Rare is the new client that is secured without the help of outside assistance. The common vehicles for this assistance are testimonials, references and referrals. In this issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter we examine how each of these vehicles of assistance is different from the others, and how each should be applied in generating leads and moving prospects through the buying cycle.
In the Win Without Pitching model for selling your role as facilitator changes as the prospect progresses through the buying cycle. Your job begins with helping the unaware, then moves to offering inspiration for the interested and then shifts again in a closing situation to providing reassurance for those who have formed intent to act. Viewed in this progression (help the unaware, inspire the interested, reassure the intent) it becomes easy to see where each vehicle for outside assistance might best be applied.
Testimonials are tools of inspiration best used when the prospect is in information gathering mode – interested. Usually in the form of short and emotive quotes from your clients, testimonials are best used on your website and in your brochure. Properly crafted testimonials are among the best tools of inspiration available to you, and inspiration is your objective for those prospects who are aware of their problem or opportunity, are considering addressing it, but who have not yet formed the intent to act. Endorsement without inspiration is not enough. Consider this client quote pulled from an agency website:
“[agency] is a reliable partner who understands our business and our culture. They consistently meet and surpass our expectations; always delivering on time, on strategy and on budget.”
Now consider this quote from the site of another firm:
“We asked them for an identity and they gave us a soul.”
Your testimonials should strive for the spine-tingling reaction of the second example. It offers the type of emotional arousal that inspires people to take action.
Testimonials can also be used late in the buying cycle but they should evolve to reflect the prospect's changed state. Testimonials to seal the deal are designed to calm, and not inspire. Those on your website, brochure and marketing materials – vehicles targeted to the interested – should be designed to incite action. Read the ads in the movies section of your newspaper to see how otherwise dull endorsements from critics are often edited down to one word: “Amazing!” “Spell-binding!”
While testimonials are used to incite, references are used to calm. They are cards best played late in the buying cycle when the prospect's primary motivation is fear and your objective is reassurance. The prospect will be no more inclined to hire you than that moment when he hangs up the phone from speaking to one of your advocate clients. Fear is dispelled, and his confidence in the decision he is about to make is high. But beware: every moment of time from the second the receiver hits the cradle is your enemy.
Playing the referral card is an act of precise timing. Deliver them as late as possible. “I'd be happy to give you some names of clients you can speak to if we get to that point. So that I'm respectful of their time, let's agree that this will be the last thing we do to determine a fit.”
When you do agree to provide references be sure to enquire how much time the prospect will need to contact them then schedule your next phone call or meeting, in which you will attempt to secure the engagement, for as soon after as possible. One rule of thumb when providing references is you don't want your prospect checking references on a Friday unless you are agreeing to speak before the weekend. A day is an eternity when trying to combat buyers' remorse – a weekend offers far too much time to rethink a decision made but not yet committed to. Your references are your aces. Play them last then close quickly.
Lead Generating Referrals
While testimonials and references are used to different ends at different points in the buying cycle, referrals are primarily used as a source of lead generation, before the prospect's place in the buying cycle is determined. The language of soliciting such referrals is in the vein of, “Who else do you know that I might be able to help?” Posed enough times this question will uncover leads. Once that referral turns into a qualified prospect (by qualified I mean you’ve determined where they are in the buying cycle) then the real work of determining the appropriate tool of outside assistance begins.
Helping Social Influence
So, referrals are used to generate leads, testimonials to inspire interested prospects and references to reassure those with intent to act. There is another form of outside assistance that can be employed early in the buying cycle, when the prospect is unaware of his problem.* It is social influence.
Let us say your client directs you to an acquaintance from the club – a fellow CEO. “Boy, could he use your help. His website makes his company look like it's cryogenically suspended in the last century.” You call the prospect and it turns out he thinks his agency is doing great work and he's happy with the results, even though both make you cringe. You qualify him as unaware. He has a problem. You see it. Your client who referred you sees it. But he doesn't see it. Is it appropriate to use a reference here to help him see his pain? Perhaps suggest to him that he call your referring client? This is a common mistake. “Call our client and he'll tell you what a great job we've done for him.” Put yourself in the prospect's shoes. “I don't care how you've helped someone else. I've already told you: I don't have a problem!”
Your job is to help (not convince) the unaware and that is usually best done through unbiased fact-based information designed to help the prospect, over time, come to see that he has a problem. Social influence can help speed this up. An example of social influence might be, “I see your largest competitor has just launched a vlog with RSS feeds.” Social influence is the act of bringing influencers into the room: competitors, benchmark companies, outside influencers. Remember when your mother asked, “If Billy jumped off a bridge I suppose you would too?” Social influence is just that sort of peer pressure you experienced as a kid. Tone and manner are everything when employing social influence. If it feels like convincing rather than helping, then you might bring the prospect around to see his problem, but the resentment you create might ensure that he doesn't turn to you to help him solve it. Much tact is required.
In summary, most new engagements are secured in part through enlisting the assistance of others. Knowing where, when and how to employ this assistance will increase your business development effectiveness.
* I'm often asked about this description of an Unaware prospect, “Does he have a problem that he is unaware of, or is he in fact without a problem at all?” For our purposes we don't make the distinction. Your perspective is everyone has a problem, regardless or whether they, or you, see it. Everyone is buying; the only variable is time.