our site?
You need to start with their buying journey.
I was at the CEB's 2017 Marketing & Sales Thought Leader Workshop a couple of week's ago and one of the latest research pieces they shared was into the business to business buying journey and the key tasks buyers carry out at each stage.
The buyer tasks per stage are summarised below with the key digital tasks highlighted:
(Note: there are also critical tasks for your website that happen before the buying process formally begins. This is where you have a chance to help clients understand their problems and establish yourself as an authority by sharing valuable content to help shape their perceptions. But in this case, the model focuses on the formal buying process itself after the client has identified the problem they need a solution for).
How important is your website in each stage, as opposed to information your potential client might find on social media or industry sites?
Pretty darned important, as the following graph shows.
According to buyers, supplier websites are the #1 most used online channel throughout the buying process.
Worth thinking about before you start posting more on social media or investing heavily in influencer marketing to get mentions on other sites.
But back to the stages model. What, specifically, are clients looking for in each stage?
In the Early Stages of Buying, Clients are in Learning Mode
In the early stages of buying, business-to-business buyers focus primarily on learning about the different solutions available for resolving their problem and then on compiling a shortlist of potential suppliers.
In other words, they initially arrive thinking about problems – not solutions. So your website needs to make it easy to find information about those problems, and then show them the potential solutions for those problems.
The more you're able to show you understand their problems and the more you're able to teach them about the different solutions they might be able to use, the more you're likely to be shortlisted as a potential supplier.
Website Sanity Check #1: Does your home page mention the problems you help clients with, not just your products and services? And is it easy to navigate through to find more details of those problems and the different solutions for them?
In the Middle Stages of Buying, Clients are in Comparison Mode
In the middle stage, the emphasis switches to learning more about specific supplier solutions, comparing them, checking prices, and checking references and case studies to be sure the supplier really can deliver.
Usually, our websites are pretty good at providing the details of our own solutions. But how often do sites of service providers make it easy to compare their solutions with others?
It's common practice for product suppliers to feature comparison tables between their solutions and their competitors. And you've probably noticed that as a buyer, those charts are really helpful (unless the chart is blatantly biased).
Direct comparisons aren't so easy for service providers where the service is often tailored to the needs of the individual client. But what you can do is compare different types of solution.
So, for example, if you provide coaching to help clients improve their leadership, then the first decision a client has to make is whether to choose a coaching, training, mentoring or other solution. The choice of which coach (or trainer or mentor) comes second.
A comparison table with the pros and cons of coaching vs mentoring vs training will help them make that decision. It can also let you highlight important and favourable criteria that the client might not have thought about unprompted.
This is especially valuable if you have a unique and different way of solving a client's problem. The chances are it will be difficult for a client to evaluate two or three very different solutions.
For example, my main focus is on helping clients become seen as authorities in their field. But clients don't have “authority problems” – they have “I don't have enough clients” problems and “I'm always forced to compete on price” problems.
My solution of becoming seen as an authority isn't the only way to get more clients or to get premium prices. How can a client evaluate my solution of becoming seen as an authority vs improving their selling skills vs hiring a marketing agency vs investing in online advertising vs a myriad of other options?
So I need to help them by showing clearly why my approach is better to other approaches – and in what circumstances. It's simply not credible to argue that my approach or your approach is universally better. Different solutions will work best in different situations, and you need to help your buyers by spelling out which situations your solution will work best in.
(For the record, becoming seen as an authority is the best approach to win clients for people who are experts in their field and would prefer to focus on that rather than on becoming world-class marketers or professional salespeople. And it works best for high-value services rather than commodities).
You also need to make it easy for buyers to learn about pricing too.
Yes, that might mean you need to put indicative prices on your website. The old days of expecting clients to call to find out the price so you get a chance to speak to them first are fading fast. The truth is that unless they can see immediately that your prices are in the right ballpark, most clients will simply cross you off their shortlist and you won't get that call.
And finally, you need to make it easy for potential clients to “check you out” to confirm you really are as good as you say. That means plenty of testimonials (click here for the best way to get more testimonials), case studies – even the logos of clients you've worked for.
And crucially, make it easy for potential clients to check up on your references. Don't make them jump through hoops – provide a button or link next to your case studies and testimonials where they can contact you directly to get in touch with your references.
Website Sanity Check #2: Have you made it easy for your potential clients to compare their different options? Can they easily find out about the work you've done and contact references?
In the Late Stages of Buying, Clients are “Filling in the Gaps”
It's tempting to assume that clients just don't visit your website after they've reached their initial decision.
By the time they're in the late stages of buying, the primary activities are internal. They're checking their budget, getting consensus amongst their stakeholders and talking directly to suppliers to finalise terms and conditions.
But the data shows that over 60% of buyers are still visiting your website, even at this late stage.
They're doing two things.
From a rational perspective, they're filling in any gaps in the information they need to finalise not just their decision, but their plans for implementing your solution.
That means that your website really needs a “Frequently Asked Questions” section or equivalent to provide answers to the questions buyers typically ask near the end of the process: How do we get started fast? What else do we need to make this work? How do I contact you in an emergency? etc.
The questions will be unique to you, but they should be familiar. They're the questions your clients have typically asked you face to face before “sealing the deal”.
And there's another sort of information your buyers are looking for too. More emotional than rational.
It's the reason most of us read reviews of products we've already bought.
