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imagesIf you’ve recently started an agency or you are thinking about your next stage of growth, chances are you’ve won most of your business so far through word of mouth, existing relationships and recommendations. At some point however, if you want to continue growing your agency, you’ll need to implement some sort of dedicated business development programme, but there are so many varying opinions and mixed messages out there at the moment that it can be difficult to know where to start.

You might have heard the on-going debate about the pros and cons of cold calling (for the record, although we do use the phone, we think there’s nothing worse than an unsolicited sales call and our research shows that client side marketers feel the same way). You’ve probably heard people talking about attraction marketing and might be wondering about the best way to apply its principles to your own business. You almost certainly use social media but might not know the best way to tailor your output to build relationships and attract potential clients.

To help give you a head start in developing an effective and sustainable business development programme, here are some useful tips:

Know what your vision is for your business: What is your “why”?

Your “why” drives the passion and purpose in your heart and in your business – as the renowned speaker and author Simon Sinek says, start with “Why” before moving on to “How” and “What”. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. If you haven’t addressed this question you’ll come across as lacking passion, and who wants to work with someone who doesn’t have passion for what they do?

What differentiates you?

If you won a new piece of business from a client who was completely undifferentiated from their competition, chances are, the first thing you would do is help them to develop a strong brand that enabled them to stand out and occupy a niche in the marketplace. In that case, why do so many agencies fail to do this for themselves? There are more than 17,000 agencies in the UK, many of whom are saying exactly the same thing: being “results focused” “Integrated” “a new breed of creative” is not being differentiated, and in this situation, how can we expect clients to know what sets one agency apart from the rest?

It’s not always easy to turn the mirror on your own business – getting a fresh set of eyes to take an impartial look at your business at this stage can give you a new found perspective.

What kind of work do you need to be doing to support your vision?

You might be tempted to pursue every single opportunity you come across, but if you want to drive your business forward you’ll have to work out what sort of work you need to be doing to achieve your vision and stick to it. Be focused on your goal and don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities that aren’t right for you. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did. Trying to please everyone is a formula for failure.

This question leads on to…

What clients do you need to work with to do the work you need to do?

You might have ideas of specific clients that you want to work with, or more general thoughts in terms of sector or challenges you can solve. As mentioned in the previous point, be focused and don’t take on work that doesn’t take you to where you want to be going to.

Once you have an idea of who you want to be working with you should think about what their challenges and problems might be. Do your homework, speak to people and find recent articles that will give you insights into their business, try to see things from their perspective and understand what’s important to them.

When you are armed with this knowledge, you can focus on tactics that will get you on their radar. To do this you’ll need to think about why they would want to work with you and come to them with a relevant opinion on their business– in other words, make it all about them, not all about you. Clients really, really hate the chest beating, look-at-how-great-we-are approach.

It’s all about the relationship

As David Tovey said at a recent Art of New Business event, clients are like icebergs -there’s maybe about 10% that you can find out fairly easily; the successful agencies are those that understand the 90% that’s under the surface. This knowledge doesn’t come about overnight however and relationship building should start a long, long time before you expect to win any work. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – you might be in the right place at the right time and some opportunities do convert quickly, but for god sake, don’t turn into a hardnosed salesman the moment you get the whiff of a potential opportunity – nothing will ruin a potentially fruitful relationship more quickly. And don’t throw the toys out of the pram if it’s a ‘no’ this time. Just because it’s a ‘no’ now doesn’t mean it will be a no in 6 months or in 2 years’ time – don’t waste the time you’ve already invested, keep on building genuine relationships and they’ll pay off in the end.

Focus on new business when times are good

As we’ve said in the previous point, successful and sustainable new business is all about building strong relationships, and relationship building takes time, so don’t wait until you’ve lost clients before you think about winning new ones. Leaving things too late can result in your business developer being put under immense pressure, corners being cut and potential clients being alienated. Besides which, clients can smell desperation a mile off and will steer well clear.

Be committed and make time for new business

If you didn’t already know, you’ve probably realised by now that an effective new business programme takes an awful lot of time and effort. If you don’t have the time yourself then make sure that you appoint someone to help, otherwise you’ll end up struggling to do everything – especially when times are good and you are busy with client work. Be aware though, that even if you do get help with your new business programme, you’ll still need to put some time aside to manage things effectively and create content – we are aware of instances where promising new business opportunities have been lost because agencies haven’t found time to create a document or develop a tailored piece of collateral.

Business development can be a complex and time consuming undertaking requiring patience, dedication and hard work, but if you use these pointers to guide you, you’ll be well on the way to making a success of new business. If you are still struggling to work it all out then we run a half day workshop that helps to answer some of these questions and gives you the building blocks for a robust and effective new business programme.

And we are always available on the other end of the phone for a chat, or even better, a sit down over tea and cake (we much prefer face to face).

Good luck with your new business efforts in 2013!

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The longer I work in this industry, the more I come across successful business people, who don’t seem to have a clue!! I make simple observations, that seem like common sense to me, but often go completely overlooked.

I really believe that the most important traits in business are to be open and honest and admit to being human. People relate to people who display human traits, who mess up every once in a while, who are passionate, who take risks, who trust their staff. Life is built upon a network of relationships, the same for your professional life as your personal. So few people recognise that. The better the relationship, (with suppliers, clients, staff etc) the better your business. Yet why is it that most businesses completely overlook internal comms? They keep their staff in the dark about changes and then wonder why they have an unmotivated workforce and poor output.

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