May 28, 2014
Information Technology Consulting
Whether you are launching a brand new small consulting business in the Midwest, or have been in business for some time and find that client projects are becoming stagnant, it pays to take time to evaluate your current marketing and sales approaches and strategies. Certainly, the current national financial climate is proving to be very difficult for many small Midwestern consulting firms; competition in the sector is fierce, so now may be the right time to consider less orthodox marketing and sales strategies.
In recent years, when extensive outsourcing by competitors raises the bar even further, more emphasis has been placed on utilizing the skills and knowledge of existing staff in a consultancy firm to maintain and build a company’s client base. The talent that you currently hold can make the difference between achieving a mediocre business flow, and starting one that leads the way in the consulting marketplace.
The three largest concerns of startup consultant firms are basic strategies for:
Many smaller Midwestern consultancy firms make the mistake not marketing to the proper demographics, they keep running into financial strains, and the firms taking on projects that they simply do not have the resources to complete on time. Successful Midwestern companies also have technical challenges. Tim Storm of Fatwallet stated “challenges of being in the Midwest come from being the technical equivalent of a third world country.”
In the coming weeks I’ll post problems to address with businesses analyzing common marketing, sales, and financial aspects required to run a successful small consultancy business. I’ll also explore the new technologies available to help take businesses to the next level in terms of successful strategies.
Social Networks Competitive Edge
Rivals can ruin online reputation if you don’t monitor opinions online. Monitoring tweets, facebook comments, and LinkedIn comments are normally on company’s radar, but is looking for competitive advantages? Looking at your competitor’s Social network feed, their employees, and the dissatisfied customers of your rival could lead to superior ideas!
If a competitor has a dissatisfied customer, what can you do to capture that customer? Do you have the same problems causing the dissatisfaction? You could even interact with your competitors contacts and invite them for a discount of your products or services!
Establish your target market
This may seem like an elementary requirement for any business, however, it pays to review your target market on an ongoing basis. Client requirements and demands are constantly evolving, and you will need to stay one step ahead at all times to gain a market advantage. Take time to research your target market, and constantly review your findings to establish any changes or new trends in the IT consultancy sector.
Many smaller consultancy firms may find it difficult to focus on one target area of clients, fearing that they will ‘miss out’ on other sales prospects while doing so. However, even successful IT consultancy businesses need to take a step back to review their target audience from time-to-time. It can be a costly mistake to believe that you have an unlimited number of sales leads in your target area – in an unstable financial climate this can change in a relatively short period of time. You will need to ensure that your target audience is still relevant, and that they are generating the ongoing business and new prospects that you need to ensure the continuing success of your business. Once you have identified a key market (or markets) to concentrate your efforts on, it is time to dedicate a little focus to them.
By focusing on a specific market, you can show your potential prospects that you have expertise and concentration in their area, and that your company is able to offer them effective and tailor-made solutions. This will make your company appear more valuable to clients, and in turn, can help you to complete more deals, quicker.
Marketing: Create a Message
Once you have established your target market(s), you will need to create a powerful message to project your company, spread the word about your services, and reach your prospects. Many new small IT consultancy firms make the fatal mistake of marketing themselves as the ‘best’ or ‘leading’ firm in the consultancy sector, without backing up their claims with solid evidence. This aggressive kind of marketing can lead to mistrust, and you may actually lose clients in the process. When creating a message for your company, you will need to show that you can provide actual value to the client and how you intend to do this. Try to include the following elements in your company message:
- Identify your clients’ problem
- Offer your solution to the problem
- Outline the benefits of using your solution
- Explain how your company’s solution is unique
- Provide solid proof i.e. testimonials or previous case studies
Once you have identified the above elements, combine them into a shorter ‘hook’ – i.e. a short statement that can be included on your website, social networking profiles, and any other marketing communications (i.e. newsletters, brochures and business cards). Try to make your hook as unique as possible and relevant to your target market: for example, rather than saying “We are an IT consultancy firm”- a rather generic statement – make it more specific and unique to your company and the market you are trying to reach, i.e. “We help local businesses successfully market their shops and increase sales using new technologies”.
Try to keep your hook as simple, short as possible, and to the point. Longer descriptions can be used in the bulk text of your marketing communications, but here you are looking for a short and instantly memorable sentence that accurately describes what your company does. Do not underestimate the power of a strong company message and hook – both are proven marketing methodologies used by all of the successful major companies to identify their business and attract new prospects.
