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We wanted to give you all something lovely in the post this year.. but we have made so many friends this year that we simply cannot afford to.. So.. we decided to put some of your on our good list, and some of you naughty ones who haven’t been quite as friendly on our bad list.. For everyone that makes it onto our good list by 1 minute to midnight tonight, we will be picking some of you at random to receive something really rather bloody good in the post on Monday. So, comment on this thread, tweet #evilsprouts or like our facebook page to get on our good list today!

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The perceived wisdom says that the nice guys always finish last and if you watch TV programmes like the apprentice, you’d think that being in business is all about testosterone filled posturing and looking out for number one with no room for kindness, but here at Acquire we think that’s total rubbish.

One of the benefits of running your own business is the ability to choose the people you work with- we have made a conscious decision to only work with nice people which makes being in business a far more enjoyable experience. And besides making everybody’s lives more pleasant, being nice also has very real advantages when it comes to winning new business.

We believe so strongly in the nice principle that we’ve set up a LinkedIn group for others who share our ethos – The Nice Manifesto

A few things happened to us recently that brought the subject into sharp focus:

As you might know, Sarah, MD of Acquire and myself got married this summer, and after a fantastic three week honeymoon exploring Italy, we arrived back in the UK and threw ourselves back into our work with vigour (yeah right!)

After we’d been back for a few days, we went to see our friends Studio North to talk about an event we are running with them.  When we arrived, we were very pleasantly surprised to find this set up outside the door:

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Things got nicer still when we sat down in their board room to chat and on the screen was projected a photograph of coffee mugs with our company logo printed on them.

These nice, thoughtful, memorable little touches made us feel very welcome and immediately at ease, and made us think about the agency in a totally different way. The overall upshot is that if we are asked to recommend a good brand comms agency, we’d recommend Studio North like a shot, as would anyone else who has experienced their particular brand of hospitality.

It seems that we have been on a run of meeting with nice people recently. Just a few months ago, we started working with a very interesting company called Feedback, a digital ethnography research agency based in the US and in London (they delve deep into the chatter on social media channels to reveal what an audience thinks of industries, brands and their competitors, who and where the audience are and the best way of communicating with them –going places that social media dashboard tools simply cannot reach. For an enlightening article on the subject, click here).

Anyway, we’d only been working with Feedback for a week or two when the head of the London office, Danny – told us that he was lucky enough to have got a pair of tickets to the BT London Live Hyde Park gig on the final day of the Olympics. Sarah and I were both in our late teens – early twenties in the Britpop era, and never having seen them play live, we both really would have liked to have seen Blur before they called it a day.

We happened to mentioned this to Danny, and we were amazed when a few days later he got back to us to say that as he’d already seen them before, he was going to share the love and send us to the gig instead – an incredibly kind thing to do, and something that helped to cement a close and effective working relationship between ourselves and Feedback.

We were recently asked by a small digital agency that we know if we could recommend a hosting provider, and with no hesitation we sent them in the direction of Melbourne Hosting, because not only do they provide a great level of service, they are also a group of genuinely nice people who care about their customers and contacts. A couple of weeks later we received a case of 6 bottles of great quality wine courtesy of Melbourne as a lovely thank you gesture for referring business to them, and we’d certainly recommend them again!

It’s taken for granted that companies are nice to their clients and prospects, but if doesn’t take much effort to extend this attitude to your suppliers and everyone else that you come into contact with. If you are nice to everyone you encounter, you’ll create a positive aura around your company, and before very long you’ll have a legion of advocates who, without you having to ask them, will happily recommend you, and as we all know, referrals are the very best way of winning new business.

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Recently I was delighted to be invited to sit on the expert panel for the Guardian Small Business Network. They were hosting a live Q&A about “how to win new business” and found me on twitter I believe. To say I was chuffed would be an understatement, but also it just goes to show that when I preach to clients about the power of being an authority and making sure this is reflected in your social media content, I speak from experience!

