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About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.

Written by: Vickie Sullivan  |  October 01, 2008

How to Help Your Friends and Advocates Get You New Business

Originally published for RainToday.com

You two go back a long time, both professionally and personally. Your champion is in a position of power and well connected — it’s quite logical that they can get you the inside track for that new project. You ask about joining forces and the reply is “sure — no problem.” And then…nothing happens.

What’s wrong with this picture? These conversations are not the test of your relationship but of your brand. Below are two common scenarios that go awry and how to recover when the worst happens.

Nothing after the referral

Your advocate knows your work and also knows the buyer. They pass your name along with a strong recommendation, and tells you to follow up directly. You try several times and…nothing. The decision-maker won’t return your calls. What happened?

First, your advocate’s referral got your foot in the door. Then one of three things occurred: 1) the buyer already has someone else in mind. Your brand wasn’t enough to make them reconsider. Game over. Or, 2) your brand and “fit” doesn’t generate enough interest to warrant further consideration. Once a buyer decides you’re not a good fit, it’s difficult to overcome that perception. Cut your losses or get ready to put in some overtime. Or, 3) your advocate got busy and assumed that another conversation would happen anyway, so they referred you without selling you.

For the first two options, your advocate can’t do any more to help. They can’t make up for either a bad fit or weak branding. Your positioning and visibility has to generate enough interest to proceed. As for the last option: your advocate’s approach branded you as a low priority. They opened the door, but either didn’t know what to say (and whose fault is that?) or made some general “hey they’re good” comment. That’s not strong enough to elicit a response from the buyer. The buyer will only follow up with the top contenders or squeaky wheels.

The moral: In this competitive market, getting to “yes” is a lot like getting a bailout passed in Congress. You need more than a pass-along referral. You need an active introduction and a champion for your cause. When the champion makes their recommendation a personal cause based on your contribution, the buyer is compelled to pay more attention, if only for political reasons. When I was a program chair for a national association, I witnessed champions become personally insulted (and raise Cain to the board) when their recommended speaker didn’t get on the agenda. Sometimes it was just easier to select the speaker than fight the battle.

Your next move: Approach your meeting as a brainstorming session with a focus on the value and application of your work. Keep the conversation broad at first, looking for the “fit” rather than the venue. Once you get agreement on how your work or content will help solve a valuable problem, a venue will “suddenly” appear. If that venue is different than how you’ve worked before, use examples to show your established track record. Talk about the other speeches you gave, the other coaching projects you’ve done, etc. Show that you’re not a first-timer and can deliver in the new area. Send over a DVD of that latest speech or a recent business case that’s outside what you do for them.

Everybody needs help

When times get touch, it’s nice to get a little help from your friends. In this changing economy, your advocates need all the help they can get in promoting and hiring you. By making your brand go beyond “good,” staying loose with ways to work with you and tightening up your business case, your champions can carry your water with pride.

Filed Under: Sales


About Vickie Sullivan

Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.