Will Bachman: Hey, there, podcast listeners. Welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. I’m your host, Will Bachman. Our guest today is Ahmad Munawar, who helps boutique professional services firms build actionable marketing plans that generate more leads so they can win more business. He’s got a podcast that I encourage you to check out called Forecast, Marketing for Boutique Professional Services and Consulting Firms. Ahmad’s also got a free video course on lead generation that you can take at fiveleadgen.com. In our discussion, Ahmad walks me through the five steps that he suggests we take to build a marketing plan, namely identifying our target market, developing our positioning, establishing what solution we’ll offer, building a marketing funnel, and creating an action plan.
Now, while those may sound like phases that are common to any marketing plan, in our discussion we really dive into what each step means for a boutique professional services firm. You can learn more about Ahmad’s firm at boutiquegrowth.com. I learned a lot in my discussion with Ahmad and picked up some tips that I am going to apply in my own practice, and I hope you find this episode useful. Hi, Ahmad. It’s great to have you on the show.
Ahmad Munawar: Hey, Will. It’s great to be here.
Will Bachman: I am so excited to speak with you today. I have listened to a bunch of episodes of your podcast, and you are one of the real thought leaders of how boutique and independent consultants who are professional service providers can do marketing. Maybe we start, just give me a little bit of an overview of your practice today. What are your clients, and how do you work with them?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, sure. I run a firm called Boutique Growth. Where this came about was, I was at a big firm previously, and then I spent some time working at a boutique firm initially in kind of a generalist role, but then solely focused in on marketing. What I found was that the way that boutique firms and independents should market themselves is radically different from the way that big firms market themselves. That’s a real challenge for independents who typically come from a big firm environment. What I find is that when you’re coming from that big firm environment, you have certain preconceived notions about marketing, and about branding, and about how to present yourself, that you learn from that big firm environment, but a lot of those ideas just don’t work out too well for independents and boutiques, so I learned the hard way how to do that right when I was in a boutique consulting environment.
When I started Boutique Growth, the goal was to help other independents, other boutique firms, kind of crack the marketing code and figure out a way to generate more leads and win more business in a way that actually works for boutique firms.
Will Bachman: Give me some examples of the sizes or the types of clients that you work with today.
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, so I work with independents and boutiques that are usually under the two to two-and-a-half-million-dollar mark, and quite often under a million dollars and a half, so it could be an independent consultant, or it could be a firm with two to three partners. Industry-wise, it ranges quite a bit. I’ve got kind of management consulting firms. I’ve got procurement consulting. I’ve got technology HR, so it varies across a wide range of industries.
Will Bachman: That’s really cool to be working in those other verticals. What are the, what’s your sort of your typical service offering?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, so what I offer is a coaching program. It’s what I call a done-with-you service. You need a marketing plan, you need a marketing strategy, you’re not quite sure how to go about bringing in new business, but you know that you need to take this seriously. You can’t keep flying by the seat of your pants and hoping good things happen, even if it does sometimes, so I come in, and we work together in a coaching engagement to build out the marketing plan. I’m asking the questions. I’m driving the process. I’m helping you walk through the steps of building a marketing strategy, choosing a set of marketing tactics that are fit for your firm and for your industry, and then ultimately helping you get up and ready to execute on those tactics.
Will Bachman: This is a really naïve question. How do you define marketing?
Ahmad Munawar: Naïve questions are the best questions. The way I would define marketing, I have a long-winded answer. Marketing is fundamentally about being empathetic to the people that you want to serve and helping them achieve the change that they want to achieve.
Will Bachman: Great.
Ahmad Munawar: That sounds really high-level, doesn’t it, but does that answer your question?
Will Bachman: It gets us started. Let’s, so we had talked that you would walk me through kind of the different key steps that a professional services firm should do in terms of building the marketing plan. Today, it’s not done with you. Today, it’s, we can hear it from Ahmad, and we can go do it on our own, but so if we were going to go do it on our own, what are the steps that we should be thinking about walking through?
Ahmad Munawar: Sure, and let me preface this, this one thing, Will. I think if you googled “marketing plan” or even “marketing plan for consulting or professional services firms,” you’ll find a lot of stuff out there, a lot of ideas, and a lot of them are good ideas, but many of those ideas are not really suited for the small, independent boutique firm. You likely don’t have the luxury of spending months building a marketing plan and spending hours upon hours in the boardroom, either you’re by yourself, or with your partners. You’re just kind of deliberating and pontificating around what you could do. You’ve got goals, you’ve got targets, you’ve got clients to answer to, and you need something as fast as possible, so the idea behind this five-step process is, we don’t want to spend months. We want to spend maybe days or weeks building out a marketing plan. We want to do it as fast as possible, but at the same time, we want to spend enough time putting something together so it’s not just some template off the shelf, it’s actually tailored to our firm, and where confidence can get us results.
Will Bachman: Great. I almost forgot, I wanted to ask you, before we dive into the content, I know you have a lot of good content online, so if someone likes this episode and wants to see more of you, talk to me about the various websites where people should go.
Ahmad Munawar: Sure, so probably the best way to go is, I’ve got a free video course on The 5 P’s of Lead Generation for Professional Services Firms, lead generation being kind of one of those perennial issues that a lot of us struggle with, so if you want more leads, that free course is a good place to start, and you can get access to that at fiveleadgen.com. You can spell out five or use the number. Either one works. That’s fiveleadgen.com. In addition to that, as you mentioned, I have a podcast that’s tailored to the needs of professional services and consultants. That’s called Forecast, and you can check that out at forecast.fm.
