A recent internal discussion here at Edisen raised the question—HOW is the creative industry or in fact, any industry securing new business and ARE they working off a dedicated plan?
You see, the challenge lies not so much in winning new business, per se, but in winning the ‘right’ business. ‘Right’ is a subtle but strategically important distinction here. The ‘wrong’ business impacts the longevity of client relationships, staff morale and ultimately, the success, or otherwise, of the agency (business).
Whilst a certain amount of client churn is inevitable in the ultra-competitive digital space, agencies don’t help themselves when they fail to treat business development, from positioning through to pitching, as an ‘experience’. It is a function of the agency that is rarely approached with the same level of intent or purpose as service delivery or account management, for example.
So, what does a well-designed approach to business development look like? And how does it help an agency or in fact any business win the ‘right’ clients? I’m not talking about Google Adwords or advertising—I’m talking about whether there are any well planned ongoing activities that ensure an ongoing healthy pipeline of clients.
In my experience, you win business ‘by planning’…
1. POSITIONING DRIVES YOUR NEW BUSINESS STRATEGY
When business development is designed, positioning your business sets the agenda. In particular, agencies that are clear in their purpose and have a current (or attainable) advantage over the competition will probably find business development more straightforward than a ‘generalist’.
Why? Because they have greater clarity with whom they want to work with and how they make a difference to the people, businesses, and markets they serve. They worry less about the work they’ll miss out on and instead concentrate their efforts on what can be gained by ‘narrowing their focus’. Focus helps avoid a ‘hope and pray’ approach to lead generation. Decision making on the right blend of inbound and outbound tactics is made significantly easier.
2. YOU PUT BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AT THE HEART OF THE AGENCY (BUSINESS)
Agencies that approach business development with a purpose do so collaboratively. Accountability and good internal communication rule. Successes are celebrated for what they are— a team effort—and losses commiserated likewise.
This often means breaking down barriers and putting aside misconceptions. People only shy away from business development because they don’t understand it. Yet, when you look at the breadth of skills and behaviors required to win business, everyone in the agency can (and should) play a role. As such, when the agency hires a new business development manager they should be considered part of the solution, not THE solution.
3. YOU MAKE THINGS HAPPEN
Your dream client is unlikely to just land in your lap. In the current climate, we might have received one or two leads per year that were absolutely ‘on the money’.
Otherwise, it was initiative, resourcefulness, motivation and a dose of patience that opened doors to the brands we really wanted to talk to.
A well-designed approach to business development is evident when an agency knows their audience inside and out; the roles they are targeting; the challenges they are likely to be facing; where they spend their time and how they tend to digest content, for example.
Lead generation is therefore not overly reliant on one channel or a mystical silver bullet. Perhaps most importantly, plans and processes ensure lead generation activity is ‘always on’, rather than a reaction to an empty looking pipeline.
4. YOU DON’T TRY AND SELL ANYTHING…
…not during the early stages of the relationship anyway.
Agencies with a well-designed approach to prospecting don’t try to sell anything over email. And having landed an appointment, they don’t walk into a room, get their laptop out and present their creds.
Instead, they put the prospect first. Email is used to share relevant and timely insights. Meetings lead with interesting, often challenging questions that seek to uncover where the prospect is trying to get to, the challenges they are facing and what success looks like.
Only once this information has been gathered do they try and sell their solutions, ideas or agency.
5. YOU MUST KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
It is said that business development is a numbers game. This is both right and wrong depending on the context. Firing out a thousand generic emails and hoping for the best? That’s not a numbers game, it’s a fools’ game.
Tracking leads, qualified opportunities, pitches, and conversion rate, is a numbers game.
Understanding the value of your pipeline, having in place a system to ‘weight’ opportunities and using this insight to plan resource, is a numbers game.
When business development is designed, the accuracy of data, reporting, and regular reviews ensure an agency can easily identify any failings and focus their efforts accordingly.
6. YOU DON’T REST ON YOUR LAURELS
A common mistake that many businesses make is when on a winning streak the business development seems to halt. They’ve won a few clients in a short space of time, they’re busy and all is good in the world. They’ve got this business development thing locked down.
But a few months later, the work dries up, the pipeline is looking thin and they’re back at square one.
When business development is designed, the ‘machine’ never stops. Business development is never ‘nailed’. There is a continuous cycle of review, learn and improve.
MAYBE I’M WRONG?
You might be reading this and thinking ‘we don’t tick these boxes and we still win our fair share of new clients, you’re talking nonsense”.
There are of course scenarios where some of this goes out the window, exceptions to the rule if you like.
But think about it. Do you and your team really enjoy the work you are doing? Are your relationships based on what really matters to the client, not what you perceive to matter in their monthly stats reports? Are you impossible to replace? Do you have a high retention rate…of clients and staff?
Business development impacts all these things, and more. Answering ‘no’ to any of these questions are all symptoms of a poorly designed approach to new business.
So, ask yourself the question again—do you win business by accident or by planning?
Read John’s article on LinkedIn here.