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January 30, 2013

Suspects, Prospects and Clients: Is your firm focused on the right target?

In its simplest form, all businesses can look at their target market as divided into in three primary groups.

  • Suspects are those organizations that fit the profile of a client but with whom you’ve had no interaction. They’re just “out there.”
  • Prospects are those firms that you have connected with at some level and that have some interest in/need for what you do.
  • Clients are those organizations that have purchased from you at least once.

What’s interesting is that the focus of most firms’ marketing efforts is on groups one and two.

For Suspects, most firms spend their marketing time, effort and dollars on building awareness among this group and positioning their firm in the right way – all with the hope of eventually moving those Suspects into the Prospects category. And that’s great.

Then with Prospects, the marketing efforts move to a focus on building and nurturing relationships, staying top-of-mind and doing everything possible to get the Prospects to take that leap of faith and try their first project with them. Also just fine!

But what about existing Clients? What are you doing to keep them coming back? To build and increase their feelings of loyalty toward you? And ultimately, to recommend your firm to other potential clients?

This is often where many firms fall down. They assume that once a Prospect becomes a Client, they will be a Client forever so the attention turns back to Suspects and Prospects. Bad strategy!  Try this little test: Look at every client that did business with you just three years ago. Are 100 percent of them still doing business with you? If not (and it’s probably not, then you’ve started down that slippery slope of losing clients.

Additionally, it’s estimated that getting business from existing clients is four-to-five times less expensive than acquiring it from new ones. I’ll bet I have your attention now!

So what can you do to keep your existing clients coming back year after year and even increasing their business with you? First of all, you need to be doing great work and making sure your clients have a memorable customer experience. Frankly, that’s a given – because it is expected. And besides, everyone is trying to do that. So how do you stand out? How do you earn your clients’ business every day? Here are eight ideas to get you thinking in that direction.

  1. If your client is large (or potentially large), consider assigning an Account Manager (AM) to build, enhance and maintain relationships with as many contacts as possible. The AM should be a resource and go-to person for the client – not just a sales rep. Having an AM allows you to build broader (more contacts) and deeper (more services) relationships than ever before.
  2. Nurture your Client relationships – just like with a Prospect. Send relevant articles, keep them on the e-newsletter list and call them occasionally (but regularly) to maintain a personal relationship. All things being equal, people do business with people they like. All things not being equal, people still do business with people they like.
  3. Leverage the relationship to help you grow. If they’re a good client, ask for their help – for referrals, to serve as a reference, to write a testimonial – and they’re usually happy to do it. Then remember to reward them for it.
  4. Make the relationship personal. Get to know your contacts as people then send birthday cards, send articles related to their hobbies or interests, etc. As a rule of thumb, when you start swapping photos of your kids or pets, then you’ve gotten beyond just a business relationship.
  5. If you’re the business owner or senior executive, get on the road and spend some time with the senior-level executives at your clients’ offices. Talk about business, projects, family, life, etc., but most importantly, don’t ever leave without expressing a sincere appreciation for the business they’ve given you.
  6. I hope you’re conducting some sort of customer satisfaction survey after every project but also think about a simple, higher-level survey once a year to all clients. In it, ask questions like, “What do we do right?”, “What do we do wrong?”, “Where can we improve?” and “How can we serve you better?” Then take the responses to heart.
  7. Reward loyalty with better pricing. There are lots of ways to do this: volume discounts, flat discounts, doing a small project for free, etc. Note: I personally believe that using lower prices to acquire new clients will result in eventually losing those clients to even lower prices down the road. But lowering prices as a reward for a mutually-beneficial business relationship will be received with sincere gratitude and enhanced loyalty.
  8. Form an advisory council made up of clients. Meet virtually or at your offices (a better option) once a year and use them as a sounding board for product and service ideas, identifying industry trends and providing feedback on growth plans. Not only is their feedback critical but if they’re willing to participate, it cements a commitment to your firm that none of your competitors can break down.

So as you move into 2013, remember that all of your business development efforts should not be focused just on future clients but also on your existing ones. Enhance your relationships with existing clients and you enhance the likelihood of strong growth this year.

Talk to me! Is your firm doing anything unique or interesting to build, enhance or maintain relationships with existing clients? If you are and would like to share it, send the details to me  at and I’ll write about them in future articles and blog posts (

Good luck and good marketing.

This article was originally published in Quirk’s.

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