Will Bachman: Awesome. Let’s jump in. Walk me through how I should get started or how any of our listeners should get started on building their marketing plan.
Ahmad Munawar: The very first step, and this likely won’t come as a surprise to many people, is defining your target market or answering the question, “Who do you serve?” I mentioned empathy earlier on when you asked the question around what is marketing. That’s really kind of the most important idea that you need to understand in this exercise is to have empathy for another person, you have to be able to clearly identify who that person is. It’s very difficult to have empathy for a group of people. Right? It’s very difficult to have empathy for an industry, or a vertical, or a niche. Empathy comes at an individual level, and the more specific that you are with who you’re targeting, the more empathy you can develop. That’s really important, so if you’re not clear on who you serve, the kind of clients that you want to work with, the ideal client profile, so to speak, then that’s really the first problem that you need to fix.
Now, if you’re coming out of a big consulting firm, then chances are you already have a pretty good hunch on who your target market should be, because likely you specialize in some way at the consulting firm, and you did a certain type of work for a certain type of client, and more often than not, with independents, that’s where they tend to focus, because that’s where their experience has been, and that’s a good place to start. I don’t necessarily think you have to stay in that area for life, especially if it’s an area that maybe you don’t particularly like or maybe you left the big firm because you wanted to do different types of work. That’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but quite often, it’s the best way to start, because you have the expertise, because you have the credibility, and you likely have the relationships in that industry or in that area of work. That’s where you should focus in the beginning.
Then I think what you’ll find is, as you develop more relationships with clients, you’ll identify other areas of work that you can get into that could present opportunities for the future, but at the beginning, certainly, you want to have a really clear idea of who you serve, because then all the other pieces of the marketing puzzle become a lot more clear and easy to execute.
Will Bachman: Yeah, so in terms of dimensions of that, defining that target, let me just kind of play one at you, and react to it.
Ahmad Munawar: Sure.
Will Bachman: I imagine we might want to identify the industry, maybe the level of the executive and something about their background, and maybe other dimensions like geography, so someone might say, “Hey, I’m going to serve executives in the marketing functions, marketing function, or sort of general managers at pharma companies, and I’m going to focus on those executives who are themselves alums of a top-tier consulting firm. I’m also going to focus primarily on the northeast of the United States.” React to that. Is that too specific? Is that still too general? Is that kind of what you have in mind, or maybe [inaudible 00:10:39] give me alternate target markets.
Ahmad Munawar: No, I think that’s really good. I think there’s a couple of ways to look at this. You’ve got demographics and psychographics. Right? The demographics are a lot of things that you mentioned. An industry focus is a really, it’s a really easy and simple way to define a focus, and if you’re struggling for ideas, then industry is a good way to go, because it helps box you into a category. That sounds like a bad thing. When I say it helps box you into a category, that almost sounds negative, but I really mean it in a positive way. You want people to box you into something, because if they don’t, if they can’t box you in, if they can’t place you somewhere in their minds, they’re not very likely to remember you. I would draw on your experience with Umbrex, Will, if you can’t clearly box somebody into a category of, “They work with this type of client,” I would argue you’re less likely to remember them. Would you say that’s true?
Will Bachman: Oh, yeah, I’d certainly agree with that. I mean, if I meet a peer, a consultant who says, “Yeah, I’m really kind of interested in any interesting project that’s going to make good use of my skills,” like that versus, “Hey, I do lean operations in the service context.” I mean, which one is more memorable? Like [crosstalk 00:11:53]-
Ahmad Munawar: Exactly, Exactly, so demographics are important, and industry focus is part of that. Geographically, geography could be part of that. I think in the beginning, geography tends to be more important when you’re starting out, because it’s a lot easier to get a conversation and win a deal when you’re physically present, and you can go out, and there’s not many travel costs on your part. There’s not many travel costs from the client’s part when you begin working together, and a lot of clients just like having people around locally, so that’s a good way to start.
I think, eventually, you want to go beyond geography, because obviously, it expands your target market nationally, potentially, or internationally, and that presents of a lot of opportunities, but that’s a bit of a stepping stone, quite often. Otherwise, certainly, focusing in on a particular buyer within the organization. Right? It’s not enough to say that I work with big pharma, because, well, big pharma’s big for a reason. There’s a lot of people in a big pharma company. Right? Who specifically, within the organization, at a departmental level, and at a role level.
Then, finally, psychographics are important. I love what you mentioned about maybe you say, “I work with the kind of people in the organization who have been previous consultants at one of these big firms, one of these big strategy or management consulting firms.” That’s an important demographic piece that leads to a psychographic element, that if you work with these kinds of people, [inaudible 00:13:14] you understand them. You know where they came from. You know they think a certain way, they have a certain approach, they value certain things, and your résumé, so to speak, will resonate with them because of those experiences. That’s a great way to make a connection.
Will Bachman: I mean, I can imagine screening by all these demographic attributes on my outreach … Like I can search on LinkedIn for pharma company, New Jersey, former Bane or former McKinsey. I’m not … I mean, I guess I could write down some ideal psychographic characteristics of the people, but I’m not sure how I would use that to screen potential clients, or … Talk to me a little bit about the usefulness of that, psychographics, and some examples of what would some psychographic criteria be that I might choose among.