IT Consultancy business in focus – Infosys
Infosys Technologies Ltd. provides a good example of how a great company message and hook can drive sales and help to build an IT consultancy business. Infosys Technologies Ltd., who defines, designs, and delivers technology-enabled business solutions for Global 2000 companies, was started in 1981 by only seven people and just $250. Infosys are global leaders in the “next generation” of IT and consulting, boasting revenues of $ 5.7 billion in 2010.
Infosys’ offerings include technology consulting, application services, systems integration, product engineering, custom software development, maintenance, re-engineering, independent testing and validation services, IT infrastructure services, and business process outsourcing. The Infosys hook is simple but effective – “Infosys – Building Tomorrow’s Enterprise” – it is a short but very accurate description of what they actually do. This hook is repeated on all of their online communications, including their website, and it has helped Infosys to define the services that they offer. On visiting their website, or browsing the internet, a visitor instantly understands what Infosys is all about.
Clearly, Infosys has their marketing message right – as of December 2010, they had 127,779 employees, 65 offices and 59 development centers in India, China, Australia, the Czech Republic, Poland, the UK, Canada and Japan. Any fledgling IT consultancy business can use references such as Infosys as a successful example of how vital it is to implement effective marketing strategies.
Marketing: Expert of your Field
It is a fact that clients will naturally gravitate towards the ‘expert’ in their required field. For example, if a client is looking for an IT consultancy firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin specializing in the financial sector, they will search out the ‘leading’ firm in that exact area, using the internet, word of mouth or other business sourcing methods.
Certainly, most small IT consultancy firms will have encountered the frustration of losing out on prospects to rival companies at some point in their existence. Why does this happen? Very often, this will occur because the rival company is perceived as being the ‘expert’ in the field. The word ‘perceived’ is very important, after all, they may not be the best in the field (you may be!), but they have effectively marketed themselves as being just that.
So, how can you position your company as an expert? Here are a few suggestions to help you tackle the process:
- Conferences – Perform a little research to find local conferences/business/speaking events in the IT field. Organizers of any such events will generally need a range of expert speakers to deliver information and discuss the latest IT consultancy developments – This can be a great way to spread the word about your company and the services that you offer. Just one speaking engagement every few months can be sufficient to build your contacts substantially and position your company favourable in the IT consulting marketplace.Always ensure that your representative takes company marketing literature with them, i.e. business cards and brochures. Conferences can offer a multitude of prospecting and affiliation opportunities for a company. Also remember that the best speaker for your company may not necessarily be a sales person – depending on the nature of the event, your technical staff may be willing and eager to spread the word about your IT services, and quite often, they will be best placed to do so.
- Articles/Blogs/Newsletters – Take time to research online and paper publications in the IT consulting area, i.e. industry newsletters, brochures, and magazines. Many of these publications will encourage article submissions from IT consultancy companies. This can be a great way for you to provide valuable input to your industry, offering constructive advice, while getting your company name further recognition. Create your own newsletters and online blogs discussing the latest issues in the IT sector and how your company is working to address these problems. In short, aim to become a mentor to your peers and a trusted source for prospective clients.
Here are a few tips for creating successful blogs and newsletters:
- Text – Try to include essential and informative company and service information. Avoid ‘padding’ out your text with unhelpful information – keep all text succinct and to the point. In the text, offer solutions for your customers. Think of a blog as a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) platform, and encourage comments from your target audience. Keep it short – around 250 – 400 words for a blog and up to 600 words for a newsletter. If you make your marketing correspondence any longer, the reader is very likely to lose interest, and they may avoid any of your future submissions. Always include interesting headlines to draw the reader in. If possible, offer a solution or a tip in the title; for example, ‘We offer a full IT service package’, or, even better, use your company’s ‘hook’ as the main headline. Editing is the key to a great blog or newsletter. Before you submit a blog post, re-read the text, and if necessary, remove any sections that are not required. Gain input from all staff members at your consultancy, offering them the opportunity to contribute to blogs and newsletters.
- Content – Corporate blogs can often sound very cold and off-putting, so try to add a personal element wherever you can. Offer your own personal opinion on IT subjects, and encourage reader thought collaboration. Wherever possible, use links to support the text in your blog (i.e. links to professional institutions or recent IT studies). Ideally, you should always include a link to your business web site and any other sources that are appropriate in your blogs and newsletters. Encourage the reader to click on the link in order to read more information. In a world where SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is dominating, keywords are more important than ever. Before starting a new blog, make a list of keywords relating to your company, brand, services, and endeavor to include each keyword at least once in the blog content. This should make your blog easily searchable on search engines and drive the right traffic to you.
