Resources  >> Get More Business: How to Work Successfully With Advocates

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, 2009

Get More Business: How to Work Successfully With Advocates

Originally published for RainToday.com

Unless you are Attila the Hun, there are folks out there who like you and know your work well enough that your credibility is off the table. The key question: how do you turn that good will into new projects? Below are my top 10 tips to pave the way for new business with old clients and colleagues without appearing desperate.

  • Check your motivation. When times are tough, it’s tempting to talk to all of our friends and colleagues. That kind of indiscriminate networking creates a false sense of busyness. By staying in our comfort zone, we rationalize not doing the hard stuff, like “getting out there” and competing in a crowded market. So before approaching any champion, take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself: is there really a strategic fit here? If not, any approach will look like you’re desperate for business. You will appear weak and ready to work for less.
  • The closer you are, the more direct you can be. There are some people whom you can be straight out with. They will expect nothing less, so just be direct. You can say something like, “Ya know, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the next level of my business, and I’m looking at new ideas and opportunities. Can I run a couple of things by you?” If you have a reputation for being direct and now start to hedge, your colleague will assume something is wrong. That feeling creates confusion and will be a barrier to closing the deal.
  • Accept reality. Don’t assume that if someone hired you before, that they can hire you now or in the future. Some buying decisions have moved up the food chain. Some budgets have been slashed and aren’t coming back. If that’s happened, your advocate might be embarrassed, so don’t expect a straight answer. Read between the lines, and offer to keep in touch. Be gracious, but don’t spend time where you won’t get a return.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no. With busy schedules, many advocates will first think of current systems to plug you into. If that option isn’t a good fit, express gratitude and offer other ideas. Example: One of my client’s advocates offered to “certify” her on his system in order to collaborate on consulting projects. Bad branding move — that puts her in the “subordinate” position. Instead, she politely declined and suggested alternative ways to join forces. Moral of the story: an advocate’s first idea may not be his best.
  • Never begin your conversations with a pitch. Kicking off the conversation with a specific way to work together sets up a risky, dead-end conversation. Think about it: what’s the chance your advocate or colleague will say, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that idea? Let’s start immediately!”? If your colleague says no, then what do you do? Instead, have brainstorming conversations. Start with something like, “Look, we know we create great things together. We just don’t know what the next step can look like. Let’s just brainstorm for XXX minutes to explore. If there isn’t a way to join forces, then we can say we’ve tried and keep in touch.”
  • Never say, “I’ve been reinventing myself.” Or tell potential buyers that you’ve been to a branding expert. This is the biggest mistake my clients can make, so I remind them that I am their secret weapon. By admitting you got help, you imply that the previous reason why they hired/liked you was not working or was incorrect. You look scared, scattered, and in trouble. Instead, say, “I’ve studied the marketplace/this situation from a different angle, and I make some surprising discoveries. Can I run some observations by you and compare notes?” Then trot out your new message and ideas.
  • Learn then link. The best way to join forces with someone is to help them on whatever they are working on now. Assisting on current projects avoids the “great idea, but we don’t have a budget for that” objection. Linking your work to the front-burner issues also takes advantage of urgency. Your solution has to have a context.
  • Trade war stories. Sometimes in the course of conversations, you have an opportunity to compare notes on what you’ve done elsewhere. War stories are the tales we tell to share lessons learned. They are different than giving a business case. The latter gives the big picture; war stories are about the little things that happened on the way to victory. They illustrate how your ideas work in different situations. Have at least five stories that you can reel off at a moment’s notice. And don’t just talk about the results. Focus on the lesson learned.
  • Diagnose but don’t solve the problem. This is the biggest mistake you can make with advocates. Because you have a relationship with them, it’s easy to jump in and help, especially when they are in trouble. If you do that, you’ll be friends for life but they will not hire you again. Why? Because you just let them know that you’ll help for free…forever. Instead, help by sorting out the issue. Give them clarity, and they will want your help again. If they ask for more, say something like, “Ya know, if we were to work together, I’d focus on XXXX.” That shows the boundary and also sets up the value of continuing your relationship.
  • Talk shop. When you talk about issues facing work or the industry at large, you don’t look like you are in sales mode. What often happens: you discover a way to join forces. This conversation is the best way to transcend logistics. If you focus on the solution, then there are various ways to make that happen. How to find hot topics: check out their associations’ website, under publications. That’s where the problems are being cussed and discussed. Ask: is this a problem for you guys? What’s the plan to counteract the trends? Then give your take on the situation.

The best thing about advocates and colleagues: they will gladly give you a fair hearing. Use these tips to be strategic with their gift of time and connections. You’ll be surprised at what two creative minds can cook up.

Filed Under: Market Strategy, 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.