Eavesdropping is not intentional, but sometimes you just can’t help but overhear a conversation in a restaurant. Today was one of those days. As I was sitting on the terrace of one of my favorite restaurants, carving out some time for uninterrupted writing, two women were discussing consulting. One woman was advising the other to “become a consultant.” She said “It’s easy, all you have to do is generate leads and contacts by networking. That is all it takes.” (Yes, that often seems so simple.) Then the next statement was perhaps the most disturbing: “I am able to do that all the time. It is so easy.” She then paused—a long pause—(and here comes the big BUT) “But I haven’t gotten anyone to pay me yet. But I have been able to get lots of leads this past year.”
If you are in business, you know that while leads are good, paying clients are the goal. Somewhere in this woman’s thought process the connection just did not seem to be made: You want (and NEED) paying customers! Fortunately, I think the second woman understood what her friend didn’t: “If I am going to be in business as a consultant, I need to know how to take a lead and convert it to a paying, profitable customer.”
As a consultant, I would like to say that the missing link from lead to profitable customer is something most organizations understand; unfortunately that is often the missing link in the chain that leads to a successful, viable and profitable business. Individuals, teams and organizations focus on what the activities they are going to do, without a focus on the outcome (profit) those activities are suppose to achieve. The difference in the emphasis can be illustrated with the following statements.
Activity focus: reduce costs.
Outcome focus: Increase sales revenues and profits by 10% over current operating year in 2012 by holding existing budget levels and reducing labor costs by 5% over 2011 actual expenditures.
The activity focus doesn’t give us a direction or a meaningful measurement for us to know if what we are doing is working. Are we doing enough, or too little? The outcome focus enables us to know what our measurable metrics are, what the deadline is (in this case, 2012) and where we are going to put our efforts, which is toward maintaining existing budget levels for the current year AND reducing actual labor costs.
When we know what we will be measuring and how much we need to accomplish, we know what to work toward. Then we figure out what activities are needed to achieve the outcome we have targeted.
So if we go back to the discussion of leads, a key question to ask yourself and organization is “Are you setting your goal to get lots of leads, or lots of paying, profitable customers?” Check your top and bottom-line and you will have the answer. The result is what you are focused (or unfocused) on.
If your main goal is profitable sales, obtaining leads—and by “leads” I mean qualified leads who will actually make good customers who are willing and able to buy from you at a profit—is a subgoal (I call it a “focus target”) for generating sales. So you will focus on getting good leads, but you know that the bigger picture is converting the lead into a client!
Keeping your eye on the target, means you do more with less time, money and effort. Every dollar and action counts, so you must be productive, not just busy. If you do not take time to set goals, you are on a journey without a destination. If you do not take time to plan, you may get to a destination, but it will usually take longer and be more costly.
You can run around performing random tasks and be busy without the results you desire … or you can set a goal, make a plan, take action that moves you to the goal and moves the plan ahead. You can do only what you feel like, feels good or impulse dictates … or you can make time to move forward and develop behaviors that build success. It is your choice: Go for the lead or get the customer.
Author: Lea A. Strickland, MBA CMA CFM CBM GMC
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