We want reassurance we've made the right decision.
Think about the content on your website. What would someone who's 90% decided to hire you read? What would reassure them they've made the right decision?
How about a section on “How to get the most from working with me”. Or interviews with your clients about their stories (not just singing your praises, but genuinely interesting stories about their business and their achievements that happen to get across the message that your clients get great results). And simply seeing the logos of other businesses you've worked for will reassure them that others have made the same decision too. There's safety in numbers.
Again, this information will be unique to you. But by thinking through what would reassure buyers they've made the right decision you should be able to identify and highlight content that will do the job for you.
Website Sanity Check #3: Do you have a Frequently Asked Questions section and other content designed to help fill in the final gaps and reassure buyers they've made a great decision?
How Did You Do?
I'm going to be brutally honest here: I didn't do that well.
After running through the CEB's research in detail I recognised that despite learning 20 years ago that your sales process should mirror your client's buying process, I haven't fully implemented that on my website.
I'm great in the early stages and beforehand. I have a ton of information about client problems and their options for solving them – that's how I attract potential clients in the first place.
And I have plenty of detail about my solutions.
But not that much about how the solutions I recommend compare to others. Or at least not clearly laid out.
And I do very little in the late stages to reassure clients they've made the right decision.
By asking myself those 3 simple questions, I've now got a plan now for how I'm going to make improvements to my site to be a better match for my buyers' journey.
Many thanks to the CEB and in particular to Brent Adamson and Kelly Blum for inviting me over to the Roundtable and for hosting such a great and insightful couple of days. You can find out more about the CEB/Gartner and their research here.
That's a bold statement, isn't it? An exaggeration for effect, sure.
But I bet, like me, you've sometimes wondered whether clients really are all that loyal.
Well, now there's hard data to back up our gut feeling. The results don't make for pleasant reading. But they do tell us what really works if you want to grow sales (especially in business-to-business).
But more of that in a second. Let's back up to set the context so this all makes sense.
Last week I headed over to Washington to attend the CEB‘s 2017 Sales & Marketing Thought Leader Roundtable. A rather eclectic bunch of sales and marketing experts sat round as the team from the CEB (I should technically say the CEB, now Gartner) presented the findings from their latest sales and marketing research and we discussed, debated and gave them feedback.
They've done two big studies so far this year. One in sales which I'm going to discuss in this article, and one in marketing (digital marketing through the business-to-business buying cycle) which I'll discuss in an upcoming article.
Now it's worth noting before we jump in that this research is focused on business-to-business – ie marketing and selling your products or services to other businesses. And the research was primarily done with large organisations, both from a buyer and seller perspective.
But what you'll find is that the results are equally applicable whether you work for a big company or run your own little solo business like me.
The CEB research covered many areas. but the findings that jumped out for me, in many ways because they go against so much of what is being preached today, were about the best ways to grow business with your best and biggest clients.
Most of us, in my experience, have an inbuilt mental model that the best way to win business from an existing client is to do great work for them and ideally to go the extra mile and delight them. Do great work for them and they'll be loyal to you.
The CEB research found the same perception in sales. When they interviewed salespeople of all types they got the same answer time and time again: the surest way to grow accounts is to service them above-and-beyond customer expectations.
Unfortunately, it turns out not to be true.
At least not when it comes to growth.
Now it does work when it comes to account retention. When account managers were perceived by customers as being focused on resolving their issues and ensuring they got full value from the products and services provided to them, there was a strong correlation with account retention. In fact, account managers who clients rated high at resolving issues and ensuring they got value from their purchases were twice as likely to retain their business as those who were rated low.
But when it came to growing the account, there was no correlation at all. Account managers who scored high on resolving issues and ensuring clients got value from their purchases were no more likely to grow sales in the account than those who scored low.
Crazy? Perhaps not.
If you assume that customers buy through loyalty then yes, it seems odd.
But think about the difference between retaining an account and growing it for a minute.
When you “retain” an account it basically means that clients buy the same thing from you this year as they did last year. When you “grow” an account it means they also bought something new: a different product or service or some kind of upgrade to the existing one.
The data shows that if you do a great job on service, clients are highly likely to buy the same thing from you again rather than switching suppliers. But are they doing so out of a sense of loyalty for your great service?
Perhaps. But I doubt some of the hard-nosed procurement managers in large organisations I've known are acting out of loyalty.
What's more likely is that they're simply acting out of self-interest. If you did a great job last year, it's likely you'll do a great job again this year. It's simply less risky for them to re-hire you to do the same thing again than it is to hire someone else.
With you, they can see your proven track record. With anyone else, they have to go on their promises alone.
Sure, your competitors might do a great job at persuading your buyer they can do just as good a job. They can show them testimonials. They can give a guarantee. They can bring them great new ideas on what to do differently that might get better results. That's why you don't win every time, even when you do a great job servicing a client.
But more often than not their real experience working with you trumps the promises anyone else can make.
Switch to growing an account and it's a different story though.
If you're trying to sell them new products and services, or even an upgrade to an existing one, they can't go on your track record because you haven't got one with this new product or service.
If they just bought based on loyalty, they'd reward your previous good performance by buying these new products and services from you too.
But they don't.
With new products and services you essentially have a level playing field with your competitors. It's your word vs your competitor's word about what they'd get from the new set of things they're thinking of buying from you.
