How to pull prospects into conversations

How to pull prospects into conversations

I want to tell you about an experience I had recently that I bet will sound familiar to you. A friend of mine wanted to introduce me to a new friend of his named Jim. He said I would find Jim interesting. But this introduction came with a caveat.

My friend warned me that Jim knew a lot about two topics: cars and airplanes. I like cars and I’m fascinated by planes and aviation. I’ve even written blog posts about radar systems. So I thought I could learn some things from Jim and maybe even form a new friendship.

I like making new friends and learn a lot from fascinating people. Jim was certainly fascinating. But we did not form a friendship and here’s why. For nearly 3 hours Jim told me all sorts of stories. I love stories. He showed me pictures of a one-of-a-kind car that had a truly unique history. That was interesting.

He showed me details on a world-war-two-era plane that played an important role in numerous battles. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. The stories were indeed fascinating.

But Jim and I did not from a friendship. Why? I don’t’ feel as if I would enjoy hanging out with Jim on a regular basis. This was a strange thing for me. How is it that we could have so many common interests and yet not make a real and lasting connection?

Jim never let me into the conversation. For 3 hours, he talked about the things that mattered to him. He rarely asked me a question. Jim had a script, a set of interests, and he followed it to the letter.

Believe it or not, most professional service sales and marketing teams today are more like Jim than you might realize. They have a script and a set of interests and they do not want to get off-course. But herein lies the problem with this approach.

To grow a service-based business, you have to pull the right prospects into meaningful dialogue. You have to give them a reason to want to talk to you. But you also have to ask the right questions that allow them to open up to you. If you do this, you will grow. Let’s explore this together.




Your Side Of The Chessboard

There is a great book I’ve read from John C. Maxwell called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. I recommend this book because it lays out a bunch of great questions you can use to become a really good leader.

But these questions are also very effective for creating meaningful dialogue with prospective clients and for building content marketing programs.

One of the key concepts that Maxwell shares involves a chessboard. When you find yourself uncertain about what moves to make next, it is often advisable to get up, walk around the room and look at the chessboard from the other side.

That way, you get to see what the world looks like from the vantage point of the person sitting across from you.

When you look at the world this way, all sorts of new insights open up. You get to see how moves you’ve already made may not look the same from that side of the board.

People are always trying to interpret moves you make to understand your motives. Motives matter because this determines whether or not people come to trust you.

I believe this is a critical concept for service marketing and sales professionals.

We are constantly trying to get inside the minds of the people we want to do business with. Yet, we rarely take the time to get up, walk around the room and look at the equation from the other side of the table. I see this all the time.

One of the key exercises we take people through, when building sales and marketing plans for them, is designed to accomplish this exact goal. We work with our clients to define their ideal client profile across 7 key parameters. These allow us to establish the demographics of who our clients are best suited to serve.

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But then we go deeper and build a profile of psychographics. This usually involves 3 primary topics: goals, opportunities and challenges. Goals are those things which clients absolutely must accomplish. Opportunities are those situations that excite their imagination. Challenges are those things that prevent them from achieving their goals.

Then I ask my clients to do something that initially feels almost impossible to them. I ask my clients to give their best advice about how to accomplish the goals, realize the opportunities and overcome the challenges.

Without fail, the room gets very quiet as the wheels start turning. In this moment, my professional service clients have to look at the world from the vantage point of the very people they want to connect with. They have to create advice for people they have not yet met. The have to get up, walk around to the other side of the desk and look at the world through their prospective clients’ eyes.

This exercise is extremely brain-power intensive and usually leaves people feeling exhausted by the time we are done. But it’s very effective. Here’s the interesting part for me. These same professionals can talk for hours about topics for which they have advanced degrees and years of experience. They can tell stories, just like Jim, about past clients they’ve served.

But when it comes to talking about how to achieve goals, realize opportunities and overcome challenges – almost without fail – they fall back into pitch mode or have to do a lot of thinking to come up with the right advice and questions.

