A few years ago, we were consulting for a business in Lagos with offices in Abuja, Port-Harcourt and Bayelsa. It was a thriving architecture firm and had recently opened an interior design business, to support their services. It was the first time that I was working with an architectural firm but they were super pleasant, easy to work with and most importantly – they were ready to do the work. They appreciated that it wasn’t just on myself and the team to produce the required magic.
At the time, they had no website, no social media channels and absolutely no online presence. They did have a registered domain but had never even bothered to put up a holding page. Business had been really good and they had been too busy to even notice or take stock of their marketing.
However sometime in 2017, two of their biggest clients got into some financial difficulty and they were suddenly not so busy anymore. I met one of the partners at an event and for purposes of this conversation, let us call the partner David.
David and the other partners were outstanding architects or like they say ‘starchitects’, but had simply never done much with regards to marketing or business development. They were young, charismatic, hardworking and had launched the firm a few years after they got back to Nigeria.
They had a few anchor clients who were frequent property developers and had always been able to survive on referrals and networking. When I look back at it, they were actually really exceptional at account based marketing. The biggest problem was that they had been in business for 11 years but had never reviewed their business using data. Sure! they increased revenue and expanded the team year on year, but they had not really ever ‘looked’ at the business.
Armed with large doses of enthusiasm and objectivity, we practically moved into their office for 3 weeks to first of all understand their business operations. I will share all that we did and how it was important to get them back on track:
Analyse your customer journey to optimize it.
Whatever business you do especially if it is a service business, it is critical to analyse the customer journey.
• How do clients approach you or how do you approach them?
• How do you determine if you are a great fit for them or even vice versa?
• What immediate value are you able to present at first meeting or contact?
• How do you quickly ingratiate them to your brand regardless of their stage in the buyer’s journey?
• How do you maintain and nurture the relationship to close a deal? Who is responsible for it? Who is accountable?
• What information do you readily present at each objection to the sale?
• What resources do you deploy to marketing and new business development?
• How do you onboard new clients?
How do clients approach you or how do you approach them?
This has to be a busy two way street. Your business development efforts are defective if you do not have active strategies for attracting prospective clients to yourself or going out there to get them. Think cohesive branding, ideal client profiling, lead generation website, database segmentation, email marketing, social media marketing, event marketing and content marketing.
These activities are by no means exhaustive but get started on at least 3 of these to begin to see immediate results.
The Best Part: You are able to constantly track, review and iterate because these activities all produce verifiable results to help you make better decisions.
How do you determine if you are a great fit for a client or even vice versa?
Do you have a very good knowledge of who you are called to serve and for whom do you offer the highest value? Sometimes the problem is that you have either not critically analysed your ideal customers (as an existing business) or created the right client profiles (as a new business) to target prospects efficiently. From demographics, psychographics, behavior, technographics to geography/location. You must develop an always-on process for doing this.
The Best Part: Just like in every relationship, the better you know and understand each other, the longer and more mutually rewarding the relationship becomes.
What immediate value are you able to present at first meeting or contact?
Do you have a process? If it’s online, what are the touch points that determine the possible pathways to find you? Is it seamless or cumbersome? Do you start solving problems possibly through providing great content that at least answers basic problems? If it’s in person, what is the message you pass across..not only with your words but even your body language. Think about your customer’s pain points and make sure to address it quickly. If you don’t study their pain points and know exactly how to make them feel better, you have some work to do!
The Best Part: Just like in 2017, working with David and his partners and especially now in post-Covid life..your customers expect you to be ‘human’ and ‘humane’. Customers expect brands to be almost intuitive about their needs because you understand them.
How do you quickly ingratiate them to your brand regardless of their stage in the buyer’s journey?
Even though the buyer’s journey has in recent times become more convoluted than a child warped in yarn, there are still the basic stages of Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action.
• The prospect has to be aware of their problem as well as the available problem solving brands.
• The prospect has to be interested in not only solving the problem but paying for the solution.
• The prospect has to decide to solve the problem and actively seek out ways to do so.
• The prospect has to take the action(s) required to solve the problem, and at this point you want the prospect to choose you as the problem solver.
Do you know what to say or do to a prospect at each of these stages? You must take out the time to think through the behaviours that drive or are apparent in each of the afore-mentioned stages, so you have the best response to keep the conversation going and in your favour.
The Best Part: After you do this a few times, it becomes second nature and you are also quickly able to identify the behaviours that are unique to your service or industry as well as the unique value propositions that you may not have considered prior to the exercise.
How do you maintain and nurture the relationship to close a deal? Who is responsible for it? Who is accountable?
The best approach is an integrated one that utilizes and fully deploys online and offline marketing activities working in perfect synergy. You must define a strategy and process for deftly navigating the prospect towards the close. Do this in an omnichannel manner so it is not evident that you have actually made contact or interacted across various channels and tactics.
All the customer knows is an amazing experience that is seamless and stress-free. There must be at least 1 person regardless of the size of business who is responsible for monitoring this process. Unfortunately, it cannot be outsourced as someone in-house must manage the process to see the best results.
The Best Part: This process provides and reveals the most amazing data. It is also a major brand differentiator that must not be taken lightly as this is what your prospects and customers will remember the most.
What information do you readily present at each objection to the sale?
This is only possible if you have done the afore-mentioned properly. Take the time to listen to your prospective and existing clients to discover the similar behaviours and comments during sale objections. Then look back into your business and determine how to respond and how far you are willing to go to convince the client to stick with you. Sometimes, I find that it is really a case of how and where you provide the information that the customer needs to move forward.
The Best Part: After you do this exercise, it pretty much becomes ‘plug and play’. You are also better able to present your online and offline marketing collateral to address these objections in an efficient manner.
What resources do you deploy to marketing and new business development?
This is really just about the human and financial resources required to get the job done. After you define your objectives and create the strategy to achieve them, it is important to clearly define the resources. Would you be outsourcing, hiring internally or a combination of both? Do you want to dive right into the deep end or do you want to pace yourself? This is unique to each business but I will share my recommendation. If you have not done a lot of marketing in the past, you should outsource at the beginning with a dedicated in-house person managing the process and then work your way into building in-house capacity.
The Best Part: You will definitely see positive changes not just in the new business development aspect of your business but in your brand’s visibility and overall business health.
How do you onboard new clients?
This right here could be a deal-breaker! After all the work has been done, uphold it with an efficient and pleasant onboarding experience that makes the customer feel like they have made the best choice.
The Best Part: Efficiency, Effectiveness and Happy Clients.
Remember this – only happy clients make referrals.
PS: I got the permission of David and the rest of the team to use their project as a case study.
About Bella Ikeme
Bella Ikeme is a multipreneur, business growth and profitability enabler, a partner and catalyst for African businesses and entrepreneurs. She is the Founder & CEO of Caizen Business Development Company that provides marketing, communications and content solutions for professional services and other service businesses. It is her unwavering belief that Africans have the ability to build successful legacy businesses that not only impact lives, but the socio-economic development of the continent. When she is not working, she is spending time with family and friends, reading, journaling or obsessively studying the Japanese.