It would be nice to think that all that great work you did, all that going the extra mile to delight your client, would get you a loyalty bonus and they'd be biased in your favour when it came to new opportunities.
But the data says that in the hard-nosed world of business-to-business, they're not. All the great work you did with your original products and services doesn’t make you any more likely to win the new business.
So what does?
It turns out that the primary things that drive the growth of an account are what the CEB label “Customer Improvement”. Specific behaviours that increase the likelihood that clients will buy new things from you, namely:
Providing customers with unique, critical perspectives on improving their business.
Laying out a vision for improving their business.
Outlining the ROI of your commercial relationship.
You'll notice two things about these behaviours.
Firstly, they're future focused.
Retention is all about the past, how you performed in the last year. Clients can use that as a guide to how you'll perform in the same situation next year.
But when the situation is different next year, when you're talking about new products and services, the focus needs to shift. You need to be talking to them about how they can improve their business, not about what a great job you did or how you can resolve their issues with their current products and services.
Secondly, those factors are largely supplier-agnostic. It's about their business, not your products.
If you want clients to buy new things from you, you have to create a compelling picture of what their future could be like. Both in terms of how their business could change, how that can happen, and what the ROI will be for them.
Pretty much exactly the same things you'd have to do if you were an outsider trying to sell to that company, rather than an incumbent. The great news is that as the incumbent you have much more access to have those discussions and to paint that picture than an outsider – if you choose to use it.
By the way, the other minor factor that leads to account growth is increased confidence in the account team from exposing the client to a broader team. Obviously this is only possible when you have a broader team, but it speaks to the same future-focused agenda.
If a client is only exposed to the team working with them on the existing products and services they buy from you, then their confidence is limited to that existing set of products and services. If they see a broader team with wider capabilities then they're willing to believe to some degree that you could successfully deliver other products and services too.
So what does this mean for you?
I take two big implications from this research.
Firstly, be careful taking an evangelical approach to customer service. Delighting your clients is wonderful. It will absolutely help you retain them. But don't become obsessed by it.
If you're looking to grow a client account then at some point you're going to have to make a decision about how to spend your time. And eventually, there will come a tradeoff between spending even more time delighting the client with the work you're already doing with them and talking to them about other improvements they could make.
If you've already exceeded their expectations with the work you've done (or even just met them), then doing even more to delight them isn't going to help you sell more.
It feels good. It doesn’t bring up all those uncomfortable feelings that you get when you head into new territory with clients to challenge some of their thinking and talk about bigger business issues. But more delight doesn't equal more sales.
The second implication is that you need to make time for, and you need to get good at those business-level discussions about how your client's business could improve.
Make sure you're carving out time in your interactions with clients to ask them questions to find out what their other priorities are and the places where they're struggling. Make sure you're carving out time to look at their industry and their competitors and get up to speed on leading practices. Make sure you're carving out time to come up with interesting and valuable new ideas that could help your clients improve their business.
Then pluck up the courage to have those discussions.
It's oh-so-easy to just do more of what we find easy and what brings immediate gratification and positive feedback: delighting our clients.
But we also need to be having value-added discussions with our clients about what they could do differently to have more success. Those discussions aren't easy. But the growth of your sales depends on them.
Many thanks to the CEB and in particular to Brent Adamson and Kelly Blum for inviting me over to the Roundtable and for hosting such a great and insightful couple of days. You can find out more about the CEB/Gartner here.
If you've worked in a service business for any length of time you'll know the power that customer testimonials can have in shaping buyer decisions. Especially when the service is expensive, intangible and new to the buyer.
As eConsultancy showed recently, 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision and that results in an average sales uplift of 18% if you use reviews on your site.
So if that's the case, how come most of us don't use customer reviews and testimonials all that often on our sites?
The truth is that despite knowing how valuable reviews and testimonials can be, most of us don't have anywhere near as many really strong ones as we'd like.
In this article, I'm going to show you how to get more customer reviews and testimonials by following a few simple steps. So let's get going…
Step 1: “Recover and Reuse” your Existing Testimonials
The first step to getting the most from your testimonials and reviews is to make better use of the ones you've already got.
The Hunt For Linkedin Testimonials!
How many great recommendations have you got buried in the depths of Linkedin where no-one but your most dedicated follower will see them? Or on your Google MyBusiness page where they only get seen by people searching for you? Or worse, languishing in an email file somewhere never having seen the light of day?
For a testimonial or review to have impact, it needs to be part of the decision-making process of your potential clients. In other words, they need to see it at around the time they're thinking of hiring you.
Where are they likely to be looking at this time? Probably not on Linkedin or your MyBusiness page on Google. And they certainly don't have x-ray vision into your email inbox. Your testimonials need to be highly visible on your website. Either (or preferably both) on a dedicated testimonials page or visible on the page describing the service they're thinking of buying.
So your first step is to dig up your best testimonials from Linkedin, MyBusiness, your email inbox, letters your clients sent you (remember them?) and any other source and get them onto your site where they'll be seen as part of the decision-making process.
Where someone has officially sent you a testimonial (such as on Linkedin or where they've emailed you and said ou can use it) you can just get it straight up on your site (some people even use screenshots of their Linkedin recommendations to show their authenticity).
If someone has said something nice about you and your work on an email that you'd like to use, but they haven't agreed to it being used as a testimonial yet, you need to take an extra step – more on that later.