Ahmad Munawar: Sure. The use case for psychographics is that you want to be able to speak the client’s language. Demographics allows you to do that to a certain extent. If you’re targeting the CFO at big pharma in Boston, right, that tells you a little bit. You know the things that CFOs care about. You know the things that pharma companies care about. You know the types of priorities that somebody in that role might have. Right? But what you don’t know until you have a conversation with that CFO is the way that they think. You don’t know how they approach their work. You don’t know the principles, or the values, or the ethical framework that they bring to their work. There’s really no way of knowing that until you have a conversation, but knowing what kind of psychographics are ideally suited to working with you, it’s critically important, because you likely work best with certain types of clients. Right? Clients that see the world a certain way.
We both love Seth Godin. Let’s use some Seth Godin terminology. Right? Seth Godin loves the word “worldview.” Right? If you work with clients that share your worldview on the problem you solve on the industry, you’re going to have better relationships, you’re going to do better work, so identifying that up front is important so that when the client finds you and you get into that conversation, you’ll know they’re the right person, and they’ll know that you’re the right person.
The second thing is, I really don’t think there’s a way around creating content and being active on social media if you’re an independent consultant. That is one of the best ways for clients to find you, and before they have a meeting with you, that’s one of the best ways for them to figure out, “Who are you? What do you do? How do you think?” You can bring out some of that personality, some of that approach in your content so that when the client reads it, they’ll see that, “Okay, this is somebody that sees the world the way that I do. I want to have a conversation with them.”
Will Bachman: Can you give some examples of the psychographic? Particularly if you could maybe give two ends of the spectrum, where neither end is good or bad, but someone can be like an A, or a B, or somewhere in between. What are some examples of these psychographic characteristics? This is intriguing to me.
Ahmad Munawar: Let me give you an example from a client that I worked with earlier this year. They are an HR consulting firm, and their primary offer is that they place heads of HR at startups. There’s a couple of different people that they work with. Their buyer in the organization is the CEO, but there are two types of CEOs that they’ve come across. There’s the hyper-growth-oriented CEO who’s really just kind of worried about growing the company, and HR is kind of a necessary evil. Right? Like they’re hiring, so they know that they need to have the head of HR. They know there’s problems that are coming up that need to be solved by a head of HR, but they don’t really see HR as any kind of a strategic role. It’s just kind of like, “Bring them on. Have them do the hiring. Have them do the people management. I just don’t want any headaches in the end. That’s the kind of person I’m looking for.”
The other type of CEO that they’ve worked with is the CEO that sees culture as integral to the growth of their startup. This CEO is not just looking for a head of HR to fill a gap in the org chart so the board stops complaining, or the VC firm stops complaining. They’re looking for somebody who can help preserve the culture that they, the CEO, have worked hard to cultivate at the company and grow it as they scale. My client, the HR firm, found that they work much better with the CEO who sees culture as being a key success factor in their growth as a company.
Will Bachman: Okay, so that example really helps illustrate it for me. Okay, so let’s say we’ve identified our target. What’s the next step? What’s number two?
Ahmad Munawar: Step two is positioning. Now, positioning is a word that comes with many different definitions. In my mind, the best way to think about it is that positioning is the answer to the question, “Why you?” Why should a client hire you, why should they choose you over the competition, what is it about you or the way that you work that gives you an advantage, how are you best suited to solve their problem, and how can you give them confidence in your ability to deliver results? Positioning answers all of these questions.
Now, traditionally, positioning is typically about differentiating yourself from the competition, so if there are other consultants or firms in your space that claim to do the same kind of things that you do, you want to position yourself such that you can claim a slice of the market for yourself that others can’t really lay claim to so that you kind of have a market of your own to capitalize on. But the other element here that I think is relevant to your listeners is, probably your biggest competitor, or one of your biggest competitors, is the status quo. That a lot of clients, just getting them to agree to do something is the hardest part, so it’s not just about selling yourself. It’s about selling change, and change is scary. The status quo reigns supreme, unless you can really make a compelling case for change.
The way that I would approach positioning for an independent really falls down to three steps. The first is, focus on one specific business problem to solve. Right? Just pick one. I know you can do a lot of things. I know you’re really, really smart, and your experience is vast and varied, but just pick one business problem to solve, because you’re only one person, and the challenge is that when you try to do too many different things and you act like one of those big firms, you spread yourself thin, you don’t make a name for yourself, and nobody can put you in a bucket, so choose one business problem to solve for that one client that you identified.
Then develop some kind of an approach or a process to solving it, and not a cookie-cutter approach. If your approach is something that anybody could say and is really indistinguishable from your competitors’, then you’re doing this wrong. Develop an approach or a process to solving that problem that integrates your worldview. Right? That brings into the equation the way that you do things, the values you bring to the table that you know will resonate with the client. Develop that approach.
Then third, show them the proof. Right? The hardest part is convincing clients that you can deliver the goods, because they’ve all worked with consultants, and some have delivered, and some haven’t, so show them proof that you can make good on your promise. You can do that in a few ways. Content is a powerful way to do it, and we’re going to get into that in a few minutes. Testimonials. Case studies. Anything you can show them to demonstrate that, “Hey, I’m not just the average consultant off the street. I can actually deliver on this problem, and here’s the proof of it.”
Will Bachman: Great. What’s step three?
