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April 24, 2017

How (and why) to develop an ideal client profile for professional service firms

Most professional service organizations operate with a nonexistent – or at best, a hazy – sense of exactly who they exist to serve. The official term for this person is “ideal client”, and this blog post will explain why and how to develop an ideal client profile for your professional service. Spoiler alert: incorporating an ideal client profile into your business development strategy can be a major boon for client acquisition.

We’ll start with a bit of background. What is an ideal client, and why does your firm need one? An ideal client is:

  • A client for whom your work has a significant impact
  • A client that you deeply understand and whose needs you can often predict before they can
  • A client that works well with your team; one where the relationship feels healthy
  • A client whose needs and budget align nicely with your capabilities and fees
  • A client that feels like a “good match”, all around – one for whom you genuinely enjoy providing service, and who genuinely needs and appreciates your work

Here are some of the benefits of designing business development efforts around an ideal client profile:

  • Streamlines and optimizes the client acquisition process by helping you clearly understand who you are talking to, what they are looking for, and what you can do for them
  • Makes marketing efforts more efficient by giving you the ability to run targeted marketing campaigns, which have a greater chance of being relevant and noticed
  • Makes content development more effective by giving you the ability to speak directly to your ideal clients’ needs and explain how you are the right firm to address them
  • Makes for happy, fulfilled employees doing work they like with clients they like to serve
  • There is a better chance that your work will have meaningful, significant impact and will be more fulfilling for everyone involved

Sounds good, right? Essentially, an ideal client profile is just a tool that helps you put your raison d’etre where it belongs: front and center, guiding your client acquisition and marketing strategies. After all, as a professional service organization, you exist to provide help and value to a specific type of person who is looking for what you provide. Chances are, you have a vague awareness of who that person is, but haven’t bothered putting it down in words before, let alone use it to help grow your business. Let’s change that today!

Here are the steps you should follow to develop an ideal client profile for your firm:

1) Know that it’s possible to have more than one ideal client profile. Each profile should be developed around one service that you offer, that you would like to sell more of.

2) Think about that service that you’d like to grow (it could be your primary or only service, or it could be one that you feel has unrealized potential) and the type of person who needs it.

3) Start developing a concrete sense of who that person is by providing answers to the bullet points below. The best way to flesh out these fields is by holding short interviews with current or past clients who were close to ideal clients.

  • Demographic info
    • Age, gender, education, location, life circumstance
  • Professional info
    • Job title, responsibilities
    • Primary challenges, frustrations and opportunities
  • Learning
    • Where do they go to find information about the challenges they face? For example – search engines, particular blogs, a research publication, etc.
    • What groups do they belong to, professional or otherwise?

The three elements in bold are the most important. They’re also the most difficult to nail down; that’s why interviewing past and current clients is a great strategy for illuminating those mysteries. Your goal is to find the synergy between what they need and what you provide. After thoroughly understanding what your ideal client is truly looking for, you may realize that you need to adjust your service offering so that you can create a better match. This may create internal resistance, but the reality is that providing a service that no one is looking for is not a client acquisition strategy.

Once you have all of the above information, develop a story around that person – give life and context to their needs. This will help you in your efforts to show insight into their circumstance. For example, no one is simply looking for a divorce lawyer. They are looking for a good listener who can guide them through a complicated process; they are looking for someone to help them understand the potential personal and financial upheaval at stake. Similarly, no one is just  looking for a small business loan. More likely, they are looking for expert financial advice and a range of loan options that suit their unique business plan and financial situation. See how circumstantial context helps to define their needs? In both cases, you can use the insights generated by this ideal client profile exercise to show that you understand where they are coming from, you have answers to the questions you already know they are going to ask, and you have the solutions that they are looking for.

Developing an ideal client profile (or two, or three!) should be an interesting and illuminating process. We wish you luck! If you want to learn more about branding your company to attract your ideal client, sign-up to recieve your free copy of our e-book, “Building a professional service brand that stands out.”

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