Step 2: Set Expectations
One simple way to make sure you get more testimonials when you ask is to make sure your clients are expecting you to ask.
That way they won't feel surprised and “put on the spot”. And they'll have done some thinking about it subconsciously so it will be easier for them.
You can set expectations in three ways:
By having testimonials and reviews highly visible on your website, it'll be apparent that you regularly ask for them and they're part of your way of doing business.
You can discuss testimonials at the “contracting” stage of your work together. This needn't be a formal contract, but more the part of your process where you agree what you'll be doing for them.
As you take them through the steps of your work together it's an obvious time to say something like “…and after the project is over and you're getting great results, if it's OK with you I'd like to ask you for a testimonial I can use on my website” and wait for them to agree.
Since you've said “you're getting great results” and “if it's OK with you” you're very unlikely to get disagreement here. And this small commitment now makes it more likely that they'll say yes when you remind them later.
Shortly before asking, give them advanced warning so they can think about what to say in the testimonial. This is particularly important if you're going to ask face-to-face: you don't want them to get flustered and give you a weak testimonial.
You can use something casual like “Hey John, remember when we were planning the project and I said that when you were getting great results I'd like to ask you for a testimonial? Would it be Ok if we sat down and did that when I'm in next week? I'll drop you an email later with some ideas on the sorts of things to include.” This can help them prepare and give you a great testimonial covering all the right bases (especially if you follow the guidelines on questions to ask in Step 4).
If you do pro-bono work or free “showcases” as speaker, you can make getting a testimonial part of your “payment” for doing so. Not only does this get you a testimonial, it sets the expectation that your time is valuable and requires payment of some kind, even if not financially this time.
Consultant (and ex-lawyer) Sarah Fox makes sure she has a contract for every piece of work (even an unpaid showcase) and includes the provision of testimonials in the terms. You're clearly not going to go to court if they don't give you the testimonials you asked for, but the inclusion of testimonials in the contract is an easy prompt to get the discussion going and a reminder after the event.
Step 3: Get the Timing Right
Rather like asking for referrals, timing is crucial when it comes to testimonials.
Ask for a testimonial when the client has just experienced great results from your work together and they'll be delighted to give one. Ask when things are still in progress or just after the sale and it'll feel like you're more interested in advancing your own business than helping them.
If you do 1-1 work with clients or you otherwise have visibility into how they're progressing, you can time your request to perfection.
You don't have to wait until the end of your work with them and the final results are being seen. As long as tangible progress is being made and you can feel that your client is delighted with how things are going, then it's a good time to ask (well, maybe after waiting a day so it doesn't seem quite so ambulance-chasey).
If you don't have direct visibility into your client's progress (for example if you do talks or training courses when the results come later after you've gone then you can get immediate feedback on their experience with you (ie whether your talk was inspirational, your training insightful etc.) and then take an intelligent guess as to when they're most likely to see some progress or results and check back then.
If you deliver online training where you don't see exactly how your clients are using your work then again, you need to take an intelligent guess as to when they're most likely to start seeing results. if you use a modern Learning Management System you can track consumption of your materials and trigger alerts when your customers have finished significant sections of your material.
But even without that, you should be able to estimate when they're likely to see progress based on your experience with others implementing your material.
The trick then is not to ask for a testimonial directly, since it might not be the right time. But instead to ask how they're progressing, or what their experience has been like so far.
If you get a positive message back, you can start probing further and eventually ask for a testimonial or review. If they're struggling you can reach out to help and get them back on track.
Step 4: “Ease In” to Asking for a Testimonial
If you know for sure that your client is getting great results and they're ready to give a testimonial or 5-star review then you can skip this step.
But in many situations, you won't be sure exactly what's going on in your client's world. You can guess that since it's a few weeks since they were on your sales training course they should be seeing some results. Or since your online training on building a website takes 2 weeks to complete that by the end of those 2 weeks they should have made good progress.
But you don't know for sure.
So it's best to “ease in” to asking for a testimonial or review so that you're not messing up the timing.
And perhaps more importantly, by easing in to asking, you take the pressure off the person you're asking to come up with a word-perfect testimonial.
As Customer Success expert Lincoln Murphy points out, one of the main reasons people don't give testimonials is anxiety and overwhelm.
“Umm… how do you write a testimonial? Do it in third-person or first-person? Or second-person?
Am I allowed to write a testimonial? Do I need approval from legal?
What should I say? Should I be a raving fan or throw in some real talk so it doesn’t seem fake?”
Too many things to think about, so they do nothing.
If you're not sure someone is ready to give you a brilliant testimonial straight away, the best way to ease into it is to ask some more general questions first and then narrow down to gently get the feedback from them you need. Then summarise it and ask them if you can use it as a testimonial.
No pressure. They don't even realise they're being asked until you summarise what they've said and ask if you can use it.
“Hey John, it's been a few weeks since the sales training course…how are your team getting on implementing what they learned?”
“Really well, in fact we've seen some big changes already”.
“That's great to hear…can you share some specifics of what's been different for them? What results have they got so far?”
“Well, Derek's already beaten his Q3 quota after just a couple of weeks and he's never come close to that before. And Jim's just landed a brand new client he's been trying to get for years”.
“Brilliant – I'm really pleased for them :) You know, before the training started some of the team expressed concerns about whether the tech side would be practical for them. How did that turn out?”