Ahmad Munawar: Step three is actually communicating what that solution is. One of the common things that I find, and I’m curious to hear if you found this as well, Will, is, consultants will have this page on their website, and they’ll call it services, or they’ll call it expertise, and they’ll just kind of put this laundry list of the things that they do or the things that they’re good at on that page. They’ll just kind of leave it up to clients to figure out how they might want to use them. Have you found that at all?
Will Bachman: Yeah, I mean, I’ve seen a range. I’ve seen some people where it’s like they have a awesome website where it kind of walks you through case studies, and some people, you’re right, it’d be more just a kind of a list of, “I do digital marketing, strategy operations.” I mean, some people, I mean, will have such a long list of things on their website or on their LinkedIn profile that it’s basically like every function that McKinsey has. Right? It’s-
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Will Bachman: It’s almost useless, but keep going.
Ahmad Munawar: Here’s the thing. If you’ve got a list of 10 things on your website, any client that comes to your page, if they made it that far, first of all, that’s huge. If they actually made it to your website, buyers are busy. Right? They’re not going out of their way to visit a consultant’s website. If they’ve made it there, that is a massive accomplishment. Right? Then if they go to the solutions page or the services page, and you make them read through this laundry list of five or 10 things, guess what? They probably only have a need for one of those things, or one of those things is their primary concern, but if you’ve buried that in a list of five or 10 things, they’re gone. They may not even find it. Right?
Even if it’s there, you won’t be able to speak to it with enough depth to convince them that you’re worth talking to. Again, it’s related to what we talked about earlier, focus it on that one business problem and have a really clear layout of how you solve that problem on that page, on your LinkedIn profile, at a high level, but then give them an easy way to get started. Right? A couple of best practices here would be to splinter off a piece of that process as kind of a standalone service, so you might have an evaluation or an assessment that a client can get started with that is really easy to say “yes” to, it’s not cost-prohibitive, and it gives them a simple way to get started with the work, or it might be a phone call, but instead of structuring it as just kind of an open-ended, “Hey, let’s get on the phone,” which nobody wants to do, you structure it as some kind of an exchange of value, where you’re going to offer some advice, share some best practices, give them some tips on how to solve that business problem.
Will Bachman: Great. We had part two. It was positioning. Focus on one specific business problem. Develop, show that you have an approach, and then show proof. All right, it’s really helpful for me to think about that. I need to take some of this stuff on board and prove my own LinkedIn profile. Then number three is about communicating that, so don’t try to do this big laundry list, but really focus on that positioning in terms of your communications on your website, LinkedIn profile, whatever other collateral you produce.
Ahmad Munawar: Exactly, so up until now, let’s recap. Right? We’ve just solved the three biggest marketing questions that face any company, any business, any product, any service. First is, who do you serve? The second is, what do you do? The third is, what are you selling? Right? Those are the three big questions that really if you clarify those, you’ve done the lion’s share of the strategy work. Then step four is where we get into tactics, so now what we want to do, this is the marketing funnel step. What we want to do is, we want to marry that strategy of who you serve, how you can help, and what you’re selling, we want to marry that with the set of marketing tactics that you can execute. The best way to think about the marketing funnel is in three separate stages.
At the top of the funnel, you want what’s commonly called in the marketing space a lead magnet. You want some kind of a lead magnet or a piece of content that gets the buyer’s attention and positions you for a conversation. That’s what you want at the top of the funnel. Some common things that you’ll see here are a PDF, an eBook. It could be a case study. In my case, I have a video course, the one that I mentioned earlier on The 5 P’s of Lead Generation. It could be any different format. It’s not really the primary concern, but the topic is what’s most important. Right? You have to pick a topic that’s top of mind for the buyer. Right? It’s something that they’re really struggling with, that they’re concerned about. It keeps them up at night. It’s top of the agenda at management meetings, and you want to make them an offer with this piece of content that really, really drives at that problem. That’s the lead magnet.
The second step within the marketing funnel is what I call an engagement process, so if somebody downloads your lead magnet, or they consume your piece of content, now hopefully you have an email address or some contact information that you can now build a strategy around. You want to then engage them to turn that initial attention that you got, which is, it’s good, but if you don’t capitalize on that attention and turn it into genuine interest, then it can be really fleeting. You want to capitalize on that through some kind of a sequence. That can be something as simple as an email sequence. It could be a LinkedIn sequence. It could be a couple of phone calls.
Again, the medium here is not what’s important. It’s what you communicate, so maybe there’s some follow-up content that you want to share, building on the lead magnet. Maybe it’s some case studies. Maybe it’s some testimonials. It could be any number of things, but you want to design the sequence such that you can capitalize on that initial attention and turn it into interest, so from the buyer’s perspective, it’s like, “Oh, I discovered this person that this looks interesting. I mean, this is a topic of interest. I don’t know who they are or what they do, but I’m interested in this topic, so I download it or I consume it.” You want to take them from that point to the point where, “Hey, this is somebody that I’m actually genuinely interested in getting to know, because maybe they could solve this problem for me.”
Will Bachman: I guess one question on that is, I’m assuming that you would, you have this lead magnet, and it’s one of these things where a popup comes up and says, “Download our free eBook on this. Just put in your email address, and we’ll send it to you.” Right? I imagine a lot of the times, you have this set up so it kind of works automatically, so you don’t have a human deciding whether or not to send it to the person who just put in their email address. You might get 10 of these download requests. How do you vet those people? Either do you vet them up front, and only a few people do you actually send this stuff, or do you just send it to everybody, and then do you select among those people to only reach out to some of them? Because, I mean, some might just be some random person that was just curious, but they’re not actually a likely client.