- Styling – Make your blog and newsletters easy to read, try to use bullet points wherever possible. Make posts easier to scan by including sub-headings to break up bulky sections of text. Keep paragraphs short and to the point. If you already have a color scheme for your brand – use it on your blogs and newsletters; it will make all of your company literature appear streamlined. This helps your target audience to better associate the blog or newsletter directly with your company.
Create Social Networking Profiles
In recent years, social networking has become the way to market your business. Did you know that Facebook now has over 500 million users worldwide? Twitter is also gaining popularity, with an estimated 190 million visitors per month generating approximately 65 million Tweets a day! Those are staggering figures and can be used to your advantage when marketing your small IT consultancy company.
If you are new to business social networking, start by creating profiles on the larger sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Keep your profile content precise and update your information often. Seek out new contacts using the search functions available on the sites and include your message, hook, and logos on your profile page. Also consider using some of the smaller emerging social media sites. After all, successful on-line marketing is all about spreading the word.
There are literally hundreds of emerging social media sites out there – and all of them have the potential to grow and develop, just as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn did. Perform a little research to find out which social networking sites your competitors are using, and establish if it is working for them, before you create new profiles. You can easily view a companies’ profile page and find out how many ‘followers’ they have – this will give you an indication as to whether the site is worth joining or not.
Remember that repetition is often the key to successful online marketing. The more times a prospective client sees your name, the more likely it is to register with them. In fact, recent studies have revealed that a brand/company name must be repeated on average 15 times before it is fully recognized by a consumer or client. Frequent communications can help you build ‘trust’ in your company name and can quickly establish you as an expert in the IT consultancy field.
In recent years, marketing experts have also started recommending that companies offer social media as an alternative to traditional email marketing. A recent report indicates that approximately 2% of companies currently offer a social media alternative when customers decide to unsubscribe from their email marketing. The findings of the report, performed by Return Path, revealed that only 1 in 47 businesses who provide the option for people to opt-out from their emails promote their social media site as another option. They also discovered that the unsubscribing process can be very difficult for many people to navigate (this could include your business’ prospects/existing clients), with 23% of companies making their subscribers go through several steps in order to unsubscribe.
Margaret Farmakis, the senior director of professional services at Return Path, says that the process of unsubscribing could actually be used to benefit a company – allowing them to try and retain communications with customers using an alternative, and perhaps more attractive, method of keeping updated with communications. Farmakis says “Some subscribers may prefer the experience of interacting with a brand via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn” and “Regardless, it’s important that marketers have an integrated, cross-channel strategy and promote it at every key touch point in the customer/subscriber lifecycle.”
In conclusion, the building of business social networking profiles does not need to take up an excessive amount of your employees’ time. Do not restrict social networking to your sales team; try to expand it to your other employees. Many people now use social networking for personal interactions, so ask your staff to join online company groups and show their support. If possible, offer them incentives to do so, in the form of discounts or free offers.
Use your website for marketing
It is safe to assume that the majority of small IT consulting businesses will already have their own corporate website. Websites are a great place to display company information, service descriptions, contact details, customer case studies and testimonials. However, many of these websites are not fully optimized for marketing purposes. A website may look great, but if a prospect cannot find it on search engines, it is of little value as a marketing strategy. Certainly, you can include links to your website on your marketing literature, but it must also be optimized to fully gain a marketing advantage and drive traffic to your company.
Pay Per Click (PPC)
Pay Per Click is an advertising method used on search engines, websites and advertising networks. By far, the most popular PPC advertising network available at the moment is Google Adwords. Pay per click has helped to transform on-line marketing, and the amount that small businesses spend on it is growing rapidly year after year. Here are a few key points an IT consultant company should consider when creating its first PPC campaign:
- Keywords – Always avoid overly-generic keywords – this will prove to be very expensive, and direct hits are less likely in a highly competitive market. Instead, try to choose specific keywords that are more targeted to your company and/or your target market.
- Advert – This is perhaps the most important aspect of PPC. The advert should be brief, but compelling. Include keywords wherever possible. Recent research has indicated that click-through rates are on average 50% higher when keywords used in the title are also included in the main advert description. It is a great idea to use your company message or hook in your advert, and include any current offers or incentives to drive visitors to your website. If you have promotional codes, include these in the advert too.