“Well, we had a couple of early hiccups, but everyone helped each other out and with the tips you gave in the last session we were fine. In fact I haven't heard of any issues at all since the first week.”
“John, that's so great to hear. Something I'm doing right now is compiling some testimonials for the course from people who've had success with it. Do you mind if I use some of the things you've just said? I was thinking of something like ‘In just a few weeks since taking Alec's sales training masterclass we've seen improvements already. One of our team has beaten his Q3 quota already and another has landed a big client he was struggling to even speak to before. Even the skeptics in the team who thought this would be difficult to implement have got it in place already and are seeing results'.
Would it be OK to use that, or would you suggest some changes?”
So what's happened is that you've had a gentle conversation with your client to ask about how things have progressed, you've drilled into his answers to get to some specifics, then you've paraphrased his answers to turn it into a testimonial you can use.
In other words you've made things super simple for him and you've got a great testimonial phrased in the way you want to have impact.
Of course, the example I've given is an abbreviated version. And things might not go so swimmingly. Maybe they haven't seen the results they were hoping for. In which case it’s an opportunity for you to help further and sort things out for them – leading to an even better testimonial downstream.
There's also the possibility they might not like your wording. In which case you can simply ask them what they'd prefer to say instead – and you've still made progress.
So any way it works out, you're doing well. You either have a great testimonial, or the chance to further help a client get results.
Now, of course, you'll need to change the wording to fit your situation. Lincoln Murphy's original examples are from the world of Software as a Service – so he asks about what the customer's experience with the product has been rather than asking about results. The point is to use wording that allows your clients to say things that could easily be turned into a testimonial.
Step 5: Ask the Right Questions
You'll notice that in the above example Alec the sales trainer eased out the specific results the client had got, rather than just general statements about how they liked working with him.
Testimonials that include specific results of the type your potential clients are looking for are perhaps the most powerful of all. So when you get the chance to ask a client directly for a testimonial, or if they volunteer to do one, ask them what specific results or benefits they saw from working with you.
Another powerful use of testimonials often highlighted by copywriter Colin Theriot is overcoming objections.
Once your potential clients have bought into the benefits they'll get from working with you, they'll usually have a series of concerns or questions holding them back. Can you get results working with people like them? What if they don't have much time to do this? What if they're no good with technology?
You could try answering those concerns directly, but a far better and more believable way of doing it is to let customer testimonials do the job.
And the way to get testimonials that overcome objections is to ask them about the concerns they had before buying and how they turned out. Colin likes to ask a version of “what made you hesitate to hire me, and how did your opinion change once you started working with me”.
Finally, I like to try to embed a call to action in a testimonial. Something to spur the reader to take action. So I like to ask testimonial givers what advice they would give to someone thinking of hiring me. Often the answer will be some form of “If you're thinking of hiring Ian, just do it – you won't regret it” which works well!
So if you do have the chance to ask someone questions to cover in their testimonial, I usually advise asking some form of the following:
1) What were the main benefits you got from working with me? What results did you see?
2) Was there anything that initially made you hesitate or you were concerned about before working with me? How did working with me change your mind after you bought?
3) What would you say to anyone considering hiring me? What would your advice to them be?
You can also adjust your questions to draw out any interesting stories or examples you know the client has. Or if you have a gap in the benefits or objections other testimonials cover, word your request to get an answer specifically about that so you can “plug the gap”.
The point is to ask questions that get you the kind of testimonials you want, rather than the wishy-washy “Ian's a great guy” testimonials you usually get if you don't give people guidelines.
Step 6: Use Tools and Technology to Automate and Enhance the Process
So now you know the best time and the best ways to get more reviews and testimonials. It should be plain sailing, right?
Sadly, real life tends to get in the way. We get busy so we forget we were supposed to call that client to ask for a testimonial. We're worn out from running a workshop so we haven't got the energy to discuss next steps and how to get testimonials.
Tools and technology can help us stay on track.
By tools I mean simple things like checklists. Every time you start working with a new client, make sure you have a checklist of the steps you need to do to make the onboarding process a brilliant experience for both you and the client. And make sure that agreeing that you'll ask for testimonials at the end of the project is on that list of steps.
If you're a speaker or trainer and you hand out feedback sheets at your events, make sure you have a process in place that you always follow for processing those sheets the next day. And make sure your process includes contacting people who gave you great feedback you could ask to turn into a testimonial.
Simple checklists and processes have an exponential impact on your ability to make this stuff happen.
Technology can help you too.
The first step is to make sure that your testimonials don't get lost in your email inbox. One simple way of doing this is to ask for them to be made on Linkedin. That way they show on your profile (though these days buried deep down), you can always find them, and you can then copy them to your website.
But make sure you make it easy for people. Don't just say “leave me a testimonial on Linkedin”. That gives them the job of finding where the link to leave a testimonial is (it's not by your existing testimonials, it's up at the top of your profile behind the “…” link). If, like most people, they struggle to find the link, they'll give up.
So give them the testimonial link directly. You can construct it by taking your Linkedin profile link and adding the text “recommendation/write” on the end as per the picture below:
Finding your Linkedin Recommendation Link
If your customers click that link it will take them directly to the page on Linkedin where they can leave you a recommendation.
One little “trick” for Linkedin recommendations by the way. If you recommend someone else, it will prompt them to recommend you back. So if there's someone who you would genuinely recommend and you think they would recommend you; the easiest way to start the process is to simply go on to Linkedin and recommend them. that will then show them your recommendation and prompt them to recommend you back.
