What is an aspirational client? How can valuation professionals find and engage them? In this article, Rod Burkert shares his insight and experience finding aspirational clients.
Aspirational clients. Who are they? What steps does it take to land them? Why are they important to our practice growth?
When we started our practices, we were happy with the clients we got because we needed the cash flow to pay the bills. Being picky was not a luxury we could initially afford.
But as time marched on, has your client base remained a hodge-podge or has it matured along with your experience and talent? After years of practice, do your clients figuratively resemble the rag-tag characters depicted in Archibald Willard’s Spirit of ’76? Or have you actively pursued and landed some aspirational clients to freshen the mix?
Who Are They?
Everyone may have an idea of what constitutes aspirational clients (a term I first heard used by Mercer Capital’s Barbara Walters Price). For you, they could simply be well-known companies in your town or city. Or they could be boutique businesses in your practice area or your industry niche, regardless of geography—yours or theirs.
You might imagine aspirational clients to be “big” companies if you associate that with larger fees and that is something you desire. (My experience says there is some truth in that, but it is not always the case.)
For me, aspirational clients (1) have intellectually challenging assignments, (2) see the value in the solution I provide, (3) are fun to work with, and (4) pay their bills on time.
What Steps Does it Take to Land Them?
Step 1: If we are going to win aspirational clients, however we define them, we must start by purposely scouting and pursuing them. Otherwise, we leave landing them to chance. And aggressively waiting for the phone to ring is not a strategy.
Also, recognize that if we are going to spend more time prospecting for aspirational clients, we will have less time to spend with our lesser stature clients … because our results will follow where we place our energy and effort.
Step 2: We must court our aspirational clients over time. Especially since they are likely to already have relationships with our competitors. And to overcome switching costs, we will need to figure out how we can create more value than our competitors.
If our aspirational clients turn out to be larger companies with larger valuation budgets, they have a bigger decision to make … and their risks are greater. So, it is less likely we will land a large-sized aspirational client by meeting with only one decision-maker. We will need to be prepared to shape and build consensus around our service with their teams.
Step 3: A high visibility, high-value, we-want-to-win gig also calls for an “onboarding” process that serves that outcome. It does not mean that the process must be complex. But it does mean that we must create value for these clients at every stage of the engagement.
For example, if you are looking to grow/build/improve your practice, start by making one thing easier for your clients and prospects to use or understand. Identify something they do, read, or experience while working with you and answer this question: How could I make that easier? Now up the ante even more for your aspirational clients.
Step 4: The last step is more ephemeral: we must be someone the aspirational client believes to be a worthwhile partner. As it relates to our brand, reputation, or visibility (pick the term you most identify with), here are the questions we should be asking ourselves if we want to be “aspirational client worthy:”
Why Are They Important to Our Practice Growth?
We all need something to aspire to. Something that stretches us beyond our current capabilities. Aspirational clients do that.
Imagine our aspirational clients and us on a ladder. At any given rung, our aspirational clients will be one or two rungs above us. We need to keep climbing to keep growing … and, I think, to stay interested in the work we are doing.
What Are the Next Steps?
Look at your current clients. Are they the ones we reactively ended up with or the ones we proactively selected?
If we do not know our aspirational clients by name, we should know them by archetype. Make a list and follow the steps above to position ourselves so we can start landing them. And remember we get there over time, not overnight!
At the same time, recognize that some of our current clients were, at one time, our aspirational clients and may, in fact, be on someone else’s coveted list. Unless we are prepared to let some of them go to make room, what are we doing to keep them?
I help BVFLS practitioners focus on the art and science of practice development in order to break through their time and income barriers so they can build authority, land clients, and improve profitability. If you’ve hit those barriers and are looking for help to grow faster and more effectively, e-mail me at email@example.com.