With 1.2 million accountants and auditors in the U.S. (source), what can you do to rise above the noise and differentiate yourself from your competitors? One thing is for certain. The status quo is no longer enough. Satisfaction is tablestakes.
Talking with firm business developers from across the country, they all echo similar sentiments about today’s business development challenges and the need to differentiate from their competitors.
So, how can you and your firm level up to better retain existing clients and acquire new ones? The key is to develop client loyalty by becoming an ambassador. In this blog post, we’ll delve into some of the trends affecting the sales economy, and offer some actionable strategies you can use to become a true ambassador who cultivates client loyalty.
Challenges in the New Sales Economy
First, I’d like to share data for you to consider from the CSO Insights Sales Performance Optimization Study. This study polled 500 respondents worldwide, and it collected data on over 100 sales effectiveness metrics, including their greatest sales objectives, and their biggest barriers. Both of these factors tie to loyalty. In terms of major objectives, nearly 60 percent of sales organizations are driving toward capturing new accounts. But what I find interesting is that only 30 percent are looking to increase existing account growth. A little over 40 percent of sales organizations are looking to improve sales effectiveness.
On the flip side, over 50 percent struggle to generate enough qualified leads. In addition, 32 percent shared that the sales cycle is too long, and then a little over 28 percent struggle with low close rates.
Statistics like these didn’t surprise me. And, as I researched for my book, The Modern Seller, it became crystal clear. We’re living in a new sales economy, and it’s changing everything about the way our prospects and clients are buying from us.
The new sales economy is the intersection of business dynamics, technology and cultural change – these elements are coming together to influence our clients’ buying behaviors. It’s fluid and continually changing – so what was relevant five years ago, may no longer be relevant today. And what is relevant today will likely not be relevant five years from now.
What all of this means is that our clients and prospects are behaving and buying differently. Business development professionals and sales leaders need new mindsets, skillsets and toolsets to be successful.
In my research, I discovered a series of trends creating chaos in the new sales economy that we need to stay in front of as modern business developers. In this post, I’ll share a few of them.
1. World of Sameness
Think of any decision that you’re making, from the mundane to the mission-critical. We have more choices than ever before, and that’s created a world of sameness.
An example for me was selecting a new customer relationship platform for the business. I was looking at four platforms. Each offered similar features and benefits, and nearly identical pricing structures. They could all work. They all looked the same. So I delayed my decision by nearly six months.
Your clients and prospects are looking for something that stands out, too. If our firm’s services aren’t differentiated in a way that’s meaningful, often, the default difference maker becomes price.
2. Accelerated ROI
Gone are the days where we could take 6-12 months to show ROI for our products and services. Now, our clients and prospects live quarter to quarter. Their expectations of results and how quickly we deliver them has changed.
Not long ago, I was having a sales conversation with a decision maker in the financial services industry. We were discussing sales training programs for her sales team. The options and the business value I presented were spot on, but what she needed to know was the specific results she could expect in the short term. Before she would commit, she needed to be able to explain to her CEO the tangible ROI that would be delivered in the first 90 days.
When you’re selling, be prepared to make the business case for the expected ROI of your offerings over the course of 90 and 180 days
3. Decision By Committee
There are more people in the decision-making process today. Research from CEB indicates that there is an average of 6.8 stakeholders involved in each major B2B buying decision. That’s up from 5.4 just a few years ago. The more complex the decision, the more people will be involved.
In the past, we as sellers could focus our efforts to one department that was responsible for buying decisions regarding our product or service. Now, it’s more and more likely that we need to go beyond the stack of decision makers we’re used to working with. We need to build more, and deeper, relationships to provide the right insights and right information to all the right people in the buying process.
Loyalty: Building Clients that are 29 Percenters
Satisfaction used to be the highest measure of success, and it’s still what many companies measure. But it’s become a lowest common denominator. Research from Gallup indicates that only 29 percent of clients are truly engaged with us. The other 71 percent could range anywhere from very satisfied to completely disengaged. This majority includes the clients that can be swayed to move elsewhere.
To win new business and grow the business within existing clients, there’s a next-generation skill set that accountants need to develop: the ambassador skill set.
Think of ambassadors as a bridge; they’re the connector between their clients, their firms, their industries, and the greater community.
