Ian Brodie is a UK based consultant that helps professional service firms to attract new clients and win more business. He’s helped some of the world’s leading organisations (Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Glaxo Smithkline, Nestle) and has been doing so for more than 16 years. Ian’s site at www.ianbrodie.com was named one of the “resources of the decade” for professional services marketing and sales by raintoday.com and he recently contributed the chapter on Selling for Independent Professionals to the Amazon #1 bestseller ‘Mastering the World of Selling‘.
1. Your website says you’ve “sold multi-million dollar consulting engagements” – can you tell us what’s that all about?
Well, I don’t think I’m alone in having sold big management consulting projects – it’s the nature of the beast when you work for the big strategy firms. The reason for mentioning it on the website is simply to show that I’m not spouting off theory without ever having “walked the talk” myself.
2. I understand that you weren’t a naturally born salesman but realized to grow your business you’d have to sharpen your selling skills. I think many consultants and freelancers face the same challenge. What specifically brought on the realization that you needed to focus on sales?
I was lucky enough to work for Gemini Consulting in the 90s. Gemini was a very sales oriented firm – way ahead of its time in many ways compared to the traditional consulting firms. It was just expected – if you want to succeed you have to learn to sell. I hadn’t expected it when I joined the firm – I’d come from an environment where salespeople sold and consultants didn’t. But at Gemini the culture was very positive towards business development. And I had access to a lot of very effective formal and informal mentors who helped me.
3. Can you share some of the methods, approaches or strategies that you used and worked best for you to start selling more of your services?
I’d draw a distinction between the skills you need in a large firm vs a small firm. In a large firm you automatically get access to a flow of opportunities because of your account management structure, the overall marketing your firm is doing, and simply the fact that you’re a known quantity.
So the key skills needed in a large firm are selling skills. Primarily this means the ability to engage with clients, to question and uncover their issues and opportunities, to help them see the value of addressing those issues, and to propose effective solutions.
My advice here is learn a proven methodology and get comfortable using it. You can pick up any decent book like Let’s Get Real by Mahan Khalsa & Randy Illig – or SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. For understanding large accounts and complex decision-making look at something like Strategic Selling by Miller Heiman. Master those basic selling skills and you’ll be way ahead of most other consultants.
When you’re in a small firm or on your own the emphasis changes. Your primary challenge is getting a steady flow of leads – so you need to focus on marketing.
The tools that have worked for me have been referrals, giving presentations and seminars at events, and my website. Today it’s primarily my website – I get about 70% of my business via the web which is great as it means I can be generating leads behind the scenes when I’m working with clients, out having fun or asleep. It takes time and effort (and you have to know what you’re doing) to get your website working for you in this way – but when you do it’s a huge asset.
4. You have a large Twitter following at over 84,000. How valuable has that been for you and how do you use Twitter? Any tips for other consultants?
Gosh – where to start! My big twitter following really started out as an experiment for me. I wanted to see how possible it would be to build a big following of (mainly) targeted followers and whether that could work for business development.
It turns out it’s not that difficult to build a big following if you know how – and doesn’t take a lot of time per day. And it means that if I tweet a link to my website I get an instant hit of traffic. Not tons – usually in the 50-100 clicks range – but more traffic than most people get.
But a large following has its downsides too. It’s really difficult for me to properly engage in conversations – there’s just too much going on in my “twitter stream” and I can’t get a sensible list of interesting followers to initiate conversation with as there are just too many names to feasibly look at.
For most consultants, I’d recommend taking a different approach. Provided your target clients or contacts use twitter themselves (and you can use google to search to see if they’re there) then your best approach is to build up a much smaller following that you interact with regularly. It’s like chatting at a networking event. You can build quite solid relationships with people via twitter if you mingle in tweeting useful, valuable ideas and links with general chit chat. Don’t underestimate the importance of casual chat – no one likes the office bore who only talks about work.
This actually takes a bit more work – a few hours a week at least. But it can pay off very well when those online relationships become offline ones and you started getting business.
5. What does “work-life balance” mean to you and in your eyes do you have one?
In my case, my business is very centred around me – what I write, my videos, and my personal coaching or consulting. I decided a while ago I didn’t want to employ people and build a big empire that way.
So as a result, the boundaries between work and home life are very blurred. I love what I do, so I use most of my spare time doing it (blogging, for example). So I probably work a lot more hours than most people.
On the other hand, my hours are very flexible – I fit work around spending time with the family, and I’m usually able to just go out for a coffee or lunch with my wife whenever I want rather than having to schedule things or wait for the weekend.
6. Do you usually work in a fixed location or do you work on the road a lot (cafes, other cities, etc?) and why do you do so?
I try to work from home as much as possible. I have a number of coaching clients all over the world who I work with over the phone and help to improve their success at winning new clients.
I do have some larger clients where I’ll travel to meet them and work on-site with their team. But by and large I’m only away for 1 or 2 nights a week max. And yes, I do use cafes and coffee shops a lot. Sometimes even when I’m working from home just to get out and about into the real world!
7. Many consultants think about getting publicity for their clients or business at one time or another. You’ve been mentioned in Business Week and the BBC. How were you able to do this and could you offer one suggestion of others looking to get publicity?
All my “big” PR has come from content I’ve generated – reports, articles, etc. They’ve been picked up by journalists (in the case of the BBC, for example it was the Today show on the World Service who were interested in a report I’d co-authored on the impact of the new countries joining the EU and interviewed me to discuss it).
In the early days when I was with Gemini we did press releases which got the reports noticed. Nowadays, journalists (usually for print or electronic media) or others find me via google, or by reputation. And again, it’s always because I’ve either written something on my blog that’s interesting or topical (and they’ve found it via google) or something I wrote a while ago got me on their radar screen.
If you haven’t built up your profile so much you can speed up the process by subscribing to Peter Shankman’s free “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO) service. If you sign up he’ll send you a couple of emails a day with requests from journalists looking for people to interview or quote on a variety of topics. Keep your eyes peeled and reply quickly and you can get something placed. You can find the service at www.helpareporter.com.
8. What’s the biggest mistake you see other consultants/marketers/bloggers making and how can they fix it?
When it comes to getting clients and succeeding with their business and careers, I find that most consultants rely far too much on hope rather than action.
What I mean by that is because most don’t really enjoy marketing and selling and don’t have much experience of it, they hope that if they do great work, they’ll get more business via word of mouth. Or they’ll sign up with an agency and hope someone else will look out for them. Or they’ll go networking and hope that people they meet will refer business to them.
Typically what happens is that somewhere between 12 to 24 months in to starting out on their own, these passive sources of business begin to dry up. You’ve got just about all the business you’re going to get via your existing contacts. And if you haven’t been much more active in expanding your presence, you’re going to be in trouble.
So much more than any specific strategy, tactic or technique – what’s important is choosing action. Choosing to actively market and pursue clients rather than passively waiting for them to come in.
It’s that attitude that really makes the difference between those that succeed and those that don’t.