It’s as if all of their advice and counsel can be summed up in one phrase – hire us. This will not do. This will shut down dialogue and push people away. There is a much better way.

The Five Stage Sales Funnel

I want you to think about this for a moment from your vantage point, and then I’m going to flip it around. For you to acquire great new clients, you likely have to pull them through five distinct stages:

  1. Awareness: Prospects become aware of your brand, services and content.
  2. Consideration: Prospects sample your content to see how you can help them.
  3. Interest: Prospects engage in serious dialogue, requesting a proposal.
  4. Evaluation: Prospects evaluate your proposal against their needs and competitive offerings.
  5. Selection: Prospects accept your proposal and move to next steps.

This is the ultimate goal that all of our clients want to accomplish today. They want to pull great prospects through this funnel. They also want a repeatable process that allows them to hire new people, train them and achieve consistent results.

But let’s walk around to the other side of the chessboard for a moment and look at this through the eyes of your prospects. What might the world look like as they traverse this process?

Here is what we often witness – and we know this because we use lead scoring to track the behaviour of prospects. Often times a blog-post or a video will catch their attention. Many service professionals today have figured out how to blog.

But when that prospect wants to go even further, they usually visit the website of the service professional who wrote that blog. This is then what they see in primary navigation on the website:

  • About Us
  • Who We Serve
  • How We’re Unique
  • Markets We Serve
  • Our Services
  • Our Team
  • Our Clients
  • Contact Us

Sound familiar? What sort of forward motion do you think this website produces in the mind of that prospect? The idea that piqued their interest is nowhere to be found based on a quick perusal of the website. The path ends at your front door.

The Other Side Of The Chessboard

For a moment here I’m going to play your prospective client and take you on this journey – from their vantage point – from their side of the chessboard.

Let’s assume that you’ve written a great blog post that gives me some ideas about how to accomplish a goal that matters to me. Let’s say that I want to retire with enough wealth to last for 30 years at my current lifestyle. That’s a fairly common goal I see these days.

You give me a blog post with some interesting ideas. I’m curious about you and what other ideas you might have for me. At this point, I’m open to learning more about both you and your ideas. But mostly, because I’m inherently self-interested like all human beings, I want to know what you know.

So I click over to your website. But I don’t see any more ideas. Hmmmm… What now? I click over to your LinkedIn profile and I see some things about you – where you went to school, your work history, maybe some hobbies. That’s all good enough, but it’s not the ideas I was hoping to discover.

Now what? Where do I go from here? I really don’t want to talk to you yet because I’m not sure you’re the right person to help me achieve my retirement goals. I‘m not sure I trust you yet. Your motives aren’t clear to me. I peruse some of your other blog-posts, but I really don’t have time to hunt and peck for the posts that relate to my goal.

What do I do? I go silent. I go away. I go looking for someone who has ideas to share with me. If they share those ideas, they earn my trust and my business.

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How To Pull Prospects Into Dialogue

I see this scenario play out day-after-day in the professional services world. Service people don’t seem to be willing to put the time or effort into building assets that take the entire inbound journey into consideration.

The inbound journey that we see has four stages:

  • Anonymous – where they surf your website and sample your content without identifying themselves.
  • Acknowledged – where they register for a content asset and submit their personal information.
  • Engaged – where they spend time thinking about your ideas and how you can help them.
  • Leaning-in – where they are predisposed to want to enter serious dialogue with you as soon as they have need and budget.

If you want prospects to be ready for serious dialogue about goals that matter to them – if you want them to ask this all-important question – how can you do this for me – then you have to create content that matters to them. You have to make it simple for them to find and easy to access.

You have to provide this content in bite-sized chunks so they can consume it in the time they have available to them. In other words, you have to look at the world from their side of the chessboard.

author Randy Shattuck the Digital Transformation People Bumper

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