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, so a good way to think about this is, there’s an inbound strategy, and there’s an outbound strategy. The inbound strategy with your lead magnet is what you just described that’s fairly typical. You’ll offer on your website, you’ll offer it as a download maybe from your LinkedIn profile or in a LinkedIn article, and then you’ll have some kind of an automated sequence via email afterwards that goes out. That’s pretty typical. It’s simple to do, and it’s not too laborious. In that case, what I recommend is, especially for your listeners, who are maybe targeting larger organizations, is that you want to review that on a periodic basis and see if there’s anybody that signs up for the lead magnet that you want to remove from the sequence, because there are some people that you don’t want to go through an automated sequence. You want to do more of a custom approach to developing the relationship, so every now and then, review that, and see if there’s anybody that you want to remove from the sequence, you can take a more custom, tailored approach, and for the rest of them, let that automated sequence go out.
The other way to look at lead magnets is as an outbound process. Probably the best way to do this is via LinkedIn, so let’s talk about LinkedIn for a minute. Once you have a clear profile of the type of buyer that you want to work with, then one of the things that you can do is, you can start proactively reaching out to people that fit that profile on LinkedIn, and you can assemble search criteria to discover people who fit, who are that buyer at that organization and that geography, and then start proactively reaching out to them.
The lead magnet is a really effective tool to aid in that outreach, because then you can go from saying, when they connect with you, you can go from saying, “Hey, here’s who I am, and here’s what I do. I’d love to talk,” which doesn’t work that often, you can go to, “Hey, thanks for connecting. If this is a problem that you’ve been struggling with, I’ve got a really simple piece of content that’ll help you learn X, Y, and Z. If you’re interested, take a look here.”
Likely, most people won’t bite, and that’s fine, but some people will, and that’s a good indicator to you that they’re a valuable prospect that’s worth following up with. When you do it on LinkedIn, obviously, you’ll have all this data around who they are, what their role is, what company they’re at, to be able to qualify whether they’re somebody that’s worth your time.
Will Bachman: Yeah, so I would love to hear your advice on how to do this LinkedIn outreach in a way that doesn’t feel spammy. I am the recipient of many, many inbound requests, or people doing this to me. Right?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah.
Will Bachman: I’ve been kind of almost making a little collection of these outbound requests to me of people trying to pitch whatever, like website development or, “I can help HR, time and expense reporting,” just all this stuff that they think that I might want to buy. I haven’t yet found one that was like, felt just authentic, and natural, and human. I mean, I’ll get LinkedIn requests from people I don’t necessarily know, and if they’re kind of in my space, a McKinsey alum or something, I accept it. Right? But when I get it like an outbound, one of these sort of business development ones, it just always feels kind of spammy. I mean, how do you create those that don’t feel spammy?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, so I think the key there is, you want to have a process, but not necessarily a template. Right? Process is important, because if you don’t have a process, then you’ll get all these connections, and they won’t go anywhere, because you don’t have a process to follow up or to engage them, so you need to have some kind of process whereby you say, “Look, over the course of two to three months,” and I encourage you to play the long game here. Right? The goal is not to generate as much new business this week or next week. The goal is to build relationships that will generate business for the long haul. Right?
Over the course of two to three months, you might say, “Well, look, I want to have four, five touch points with each new connection over the course of two to three months,” and you schedule those out, but what those touch points are, what you say, what you share, should be custom. It should speak to that particular individual based on who they are, what their role is, where they work, and any other kind of data you can gather about them that might be relevant to include in the conversation. Maybe the common examples, which are a little bit cliché, but they’re useful, are, where did they go to school? What groups are they engaged in? Do you have mutual connections? Right? All of these things help you form a picture of the buyer that will help inform that outreach. If you have a mutual connection, that’s an obvious one. Right?
Maybe instead of reaching out to the person initially, you reach out to your mutual connection, ask for an introduction. That’s much more likely to get you a warm relationship that could lead to a conversation. Right? If you notice they have a particular interest from their LinkedIn profile or from the things that they’re sharing on LinkedIn, then maybe you use that as a way to engage them in a conversation through your outreach and so on and so forth. I think the key there is not a template, but a process.
Will Bachman: With any of the clients that you’ve served, I guess there’s just that final step of what have you seen among the clients that you’ve served that actually works, where going from just, “Hey, I noticed that you went to Harvard, and so did I,” or, “We both went to Columbia,” or whatever school you went to, to actually pitching a service like, “Hey, I do graphic design, and it looks like you’re a consultant,” or, “Hey, I’m an accountant,” or, “Hey, I’m an attorney,” or, “Hey, I’m an insurance broker.” How do you advise people to actually start, to finally go ahead and pitch what they do and explain what their services are in a way that doesn’t feel kind of unwanted or-
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah. Well, so the best way is, don’t do it in a way that’s unwanted. Right? First of all, make clear what you do so that when you send that message, if you choose to include it in that message, that’s one thing, but even if you don’t, on your profile, make sure that what you do is crystal clear. Right? Because most people, if you’re somebody that looks reasonably credible, most people will click through to your profile and just take a quick peek at who you are and what you do. If at least your headline and the first couple of lines are clear, that should be enough for them to box you into one of those boxes we talked about. Right? That’s good. That’s what you want to accomplish.
