I recently received an inquiry on my website from a prospective client. It was a local human resources consulting firm that wanted to learn how my Personal Fame Program could help them expand their corporate team performance services within the Silicon Valley business community. Although it was not unusual to a receive prospect inquiry online (most of my sales leads do in fact come through my website), it was interesting that this particular prospect resulted from publicity generated a few days earlier, when I was promoted as a guest on a colleague’s teleseminar. What was even more interesting was that the prospect had not actually attended the teleseminar, but felt compelled to contact me because of my credibility.
In short, because the prospect viewed me as a trusted resource, a complete stranger was transformed into a hot prospect ready to do business. Moreover, there was no real selling required on my part. I merely explained my services, agreed on the objectives, and closed the sale. “We knew if you a guest contributor to a website we knew and trusted, you were most likely a quality service provider,” the prospect explained. “When we studied your website, and saw what others were saying about you on Google, it confirmed our initial impression.”
A Reputation that Precedes You
In any economy, developing a credible reputation is the secret to attracting new clients and customers. Companies that display their distinction, competence, expertise, authority, and leadership spend less time fighting for attention. On the other hand, generic, undifferentiated businesses fight it out with look-alike competitors. Attracting attention is more challenging and generating quality sales leads is a real uphill battle. Selling is often a frustrating exercise involving proving your worth to skeptical prospects. Because credible companies are taken seriously, they generate more qualified sales leads and the whole process of selling is less of a struggle. Word-of-mouth takes on a life of its own.
Credible companies stand out from the pack, cut through competitive clutter, and avoid the commodity trap. To put it bluntly: brand reputation matters when you are building a strong business, want to thrive in a down economy and generate quality leads that result in sales. In How Clients Buy: The Benchmark Report on Professional Services Marketing and Sales from the Client Perspective, online publication RainToday asked 200 buyers of professional services how they find and learn more about potential service providers.
After referrals, “I already knew about the service provider” (in other words, reputation or brand reach) was the top source. “One argument seems to never go away,” says Mike Schultz, publisher of RainToday. “On the one side you have people who say, ‘We need to increase our brand recognition in order to truly succeed with marketing.’ The other side typically maintains, ‘Just get out there and sell. Name recognition doesn’t matter.’ Yet, our research shows that when you are well-known in your field, whatever lead generation tactics you employ are likely to work better.”
Strategies for Boosting Your Credibility
I’ve written extensively about strategies for boosting your credibility in your market niche. A good primer is my article Thought Leadership Marketing. A quick recap of the key areas you should consider when practicing credibility marketing includes:
Get Consistent Media Attention
Nothing bestows credibility like positive media coverage. Yet most businesses completely ignore the opportunities afforded by the media. Your prospects value the media. In one way or another, the media reach and influence everyone who has a direct impact on your business. When properly pursued, no other marketing method delivers so much impact for so little investment of time and money. Trade magazines and special interest publications are the best places to begin. These publications are plentiful and hungry for articles from outside contributors. It’s surprisingly easy to break into this area, and earn tremendous credibility while at the same time reaching your best prospects.
Any media coverage you obtain can be effectively utilized long after the event. Article reprints can easily replace expensive brochures, mailers, and newsletters. You can send out cassettes of a radio appearance to prospective clients, or, if you are quoted in a magazine or newspaper, you can photocopy the article and send it to prospects as a no-pressure means of keeping in touch.
Use Speaking Engagements to Cultivate Your Target Market
I recently lauded public speaking as my secret weapon for attracting prospects and establishing credibility. Speaking can help you close sales literally before you even leave the room. You don’t have to be a seasoned public speaker to make it a central component of your credibility marketing efforts. Start by identifying groups and associations that reach your target market. Search for conferences with educational sessions that match your expertise. Create a simple speaker presentation kit with short topic descriptions that showcase your expertise.
Virtual speaking via teleseminars and webinars are both effective and efficient. You can reach national and global audiences without traveling, and you can create speaking opportunities almost at will, merely by connecting with Web sites that have a following and are open to hosting your virtual speaking appearance.
Cultivate a Credible Online Presence
Today, prospects find and evaluate your company online, but it’s not enough just to have a website. You must also develop a credible online presence that anticipates what people encounter when they search your name and/or business name in Google. You must cultivate a powerful Virtual First Impression™ that communicates credibility and trustworthiness. Your online presence must include links from credible industry websites to your website (these links communicate your business stature in the first few seconds after your business name is typed into Google). Blogging, podcasting, creating and distributing white papers and reports, publishing expert articles and content on websites that have credibility within your niche, and embracing relevant social networking and online communities can all enhance your online presence.
Expand Your Sphere of Influence
Once you understand the total sphere of influence for your particular business, you’ll identify many avenues to establishing your credibility by affiliating with others who are already credible: Brian Carroll’s Start With a Lead blog maps out the following strategy for connecting and forming relationships with others who possess existing credibility in your market niche.
1. Start by mapping out key players, experts, and opinion molders in your industry. Look at speakers at industry events, authors, bylines and contributed articles in trade journals, and blogs. Now you should have a pretty good map of the people you need to know.
2. Research them, their companies, their clients or customers. Do they work with companies that fit your ideal customer profile? Make your short list.
3. Approach them with a simple value proposition via a phone call. “I’m contacting you as a recognized expert in our industry. We’re interested in your feedback on our company’s value proposition as it relates to your industry. Would you be willing to brainstorm with me for a few minutes?”
4. Common ties – Another simple but powerful way of finding new business influencers is getting to know your clients’ other trusted advisors. Ask permission to contact them. Call and let them know you have something in common — you share the same client. This can be an easy way to create new relationships that are mutually beneficial.
As your brand gains credibility, exposure, and validation, everything you do to market your company will work better. You’ll generate more leads and close more sales. When you call on cold prospects, you’ll spend less time proving yourself. A down economy is the best time to embrace credibility marketing because most credibility marketing tactics are low-cost/no-cost. They only require time and persistence. Credibility marketing is effective precisely because it can’t be bought and paid for, like an advertisement. In a down economy, where your prospects scrutinize every purchase and think twice before investing in anything, credibility marketing will help you attract new business with less cost and effort. Existing clients will perceive you differently. Credibility marketing will position your business as an honest, reliable source of solutions and information, instead of as a self-serving, sales-hungry opportunist.