- Location – Stick to your immediate location to start with. For example if you are based in Detroit, target this market first to test the water. You can always expand your target area as you gain confidence.
- Budget – If possible, set a daily and/or monthly budget. This will allow room for changes as you monitor the success of a campaign and will prevent over-spending. Always remember that generally speaking, the higher your budget, the more likely your Ad is to appear in the ‘Sponsored Links’ section. For smaller IT consultancy companies, it’s a good idea to start with a small budget, and increase this after you have gained more PPC experience.
Stand out from the competition
Competition in various professional fields are fierce; therefore, it’s vitally important for your company to stand out from the crowd. Always try to think unique, as unique thinking will help you to take a step away from your competition. As the saying goes, “It is good to do things differently instead of doing different things” so use your imagination when creating your website, blogs, newsletters and any other marketing literature. Offer a solution to your customers, and make it a unique offering, that they can only get from your company.
Businesses have the opportunity to form their own culture and style, so try to capture attention with your marketing literature. If possible, keep correspondence interactive – as if you are talking directly to your customers or other businesses. You can do this by asking the client a direct question, for example “Do you require an entire IT project management service?” or “Are you struggling with a new system configuration?” Then, offer the client a solution to their problem. In short, try to identify with your target market on a personal and targeted level.
Let’s take a look at two examples:
1. Sigmer Technologies
An international example for companies to research for success demonstrating a well-functioning business and attractive startup IT consulting website, look no further than Sigmer Technologies (www. Sigmer.com). The company, who is based in the Innovation Centre of the University of Sussex, Brighton, United Kingdom, was formed in 1999. Despite being relatively small in size (they currently have 30 employees), they have produced a high-class, interesting, and functional website.
The site uses web 2.0 graphics to illustrate key areas, while also keeping the design relatively simple and easy to navigate. The basic, but effective, graphics load easily and catches the eye of the visitor. All of the links on the site are very clear and easy to follow, and external links to their social networking profiles are provided (including links to the Directors personal LinkedIn pages).
Additionally, Sigmer provides pages to view their full company details, information about their products and services, a list of previous clients/case examples (including major players such as BSkyB), a press area, and the option to contact Sigmer online. When browsing the Sigmer website, you very quickly get an idea of exactly what the company does, who they have done it for, and what they can do for you – all of which are essential elements for any consulting website.
2. Intellectual Capital Services, Inc.
Finding a unique angle for your company can be difficult; however, this company has a unique look into fine art is the company: Intellectual Capital Services, Inc. – a leading technology consulting, staffing, and solutions firm. Intellectual Capital Services, Inc. specializes in the Financial, Media, Publishing, Not-for-Profit, Entertainment, Life Sciences and Pharmaceutical sectors.
The aim of Intellectual Capital Services is to help businesses achieve their objectives using the right technologies and resources . They do this by utilizing their expertise and past experience in technology consulting, product development, and solutions integration. They also offshore development services and business process management to design, develop, and implement end-to-end technology solutions.
However, it is not the wide range of services offered that make Intellectual Capital Services stand out from the crowd. It is a simple twist on their contact phone number that a Midwestern IT consultant company could easily do. On their website (and subsequently displayed on search engines) they state: “Contact Us. Call 1 877 IT DUDES Chat with IT Consulting Representative Chat now”. It is an amazingly simple approach, but anyone who sees this information is very likely to remember their phone number, due to the personalized twist they have implemented. This example goes to prove that being unique does not require a major company brand overhaul; sometimes very simple ideas can work just as effectively.
Take time to think about your company. What do you offer that no other firm does or can? Think about aspects such as the services you offer, the location(s) you work in, pricing structures, and any guarantees or follow up procedures you have in place. Industry experience also counts, so if your employees have qualifications or an exceptional working background, use this information in your marketing campaigns. Small companies can easily reach the success of large corporations using unique methods and can be agile!
Streamline your business processes
To successfully market your company, you will need to take a look at your current processes and streamline internal operations wherever possible. By doing so, you can free up your employees’ time to concentrate on their priorities, i.e. client projects, finding new prospects, and building their professional knowledge bases.
For example as an IT consultancy company, your staff will no doubt have a wide range of IT knowledge and experience, so make sure that your employees are fully trained and up-to-date with the latest technologies. Do not just include your consultants on this training but also involve them with marketing, sales, and administration.
