Why Do So Many Consultancies Neglect Former and Existing Clients? That’s Where the Money Is!
It is exponentially more expensive to acquire a new client than retain or upsell an existing one. This is a simple data-backed rule in sales and marketing. It makes sense. Your past and current clients know your capabilities and the types of results you can deliver, and they tell their network.
But then why do so many consulting firms put all their focus into acquiring new clients? As soon as they finish a project, that client gets dropped. Many consulting firms talk about new business and lead gen, but hardly ever about structurally maintaining their existing relationships with current and former clients.
My opinion? New business development pipelines can be slow, expensive, and unreliable compared to generating work from past and current clients. That’s the topic I’d like to dive into.
Recommended reading: The Best Way To Grow A Consulting Firm? Educate Your Audience!
Past clients are your biggest asset
As you know, I advocate that consultancies pay special attention to educating their audience. Your firm’s business development model should be rooted in educating your target audience to match the purchasing habits of a modern B2B buyer.
The idea is simple. As a consultancy, your greatest marketing asset is your team’s expertise. This expertise allows you to identify your target audience’s pain points and offer solutions.
You build your reputational footprint as a consultancy based on the generosity of knowledge sharing with your audience and the precise match between your content and your audience’s needs. Your firm becomes known as a visible authority in the field, making companies more likely to hire you.
"Remind your former and existing clients that you're there and that you care. Consistently."
This is not a one-time event. Instead, it’s a conversation between you and your former, current, and prospective clients. Most of your clients don’t have a single issue. They’ll encounter multiple questions and setbacks as they grow and develop their business.
Imagine this scenario: one of your leads watches your incredible webinar about the importance of developing an employee experience program. They’re entirely sold and hire your firm to do it. You create a great one; they love it.
Three years pass, and guess what? The business has expanded from a regional to a multi-national company with offices worldwide. Their employee experience needs have grown and changed.
Now, if you’ve kept in touch with them, it’s a much more natural flow to secure new business. You keep them on your consultancy’s mailing list and stay in touch on LinkedIn. You ensure they know what hurdles to expect as their business grows and how to overcome them. You remain on their radar and continue to engage them with your thought leadership content.
But if you haven’t nurtured them? Then you have to hope they remember your consultancy's great work from years ago. And if they’ve stumbled across a more convenient consulting firm in the meantime, they might hire that firm instead.
You’ve lost business there, just as surely as if a lead had dropped out of your pipeline. But for some reason, most consulting firms mainly seem to focus on the latter.
If your consultancy wants to rein in more business, your firm needs to nurture existing and former clients as your business depends on it.
Just check out this B2B revenue waterfall by Forrester.
Notice how only 25% of won business opportunities stem from new prospects (candidates). The vast majority of opportunities lie with current customers, whom you can close through renewals, upsells, and cross-sells. Isn’t it mind-boggling that your consultancy may miss out on this sea of business?
Nurturing doesn't have to be hard
“But Luk, I just don’t have time! Between lead gen and actually doing my job, when could I develop a nurture strategy?”
Luckily for you, it’s not complicated. You have to give former and current clients the chance to hear from you regularly.
Unlock your inner teacher and never stop giving valuable lessons. Here’s how you could set up a flywheel of content and client wins.
1. Develop the culture of recording client work like you’re a scientist
Scientists record everything about their projects: their hypotheses, the outcomes, the methods, and the potential future work.
As a consulting leader, you should do the same and actively encourage your consultants to follow your lead. It’s a great way to study your lessons and gives your firm many content ideas for what clients might find helpful to hear. I do this all the time in my newsletter.
2. Share those findings with your former and existing clients, consistently
It’s not just that past clients will have new problems; the field changes, too. You’re at the cutting edge of consulting. You have insights into the most recent trends, the latest technologies, and new findings from other projects.
Share those insights and findings with your contacts. It’s not a pushy sell because you’re not selling; you’re educating. Not sure what to say? Use these three strategies to develop compelling content:
- Think of a recent project your consultancy completed. What did you do right? How did it work? What was the effect? This kind of referenceable case study is excellent at persuading companies of your firm’s expertise.
- Take a walk down memory lane. What was something your consultants struggled with? How have you improved since then? What changed? Sharing weaknesses and demonstrating how you’ve changed is hugely compelling and humanizing.
- Look at your team. Who is a standout player? What do they do that makes them so invaluable? By putting one person’s face to your business’s name and sharing their individual strengths, you offer more insight into what makes your consultancy business unique.
3. Build and grow your email list
When I started The Visible Authority in early 2020, I accumulated almost 1,000 subscribers within the first 16 months. This is a highly targeted audience whom I regularly engage and share my learnings with.
I barely get any unsubscribes and my newsletter – The Authority – has a steady open rate of 40-50%! To give you some context: 20.13% is the industry average.
When I first started utilizing it during my people analytics years, I didn’t even use email software as my target audience was only approximately 100 CHROs in Benelux. I was connected with 95% of them via a simple outlook email list.
Here is what I tend to share with my audience via email:
- Invites to webinars I’m hosting
- Written case studies I’ve created
- Links to my latest LinkedIn posts
- Quarterly content summaries
- Invitations to conferences and podcasts where I am speaking
The latter is an audience-educating opportunity that is worth elaborating on even further. Speaking at conferences, pre-Corona, had numerous benefits for me – generating leads on the spot through networking being only one of them.
- The learnings I shared with others, and the new knowledge I acquired from fellow speakers and attendees were compiled into key takeaways and shared with my audience of past, current, and prospective clients.
- I leveraged the depth and value of my presentations to continuously secure more speaking engagements and, unlike most other consultancies, never had to pay a cent as a sponsor. Why? Because I wasn’t selling my consultancy and its services. I was sharing my expertise, diving into the heart of the problem of my target audience.
- I added people that I met at these events to my email list, nurturing them over time.
- I met with past clients at various conferences, always inquisitive about their business, their current state of affairs, and offering my expert advice when fitting.
- I connected with the participants on LinkedIn, expanding the reach of my content.
The base for all of this had been my email strategy. And I continue to do it now through my newsletter, The Visible Authority.
Recommended reading: Building an Email List Is Your Ultimate Trust Weapon as a Consultant
4. Collect data, analyze, adjust, and repeat
Those former and existing clients will give you new stories to share. Those new stories can bring in new clients, rope in former clients, or give existing clients another reason to extend the project's scope.
That means an endless stream of revenue and work for you. Plus, as you share this content, you’ll become more visible as an authority in your field as a consulting partner.
This process does take time, but it’s time well-spent. Remember, it costs five times as much to gain a new client than get repeat business from an existing or former client.
Main takeaway: Focus on your existing client relationships
New clients are always appealing. They’re sexy. I get it. But the truth is your former, and existing clients are a gold mine. Those relationships can make or break your consultancy business.
You need to foster the habit in your consultancy of structurally maintaining relationships with past and current clients to ensure repeat business.
The best way to do that is by sending a steady stream of valuable information their way. Hold nothing back – only the best insights and most relevant and valuable case studies.
The more attention and nurturing you give your existing and former clients, the more they’ll trust and rely on you for any future business needs. The more likely they will vouch for you and actively refer your consultancy to their colleagues and peers.
That’s how you (also) grow a consulting business.
Interested in receiving all my learnings to become a better consultant? No spam, no BS. Pure teaching! Subscribe to my newsletter.
Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities. I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years.