Beyond that, even if you do nothing else, the key is to share relevant, useful content on LinkedIn. Right? If you’re sharing content that’s relevant, useful to that buyer, and you start showing up in their feed once a week, twice a week, whatever it may be, right, that keeps you top of mind. When you’re top of mind, then when they have an issue or a problem that by now they know that you solve, they’ll reach out to you. That’s the goal here, right, is you don’t know when they’re going to have that need, so forcing the issue is very short-sighted. Right?
What you want to do is make sure they understand that you’re in that space, you solve that problem, this is what you do, they put you into a box, and then as you start showing up in their feed, the next time they have that problem, they’ll think, “Oh, yeah. Will. Will does something like that. I should look further into how he can help us.”
Will Bachman: Okay. Cool. That is great. Let’s see. We’ve talked about the tactics. One of this is kind of in the marketing funnel, this proactive engagement. I had a question about the inbound engagement. I want to make sure we go back to this and ask this question.
Ahmad Munawar: Sure.
Will Bachman: Let’s say we set up this lead magnet, so we have a website, we came up with this genius piece of content that any client in the industry would find fascinating. “How to save 25% on your taxes for corporate whatever if you’re a tax person.” I don’t know, so we have some great PDF. We have one of these things that pops up and says, “Put your email in here, and you’ll get it emailed to you.”
First question is, for you, is, do you typically suggest that you automate that so that every person who puts in their email will just, will get that email to them directly, or do you recommend having human intervention where you review and say, “Oh, this person looks like, not that legit,” or, “I don’t care about this person,” or, “This person, yeah, the automated thing can go out,” or, “This person, wow, they’re like a serious potential buyer at big pharma company. I’m going to call them directly and offer to speak with them or whatever in my email and make it very personalized”? What do you before that content gets sent out? How does that get intermediated at that step?
Ahmad Munawar: Okay, so yes, I definitely suggest you have a automated sequence that goes out after your lead magnet, so somebody downloads a lead magnet, and they get that lead magnet delivered immediately. That’s what they asked for, and you want to follow through on that promise and send it immediately.
Will Bachman: So everybody.
Ahmad Munawar: Then I do … Everybody. Yeah. That initial offer, so if it’s a PDF on how to slash costs for a CFO at big pharma, which is a terrible title, but just as an example, right, then, and they sign up for that, don’t make them wait. Send it right away, because what people do is, when they want that piece of content, they download it, and the first thing that they do is, they go to their inbox, or they expect you to automatically redirect them to the content.
Will Bachman: Right.
Ahmad Munawar: Right?
Will Bachman: Okay.
Ahmad Munawar: One or the other, ideally both. Right? You redirect them to the content immediately so they don’t need to wait, they don’t need to fish around their inbox, because even that step, because there’s a risk there they might not do it.
Will Bachman: Right.
Ahmad Munawar: Right?
Will Bachman: So just send it out everybody, like whatever, it’s a ninth-grader, and it’s fine. Just send it out to everybody, but then, okay, so I got that. You email it, or you immediately give them a link or whatever. What then, what’s the next step, then? Do you recommend kind of doing some kind of human review of that, of those inbound emails to decide who you’re going to follow up with and what process, what they go through?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, so you should have a default sequence. Once they download the lead magnet, you have a series of emails that go out automatically on a schedule that you can determine that might include things like follow-up pieces of content that are relevant to that topic that you know they’re now interested in. It might include a little bit of information about who you are and what you do as an introduction. It might include some case studies or some testimonials of clients that you’ve worked with. It can include any number of things, but you should have an automated sequence that goes out for everybody. But then, before that sequence goes out, so once they’ve downloaded the lead magnet, I do recommend doing a human review. In that review, you want to weed out the people that you think are worthy of a custom follow-up. Right? You don’t want them to get your canned messages. You want to do a custom-tailored follow-up for them. Remove them from that sequence and then design a follow-up, a strategy that’s tailored to that client.
Will Bachman: Yeah. I mean, but should you also remove some people and not put them into that automated funnel at all? Like I mean if you’re, let’s say, an accountant and some, whatever, college student, first-year college student downloads your thing, you’re not going to start pushing out stuff about your accounting services. Right?
Ahmad Munawar: I mean, there’s no real cost to that, so I wouldn’t bother, right?
Will Bachman: [crosstalk 00:39:36]-
Ahmad Munawar: Because I think that’s time spent that doesn’t really have much of a return. First of all, a lot of people use personal email addresses when they download these things, so sometimes, you won’t even know who they are, and it’ll be a lot of work to figure out their real identity. You can hire a VA to do stuff like that, and that’s certainly an option, so you might not be able to figure out who they are, so in that case, it’s not worth the risk of removing them. The second thing is, they may not be an ideal client, but they may be a referral source.
Will Bachman: Got it.
Ahmad Munawar: Because in the end, they opted into something for a reason. They must have an interest in the topic. Right? It doesn’t cost you anything to send out those emails, so you might as well let them go out.
Will Bachman: Got it. You recommend, is it keep it simple and only ask for their email, or should you ask people to, say, provide your LinkedIn URL, provide the company that you work for, or something like that?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, I mean, email is usually enough, because with their name, which you can quite often deduce from an email, you can look them up on LinkedIn and find out more about them, so name and email are a good combination. That’s what I use, for the most part. Email-only can still work, because you can still usually find out who they are and hire a VA to help you do some of that legwork. Beyond that, for the average independent, I think asking for more than that is not necessary and adds barriers that are going to just create obstacles for the client.
