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Business, How-To

Become a Big Biller With A Marketing Plan You Can Follow


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Marketing means many things to many professionals in our industry.

If your idea of marketing only includes cold calling into companies in search of your next assignment I think you may be missing lots of opportunities to really articulate your value equation to the markets you serve. I’m confident there are lots of search professionals who track telephone metrics to determine their activity, which can be a predictor of future billings. In fact, some of the most successful people I’ve met have demonstrated the direct correlation of how productive telephone metrics convert to better billing results in their own firms.

While I “get that” I think marketing in our business is much more than pure phone time. I believe that if the main yardstick for measuring success is the “number of dials” and “connect time” with the economic buyers of your services, you may be defining yourself as a transactional producer. Don’t get me wrong — for many in our industry that’s not a bad thing. It’s just not the way I want to build my practice.

When I first started my practice, I spent a lot of time determining what my Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) would be. This clear understanding of who I would be calling on to build my practice gave me the clarity I needed to develop the strategic and tactical plan to convert my ideas into revenue. I asked myself who my ICP would be in terms of the organization’s

  • Size (# of employees)
  • Annual revenues
  • Potential for growth
  • Geographical location

Armed with this information, I began the process of gathering data and intelligence on my targets. It’s extremely difficult to hit a target if you don’t know exactly where to aim!

Where to Aim

I acquired data to build critical information that I could use to target these accounts. I used a college intern to help me build my database, as I had no administrative help when I first started my practice. This included demographics on each target company and the contact information for each major stakeholder – CEO, COO, CFO, VP of HR, and the VP of Sales — that I would be calling.

This allowed me to message different content to each member of the executive team as they all had their own talent needs and I wanted my firm to be able to provide services for each of those needs.

Finally, I bought a very large multi-colored map of the US and had my intern make color-coded pins for each of the targets in my market. Red pins represent prospects while the green pins indicate a client. I still have this map hanging in my office and each day I am reminded what my ICP is, and where they are located!

Follow-Up Materials

I developed e-brochures and a PowerPoint in the early days of starting my practice. I wanted to have something to send when I followed up from a call or simply as a touch point to my ICP to begin developing a business relationship. I added a collection of LOR’s (Letters of Recommendation), as I executed each assignment and still today work hard to get an LOR from each client. It’s a powerful tool to have your clients tell your story to a potential new client!

Making Rain

I started making rain early by sending my announcement letter to the people in my industry who knew me and had worked with me for many years. This alone yielded multiple meaningful conversations, a few search assignments, and a referral. I was off to the races! I love to watch a marketing plan yield results and the payoff that comes from making something out of nothing.

It was then on to developing business from the ICP profiles I had created. My first tactical marketing idea was to send a personal message to 100 CEOs on my target list to introduce myself and my firm.

I crafted an introduction letter and included a $5.00 Starbucks card with a message that I’d love to buy them a cup of coffee and learn more about their business. The letter and gift card were sent using USPO 2nd day mail at a cost of about $5.00. So I figured with labor and the cost of the gift card and postage I had about $11.00 in each letter that I sent.

I must admit spending $1,100.00 was a bit risky for a start-up but I decided to roll the dice.

$1,100=$100K

The letters were sent and I waited a few days before calling each account to follow-up. To my delight I had a chance to talk one-on-one with multiple CEOs, and the end result was a whopping $100,000 in search fees over the next 90 days. This included a single fee for $40,000 from a call I made to one of the CEOs.

I’m not entirely sure what the real return on investment (ROI) was for this program because I am also a big believer that timing and a bit of luck in business is everything! You draw your own conclusions.

Fast forward six years after that initial marketing launch and our firm’s marketing arsenal has grown significantly. The key elements and components of our marketing efforts include:

Website

Our website has changed over the years in terms of its pure look and feel. However, the content on our website has and always will be dynamic. We are always adding information, and new content daily, weekly and monthly. Websites with static content (no changes) do not get much traffic.

I also like to track our traffic using Google Analytics. This shows me in graphic detail how many visitors we get; how many are new; how long they stay on the site, and how many page views we get monthly and quarterly. I’m not sure how many searches we get from our website, but rest assured that the minute you wrap up a call with a prospective client their next stop will be online to view your website.

Collateral

This is another area of marketing that I am passionate about. If you are competing with a boutique or national search firm, your client facing material needs to be top shelf. We have developed a very high-end, eight-page color brochure to send our prospective clients.

Showing up to compete on a retained search with a cheap tri-fold brochure was not the way I wanted to face the market. We also have several one-piece color “mini-brochures” that we use to send as client touch points or as a follow up to a phone call. Finally, we have a very nice PowerPoint presentation.

Collateral is not that expensive to develop and I strongly recommend you look at your collateral or have someone else look at it and compare it to your competition to see if it represents you and your firm.