There were a few common themes that emerged during the course of the Q&A so I thought it would be useful to write them down so that any of you with similar challenges can take comfort from the fact that you are not alone!

For those of you that missed it,  it proved to be a very interesting three hours session, full details of which can be seen at http://www.guardian.co.uk/small-business-network/2012/aug/10/how-to-win-new-business

If you don’t have time to trawl through all the comments, here are some of the highlights:

 

Effective use of social media to win business

Several participants had questions for the panel around the most effective way to use of social media to win new business.

The panellists highlighted the importance of developing a robust social media strategy as a part of the wider networking and marketing efforts, the logic behind a well thought out and engaging content strategy and how to turn Facebook ‘likes’ into strong brand ambassadors.

Be where your customers are

Still on the subject of social media, it was pointed out by the panel that a crucial and sometimes overlooked step when building business through social media is do your research and find out where your audience congregate, which social media they use, which groups and forums they are members of and make sure that you are active in those spaces. However, remember that social media is a two way street, and being active doesn’t mean broadcasting sales messages, it means engaging with interesting a relevant content and building relationships.

Happy staff win more business

Another interesting topic that came up for discussion was how strategies that focus on staff happiness and wellbeing can help win new business, with one panellist referencing a company employing a nutritionist to ensure that employees were eating healthily, another that encouraged staff to spend half an hour listening to 80’s music to help them switch off. And, of course, we only need to look at the example of Innocent Smoothies to see how innovative office culture and a fresh approach to employee engagement can increase profits, productivity and customer satisfaction!

 

Be nice to people

One point raised during the discussions was the value of being nice to people in order to win new business. Counterintuitive as it may seem, by not chasing the money and instead focusing on helping people you make doing business fun and enjoyable rather than cut throat and aggressive – meaning that you are far more likely to build effective relationships and win business through referrals.

To this end, I recently launched ‘The Nice Manifesto’ – which is a network for people that share my views that doing business with each other should be a fun experience and we don’t need to be cut throat, agressive or pushy to win new business. Please join our linkedin group by clicking the link above if you agree with me.

What’s your USP?

One of the participants was becoming thoroughly demoralised due to their failure to win new business, even though their product was eye catching and award winning. Their issue was that they were operating in a crowded market place with a relatively low barrier to entry, and what’s more, they had no real understanding of what made them different from any of their competitors. It’s crucial that you know what your USP is, because if you don’t know, neither will your prospective clients, and you can’t develop an effective sales and marketing strategy without identifying what makes you different.

To nail down your USP it can be good to talk to your existing clients about why they use you, or speak to a friend about what you do and get them to ask “What does that mean for me?” It will help you to articulate your point of difference in terms of what it means for your customers and often your USP will suddenly become clear.

Sell through your network, rather than to your network

An interesting question was submitted regarding a lack of confidence and sense of intimidation when it came to networking, and the best way to overcome it.

The panel pointed out that networking is all about relationship building rather than selling – and once that mindset is taken on board, networking becomes a whole lot easier. It’s all about finding like-minded people with whom you have rapport, and as the name of the exercise suggests, building a network of people who you trust and who trust you. When the time is right you can ask for their help and they’ll happily refer you.

Stay Focused!

Some of the questions posed regarded the difficulties that small business owners face in wearing so many hats – MD, finance director, business developers – and how best to juggle all these responsibilities.

It’s all too easy to be distracted by the day to day, and whilst it’s important to keep existing customers happy, effective new business activity needs focus and a consistent amount of time dedicating to it. The key is to set realistic goals and be tenacious – and if you really don’t have the time, admit to yourself that you need help and get it before your new business drive loses its hard won momentum!

Good luck with your new business efforts, and if you have any questions, email sarah@acquirenewbusiness.co.uk. I will be running a regular feature on this blog where I pick the most interesting or common question I encounter and answer in in an article on this blog.

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We recently got back off our honeymoon, three weeks touring Italy, after our wedding in June at the beautiful Pimhill farm in rural Shropshire.