Overall, while there are some advantages to collecting testimonials on Linkedin, they're not huge. The truth is that Linkedin have buried the testimonials so far down your profile (and after needing to click “more” for every 5 testimonials) that most people won't see them there.
My preference these days is to collect testimonials on your own site. This not only keeps them under your direct control, but if you collect star ratings too, it's in line with Google's new policies for displaying star ratings in the search listings (they want the ratings to come from reviews visible on your site, not external ones).
There are a number of good tools for doing this.
A Testimonial Capture Page on Thrive Ovation
For testimonials only (with no star ratings), Thrive Ovation is a good tool. It integrates with the other Thrive tools like their Page builder and allows you to create nice looking forms for collecting testimonials and it allows you to get answers for specific questions (like the ones we covered in Step 5). Once you've collected the testimonial it has a process for reviewing, editing and getting the testimonial-giver to approve the use of the testimonial. You can then easily insert it into a web page through a shortcode or as an element on Thrive's page builder.
The best tool on the market for collecting customer testimonials with star ratings is ReviewTrust.
ReviewTrust is a full system for getting and displaying more reviews. In addition to the basics of letting you create forms to capture reviews (text, video or audio), it gives you 10 options for displaying those reviews on your site.
More importantly, it can manage the whole process if you're using an e-commerce system/shopping cart. You can set it up to automatically send a series of emails asking for reviews a certain number of days after someone has bought a product on your cart. That way there's no need to remember to ask manually, it’s all automated.
Today's podcast is a great follow-on from my recent article on the first steps to becoming an Authority where I highlighted that the first step is to understand your ideal clients and what they care about.
In the podcast, I talk to copywriter Chris Laub about the steps he follows when he's researching a market. And in particular how he does 1-1 interviews to build deep insight into potential clients.
In the podcast Chris shows you when research works well and when it doesn't, what sort of questions to ask to get beneath the surface and find real insights, and what pitfalls to avoid when doing research.
You can listen to the podcast by clicking the play button below.
Chris is a direct response direct response copywriter who's worked with Shark Tank winners, Inc. 500 companies, and a host of well-known industry experts. These days, he focuses his efforts on helping experts increase sales of their high ticket training programs.
There's no doubt in my mind (and my experience) that being seen as an authority in your field is the best way for people in expert businesses like consultants, coaches, trainers and other professionals to win more high-paying clients without having to become marketing geniuses or spend all their time on sales.
But of course, becoming seen as an authority is easier said than done.
Late last year I ran a survey asking what your biggest challenge in the area of building authority was. There were a huge number of answers which I then used to help me shape my Authority Breakthrough Program. But overall, three big challenges came out well ahead of the others:
Getting visible and getting your message in front of the target clients you want to build authority with.
Standing out and differentiating from your competitors in a crowded market.
Getting focused and finding the time to do the actions necessary to build authority on a consistent basis.
So let's talk about the big issue of visibility first (I'll return to the other topics in upcoming articles).
In other words, if you're a genuine expert in your field but you're not part of a big firm and you haven't published a best-selling book or already have a well-known name, how do you get your ideal clients to notice you enough for them to realise you're an expert?
Well, the first step is to understand who your ideal clients really are, and where you need to be visible to get their attention.
Sounds obvious, but you won't believe how many people make the mistake of going where it's easy and comfortable for them to go, rather than going to the places where they're really going to connect with their ideal clients.
Case in point: I knew a consultant once who was a leading expert in marketing and sales for large manufacturing firms, but who was trying to drum up business by going to those local business networking breakfasts so many small businesses go to.
His friends had all told him it worked for them, and he bought into the “you never know who knows who” line and the remote hope that someone he met over breakfast in a chain hotel at an ungodly hour in rural Cheshire would just happen to know the head of marketing at a major international manufacturing firm.
And, truth be told, it was comfortable for him too. There were always friendly faces, nice conversations. People impressed by his expertise and who promised to introduce him to any big business marketing people they met.
It never happened.
He was kidding himself to think that the people he met at local networking events – lovely though they were – were likely to introduce him to the sort of people he wanted to meet. But the alternative seemed much more daunting.
That consultant was me, by the way, a decade ago before I found much better ways of connecting with potential clients and eventually transitioned to helping others like me do the same.
I see the same problem repeated with online marketing today. Consultants who target large corporates writing guest blog posts for small business websites. Or vice-versa: experts on a big topic with global interest trying to cold email a handful of prospects to talk to them face to face.
Realism Is Your Best Friend
If you want to get visible to your ideal clients, you need to know where they hang out (both virtually and physically).
And the best way to do that is to ask them.
Now, if you find yourself thinking “but I don’t know enough of them to ask”, you have a problem: you're not being realistic.
If you don't know anyone in your target market well enough to ask a few questions to set you on the right path, what are the chances that they'll be ready to work with you if you do manage to eventually connect with them? And what are the chances you'll understand them and their problems well enough to be able to communicate in ways that resonate with them?
There's a concept in biology called “the adjacent possible”. It means that, for example, in the primordial soup before life evolved, the basic chemicals like methane, ammonia, water and carbon dioxide might well combine to make something more complex like formaldehyde. But they're not going to instantly spark a living, breathing creature even though all the fundamental components are there. It's too big a leap.
