Winning new business in a cold climate
It is a well-known fact that cobblers' children go barefooted. Having worked as a new-business generator for direct marketing agencies for over 10 years, I have seen an illustration of this almost every day of my working life, writes John Pummell, founder of Winning New Business.
Within direct marketing there are innumerable examples of highly talented, dynamic teams of people that produce award-winning marketing for their clients, but at the same time either can't or don't market themselves to the same standard.
Sadly, it often takes a severe shock to the system, in this case a slowdown in client spending, to focus attention on some serious marketing effort and provide a smart pair of trainers for the cobbler's kids. Unfortunately, for some, the shock comes too late. For others, it comes just in the nick of time. So, for those of you that are waking up to find business still decidedly frosty, here's my top 10 tips for winning new business in a cold climate:
1. Firstly, practice what you preach. Most agencies devote hours to solving clients' issues -- yet when it comes to spending time analysing why they are truly different from the boy next door, they fail miserably. The answer is simple -- treat yourself as a client. Appoint a new business team, involve key players a senior board member, a talented creative, a senior account manager. Brainstorm to discover what gives you a unique voice and then create a campaign supported by suitable words and images. You know how to solve problems for your clients, so use the same talents to address the most serious challenge you will ever face -- articulating what makes you special.
2. Review all aspects of business channels that can yield new business wins. This is not just about networking and organic growth -- you need to examine what I call the "virtuous cycle". Many aspects of this need only to be stimulated to secure success. Here are some top-line thoughts: examine all the relevant channels open to you; review all media contacts; conference opportunities; third-party referrals; increase awareness of your name through PR; if you are part of a network, use it; and lastly, begin the process of building a relationship with "virgin" prospects that you would love to work for but do not know.
3. Be realistic. If you do not have something relevant to say to a virgin target it is likely that they are not a suitable prospect for you. Play to your strengths. In a recession you need to consolidate, it's a bad time to indulge in blue-sky thinking -- leave that for the periods when you have the luxury of being able to fail.
4. Ensure you have an accurate and up-to-date database. Do not buy in a list simply because it looks cheap; invariably you get what you pay for. Get lists validated properly and make sure you own the data -- all too often list companies will only rent you their names. Also, it never pays to send out a mailer to a list you used six months ago -- times move on and so do your prospects.
5. Building a relationship from cold is not easy and takes time. However, it can also be truly rewarding as a channel from which you will win new business. Treat relationship building as a courtship, one that you nurture over time. Prospects see through the "give us a job" one-night stand mentality -- who wants to give you business just because you are desperate? You may choose to warm up your prospect first, but do ensure that you say something salient about their business -- this will create a distinctive personality for your company and allow you to stand out from the crowd.
6. Don't see a new-business exercise as simply playing a numbers game. Success is all about well-researched targeting, focus, saliency, opportunism and above all patience.
7. Don't be afraid to trial-test different methods. There is no one successful route, human nature decrees that we all respond to messages in a different way. Some prospects may respond to a well written letter, others an email, while many will reject such an approach and will only accept direct access through an intermediary.
8. Engage your staff in your new-business programme -- keep them posted on activity and incentivise their participation.
9. Don't assume that your new-business team can handle a new business drive in isolation. Do not be afraid to seek outside help from experienced new-business experts. Often internal pride, or being overcautious with budgets, gets in the way of asking for outside help. When you are drafting redundancy letters, it is too late to realise that you made a mistake recruiting a novice who was "good on the phone". Many companies believe that an item of such importance can only be handled internally -- nobody else could ever get to grips with their culture -- the fact is that experts can and do, so speak to them and find out what they can offer as support for your internal team.
10. If you do involve outside consultants treat them as partners, not suppliers. A new-business consultant worth their salt will understand your business inside out, but will also understand the dynamics of selling direct marketing to time-poor impatient prospects -- your prospective clients.
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