Blog Posts

The Ultimate Test of Your Positioning

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Our post today is compliments of our friend Blair Enns @ Win Without Pitching

When we’re working with owners of independent creative firms on the positioning of their firms, we separate the exercise of choosing a focus, from the exercise of articulating a claim. The first is an act of sacrifice, which most people in the creative professions struggle with (even more so than the average business owner, I believe), and the second is an act of communication, something creative professionals revel and delight in.

The problem, I think you will agree, is obvious.

As coaches, our job is to politely point out when we see someone trying to gloss over a lack of courage in their positioning with slick language. One way we do this is to have a discussion about standards.

When it comes to positioning a creative firm, the principal might put forward a positioning claim of energizing tired brands, or working with challenger brands, or building cult brands. All these are examples of broad, quasi-nebulous claims that are possible to stake out, in theory anyway, but are almost never lived up to. The proof, and the problem, is in the application of standards, or lack thereof.

The standards I’m talking about when it comes to positioning are the standards of client qualification. For whom does it make sense for you to work and for whom does it not make sense for not to work?

Four Criteria

Positioning is a forward-looking exercise about targeting future business in an area where you have, or are building, deep expertise. Proper positioning however, will attract opportunity from outside of your target market. From time to time it may make sense to take those opportunities, provided they meet four criteria:

  1. You have the capability – you can do the work
  2. You have the capacity – you wouldn’t be displacing better-fit clients (you would essentially be selling excess capacity)
  3. You can do it profitably
  4. You don’t have to compete for it

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to take work outside of your area of focus if it meets these criteria. (I’ve written about this more fully in Expanding Your Expertise and On Project Work.) Most firms are pretty good about adhering to the first three criteria but many fail at the fourth, where the proof of your positioning is really measured: by your enforced standards around the work that you will and will not compete for.

Examples of False Claims Laid Bare

A firm that claims to focus on challenger brands competing for work with Coca Cola. An experiential design firm competing on a branding assignment. An internal comms firm pitching for an ad campaign. These are all examples of a lack of standards which expose the positioning as just an exercise in language, nothing but a spun phrase.

Narrowing your focus is supposed to force you deeper into your chosen area of expertise. The goal of positioning is not to go narrow, it’s to go deep. Narrow is simply the path to depth.

Every competitive opportunity that is brought to the table (or created in the CRM application) should be vetted against the firm’s positioning, with the question posed: “Would winning this business increase our perception as experts in our declared field or decrease it?”

Again, the crime is not in doing this work, it’s in competing for it. By competing for work outside of your focus you tell your people and your market that yours is not really an expert firm at all, it’s one more generalist spinning another story of expertise.

An enforced policy or standard on the clients and engagements for which you will and will not compete is the realest application of your business strategy, which, in the creative professions, we call positioning. A firm that does not enforce this standard has no strategy, is not well positioned, and everybody knows it.

Thanks Blair!

Why Your Positioning Problem Doesn’t Go Away

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Our post today is compliments of our friend Blair Enns @ Win Without Pitching

Positioning the firm is the most fundamental act of leadership, and yet in many firms it remains largely undone, even after much effort and investment. I think I finally understand why, and it turns out I may have been no small part of the problem.

Work Undone
Creative firms are businesses, sharing a host of challenges common to all businesses. There are some challenges however that they seem to struggle with more than the average business, and positioning the firm is the prime example. While an increasing number of firms are getting their positioning right, the norm is that most agency principals still see their positioning as something they need to fix, even after working on it for a long time.

David C. Baker and I ran the three-day New Business Summit every year for ten straight years. I was always impressed that people would return, sometimes for consecutive years. I assumed that they laid the positioning foundation in their first year (we spent all of day one on positioning) and then came back again to focus more on the sales-based curriculum that built on a solid positioning. One year however, an agency principal who was attending for the third straight year said to me, “I’m finally getting my head around this positioning thing.”

Three years, nine days out of the office and who knows what else in the way of reading, thinking, working with outside consultants and perhaps attending other conferences and seminars, and the fundamental business strategy of this small business was still undeclared and uncertain. I can’t say this is the norm, but what I’ve seen over the years is the firm’s positioning (the business’ strategy) is usually something the principal thinks is “not there yet.” This is the most fundamental act of leadership and yet in the creative professions it remains chronically undone.