After all, knowledge is power. The more up to speed with technologies your employees are. The more powerful your company will become as a collective of people. It is amazing how many IT consultancy firms will use old, out of date technologies in their offices, and yet spend most of their time advising other companies on brand new IT technology and strategies!
Also, allocate a small amount of time each week to hold company marketing meetings and reviews. This will keep all of your staff in the loop and can help to identify any marketing problems early on. Communication and collaboration is the key to running a successful IT consultancy business, so encourage your employees to do both of these at all times.
The creation of effective financial strategies is essential for the success of any small business. The implementation of any such strategies can literally make or break a company. In a difficult financial climate, focus must be divided between existing client retention and prospecting in equal measures. Both processes will require strict budget management strategies to fully succeed.
Leverage in a company and its financial Impact
The leverage within a company can determine the kind of financial strategies that are implemented. On every company project, there are generally three unique kinds of people that are assigned duties. Traditionally, these people are called the ‘finders, minders, and grinders’ – a combination of three types of employee that, when combined, make up a consultancy project. Finders are generally employees on a senior level. They are responsible for the sourcing of new business via prospecting the design and scoping of a project, and they will engage with clients on a high-end level. Minders are the employees who manage the client projects on an ongoing basis, and any team members working on the projects. Grinders will generally perform any analytical tasks that are required in the background to ensure the smooth running of internal operations.
Generally speaking, this 3-tiered structure is the ‘ideal’ working practice for the majority of small companies. However, depending on the project scope, staff on all levels may participate in analytical processes, and junior staff may also take on higher-end tasks as and when required. This mix of talent within an organization is often described as the companies ‘leverage’ structure.
It is vital to get the leverage structure in a company right, as it can be the key to running a successful firm, and it has a large impact on financial strategies. And why exactly is this? To elaborate, if a company takes on a new consultancy project that requires more minders and grinders (mid to junior level staff), and less finders (senior/managerial level staff), and they find that sufficient employee resources are not available, senior level staff could end up performing the low-value tasks. This can result in senior staff dedicating their time to low-fee paying projects, rather than seeking out new prospects and engaging with high profile clients. Over time, this can have a detrimental financial impact on a company, as key skills are not being utilized, and a consultancy firm will inevitably start to lose money.
Then, there is the opposite scenario. If a company takes on a consultancy project that requires a higher percentage of finders (senior/managerial level staff) than grinders (mid to junior level staff), they could experience a shortage of qualified staff. This can lead to an inability to perform important project tasks, and consequently, the quality of the work produced by a consultancy firm can suffer.
Clearly, getting the correct mix of staff is essential for any small firm, and this can be a difficult task if financial resources are limited. Training can play a key part, but ultimately, HR may bear the weight of this responsibility during the hiring stage. However, matching the skills of employees to the skills required by a new project is vitally important. Many smaller firms make the mistake of taking on projects that they simply do not have the resources to complete on time, this will reduce trust and loyalty in the company and can impact future work prospects.
Creating a charging structure
In recent years, many small firms are starting to charge clients by the hour, rather than by the project/job. There are many reasons for this, but certainly, in an unsettled financial climate, emphasis is now placed on maintaining a constant stream of incoming cash flow. The hourly rate that a consultancy company can charge depends on several key factors, including:
- Experience – The hourly rate should equal the experience level of the company, and the combined skills of its employees. As with any sector, the development of solid working experience can take some time, perhaps years. However, personal attributes and skills can play a big part when you are marketing your company and setting a pricing structure. For instance, your company may have been in business for 5 years; however, when you combine the previous work undertaken by your staff, you may have decades of overall experience in the sector.
- Size/Location – It can take several years for a small firm to build in size; however, generally speaking, the size of the company, and in some cases the location that they work in can influence the charging structure for a company. As an example, centrally-based Midwestern companies in large towns (Chicago, Columbus, etc.) are often more in demand than remotely based consultancy firms, where new IT technologies are not as important a requirement for some companies.
- Competition – The rates currently being offered by competing firms have a large influence on an firms rates. In a very competitive market, each company is looking to gain a competitive edge, so it always pays to research the prices offered by your main competitors at any given time.
- Project – The specification of the project, and the work/employees, and time required to complete it depend on leadership. When calculating the size of a project, the project leader should consider all aspects. An estimate of possible additional hours should also be included in the price. Avoid underestimating the number of hours a job will take. Many firms discount the value of their own time, and this can be a very costly mistake.