What sets ambassadors apart is that they are especially skilled in creating:
1. Lifetime Value
Ambassadors balance the “win right now” and the “win for a lifetime” mindsets. The initial win is only the beginning of their relationship with a new client. The job becomes growing the relationship over time and keeping that client with them for the long term.
2. Long-term loyalty
They take the time to know and track what their clients expect from the relationship. They either directly own that experience themselves, or they build the right relationships internally to make sure their peers create loyalty.
Because of this, ambassadors have a book of business full of loyal 29 percenters.
Developing loyalty is growing as a critical factor in professional services like accounting. Research shows that loyal B2B customers spend 10 times more than new ones.
Do you have loyal clients, or is there work yet to do? Here are three traits of loyal clients to consider.
1. Loyal clients see you as a proactive and strategic advisor. If you’ve created a loyal client, they’ll consult you first when issues arise, because they know you’ll work with them to find the solution. They’ll also turn to you for ideas and guidance outside your area of expertise, because you’ve earned credibility. But even more than that, they trust that you’ll proactively reach out to them with ideas and insights for their business.
2. Loyal clients refer business to you. More than 80 percent of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral. In fact, referrals are one of the most successful forms of lead generation. Your prospective and active clients are consulting their network of peers for advice during their buying process, and that social proof is increasingly important to their decision.
3. Loyal clients buy on value and the overall experience. Your clients and prospects are becoming increasingly more sophisticated, and their expectations of value are much higher than in the past. Knowing what they value, and what’s important to them in partnering with your organization is a first step
Your firm’s service and results must be exceptional, of course. But another part of the value you provide is in how you deliver the experience to your clients. Virtually every industry is becoming more commoditized, so the loyalty you build can come from how you deliver your service, not just the service itself.
Strategies to Build Your Ambassador Factor
1. Know and track the top three differentiators that will build loyalty for your prospect or client.
The earlier on in the sales cycle that you can learn what their tablestakes and differentiators are, the better your odds of winning the business and growing it for the long term.
2. Build advocates in and around your client.
An advocate is someone who opens doors for you, who is willing to use their reputational and social capital on your behalf. They are likely willing to share information with you that can give you a competitive advantage.
3. Problem handling vs. problem resolution.
How you handle a problem can make a bigger difference than solving the problem. Our prospects and clients don’t expect perfection. They know problems will come up. I think of problem resolution as the table stake, and the way in which we handle it to be the differentiator. For example, how do we treat one another internally when a problem comes up? Clients and prospects pick up on that.
4. Increase your loyalty baseline through referrals.
Referral introductions give you a baseline of credibility and loyalty to start with, because someone that prospect or client trusts is bringing you into the picture.
How to Become a Brand Standout
In my own evolution from professional seller to entrepreneur, an important shift occurred. I was stepping into a brighter personal spotlight and my brand became much more visible. As I was growing my book of business on my own name and reputation, it became clearer to me that my clients were buying me and not the logo on my business card. They knew my name first, my company name second.
Ambassadors are unique standouts when it comes to brand. They can blend their personal brand and their firm’s brand in a way that supports their individuality but also reinforces the reputation of their firm.
Ambassadors also know that part of a strong brand isn’t about what they sell, it’s about how they sell it, and the experience they provide. The how and the experience are unique to them and can’t be commoditized. They believe that what the customer is really buying into is them. An excellent service backed by a reputable team and firm are table stakes. The firm’s brand reputation is important, but it almost becomes secondary. That’s where your Ambassador Brand Factor comes in.
Your Ambassador Brand Factors include the following traits. I encourage you to consider your strengths in areas such as:
- Owner: I take ownership for all facets of the prospect or client relationship. I’m the face of the relationship in their eyes.
- Expert: I am actively developing my expertise in three areas: my industry, my sales craft, and one personal passion.
- Elevator: I’m known for leaving a situation better than I found it. I’m known for creating positive forward movement and lift.
- Impact Oriented: I selectively challenge the status quo, when it will create positive impact or avoid negative impact.
- Strategic and Tactical: I routinely have business-level conversations (the what) and pivot to technical or functional conversations (the how).
- Unifier: I am known for finding commonalities and mutual benefit, especially in conflict situations.
- Loyalty Magnet: At least 50 percent of my book of business is repeat business.
- Lifetime Value Creator: I would rather “win for a lifetime” over “win for right now.”
When you develop the mindset and actions of an ambassador, you’ll create those 29 percenters in your book of business: long-term loyal clients, and stronger business development results.