Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Winning New Clients In A Down Market

About three months ago, I had a lengthy phone call with a friend of mine who'd been charged with growing the client roster for a struggling PR agency. The firm is not located in the city where it wants to expand the client base; the agency offers no unique skill set or industry expertise (at least one it's willing to stand behind), and had no particular plan for how to help anyone. It's an agency that wants fees (fairly steep ones I might add) upfront in an effort to ensure its own survival. I remember listening to this, offering some suggestions (which I was quickly told the agency president would never consider), and wishing him good luck.

Yesterday, I got a call saying that he hadn't picked up one new client. Surprise, surprise. In fairness, my friend agreed with me upfront and knew he was fighting a losing battle if the agency wasn't willing to face up to the realities of the marketplace. Despite the lack of new business success, the agency is still not willing to change its approach, and it's likely my friend is done fighting with the agency leadership.

Well, just because my friend's agency is intractable doesn't mean I shouldn't share some perfectly plausible strategies for others during these difficult times. None of this is necessarily new (or rocket science for the matter) but have a look and introduce your own thoughts as well.
  1. Approach prospects in a vertical industry segment with which you've had proven success. Study your prospect's business and offer some specific ideas for helping them achieve their near-term goals.
  2. Approach prospects with a very specific communication expertise that you believe differentiates you in the marketplace among other competitors and has demonstrated tangible business benefits for other clients. It not only offers the prospect a reason to hire you, but should optimize your chances for earning trust and providing other services down the road.
  3. Approach prospects with a short-term plan, not a longer term engagement. Be willing to help them with the situation at hand. If you're successful, you'll earn the longer term gig.
  4. Approach prospects with ideas, not qualifications. The only thing that will truly differentiate you from the thousands of competitors who do exactly what you do (either just as well or possibly better) will be your thinking against a prospect's specific needs. Look at the client service excellence quote at the top of this blog. You don't have to be superhuman or even better than your competitors, you just have to be willing to do what others could be doing, but just aren't.
  5. Borrow a page from David Maister, Marshall Goldsmith and the other uber-consultants out there who actually stand behind their work. Present your ideas, set near-term goals, and tell the client that you don't expect them to pay you upfront in the hope that your approach is successful. Explain that they'll only have to pay for your time if the goals are achieved, or as David Maister structures it, "pay me what you think I'm worth." If you really believe you can help the prospect, then have the courage to stand by your work.

I look forward to your comments on these five points and to receiving other ideas you may have on the topic!

1 comment:

  1. Point 3 and 4 resonated with me, it's not something businesses necessarily think of. Particularly the idea of approaching your client with ideas, not qualifications!! There are so many cases where the client gets lost in the company jargon, and the company doesn't realize that this is the last thing the client is looking for in this economy. At the end of the day, the businesses want solutions. It's interesting as well to think of how the landscape of client services will change after the downturn. Great post!



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