- Economic conditions – Every firm will experience peaks and drops in demand throughout the years. In an especially difficult financial climate, it is important to factor in economic conditions and remain competitive. Also think about offering introduction incentives and discounts to gain a market advantage and attract new clients (please see the next section for more information).
When you are calculating a charging structure for your firm, you should also build into the hourly fee any money required to cover the company’s overheads and any time spent on marketing and research, administration, and billing. Many small firms forget to factor in these additional expenditures and could end up paying out of pocket in the long term.
However, many companies still prefer to set a pricing structure for their individual services and adapt these prices to suit current market conditions. When a client is looking to employ the services of a company, pricing will be a main consideration so make sure that a full list of your services is displayed on your website and on any other marketing and sales literature.
IT Consultancy In focus – 7 South Consulting
One Midwestern Company who markets their service prices very effectively and clearly is 7 South Consulting, based in Rochester, Michigan. 7 South Consulting offers a wide range of services, from web design through to the installation of software and hardware.
On their website, they provide a page dedicated to their service plans and pricing. They also offer a range of packages to cater for different client needs; for example, providing their customers with the option to choose from either a standard or premium package depending on their individual requirements. Their comparison list allows a potential client to check the features available in each package before they purchase the service. 7 South Consulting also provides a link to a printable Adobe PDF copy of their services on their home page.
Invest your time to generate money
It is a common mistake made by many small firms to work under the impression that every single hour should be a billable one. However, at times, the investment of time can generate more money in the long run. Consider offering free, introductory consultation sessions if they are applicable – give your clients the chance to ‘road test’ your services before they invest in you. This can be a somewhat controversial proposal, as many companies see little merit in ‘giving away’ their consultancy services for free. However, if you are one of the businesses just emerging onto the market, you may need to build awareness about your company and your services before you can make any hard sales.
This can also be a great financial strategy for more established firms. After all, to fully understand the needs and requirements of a client and their project timescales, you will need to meet with them several times. Most clients will be unwilling to pay for an initial consultation, and many will expect some kind of discount on future consultations in order for you to secure their business. It is perhaps best to see any such opportunities as investments for your company’s future, rather than an instant way to gain profits. They could help to secure ongoing work from the client. Do not forget to factor any free initial/introductory sessions into your hourly/daily rate.
Perhaps one of the best ways to keep your existing clients and prospects interested is to hold a free informational seminar on a monthly or quarterly basis. Also think about non-profit/association or charity groups – consider offering them free or discounted consultations. This can bring your company a lot of positive exposure and can help to bring in future clients via word of mouth and direct referrals.
Sales strategies are essential for the day-to-day running and future success of any business. It is not as simple as creating a pricing structure, then performing the necessary marketing; all businesses will need to put in place a few key sales strategies. Here are a few suggestions to use when forming sales processes for your business:
Create business aims and objectives
It is vitally important for businesses to set achievable aims and objectives. Some managers would say that it is perhaps the most crucial stage of sales, for both small companies and well-established firms. An ‘aim’ will determine where a company wants to be in the future. Clear objectives provide staff with targeted, achievable measurement techniques and can even increase trust and loyalty in a company.A mission statement will outline the vision and values that the business holds. It enables not only staff, but also customers, suppliers, and partner companies, to understand the fundamental core values of a company.
Initially, business objectives should be set to identify these ‘aims’ and establish the steps (objectives) required to achieve them. Objectives should give a business a clear, defined target allowing staff to implement the work required within any given timescales. It is often said that the most effective and productive business objectives comprise of the following criteria (widely known as SMART):
S – Specific – Objectives should be created directly in relation to your company, and the services it provides. Try not to be too general or you may not achieve the results you require. As an example, if you specialize in system upgrades, set an objective to increase the number of upgrades performed by ‘x’ amount during the next year.
M – Measurable – Effective objectives need to be easy to measure. Use clear values wherever possible e.g. ‘$100,000 increase in new consultancy sales for the third quarter of trading’.
A – Agreed – All objectives need to be discussed with and agreed by all employees involved in trying to achieve the objective. Keep communications open all the time and encourage feedback from employees.
R – Realistic – Objectives should be challenging, but also realistically achieveable using available resources. To establish the resources you have available, take some time to look at the leverage in your company (as outlined earlier in this section).
T- Time specific – Set realistic timescales for objectives to be achieved, e.g. by the end of the week/month/year. This allows staff to plan their workload effectively and can ensure projects eventual success.
