Finding New Clients: Why the Conventional Wisdom Can Be Dead Wrong!


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by Jim McCraigh in Getting Clients Now

For the 30+ years I’ve been in this business, speaking, writing and referral marketing have been held out as the holy trinity of selling coaching and consulting services. It’s the conventional wisdom. It’s how you get clients. It’s how you grow your business. Or is it?

Speaking, writing and referrals will get you suspects… but not clients.

Suspects are not clients. If we don’t convert suspects into paying clients we won’t have a business, just a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, speaking, writing and referrals are still important. Without them, it will be impossible to build a growing and profitable business because you’ll never be talking to enough people. But they are not enough.

Here is my point… suspects don’t buy your groceries or pay your rent… happy clients do. The most successful coaches and consultants I’ve worked with use a disciplined system to convert suspects into paying clients. Don’t have a system yet? I want to encourage you to develop one of your own by creating a simple pipeline system that I’ll share below. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned veteran or opened your practice last week… this will work for you if you’ll just implement it!

Having a disciplined system will go a long way towards eliminating the feast or famine cycle that many coaches and consultants routinely experience. It looks like this:

Attracting Suspects > Qualifying Prospects > Converting to Clients

Let’s look at each element separately…

Attracting Suspects: How many suspects will enter your pipeline in the next 90 days? The fact is that most coaches and consultants do not have enough people entering their sales pipeline who could become qualified prospects. That number is often the difference between success and failure in your business.

New suspects coming into your pipeline will likely have become aware of you through your speaking, writing or referrals. They will likely have had some interaction with you (book, article, speaking engagement, associations networking, LinkedIn, webinars, etc.) and/or who may have shown some potential interest in what you do. This is where you will want to cast a wide net, trying to find as many people as possible to bring into your pipeline by systematically increasing your speaking writing and referral marketing activities. (If you are speaking to promote your practice read my post… Speaking to Promote Your Business? Here are 3 Things You Must Say at

The key to increasing your revenues is setting goals for filling your pipeline first. When I work with clients, we always set a specific, measurable and dated goal that looks like this:

“Add 15 qualified suspects to my sales pipeline within the 90 days… 3 by referral, 10 from speaking engagements and 2 from articles.”

These suspects are all the same… right? Probably not. Here’s the hard, cold truth… As professionals who have bills to pay, we cannot afford to work with every suspect. Not all are worth pursuing. It is important we don’t waste our time getting all the way to the proposal stage with marginal suspects. The idea is to qualify your suspects quickly. Of every 5 you talk to, perhaps only 2 will turn out to be qualified prospects. The thing is to qualify them as soon as you can and move on to find more suspects if you are short of your client acquisition goal.

Qualifying Prospects: What constitutes a qualified prospect? You probably already have a feel for this…

  • They closely match your ideal client profile.
  • Their problems/aspirations/goals line up with your solutions/expertise (They must need what you offer).
  • They have the financial capacity/authority to buy from you.

For example, your ideal client might be the owner or C-level executive of a medium to large-sized health services business… who is likely to be experiencing issues that you can definitely help them with…  and who have a title and or company size that suggest they would be able to afford/authorize your services.

How do we qualify a suspect?

By developing a quick filtering system to differentiate qualified prospects from your list of suspects based on the probability of your landing a successful, money-making engagement. This will help you to focus on the best opportunities and invest your time and efforts where you might see the best returns. This way you can eliminate at least some of the time wasters and qualify the others quickly.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned by working with coaches and consultants over the years… many of them don’t respond fast enough to qualified suspects. In fact, they take on average about 3 to 4 days to pick up the phone and respond to a lead. And of those who do call, they make less than 3 call attempts before giving up and moving on. (It will normally take 7 or more tries.) When I worked in a Chicago bank early in my career, my boss used to tell us that when it came to suspects who called in looking for an auto loan quote, the older it got, the colder it got! The sooner we called back, the more loans we wrote. Make it a policy to call qualified prospects within hours… not days!

Your qualifying filter might look like this:

How closely do they meet your definition of an ideal client? Suspects who will benefit the most from your services may become qualified prospects because you’ll be able to provide great value to them. Assign a numerical value to them of 1 through 5. (5 being the best.) When we step outside of this profile, we dilute what we can provide the client and may not be the best fit for them ending in frustration for both you. Look them up on LinkedIn… it’s amateur to fumble their job title, company size or what they do.