Will Bachman: I’m totally naïve on this topic. You talked several times about like this whole automated email sequence, that after one week, they get one email, after two months, they get something. What platform or system would one use to do this?
Ahmad Munawar: Right. Good question. What you want there is an email service provider, what they call ESP. Some of the common ones that you may have heard of are MailChimp, there’s Drip is another one. ConvertKit is another one, so there are several. MailChimp’s kind of one of the most popular ones, because they do a lot of advertising on podcasts and elsewhere, but it’s a marketing email tool that allows you to send broadcasted messages to your list that include an option for subscribers to opt out and unsubscribe from the list if they choose to.
Will Bachman: Got it. Okay, so I’ve definitely heard of MailChimp. I think I had an account, and I’ve used it a couple times, but I’ve used MailChimp mainly to send like one blast email to a bunch of people that have opted in to some communications. It sounds like you can also use that service to, or one of these other ones, you can kind of set up some sort of automated thing where not synchronous, but you can say, “Okay, hey, I just got a new one today,” you put their thing in the system and say, “Okay, run program number three with this person,” and then MailChimp will on its own say, “Okay, plus seven days, I send out email number one. Plus 14 days, I send out email number two.” Right? “Plus one month, I send out this … ” You can set up that whole kind of automated process with-
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, exactly, so let’s make this really concrete for you. My lead magnet is my five-day course on The 5 P’s of Lead Generation. It’s a video course. It gets dripped out over five days, so when you sign up for it, you get five emails over five days, and that’s all automated in MailChimp. Now, once you’re on that list, and you’re done the course, you also get a weekly email newsletter from me featuring the podcast episodes of that week, featuring any appearances that I’ve made on other podcasts featuring some curated content that I want to share with people, so now you get these weekly messages from me, and now I’m top of mind. Now I’m showing up in your inbox every week. I’m not selling anything. I’m sharing valuable content with you, so the next time you say, “Hey, I really got a marketing problem. Who should I talk to,” I’m top of mind.
Will Bachman: Okay, got it. Okay, cool. We talked about some tactics on the inbound, and you answered my questions on the inbound. We talked about outbound. This would, LinkedIn, finding people. Where are we at? We’ve done this. We’ve done this tactics. Are there other tactics you want to talk about, like publishing content on LinkedIn or social media, or are there other things that we should talk about on tactics before the next step?
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s a lot that we could cover here, but the core pieces of the marketing funnel for the average independent consultant is, you want to have a lead magnet. You want to be in LinkedIn. You want to be doing some outreach on LinkedIn, and you want to be creating some kind of content you can share with your audience on a regular basis. Doesn’t have to be weekly. It could be monthly. It doesn’t have to be original. Original’s good. Podcast interviews are good. Curated content, that’s good. You want to be creating some kind of content that allows you to, first of all, communicate with your audience on a regular basis, because, again, they’re not all ready to buy on day one, right, and secondly, that allows you to infuse your approach, your worldview, your perspective into the content so you can share it with them. Those are the fundamental pieces of the funnel.
Will Bachman: Okay. Great. What comes next after these tactics?
Ahmad Munawar: Step five is, by now, you have a clear profile of who you want to work with. You’ve got your positioning down. You know what you’re selling. You’ve got a marketing funnel that hopefully was going to generate new business, and the funnel, I should mention, you’re going to have to test this funnel. It’s not all going to work right away. You may have to try a few different things before you really have something dialed in, but the goal there with the funnel is that eventually, it’s dialed in, you know it worked, you know somebody comes into the funnel, and eventually they turn into a client. Not everybody, but a certain percentage of people. That’s the goal. Right? Once you have that, then you kind of organize this into an action plan that you can execute consistently. I like planning execution in quarterly chunks. 12 weeks is a good amount of time because, first of all, it’s long enough that you can actually get a lot done in 12 weeks, but it’s short enough that you can actually plan for it.
Planning for the year, I think, is, in my mind, a bit of a futile exercise. It’s good to have some big-picture vision and plans for the year, but you really can’t say a whole lot about what you’re going to do in six or nine months that’s actually meaningful to execution, so I like focusing in on the quarter. On a quarterly basis, I would do three things. One, define what your goal is. Right? Ultimately, we want all of this to tie into revenue. Right? This is a good time. We’re recording this at the beginning of Q4. What is your revenue goal for Q4? How many new clients do you want to bring in? That’s a critical step. If you don’t have that in place, then all of this is kind of a, is kind of going to be a waste of time. Right? That’s one.
The second is, what tactics are you going to focus on in Q4 to drive to that goal? This is coming back to the funnel. Chances are, once you design your funnel, you’re not going to be able to do everything on day one. Right? It’s just, there’s too much to do and too little time, and you’re independent, and your bandwidth is limited, so let’s focus on the smallest set of tactics, what I call the minimum viable funnel. Right? The smallest set of tactics that are going to drive things forward for you in the next three months. Then in the next quarter and the quarter after that, you can build on your success, so what is the smallest set of tactics that are going to drive results, get you to that goal in the next three months? Write those down. Right? Be clear about what you’re going to do with each tactic.
Then the third step is, put them into a timeline. This is the boring, unsexy stuff that nobody wants to do, nobody wants to talk about, but that actually gets results. Right? Put it onto a timeline for the next 12 weeks. What are you going to do week, after week, after week, after week? How are you going to measure results? How are you going to ensure that you follow through on this?