But once you have formaldehyde, there are now more targets in the adjacent possible and it can combine to make something more complex. Then more complex still. And eventually, you get what we have today.
In the case of marketing and getting visible, you're most likely to be able to get visible to people in your own “adjacent possible”. People one-step removed from your current circle of visibility.
If you've worked in senior roles in IT organisations all your life and have now moved into executive coaching, who do you think you're more likely to be able to find connections with? Senior IT executives, or executives in Advertising Agencies or the Public Sector?
And if you got your message in front of them, who would your stories and examples most resonate with?
Now I know that for some people reading this, that message might disappoint you.
Perhaps you've spent all your life working in one field and you're bored with it and want a change. Or you're looking at a new area and find it immensely exciting even though it's completely new to you.
I'm not ruling out the possibility it'll be a huge success for you leaping from one field to a new one that's completely different. It's been done before. But it's the exception rather than the rule.
And when it's been done it's usually because there's some common thread that gives credibility in the new field. “I used to be an actor, now I work with senior executives who need to improve their speaking skills and presence”, for example.
If you do want to make a big leap from where you are to somewhere completely new, you're much better off plotting a series of incremental and achievable steps to get there. Build up your visibility and network as you go, rather than trying to make a leap to a completely new field from scratch.
It's what I did when I set up.
After I came to the realisation that trying to find a ready supply of major manufacturing firms based close enough to me so that I wouldn't have to travel wasn't really on, I looked at other markets to focus on.
And I realised that although my consulting clients had all been major international manufacturers, what I'd learned to do as well as the work I did for them was market and sell consulting services to them.
And a huge number of the contacts I had were consultants or ex-consultants who had moved into coaching or training or similar roles.
So while working in exciting and fast-growing local sectors like the media and high-tech looked appealing, the reality was I had very few contacts in those areas, no relevant experience to show them, and I didn’t really speak their language. My “adjacent possible” was consultants and related fields.
In an upcoming article, I'll show you a method for quickly breaking into a completely new field if you do decide that it's what you want to do. But it's far easier to go somewhere in your “adjacent possible” – and that's what I did.
And since you have contacts in your adjacent possible, you can ask them questions that will help you understand how to get more visible and how to stand out.
The best way to do this is over the phone or face to face over a coffee. Tell them you're looking to publish some of your ideas and share approaches that have been successful, and that you're looking to find out where best to publish to reach people like them.
If you've got any sort of relationship with them (or you can get an introduction from someone else who has) then many of them will be willing to give you 10-15 minutes to answer a few questions.
Let Your Clients Tell You Where To Go
Ask them an open question first about where they get new information in their field. They might jump straight to something you can use directly, or they might mention something you hadn't thought about at all.
Next, ask about what websites they visit and any blogs or newsletters they read. Or any podcasts or video channels they subscribe to.
Ask about any print magazines they read or events they attend to get information relevant to their role. And what social media they use on a regular basis.
Ask them about what type of information is the most useful to them (e.g. case studies, new research). And finally ask them what the biggest challenges they face are that they look for new information and ideas about (this is quite an intrusive question, so ask it last after you've built up rapport).
If you can get half a dozen or more answers to those questions you'll have a brilliant idea of what will get you more visible to these people.
If you already have an email list you can send a short survey to get more data. Or post the survey in groups on Linkedin or Facebook or private forums (with the permission of the group owners). The nice thing is that you're not pitching for business in any way so the survey will be viewed as non-threatening.
If you do go down the survey route, I'd still do the personal interviews first: you get more in-depth, quality information and that personal touch will also enhance your relationship with the person you interview.
Knowing where your ideal clients go to get the information they rely on and the sort of information they look for will save you hours and hours of wasted effort. It'll allow you to take an 80:20 approach to produce the kind of material that will make your audience sit up and take notice, and get it in the places they're most likely to see it.
Of course, you might not be able to jump straight to communicating with them in all the channels they mention. If Harvard Business Review is their print magazine of choice you're not going to get an article published from a standing start anytime soon.
But it's something you can work towards if you want. And their other sources of information like blogs, podcasts and social media will give you something more immediate to shoot for.
So for now, I want you to start taking action to build this picture of the best places to be visible for your “adjacent possible” clients.
And as soon as you know what some of these media are, make sure you're looking at them yourself. You can't expect to get published on blogs or in magazines you’ve never read, or to appear on podcasts you don't listen to. So start building up your familiarity now.
And, of course, there's no one right answer for everyone. What suits a full-time online marketer with a team behind them isn't the same as what suits a small solo business with limited time to do their marketing in. And personal preferences play a role too.
But what I can tell you about are the tools I personally use. These are the ones that I've tested and I feel are the best to help me run my online business. They might well be a good fit for you too.
Tools I Use To Run My Website
I run this (and my other sites) on WordPress. Of course, there are other free tools to build websites. Some, like Wix or Squarespace, are actually much easier to use than WordPress.
But WordPress scores on two critical dimensions.
Firstly, there's a huge range of marketing tools built to integrate easily with WordPress. Whether it's tools to get email optins or share things on social media; the best tools that get the best results work on WordPress.
Secondly, there are a ton of freelancers, VAs, agencies and other professionals who can help build a site in WordPress for you if you need help. The choices are much more restricted when it comes to other systems.