The objectives that you set will entirely depend on the exact services that you sell. For a small midwestern business starting out, they could start by setting a survival objective when an established firm enters a brand new competing market. You can also focus on maximizing profits and sales growth, both of which can be easily measured. Take some time to think about the goals you really want to achieve, be creative, and monitor your company’s success closely. Over time, your aims and objectives will naturally change and will incorporate any new technologies and/or processes.
Offer introductory incentives and discounts
The consulting sector is naturally a very competitive area. Technology is constantly evolving and businesses seek help to fully utilize the technologies available to them in order to increase their sales. New consultancy firms are appearing literally every week, keen to take advantage of this clear market need. To stand out from the crowd, and ultimately win more business, you may need to consider offering prospective clients incentives and/or discounts. Certainly, a balance is required. You will need to project the quality of the services your company offers and the expertise that you can provide, while giving your customers a reason to choose you, rather than your competitors, for their consultancy needs. Incentives and discounts can be a great way to entice new customers and reward your existing clients for their loyalty.
Form solid client relationships
It is vitally important to form solid and harmonious working relationships with clients when you are selling consultancy services. This is a long-standing mantra, perhaps first implemented by business professionals in the early 90’s – “aim to build effective client relationships that last beyond the initial sale”. It is important to express your project expectations right at the beginning of the relationship – describe exactly how you intend to tackle the project, on what terms, and specify the benefits that the client will gain after its completion. By being open and honest in the first instance, you will avoid potential disputes further down the line. Keeping the client in the picture at all times is the top priority of an IT consulting company.
Clients will have very high expectations of any consultants that they hire.
It is a very specific field, and a certain level of expertise will be expected from you and your company. However, it is one thing to know that you and your company possess these skills, and another thing to ensure that your clients are aware of this. Get the balance right, and clients will believe in your company and its services, and they are likely to return with repeat business or refer potential customers to you. The saying ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ isn’t entirely true for the IT consultancy sector. Clearly, a defined set of skills and knowledge are required, but it is true that word-of-mouth really does generate a lot of new business, so remain professional, but friendly and accessible at all times when meeting with clients.
You must, however, think carefully about the clients and projects that you invest your time and energy into. There is little point concentrating all of your sales efforts on a meeting likely to generate a single small sale; you could be missing out on a year of repeat sales from another prospect.
Appearances really do count, so think carefully about this when forming your sales strategies and entering into client negotiations. Any client-facing staff will need to present a polished, professional image at all times. In addition to management and sales staff, this also applies to any other staff that is likely to meet/come into contact with clients. Especially during the initial consultation, your sales staff are the image of your business, how they are perceived by the client directly affects your company, and can even impact your ability to bring in a sale. Make sure that all sales materials, from business cards and sales literature to sample videos and slideshows are professional. The client wants to use the services of an expert, who’s knowledge can be beneficial to them, so project this image loud and clear.
As discussed in the marketing techniques section of this paper, being recognized as an expert in the consultancy field will also help you to close sales; so if possible, try to spread the word about your services before you meet a client face-to-face. This can be done in the form of marketing/sales literature, or even by including links on your emails to websites, social networking platforms, or testimonial sources. If a client believes that your company is the ‘best’, they will be willing to pay a premium rate to obtain your services because finding specific consultancy skills can be a difficult process.
However, do not make the mistake of confusing expertise with arrogance. Present yourself as leading force in IT consulting, with marketing skills based on your skills, knowledge, education, and experience; but also listen to the client and fully understand their needs and requirements.
IT Consultancy In focus – ICSS Solutions
ICSS Solutions is a Midwestern IT consultancy company who are marketing the skills and experience of their employees’ successfully. ICSS is based in Huntley, IL. They started trading in 1995, and their aim is to obtain high levels of customer satisfaction by helping their customers to utilize the power of technology. ICSS state the following on their website, “Our field technicians have several decades of combined IT consulting experiences between them, which means less time is spent determining the cause of your network troubles and more time is spent fixing them”.
They continue: “Whether you need help with expanding the amount of hardware or users within your network, establishing a disaster recovery plan, configuring a firewall or router, setting up a wireless network, or simply managing your day-to-day IT needs, our staff has the skills that it takes to keep you up and running.” Clearly, ICSS understands the Midwestern style strategy to market the skills of their employees, while also listening to the needs of their clients and forming ongoing relationships.