Whilst we were in Italy, it struck us that a little of the Italian character would go a long way towards more effective business development activity (sure, there are some Italian character traits that perhaps aren’t conducive to good business development practice, but on the whole, they could teach us a thing or two!)

Passion!
The country that brought us the likes of Ferrari, Opera, Gucci, The Passeggiata, Espresso and Italian Cuisine can teach us a thing or two about passion. And passion is an essential ingredient of effective business development – your customers are much more likely to buy into your product or service if you are excited and passionate about it – just as it was very difficult for Sarah to resist when a waiter in an Italian restaurant passionately extolled the virtues of linguine alla vongole!

Persistence
Ok, so the Italian mans reputation for persistence in the pursuit of women isn’t always a welcome one, but in business development, persistence pays off. You need to develop a ‘Testa Dura’ or a hard-headedness, and let nothing shake your confidence. No doubt you will experience knock backs, and your approach won’t always be well received, but by being persistent and focused and by seeking to building relationships with your prospective customers, you stand a much better chance of success down the line when they are in a position to use your services.
‘No’ might mean ‘Not at the moment’, but if you give up at the first hurdle, you’ll never find out.

Be Relaxed
Nothing will drive customers away like obvious desperation, they can smell it a mile off. So even if you are really, really desperate to win that piece of business, just relax and think like an Italian – don’t let the situation ruffle your feathers. That doesn’t mean to say that you should be distant and act like you aren’t bothered at all – just don’t lose your cool.

Don’t take yourself too seriously!
You should take business seriously – but not yourself. If you take yourself too seriously then you won’t appear open or likeable. At the end of the day, people buy from people, so if you don’t come across as a likeable, approachable person then you’ll be hampering your ability to win new business.

If you apply a little of the Italian spirit to your new business programme then you won’t go too far wrong. If, however, winning new business has been on your ‘to-do’ list for a while, get in touch.
We can work with you to uncover what really sets your business apart from your competitors, develop a comprehensive and effective new business strategy and help you to find and win new business opportunities.

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This post is written by our guest blogger Elizabeth Chapman…

 

Connecting with prospects and winning new business is hard work. And with competition at an all-time high, agencies simply can’t afford to make costly mistakes, especially ones that can be avoided. Below is a little insight into the Top 5 agency prospecting gaffes, as inflicted on the client side marketing professional:

 

1. Cold Calling as a First Approach

Probably the oldest method of engaging with a new business prospect, so what’s the problem? Put simply, very few client side marketing professionals actually appreciate this approach; it’s about as welcome as the proverbial ‘fart in a spacesuit’.

Prospects can be wily creatures when it comes to avoiding unsolicited phone calls. Even the most good-natured Marketing Director will suddenly turn into Mr Elusive at the slightest whiff of an ‘exciting opportunity’ call from an unfamiliar source. That’s if you even make it past the receptionist, – chances are he / she will have an arsenal of rebuttal lines, ready to deploy at the first opportunity.

Some would argue that ‘cold calling’ is integral to the acquisition of new clients, but for the majority of targets it remains an unpopular and unwelcome approach. Research into prospecting practice carried out by Acquire reveals that of the seventy client side marketing professionals interviewed, 70% were sceptical of cold telephone approaches, with a further 21% expressing a positively hostile attitude.

It is without doubt that an agency needs to be able to communicate in an effective and convincing manner over the telephone, but this should come once a relationship has already been established, not as a quick hard-sell that demands immediate commitment on the part of the receiver.

Alternative channels of approach such as direct mail and email are often favoured by marketing professionals as the most effective way for agencies to make initial contact. Indeed, the recent study by Acquire highlights direct mail as one of the more successful introductory methods, especially pieces that are quirky and eye-catching. With so many agencies fighting for the same prospect’s attention, a bland or impersonal mail piece risks being lost in an ocean of monotony..so keep it interesting!! And above all, make it relevant. Sending a pair of underpants branded with your agency’s logo (or worse) through the post will earn you a few giggles but the chances of it enticing a new client to your books are doubtful.