For my main site here, I use the Astro Theme from Themeforest for the blog side of the site. It's a beautiful, clean single column layout where all the emphasis is on the content rather than flashy widgets and sidebars. I then built my homepage and other landing pages on my site using Thrive Landing Pages.
In fact, if you get my Client Winning Websites course you not only get tutorials teaching you how to build a website like mine, you get all the key page templates you can just load up into Thrive Landing pages and tweak to make them your own.
For all the optin forms, popups, scroll-mats and the like on my site I use Thrive Leads. To my mind it's the most advanced optin system (for example, it lets you show different calls to action depending on whether someone is already a subscriber or not) yet it's also one of the cheapest. Like Thrive Landing Pages it's just a one-off fee of $67. (I actually pay an annual fee for membership of Thrive as it gives me access to all their plugins and themes).
For my membership site I use Memberium for Active Campaign. It's the Active Campaign version of Memberium for Infusionsoft which is used by some of the world's biggest membership sites. It's still in the later stages of beta testing so it's actually free to use right now and integrates tightly with my email marketing system Active Campaign (see below).
For my social sharing icons I use the Social Warfare plugin – it's one of the few that properly counts Tweets these days. I also use Tweetily to randomly tweet out links to my old blog posts.
For domain registration I personally use godaddy.com as my primary registrar. Some people don't like them, but they're easy to use with good customer support. And because they're big, no matter what you're trying to do (for example configure google apps) there'll be instructions on how to do it on godaddy.
My key sites including this one are hosted with Lightningbase. It's not only high performance hosting, it's great value too and their customer support is excellent. For smaller sites I have them all on a multi-site plan with Siteground.
You can boost the performance of any site using a content delivery network. Cloudflare is a free one I use. It's a bit technical to set up but worth it.
Tools I Use For Email Marketing
Email Marketing is probably the most important component in an online business. I don't know of any really successful online businesses that don't focus heavily on email marketing- which may be why I wrote a book about it :)
Making a recommendation is pretty simple: I use Active Campaign. It provides advanced email marketing with excellent integration with CRM systems, accounting systems and a whole host of others. And unlike Infusionsoft or Ontraport, their Lite plan starts off at pretty much the same pricing level as simple systems like Aweber or Mailchimp.
A good alternative to Active Campaign that many people like is Drip. It's got all the great automations, tagging etc. and it's a bit easier to use than Active Campaign. It hasn't got quite so many features or integrations as Active Campaign (for example you can't get a tightly integrated membership system like Memberium), but if you don't need them and you want a system that's perhaps a bit easier to use, Drip would be a good solution for you.
Tools I use For Online Purchases
Of course, the other key tool you need to run an online business is some type of shopping cart so that people can actually pay you money (I find getting paid is a pretty essential component of any business ;) ).
Many people start off with just a Paypal button to buy from them and that's a great and simple way to get started. But if you want something that will get you more buyers, is considerably quicker to set up, allows proper invoicing and record keeping, handling of taxes and running an affiliate program then you'll need a proper shopping cart platform.
The tool I've been using for the last 6 months is Thrivecart.
Weirdly enough, Thrivecart isn't related to Thrive Landing Pages or Thrive Leads except for the fact that I use them all and recommend them highly :)
Thrivecart is one of the few shopping cart platforms to properly handle EU Digital VAT – which is one of the reasons I switched to using it. In the last few months for my business and my wife Kathy's we've run literally thousands of transactions through it and it's worked flawlessly. It has brilliant integration with email marketing systems (you can automatically add buyers to Active Campaign tags, automations and lists depending on what they buy, the upsells and other offers they take, etc. And you can trigger automations for failed subscription payments or when the cart gets abandoned).
Right now, Thrivecart is still in pilot mode and isn't available to the general public. When it goes public it'll be priced at something like $97 a month. But a few experienced and enthusiastic users like me are allowed to promote it before it goes public at a very special one-off price of $595 (+VAT if applicable).
You can check out the special offer on Thrivecart here – but if you're interested be sure to take it up before it goes public and switches to monthly pricing very soon.
And that's it. Those are the core tools I use to run my online business. If you're a solo business like me then they could well be a good fit for you too.
*Some of the links in this article are affiliate links and I'll get a commission if you buy through those links, so make sure you do your due diligence rather than just relying on my recommendation. Though obviously all of them are tools I use and ou can see them in action on my site and in my marketing.
You may remember my podcast with Brent from a few weeks ago where we looked at his research into the “Challenger Customer” and its implications for selling high-value products and services.
You might also remember that we touched on the concept of “Commercial Insight”. It's perhaps the most effective method for individuals and firms to both differentiate themselves vs competitors and motivate their potential clients to take action.
So I got Brent back for a second interview to dive into more details on Commercial Insight.
In the interview we talk about:
What Commercial Insight is.
Why traditional “thought leadership” doesn't work and the missing component you need.
How to develop your own Commercial Insight for your products and services.
How to communicate your Commercial Insight in a way that spurs potential clients to action, rather than causing them to reject or react against your new ideas
You can listen to the podcast by clicking the play button below.
Brent is a principal executive advisor in the sales and marketing practice at CEB, and co-author of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer. With more than 20 years of experience as a professional researcher, teacher and trainer, Brent facilitates a wide range of executive-level discussions around the world for Fortune 500/Global 1000 executives in sales, marketing, and customer service, including global sales meetings, keynote presentations, board-level presentations, and hands-on best practice workshops.