Will they need what you are selling relatively soon? A highly qualified prospect won’t wait around. How urgent was their communication to you? How serious a situation do they face? This doesn’t mean you need an extensive file on every lead you intend to call. Do just enough research so you have a sense of what they care about, then tailor your approach to those needs. Give a higher score to these people. Rank them 1 through 5 on your quick grading system.

Will they be able to authorize/pay your minimum fee? Resist lowering your fees to get a client, especially a marginal one. Here are three easy hacks I use to identify the most (and least) promising suspects in advance…

  1. Look at the quality of their marketing materials or website. (Find their website on their LinkedIn profile.) If they are done on the cheap, it might be a sign that either they don’t or can’t invest in their business. High-end marketing tells you that the suspect takes their business seriously and will spend money on it if they see the benefit in doing so.
  2. Check their job openings. You’re checking for one simple reason… when a company lists job openings, often it’s an indication that they have extra money to spend. While on the client’s website, look out for links with such anchor text as “jobs,” “careers,” “join our team,” etc.
  3. Use a service like to check out the company’s revenues. Not all prospects are worth pursuing.

Again, rank them 1 through 5 on your quick grading system. If you think they will be low dollar or have difficulty paying your fees, drop them quickly.

The lowest score a suspect can achieve with your system will be a 3… the best a 15. I’ll let you decide, but I’d think twice about qualifying anyone with a score lower than a 10.

Converting to Clients

Some percentage of those qualified prospects will become your clients. It’s a numbers game; the more suspects you bring into your sales pipeline, the more qualified prospects will make it through your filter. How many will you need? Use this example for your own calculations:

Want $72, 000 in revenues for the next 12 months?

You’ll need 8 clients at $9,000 average engagement size…

If 50% of your suspects eventually become qualified prospects then…

And 20% of your qualified prospects become clients…

To end up with 8 clients, you’ll need 40 qualified prospects…

Then you’ll need to set a goal of 80 suspects per year or about 7 per month.

Your numbers will be different. The important thing is to know what your numbers are! Then the question becomes… How many speaking engagements, referrals, connections on LinkedIn, articles etc. will you need to generate that number of suspects?

Fill in your own numbers here. If you are falling short, it is way past time to crank up your marketing machine. Low earning coaches and consultants approach their pipelines causally, relying on whoever calls or shows up. Disciplined professionals work backwards… setting goals for the number of speaking engagements they do, articles they write and referrals they get to fill the front end of their pipeline and eventually their pockets.

Conversion of a qualified prospect to client almost always begins with a series of questions. Here are three you can use to break the ice… and one you should never ask:

What was the main reason that you agreed to meet with me? This is a great opening question to begin the meeting. It engages the prospective client immediately. Make a note of the response and refer back to that reason throughout the conversation. If the client tells you that they wanted to meet you because they want to reduce their employee turnover rate, that’s a start, but probe further, using terms such as… I’m curious or tell me more.

 What is your absolute most critical priority for the next 90 days? By asking them specifically about the next 90 days, you’ll get an idea of what is both urgent and important for the prospect. Again, note this for the purpose of referring back to it to keep the meeting focused on how you can help. Also, probe to learn if the prospective client can quantify that objective in terms of a percentage increase or decrease. If the prospective client can’t answer these questions you might have an opportunity to help in that respect too.

What is your biggest obstacle to meeting that one critical objective? This question will help you uncover areas of weakness in your client’s organization. Can they articulate what might be holding them back… or not?

Here is the one to never ask… “So tell me about your business”. That may have been appropriate in the days before LinkedIn, websites and telephones… but not today. If you have qualified them, you will already know the answer to that question.

Not all qualified prospects will convert within the next 6 months or even a year. That’s why having a disciplined system like this will pay dividends over time. There are five clearly identifiable steps or stages that almost every client will go through before they will engage us (or anyone else) as a coach or consultant. Potential clients are not always aware that they are going through these stages, but we should be very aware of what stage they’re currently in. The larger the dollar amount of the contract, the more this is true. To learn more about the conversion process check out my post… Cracking the Client Acquisition Code: When Do Clients Hire You?



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