Listen to your clients needs;
“Opportunities are often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be listening.” – Author unknown
It is a basic requirement of any great sales person – the ability to really listen to what your client is saying, and address their concerns. It is a fact that the majority of people does prefer talking to listening; but get the balance right, and you can earn a lot of respect from your clients. Many salespeople believe that listening to their clients simply entails waiting for the person to finish talking before they begin. However, if you do not concentrate on what your client is saying, you can form a bad impression for your company, and this can ultimately lose you sales.
Clients like to feel that sales staff are paying attention to them, so take into consideration the difference between passive and active listening. When passive listening, you can demonstrate to your customer that you are interested by giving out subtle signals, such as nodding your head in agreement and making simple remarks to encourage the client to continue talking i.e. “tell me more.”. However, at times, passive listening can become habitual – you can interact without paying much attention at all.
For most sales people, active listening is the preferred sales method. When you are ‘actively’ listening, you are providing constant feedback to the client, showing that you are not just listening to them, but that you also understand what they are saying and want to offer your input and help. Perhaps the key is to ‘mirror back’ what your client has said (though clearly not word for word), use elements of their sentence, and they will feel that they are really being heard.
Keep contacts up-to-date
It is a common source of discontent – IT consultancy sales staff visiting out-of-date prospects or clients. It can waste a lot of valuable time and can be avoided with a little organization. Always make sure that your client list is updated regularly. As an IT consultancy firm, perhaps the best way to do this is to keep an online customer index. Note down existing (and previous) clients, referrals from associates and clients, networking contacts, and even cold-calling prospect clients in one central database and share access with your sales staff.
Many consultants would agree that their jobs are never ending. Once you are established as an expert in the IT consultancy field, you will remain one quite literally forever. However, this ongoing contact is essential, and every client should be followed up. You may think that a project has gone smoothly, but you still need to check the end result with the client to ensure that it meets both of your expectations.
It is amazing how many clients will not complain about a service, or specific areas for improvement at the time, but then do not use a consultancy firm again. By gaining satisfactory feedback from the client, you can move forward and scope out any potential future jobs for them. In short, you can create an ongoing need for your services.
Selling IT Services
Most IT consultants sell a wide range of services, from system installations and configurations, network design/redesigns, single system upgrades through the entire process of IT project management. Whatever your offerings are, the selling of a service differs widely from the selling of a physical product. Of course, some of the core principles are the same – the objective is to offer the client solutions to their problems, either in the form of a product or service.
However, when selling IT consultancy services, different sales approaches and techniques should be considered:
- Gain trust in your service – With a physical product, a client can evaluate its performance instantly. With a service, they will not know the true value of what they have received until the project is completed. This is where assurance is required – use testimonials and previous work examples to generate trust in your services, and be completely up front with your clients about their expectations and how you intend to meet them.
- The sales people are part of the service – With IT consultancy services, the sales person is often viewed as part of the ‘package’, so they can never be separate to the company’s product (service). A physical product will have its own unique specifications and functions, which are mostly self-contained and unique by nature. With IT consultancy services, the sales person is generally selling a package, and in turn, they become representative of that package. This is why it is so vital to get initial consultations or meetings right.
- A more tailored approach – IT services will differ widely, depending on the client and their exact project specifications. It is certainly not a ‘one solution for all’ approach, therefore each sales pitch will differ somewhat. Of course, using a tailored approach requires more work for a consultancy, but it is very important to identify an individual clients needs straight away and offer them a workable solution.
The strategies that IT consultants use to sell IT services will be dependent on many factors i.e. the exact services that offered the pricing structure and the location that they serve. However, some IT consultants find it beneficial to think of their services as a ‘product’, find a marketing platform that works and start advertising.
Many consultancy services are not physical entities – however, by visualizing them as a product, you can “productize” your service to make it more tangible and easy for your customers to buy. To do this, think about packaging your existing services into different service levels and market at such. You can combine different elements of your services into a plan and then offer that plan as part of a package.
Financials should be actively monitored and watched to avoid over or under spending. Competition is great within the United States and keeping costs low is vital to success. Having money ready during hard times will differentiate your company from your competitors, and provide your clients with extras during the difficult times, which will show that they made the right service choice.
Use the knowledge and skills of your employees and the information that you have obtained from this paper to set new objectives for the marketing and sales of your IT consultancy services. The goals that you set will naturally change over time, IT is an ever-evolving sector, and we must all change along with the new technologies to better help our clients.