 

2. Not Knowing One’s Onions

One of the biggest mistakes an agency can make when looking for new business is failing to fully research a prospect. A snazzy suit and industry-savvy patter is all very well but a lack of understanding for the potential client’s business will fast-track any advances to the ‘no chance’ pile. All too often there are instances where agencies fail to look at a prospect’s competitive situation, their culture and crucially the types of projects that would be appropriate for a company of their particular size and standing. The old adage states, ‘time is money’; and when it comes to choosing a creative agency to work with, clients are deterred by the thought of having to explain in great detail their status, the nature of their business and their needs. As stated by a participant in Acquire’s recent study “the greatest challenge when changing agencies is the education process, you have to invest so much time in helping them to understand your business and its customers before you get anything back”. So the message here is simple, failure to put in the groundwork can result in failure to attract new business.

 

3. A Perfect Mismatch

Impressive ROI stats, soaring pitch-wins and a glowing reputation are all great boasting points but an agency that fails to show category experience has about as much chance of winning over their prospect as Burger King would have at appointing Morrissey as their new figurehead. The demonstration of relevant experience is a crucial factor for agencies to consider when approaching client side marketing professionals. Whilst the view from Mount Ego may be a pretty one, potential clients are unlikely to want to join the expedition unless they can see exactly how an agency has developed a company similar to theirs. Recounting his own experiences of misplaced prospecting, a respondent to Acquire’s research said “we work in the B2B space and everyone knows that, so it makes me despair when we get approached by agencies who name drop and tell me they did great work on the KitKat brand, but have no B2B experience at all”.

 

4. Scraping the ideas barrel

A lack of creativity is another frustrating blunder in the art of prospecting. Time and time again agencies approach their target clients with the same old hackneyed propositions, prettied-up and re-packaged as their latest ‘new biz strategy’. A futile exercise, given that most clients are looking for daring concepts and innovative uses of new media; the things that will put them one step ahead of their competitors.

Ok, so creative flare alone won’t guarantee success, but it’ll certainly increase your chances. 29% of the marketing professionals interviewed by Acquire flagged “innovative and interesting content” as an important factor when being approached by agencies. As one respondent said, “most of the approaches I receive aren’t memorable in any way, but every once in a while I get something that’s really interesting or shows that the agency is innovative and makes them stand out from the crowd. In cases like these I’ll keep the information on file for future reference”.


5. Not Seeing the Wood for the Trees

In the frenzied hunt for prospects and new business, many agencies make the ‘epic fail’ of overlooking what’s right under their noses: existing clients. With many marketing professionals preferring to choose a creative agency on recommendation from their peers, it makes sound business sense for agencies to invest more of their energy in developing relationships with contacts that are already on their radar. By nurturing these connections and becoming a valuable asset, agencies will be able to give current clients the trust required to make a recommendation to anybody able to benefit from the services offered.

We’ve written a white paper which expands on the themes discussed above, if you’d like a copy, please email stefan@acquirenewbusiness.co.uk for more details

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1. Talk to Strangers

Openness, honesty and strong self-belief will get you far in your personal and business life. Fear of
rejection is one of the biggest blocks to selling yourself and your business
but in any industry people buy people. There’s no need for a hard sell, just be
yourself, be proud of what you stand for and take every opportunity that arises
to make connections.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

With a new connection you may want to over promise as you’re keen to impress, but under-delivering not only
leads to losing business but it can also affect your reputation. A sustained consistent, persistent approach, where you achieve what you have agreed to do in the timeline stated will demonstrate your expertise and help you to stand
out amongst your competition.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

Talking about your selling points will only get you so far and at some point, metaphorically speaking, the dog is
going to want to see the rabbit. By walking your talk you have already qualified your expertise without the need for any hard sell. If you’re a web
expert, have a blinding website. Get the picture?

