Attracting—and ultimately closing—deals with new clients can take professional service providers anywhere between several months and several years. Since most firms rely on their partners and principals to bring in new work, client acquisition ends up consuming a lot of the organization's most valuable resources.

One sure way to increase profitability, then, is to find ways to reduce the time that these highly paid professionals spend developing new business—so that they can devote more time to generating revenue.

Understanding the Lengthy Sales Cycle

The starting point to leveraging partners' and principals' time is understanding why prospective clients take so long to buy and what activities partners and principals are undertaking to accelerate that process. Then, it's a question of figuring out other ways to accomplish the same objectives.

Several factors contribute to elongating the sales cycle.

First, most prospective clients will only buy from those they know and trust—and winning trust takes time.

Second, most prospects already have satisfactory relationships with other advisers who offer similar services.

While some will give new firms a chance—just to balance their portfolio of advisers—many end up waiting until a major problem develops. Knowing this, savvy service providers leave nothing to chance. Instead, they delve for unmet needs and then seek out opportunities to raise prospective clients' awareness that their current situation is less than ideal—thus ensuring that they are the early birds that get the worms.

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Barbara Bix is managing principal of BB Marketing Plus, where she helps companies enhance their brands by capturing and enhancing the customer experience.