The fourth thing that I recommend, which is critical, is, once you have this plan in place for the quarter, is find somebody to be accountable to. Find an accountability partner. Hey, Umbrex is a good place to look. Right? Find another independent consultant that you can partner with to hold each other accountable. Meet with them once a week and say, “Hey, here was my plan for the week,” right, based on my quarterly action plan. “Here’s what I did. Here’s the delta. Here’s what I’m going to fix going forward,” and that goes a long way.
Will Bachman: Great. One question I have for you is around professional development. You’ve spent a lot of time, clearly, researching all the best books, and courses, and stuff out there on marketing. How would you suggest that a listener of this show who wants to kind of get more knowledgeable about all the different marketing strategies, tactics, out there, what are some of the best resources that you recommend?
Ahmad Munawar: Certainly. We have a mutual friend by the name of David Fields, whose book I know you really appreciate and you’ve read. I think it’s a great book. David’s been on my show. I think his book is definitely required reading for any independent consultant. It’s called The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients.
Will Bachman: Absolutely.
Ahmad Munawar: That’s certainly a good read. I like to focus on the classics. There’s a lot of books in marketing and business that I think will come and go and may not have very much of a shelf life. I think that’s one of the books that certainly will have a shelf life. It’s timeless. It’s not piggybacking on some kind of a fad or shiny object, and it’ll remain good advice for 10, 20, 30 years. Another book is a book by the name of The Business of Expertise by David Baker, which is a great book for anybody who is building a business around their expertise, or their authority, and which is, anybody listening to this show fits into that category. It’ll change the way that you think about positioning. It’ll change the way you think about building a practice. It’ll change the way you think about working with clients. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Another book would be anything, really, by David Maister, who’s written a lot about professional services, marketing, and building a professional practice, is certainly worth reading.
Those are the ones that come to mind, and then in addition to that, I mean, those are the books. I would find a resource that you can follow on an ongoing basis, because books are nice, training is nice, but real learning, real transformation happens drip, by drip, by drip, so find somebody you can follow who’s publishing content that seems to resonate with you, it matches your worldview on how you approach marketing and business development, and start following them, get on their email newsletter, listen to their podcast, read their articles, and bit by bit, you’ll see progress start to happen.
Will Bachman: Yeah. I mean, you certainly produce some great content there, Ahmad. Beyond your own podcast and email newsletters, are there other folks out there that you think are producing great stuff that you recommend in terms of this drip by drip sort of resources?
Ahmad Munawar: Many of them, and out of fear of excluding anybody, I would say check out my podcast, because my focus now, I used to do a lot of monologues on Forecast, which I think you listened to some of them, so I’m going to have two interviews going out every week, Monday and Thursday, with the kind of people that I think you should be following. That’s a great place to kind of discover people. Then if you find somebody whose perspective you like, you can always then go and explore them further, like, for example, Will Bachman.
Will Bachman: That’s very kind of you. Okay, so professional development, and if you were going to, if you had the rights to put your message on a billboard that all the listeners of this show were going to see as they commute to and from work, what’s the billboard message that you’d leave us with?
Ahmad Munawar: Oh, wow. Is that standard question you ask everybody?
Will Bachman: Well … I just sprung it on you.
Ahmad Munawar: Yeah. A little bit of warning would have helped, Will. The billboard message. That’s a great question. I would say, “Double your firm. Call me.”
Will Bachman: All right. Double your firm. Excellent. Ahmad, thank you so much for taking some time to speak with us today. This was awesome. I learned a ton, and I’m going to go buy this book, Business of Expertise by David Baker, which I have not read, and I’m delighted to be introduced to that recommendation. I learned a ton today. Thanks a lot for joining.
Ahmad Munawar: Can I mention one more thing, if you don’t mind?
Will Bachman: Absolutely.
Ahmad Munawar: I’m adding a new segment to my podcast which I’m calling The Marketing Hot Seat, and in that segment, I’m going to be bringing on people who are in the trenches. Many of your listeners, they’re bringing their practice, they’re thinking about marketing, thinking about business development. They’ve got challenges they want to overcome. I’m bringing folks like that onto the show and really doing kind of a live coaching call, if you will. We’re going to dive into what those challenges are and brainstorm some solutions that they can take away and start executing on immediately. If you’re looking for some free advice and you don’t mind hopping on a podcast, I’d love to speak with you. You can send me an email at ahmad, A-H-M-A-D, @boutiquegrowth.com. Tell me a little bit about your business and what you’re struggling with, and I’ll let you know if you qualify for one of these hot seat sessions.
Will Bachman: I love that pitch. Boy, it takes some courage to be on the show like that and do it live, but that sounds like a great opportunity for listeners of the show, so Ahmad, hey, thanks a lot for joining, and I learned a ton, and I look forward to continuing-
Ahmad Munawar: [crosstalk 00:53:07]-
Will Bachman: … to speak with you and listening to more episodes of your show.
Ahmad Munawar: Thank you so much, Will.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top-tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned, and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at email@example.com. That’s U-M-B-R-E-X dot com. If you found anything on this show helpful, it would be a real gift if you would let a friend know about the show and take a minute to leave a review on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. If you subscribe, our show will get delivered to your device every Monday. Our audio engineer is Dave Nelson. Our theme song was composed by Gary Negbaur, and I’m your host, Will Bachman. Thanks for listening.