4. Know Who You Are and What Makes You Different

What makes you different from your competitors, and what does this mean for your potential clients? Drill down into exactly what the benefit would be to your prospect of using your services. Understand and believe in yourself, and don’t try and be someone you’re not. You should aim to attract like-minded clients – don’t be afraid of turning away business because you can’t work with everybody!

5. It’s All in the Timing

We know you want those successful connections and you want them yesterday. You need to take an intelligent and sustained approach to relationship building. The quick hard-sell can alienate your contacts whereas a well-executed and measured approach doesn’t force or scream desperation and is more likely to yield outstanding results.

6. Sales and Marketing Needs to be Fully Integrated

This can be difficult when the two departments are treated as entirely separate entities, but an integrated sales and marketing strategy means that the sales department can maximise leads resulting from a marketing campaign. Any that aren’t at the right stage in the sales cycle can be handed back to the marketing department for lead nurturing until the time is right.

7. Look At Your Current Clients for New Business Opportunities

Everyone knows it’s more costly to attract new clients that it is to retain existing ones, so seek to actively build stronger relationships and explore new ways of working together in order to maximise the potential of your current client pool.

8. Be Personal

You’ll win more business if you tailor your approach to each specific prospect. People like to feel special and if you’ve taken the time to do a little research into their business and challenges, you’ll give the impression that you really want to work with them rather than making it look like the prospect is just one of many you’ve approached that day.

9. Don’t Be Arrogant

No one likes a show off, so don’t beat your chest and yell from the tree tops about how great you are. Would you rather spend time with the person shouting out their attributes or the person taking an active interest in you?

Understanding your audience means you can you can better engage and interest them, so give your prospects a compelling reason to use your services by showing them how you helped similar clients with their business challenges.

In short, make it all about your prospects rather than all about you.

10. Make The Time to Win New Business

Winning new business can take time and a lot of hard work; it’s not something that can be done effectively in a half-hearted manner. Make sure that all parts of your business are bought in to the need to win new business and know what is expected of them.

There is nothing worse than doing the hard work of identifying an opportunity only to let it slip out of your grasp because one of your departments or people doesn’t have the time to produce something that you need to convert the business. We’ve seen this sorry situation far too many times!!!

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When an agency embarks on New Business Development they address their business plan, look over their target forecasts, discuss their ideal position in the market then implement the appropriate strategy to achieve those targets. It’s a lengthy process and requires commitment from not just the Managing Director but the whole team to ensure the business plan is clear and that everybody is aiming for the same goals. NBD is a rewarding part of your business, or so it should be.

Once you’ve committed you’re in it for the long haul to essentially ensure the success of your agency. Prospecting and insight gathering is a lengthy process. The problem is that everybody is desperate for new business, which means clients side marketers are inundated by cold calls, emails and direct mail, most of which are impersonal, arrogant and irrelevant, making it harder than ever before to get through to the decision makers. They’re crying out for specialist understanding of their business, personalised emails that go further than ‘Hi Steve’ and the all-important WIIFM (what’s in it for me) rule.

The Golden Rule: Remember it’s the person you’re talking to that’s important. Not you.

Sadly agencies seem to be looking for a quick fix. They don’t seem to realise how much work is required in-house to provide the right level of engagement that the prospects are waiting for. Why don’t they want to spend time building and nurturing relationships that will eventually lead to fruitful new business?

It comes down to ROI, time is money. NBD is time-consuming and to win new business you need the time to complete the in-house production that’s required, which means taking staff off client work or hiring new staff to focus on growth. So initially a lot of spending without any guaranteed return, but that’s the reality. What may seem like a financial risk in the first instance will more than pay off, if you prioritise and devote the time needed to convert opportunities.

We all know agencies that are great at winning new business but don’t spend the time nurturing the relationship in order to keep that business. In the same breath we all know agencies that have long-lasting relationships with clients but aren’t getting much in the way of new business. How do you devote your time to keep the balance right between them both?

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