Steve Freeman is a partner at top 20 firm MHA MacIntyre Hudson, part of the MHA affiliation of UK firms and the UK member of Baker Tilly International. He is that rare breed – a technical audit partner who also delights in the chase of winning new clients and delivering all-round business advice. Trained at a Big Four firm and a successful sector leader at another, we caught up with Steve to discuss just how you make a winning sector play…
1) Secure internal buy-in
Building a sector takes time. Growth won’t happen overnight. You need your internal stakeholders to support this process and understand the timescales involved. If you’re planning to build a sector that has quality and depth then you’ll need a two- to five-year plan with the right level of internal investment to secure longer-term value.
2) Find and polish the gems
As sector lead you’ll need recognition in the sector as an acknowledged figurehead. But you’ll also need a strong team around you. Spend time finding the gems – the people in your organisation with the right skills and sector experiences to complement your own.
It’s worth bearing in mind that your firm might not even know these gems exist! Often people with relevant sector expertise work with separate clients and remain disconnected. Your job is to bring them together as a team and work with them to prepare your proposition and articulate your brand. Having done this internally, you will draw in talent from across your entire organisation.
3) Make a noise
In a nutshell: “We’re here. We know the sector. We can add value to your business.” At this point it is key you make sure that people know you and your team are thought leaders in the sector. We did this in a number of ways.
First of all was a massive penetration via LinkedIn. I’ve spent time building over 5,000 connections (most are in the motor sector) and we use it as a powerful way to communicate with the industry and show we are credible. What are our thoughts? What are we saying in the press? What’s our point of view? It all goes through LinkedIn.
– Create a social network
I have set up a network of like-minded individuals within the sector – the Berkhamsted Motor Club. We meet every three months and it has grown and grown. It’s a social network built around people’s shared passion. And there is no better way to network with relevant people within a sector than in a relaxed and social environment.
– Create a formal network
Setting up a formal sector-specific network is the next logical step. We have set up an FD forum where, although we host and co-ordinate the events, the agenda is set by the attendees. This means that the FDs (or other buyers or board members) of companies in your sector have a private forum to come together and discuss relevant industry-wide issues. This is valuable in two ways. First, it engenders trust with your clients and targets. Second, you can learn the issues that are highest on a client agenda.
– Industry publications
Have an opinion and work with the relevant publications and media to share it. Comment on current issues in your sector and share your views on strategic challenges and the likely direction of the market. Most importantly, demonstrate how you can guide and advise on these issues. You want to get to the point so that when you meet someone they already know you as the sector expert. Within motor, I’m known as a go-to person for business and tax advice. I’m not even a tax specialist! When you have achieved this it puts you in a powerful position.
4) Be brave, make the calls and get the meetings
The next fundamental step is to be brave, after identifying your targets then make the calls and send the emails. Demonstrate how you can add value and ask for a meeting. Explain that the purpose of the meeting is to get to know each other, to explore their business agenda, understand their strategy and plans and the issues they face and to start to find ways in which you can help them overcome any challenges.
5) Accelerate the relationship
In the early days you need to deliver a positive experience for your potential and existing clients. It’s back to basics. For example, after a meeting within a maximum of two days you and your team need to reflect and report back. A quick email report is great for this. Tell them how constructive the meeting was, reflect on what you heard and suggest next steps. Critically, you need to agree timelines and actions. This gives you a hook – one that is not too sales orientated – and demonstrates early on your ability to listen, understand and deliver. This will move you thorough the cycle to the point where a target wants to work with you.
6) Measure, monitor and build momentum
Many professional services firms fail to build successful sectors because they don’t recognise that doing so successfully takes time. They don’t understand there are distinct phases to go through and have unrealistic expectations of revenues. In fact, revenue isn’t even the correct measure at the start of the process.
Initially the measure is interactions. It’s an activity-based metric: How many new people have you met? How many meetings have you arranged? Then you move to a phase where you evaluate and record: What did I hear? What are the personal and professional agendas of the person I just met? Evaluate and record these client interactions in your pipeline. This is a fundamental part of delivering and measuring client relationships and service and is equally important for measuring client interaction at the targeting stage. Most important to moving things forward is to have a dynamic, practical and proactive funnel that you use to both measure value and drive action.
Finally you can move to recording wins and on to financial measures. Only as your business develops into a model of recurring work is revenue the greatest measure of success.
What do you think? Where are you on your journey toward building your sector? Do you agree or do you have some insights of your own? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.