Accounting and IT consulting firms tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to mining their existing clients for additional work. Either they don’t think about how to make more money with their current business, or they just don’t know how to start the conversation. Here are some ideas on how to do both.
Motivation is crucial, but many organizations focus primarily on rewarding new sales. Too few have recognition or incentive programs for sales to existing customers, and salespeople naturally channel their energies into areas where they are rewarded. Sales, marketing and consulting assets are typically tasked with new business pursuits.
Selling to current customers requires unique skills and knowledge. The personnel involved must be familiar to the clients, and the clients need to be familiar with them. Unfortunately, the original salesperson and project leads are usually chasing new business, so assigning an unfamiliar person to expand or renew an existing account seldom works without an effective transition plan. It’s almost like starting from scratch.
Change is a constant in any business, and creates challenges and opportunities for upselling and cross-selling existing clients. New product releases provide an excellent (let alone mandatory) opportunity for contacting your installed base. A strategically positioned partner can benefit when a customer engages in mergers or acquisitions, expands into new markets, or introduces new product or service lines.
In times of contraction, a trusted advisor can help position the client for survival and future growth. Regulatory changes present ongoing challenges, and a good partner can play a primary role in guiding customers through the compliance environment.
Firms that succeed leave little to chance. Mining the existing client base begins with a strategy of taking excellent care of clients and customers, and then creating opportunities to engage them in a frequent and structured manner. Like any relationship, it takes effort. Here are five ways to meet your goals:
1. Support. Industry-leading support consists of access, problem resolution and service, and when you support your customers, they will support your business. Start by providing clear and easy access to you on your website home page and elsewhere, to all client/customer support resources. Commit to, and follow, a customer-centric process for acknowledging, understanding and resolving any and all customer issues. Many requests that surface as “support requests” actually result in professional services projects. Properly defining what is covered under support programs is a key way to support existing customers, and can be a primary source of additional revenues from an installed base.
2. Communication. Consistent and frequent communication is needed to stay top of mind with existing customers. Forward-looking firms send clients information on new products, services and training programs. Many host dinners or other gatherings at industry events and user conferences. At a minimum, partners should engage customers on a quarterly basis. These ongoing conversations strengthen the relationship; those efforts can pay real dividends when it’s time to ask for a renewal or referral.
3. Training. This is a critical element in any effort to build sales from an installed customer base. The tools and methods discussed here require special knowledge and ongoing reinforcement – and IT groups and consultants can often benefit from outside assistance in these areas. For example, the Information Technology Alliance (ITA), a membership-based organization for IT professionals, promotes learning in key business areas, information sharing, and relationship building to improve the way they do business. There are numerous venues for accessing new skills and knowledge that will help you grow your practice – choose carefully, and don’t discount the value of professional networking in conjunction with acquiring new skills and knowledge.
4. Technology. There’s no doubt you probably have invested time and resources into improving your technology, so use it wisely to better mine your installed base. Start by defining the relevant processes and workflows. Then, be sure to fully leverage your software. The key is to have a single place for all relevant information, from client/customer contacts and renewal dates, to proposals, SOWs, project documentation, support cases and more. If you are selling and servicing clients effectively, you have significant information about those customers. Leverage that data to expand sales in your existing customer base.
5. Referrals. Never underestimate the power of a referral. This is a great way to grow revenues from your client base, but asking for referrals takes confidence. To even start this process, of course, the seller must be doing a great job for the referring client. Most customer firms understand and appreciate the dynamics of these relationships, and satisfied clients are typically willing to help. Astute partners find ways to pay it forward by referring new business to their clients, highlighting their customers’ success in case studies or on social media, and promoting awards or other client accomplishments. Be sure to acknowledge referrals with formal thank-you notes, gift cards or charitable donations, and let your client know how the referral turned out.
Focus and plan
Current clients and customers can be a rewarding source of new and higher sales, but any sales effort requires significant focus and investment. Spend some time as a firm mapping out your strategy to mine additional revenue; you’ll likely find new sources within a short amount of time.
Keep existing customers happy, stay in touch, and always be looking for ways to serve, and sell, the prospects you know best.