Letters of Recommendation

As I stated earlier, we try to get letters of recommendation from each search we conduct. The letters stand out if they contain information about the type of search, the title, information about your process, how long it took to complete the search, and any meaningful metrics as to the impact your candidate made after they started their new job.

I have found that the last item matters more to executives that any other part of the LOR. How did the talent that you brought to the table move the needle and what was the impact on the company? Let your satisfied clients tell your story for you and become a secret weapon in helping you sign a new client. It’s powerful!

Newsletters

We send a newsletter once per quarter to clients and prospects. The newsletter contains search tips and information about hiring. We also include recent placements we’ve made as well as trade shows we will be attending. Most business professionals receive lots of e-newsletters so it’s important to make sure your content is compelling, and provides good information for your target audience. This could be on a best practices topic or something that is relevant to their hiring or retention strategies.

Stay away from selling in a newsletter. That is the fastest way to encourage a prospect to locate the “unsubscribe” button. And they will.

Market Mastery

Jeff Kaye talks about Market Mastery a lot and for good reasons. Since we started our practice we try to push content on a regular basis to the top “must-have” accounts on our target list. Experts say it takes seven touch points to convey a marketing message and rise above the marketing noise.

Make sure your touch points are well thought out, planned in advance, and that you use multiple mediums to push out your message. We use mini-brochures, news clippings, newsletters, handwritten notes, and business books just to name a few.

Again, the content has to be relevant and compelling if you want to make an impression and get to the dance. I have always been focused on driving new clients to my practice. It’s a metric we track monthly, quarterly, and annually. If you are adding new clients on a regular basis you will absolutely become a big biller based on pure math. You will also be able to ride out a bad economy if you have a long list of clients with whom you have deep and meaningful relationships.

Social Media

I see huge value in marketing your search practice by using social media to push content out to the market and to help with your website search engine optimization (SEO).

I am a huge LinkedIn user and use LinkedIn to build my network and stay in touch with key targets in my market.

Twitter is another part of our practice and we use Twitter to push messages and (mostly) self developed content to followers.

Finally, writing a blog targeted at your industry is another way to help you position yourself as an expert in your field.

Social Media is here to stay and has become the medium of choice for today’s candidates and clients. Embrace it and use it and you will see the results pay huge dividends.

Trade Shows

Trade shows are a great venue to develop new business and to see multiple prospects and clients with minimal travel related expenses. I suggest you pick one or two major trade shows in your industry and make sure you attend each year.

To maximize your investment have a full “dance card” well in advance of the event. Setting up coffee meetings and breakfast-lunch-dinner appointments is the only way to get the most out of attending a show. I suggest developing a target list of the people you need to see and begin scheduling activities weeks before the show to guarantee that you accomplish your goals.

Never take collateral to hand out during a trade show. It usually finds its way to the trashcan just before your prospect checks out of their hotel. Send it the following week with a handwritten note to stand out and make an impact.

Proposals

If you are working on developing a new client or a new search assignment and they ask you to provide a proposal on the services you plan to deliver, make sure you have something to send! Develop a multi-page color proposal that you can use in a shoot-out or upon request. Your proposal should include details about your search process, information on the firm, bios of the team that will be executing the search, references, and specifics on your estimated timeline.

Sending a three line email and calling it your proposal is probably not going to serve you in the long term. Always send your proposals via PDF and always make sure that your branding and the prospect’s logo are in color on the title page. This is especially true if you are trying to move your practice to a higher level in terms of the types of assignments you want as well as assignments with larger fees than your average.

Plans Constantly Evolve

There is lot more that goes into developing a detailed marketing plan for your practice than I have outlined here. However, these are the key elements of our plan. It is constantly evolving and growing and the results have been outstanding. Each year we update our marketing plan for the new year as the market changes. And it always does.

Spend the time to develop a plan and then – watch it happen. Happy Hunting!

Illustration courtesy Bigstock

Timothy J. Tolan is the senior partner and managing director of Sanford Rose Associates-Charleston. SRA-Charleston has a primary focus on placing executive level talent in the healthcare IT, academic medicine, and revenue cycle industries. Tim is a member the Sanford Rose Associates "President's Club" and is consistently recognized for operating one of the top-producing offices worldwide for SRA. He has conducted searches for CEOs, presidents, senior vice presidents, vice presidents of business development, product development and senior sales executives. He has worked with large and small cap companies as well as privately held and early stage companies. Tim is a contributing writer for Fistfuloftalent.com, Healthcare Informatics Online, and he writes a monthly column for Healthcare Informatics Magazine. He is also co-author of the book titled "The CEO's Guide to Talent Acquisition". Contact Tim at 843-579-3077 or tjtolan@sanfordrose.com.
  • Collier Thompson

    This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time. The changing market requires we have a firm blueprint of the who, why, when, and how. Thank you Tim for such great content!!! Collier Thompson

  • MaryAnn Markowitz

    great article indeed. Is there a research tool you recommend for building our data bases on the client side?