Love it or loathe it, networking is essential for business growth and personal success.
It’s a skill that combines the best of sales, marketing and business development, and when done well, can give your business a significant edge.
However, a problem for many accountants or financial advisors, whose livelihoods rely on bringing in new clients, is they have no formal training in these disciplines.
This means it can be difficult to become an expert networker who can identify potential clients, move them through the sales funnel and turn them into real business value.
The good news is, networking is a skill you can learn as you go and with some simple tips and regular practice, you’ll be doing it like a professional in no time.
Identifying the right type of clients for your firm
Contrary to popular belief, networking is about much more than attending industry events and pressing the flesh.
Before you spend too much time getting out and about, you should firstly take some time to identify the clients you want to work with – a hallmark of many high-performing firms.
Rather than try to be all things to all people and spending time on wasted efforts, high-performing firms focus solely on their target markets – industries, company sizes and geographic locations they know are the right fit for them – and don’t waste time outside of them.
When you meet, or are targeting, a prospective client, ask yourself some questions such as:
- Do we have the experience in the clients industry/sector?
- Are their needs matched to our skill set?
- Do we have a track record of success with this type of client?
- Are they easy to deal with?
- How much revenue do they generate and are they profitable?
- What is the potential scope of work now and in the future?
- Are they aligned to the values of your firm?
- Is there potential for any negative brand associations?
- Can they introduce you to other potential clients?
When starting up his Brisbane-based boutique CPA accounting firm, Matthew Snelleksz learned the hard way about the importance of identifying target clients, before getting started on client acquisition.
“I was marketing very heavily in the early days of my accounting firm — but I was attracting the wrong types of clients, and I had no idea why. Then it dawned upon me…I was offering to beat any previous accounting fee for new clients.
“I thought I could grow very quickly with this marketing strategy. Guess what? I only attracted clients who were after the lowest possible price. They certainly were not the best clients to have, and it’s not the best marketing strategy to employ if you want to build a firm full of quality, A-class clients.
“There is no point in casting a wide net and marketing to all the fish in the ocean; otherwise, your net will fill up with the dregs of the ocean.”
Attaining your target clients
Once your firm has identified the clients you want to work with, its time to review the tactics and strategies in your marketing mix to help you attain them.
The first strategy is a tried and true method that will see you flex your networking skills.
Even in today’s digital age, in-person networking events provide a great opportunity to meet new clients – and are especially useful for B2B.
The goal of networking is not to collect as many business cards as you can; it’s about starting a relationship by finding common ground between yourself and another person by being open, honest and genuine.
Prepare yourself before heading along to a networking event by finding out as much as possible about the other attendees – you can even ask for an attendee list in advance, and think about what would make your firm valuable to these potential clients.
Non-traditional events, groups and activities can be excellent networking opportunities too. When you spend time with like-minded people, you’ll find casual opportunities to share stories and network.
Whether your side passion is cycling, golf or chess, these interactions can become strong client relationships, especially with a pre-made starting point for conversation.
Another incredibly powerful strategy to attain new clients is asking for referrals.
According to a National Australia Bank survey of more than 750 SMEs and accounting firms across the country, more than one in two businesses – 54 percent – found their current professional services firms through recommendation or referral.
Be proactive and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals, especially Google Reviews.
There is a great deal of un-tapped potential for accounting firms when it comes to Google reviews, which are becoming increasingly important. A study found that 88 per cent of consumers now trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and Google reviews are becoming key to ensuring a strong presence on the search engine.
Be sure to ask your customers for feedback at multiple points of contact throughout their journey with your brand, and encourage them to share their experience online.
Finally, position your firm as a thought leader. Line up speaking opportunities for your staff at industry events and conferences you know your target audience will attend, or consider hosting your own round-tables or panel discussion events and inviting existing and target clients.
Moving prospective clients through the sales funnel
In professional services, deals are often high-stakes and high-value requiring buy-in from multiple decision-makers. Your firm will need to invest significant resources to help ‘seal the deal’, so it’s important that you only focus on opportunities that you have a high chance on winning.
This is where the sales funnel comes in, to help you convert your pool of potential clients into paying clients.
The top level of the sales funnel is comprised of leads who are either not in an active buying process or are in the beginning stages of one. At this point in the funnel, you should be nurturing your client relationships to develop leads.
These leads will come from the range of activities mentioned above in your marketing mix, as well as content marketing, online paid advertising, cross-sells or up-sells or potentially even cold calling.
Cold calling might get a bad rap, but it can be very effective, according to Xero.
“Some firms use specialist salespeople to make calls to key decision makers at potential clients’ businesses. This can be extremely cost-effective.
“This method can be used to turn a list of unsorted prospects into cold, medium and warm leads. Once qualified, the warm prospects can then become leads for senior sellers in your firm.”
The second level of the sales funnel is where you qualify your leads, to determine whether or not they fit your target client profile (including whether they might have the budget for your services). This involves a lot of research, some of which you may have done in the initial stages outlined above, and potentially an initial meeting to identify their needs.
Once you’ve done this, your lead is considered ‘marketing qualified’, or a genuine sales opportunity ready to be turned into a paying client.
Refine your proposal and arrange a meeting to get key decision makers in the organisation on-board, seek internal approvals, send through the contract, and receiving the signed contract and payment.
And once your client has signed on the dotted line, make sure you stay in touch. Email marketing is considered one of the top ways to do this, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.
“E-mail marketing keeps relationships strong on a shoestring budget. For just pennies per customer, you can distribute an e-mail newsletter that includes tips, advice and short items that entice consumers and leave them wanting more,” they say.
You can also create targeted marketing lists by using your customer relationship management (CRM) system to segment your clients by industry, interest or service and speak to them directly about their needs.
To help you do this, consider in investing in technology like Xeppo, a financial advisory and accounting tool, that allows you to delve further into your client data, using existing software to extract information and recognise opportunities.
Xeppo provides seamless integration across a number of CRM platforms, including those that fact find, provide advice about clients, and consolidate client portfolios. It has the ability to track client activity across platforms and manages tasks so that you can turn business cards into business value.
To make the most of your client relationships and drive your business forward, contact Xeppo today.