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Remember new business even in the good times

'One thing is for certain, you will lose all your clients', this is a piece of evergreen wisdom from one of the founders of Unilever that would be well for all of us to remember, writes Roy Jugessur, joint managing director of new-business consultancy Winning New Business.

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As we all know, it's easy when the phone is ringing and every single person in the company is rushed off their feet handling projects, pitches and new-business enquiries, to put the future of your company on hold.

After all why worry, turnover is up, things are great aren't they? It's been our best month ever. Now, as we begin to emerge from the doom and gloom of the recession that never was, confidence is running high among direct marketing agencies and this is the very moment not to let bullishness take complete control and to swallow a few memory pills with a nice cup of decaf coffee.

Hopefully, what the magic memory pills will reveal to you, is that there was a time (not long ago) when the phone didn't ring so much, when there weren't quite so many people sitting behind desks in your office, when the prospect loomed of not taking that summer holiday in Barbados (because you couldn't afford it). How do you prevent that happening again? Well, the answer is so easy it hurts.

Make an effort with your new-business drive all the time, not just when times get tough. Now, as new business pours through the door, double your efforts and make sure that you are speaking to as many prospects as possible. OK, you may not be able to handle all the work that your new-business drive brings about, but you will be seeding your name in the memory of prospective clients that you might really need next time around.

And, when you conduct new business at a time when you don't really need it, you actually have the time to develop relationships with prospects at your leisure. They will see someone who is relaxed, successful and talking to them because you really want to work for their brand, not because you really need to.

This is also a good moment to look at your entire client base and do some spring-cleaning. As a company evolves and takes on clients, some relationships will be long, others short, some clients easier to work with, more rewarding, and more profitable than others. And some, well let's not beat about the bush, are a complete nightmare and you probably wish you had never taken them on.

So, why not use the good times to reorganise you client roster? Create A, B and C lists. The As you keep, the Bs you would like to promote to As. And the Cs? Well, those are the one's that maybe your worst enemy should be working with. So, am I actually suggesting sacking clients? Yes. It will do wonders for internal morale to have a clear out, and you can start to fill the empty spaces again through your increased new-business activity.

There is a lot to be said for a company that puts principles before growth and actually lives up to some of the bold statements on its website. How many times have you read sentiments such as "We carefully select the clients we work for", or, "we have a partnership with our clients rather than a client/supplier relationship". Take a close look and this applies to maybe only one or two of a dozen or so names on the client list. The others have been taken on regardless of what they are like, how they behave, or how stimulating their work is.

So why not see the good times as a chance to improve the quality of the clients that you have? After all, it's going to save you money in areas such as recruitment, advertising and also, ironically, new business. The agencies with drop-dead client lists are the ones that are courted by prospective clients and employees alike. People are desperate to work with the best names. And how do people get lists like that? Well, talent has a hell of a lot to do with it but so does plain simple housekeeping.

So how do you achieve the things that we've been talking about? Well, that's easy too. Make sure that you have a new-business team, not just one bod with no support. Make sure that you give it enough budget to do its job properly. Don't be mean, you are investing in your future.

Empower your new business director. He or she should be a board member with real responsibility for the growth of the company not just a fat pay packet waiting in a smart restaurant to be headhunted into the next job. Use the best talent available for your new-business team and make sure they understand your business. Don't expect all meetings to lead to an immediate brief -- be patient and accept that people want to get to know you. Take your time and you will have a relationship that lasts. But most of all, as the great Nike slogan says, "just do it!".

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