Chapter 12 deals with marketing, which will also tell you where to find groups of clients. It may identify them by zip code, income levels, commuting hours, or hair color. However, these are still groups and not individual clients. To plan your business, you must know your clients as individuals. Where should you look?
Let's define client categories. A suspect is a person who may be a candidate for the services you plan to offer. A prospect is one who you have clearly identified as a potential client; to become a client, you only need to help the person identify and value problems that need solutions. A client is someone to whom you have sold a service or product and potentially can sell more. Business is a process. The process of consulting requires that you identify suspects, qualify them as prospects, and sell them on becoming clients.
Armed with your consulting business definition, you now can define who your suspects are — people who may be candidates for your services. The questions you'll need to answer include:
Who are they?
What do they do for a living?
Where do they work?
What common identities do they have? Are they members in a specific club, neighbors who share common interests, or attendees at the same annual convention?
Once suspects are identified, you can begin the process of learning more about them and how to help them identify common problems that you can solve. If your service is to help individuals select appropriate pets from local animal shelters, you can use advertising and influencers to convert suspects into prospects.
Again, not everyone who shops buys. However, many who make the decision to buy do so with the help of initiators, influencers, and permitters. Who are they? Interview prospective clients to find out.
Do you typically buy consulting services by yourself or with others?
When you buy consulting services, does someone help you make the decision?
Did anyone suggest that you buy this service?
Have you suggested to others that they buy a similar service?
In addition, many types of transactions have influencers that you may not recognize as such. For example, someone may buy a brand of toothpaste or a car because an influential person buys it. Celebrity endorsements are popular for this reason. In many communities, there are local influencers who are respected for their knowledge and authority, It may be the local mayor or city official, a member of the clergy, or a minor celebrity. In developing your consulting business, finding and interviewing these influencers can help you build your venture with minimal effort. An endorsement of your consulting business can influence lenders and investors.
How can I find local influencers?
Interview the editor or publisher of your local newspaper, asking for referrals to other influential individuals. If there is a primary business in town that you hope to get as a client, get an early commitment so that your business and marketing plans can mention this fact. Ask the chamber of commerce manager and other association executives for guidance and referrals to local influencers.
There are two primary methods of determining what clients want: ask them and watch them. Of course, before your business opens its doors, you don't have clients to ask or observe. An existing business that wants to grow does. Start-up companies, however, can study a competitor's clients to determine what they want. You can even become a client of your primary competitors.
If you do get the opportunity to interview future clients on their choices and desires, make your interviews measurable. Standardize the questions you ask. For example, “What do you like about Acme Relocation Service?” is an open-ended opinion question that can take the interview off into a dozen different directions. However, “Do you ever purchase relocation advice?” is a quantifiable question answered with either yes or no.
The key to getting good market data from client interviews is to ask a few important and quantifiable questions. Define what you want to know before you write your questions and start asking them. For example, if your survey goal is to determine whether your wedding consultancy should offer a line of designer wedding dresses, your interview questions could be:
What brands of wedding dresses do you like the best?
Have you seen ads for Dreamland Dresses?
Dreamland Dresses are priced 25 percent below comparable designer wedding dresses. Does this price difference appeal to you?
If our wedding service carried Dreamland Dresses, would you consider purchasing them?
What do you think about designer dresses versus budget dresses?
That last question, obviously, can't be answered by yes or no. It's an open-ended question designed to get the interviewee to talk more. Not all survey questions should require closed, multiple-choice responses. Sometimes you can learn more of what the client wants with an open-ended question than with a dozen closed questions. They're just not as easy to quantify and most interviewers save them for the last questions.
Frequently, market analysis turns up hidden and unmet needs that offer a better direction to businesses. The better you understand your buyers, the more you will sell.
By standardizing your client survey and primarily using closed questions, you can soon develop a relatively accurate report on the survey topic. How many prospective clients should you interview? The more you get, the more accurate your survey will be. The higher the price of what you will be selling, the more surveys you should take. If they are short and uncomplicated surveys, you can give one in less than a minute.
Survey says: “Among 105 clients interviewed, 78 percent have heard of Dreamland Dresses, Dreamland is preferred two-to-one over Chantel brand, and, if available from my wedding service at a lower price, they would consider buying them. Overall, interviewees prefer budget wedding dresses that look identical to designer dresses, and Dreamland is the favorite of the majority.” That is the type of actionable data that your wedding service can use as you add profitable product lines to your consulting business.