The Million Dollar Question: Why?
I’ve written many times about why positioning is more difficult for the creative mind (short answer: creative people are drawn to variety and therefore resist focus and the repetition it implies) but what I want to explore here is not the people who avoid the challenge of positioning their firms, but those who embrace the challenge, take on the hard work and difficult decisions and still do not get it done. They try, they really do, but they remain broad generalists trying to pull off way too much without much credibility, all while the world around them specializes and their more narrowly-focused competitors hoover up the most lucrative opportunities.

The answer to why, I believe, is two-fold.

Outside Help is Often Required
First, I’ve observed that firms that don’t nail their positioning quickly are not likely to at all without outside help. There are a number of possible reasons for this, including an inability to get team members onside, uncertainty of the most appropriate area of focus or just giving up after the results don’t come as quickly as expected.

Yes, you might be in the business of positioning your clients’ brands but there’s a reason surgeons don’t operate on themselves, lawyers don’t defend themselves and stylists don’t cut their own hair. Some things require an outside perspective.

The Decisions, And Struggle, Cannot Be Delegated
The second part of our answer might seem to contradict the first part: while an outside perspective is invaluable, the work has to be yours or you will not be fully invested in the decision.

We are a sales training company and our training program begins with an exploration of the firm’s positioning. Back when I was a sales consultant I likewise always began with positioning. “Let’s fix what it is you’re selling before we focus on making you a better salesperson,” was, and remains, my philosophy. Back then however I saw positioning as a problem for which I would quickly deliver a solution to my client. “Position the firm like this. Now let’s go.”

We would get it done quickly and move on to how to sell this new value proposition. It’s only clear to me now how rarely that new value proposition stuck. A client from my consulting days explained recently. “When you came in to work with us, we started with positioning, made some quick progress, but then you moved on and we started regressing almost immediately.”

That client is now a Win Without Pitching coach who was marvelling at how well her clients nail and stick to their positioning in our training program, compared to her team’s failure (ultimately my failure) to do so when working with me in a different form. It’s clear that she is a better coach than I am but beyond that it’s the structure that’s different, which leads me to conclude that while positioning is difficult to do on your own without outside assistance, it is also not a problem that can be solved by an outsider.

“While positioning your firm is difficult to do without outside help, it cannot be done for you.”

Required: Struggling Down a Well-Lit Path
My coaches are better at using our curriculum to help their clients’ position their firms because they see the positioning challenge as their clients’ and not theirs. I think my pride in wanting to be the person with the answers has long gotten in the way of my clients’ success. I see now that you, the principal of the firm, need to struggle, and own the struggle. By struggle I don’t mean grope blindly in the dark. It’s our job to show you the path, so you’re never doubting the steps or direction, and to offer the occasional hand as you walk it, but I now know that if you don’t walk it yourself and struggle while doing so there will be no meaning in the destination at the end.

I think this contradiction of the difficulty of doing it alone and the emptiness of having someone else do it for you is at the heart of why so many principals struggle at positioning their firms, even after so much effort and investment. They exhaust themselves on the problem and then bring in someone else, who, with the benefit of an unemotional, outside perspective, says “Here, this is the answer.” Those easily won solutions however are also easy to throw away when they don’t bear fruit immediately. When you’ve followed a process you trust and you’ve laboured over the decisions, when you’ve laid awake at night weighing the sacrifices, exploring the options and permutations and you finally come to the decision on your own that yes, “we are going to stand for this from now on,” that you are going to put all your chips on one narrow, consolidated strategy, that is when the decision is a meaningful one, more likely to stick – when it’s yours at the end of a long struggle.

Ah, But The Doubt Still Creeps In
But even then you will have doubts, and I think maybe that’s the last piece of the puzzle here. My consulting engagements typically began with a remote audit, in which I ‘solved’ the positioning problem, followed by two intense onsite training days backed up with some remote support. In our program today we spend twelve weeks on positioning (if that seems long, you might not fully appreciate the steps required) and then we’re with you for the rest of the year as you build on this positioning, developing a lead generation plan and intellectual property specific to it. By the end of the year, you’re invested!

From Answers to Questions
There are two types of consultants, according to my Canadian Association of Management Consultants guidebook: subject matter experts and process experts. If I’m fully honest, I’ll admit that when I read those words years ago I saw myself as a subject matter expert and I felt myself to be superior to the process experts. (Far superior – I didn’t even see process knowledge as real expertise at all. Rather, I viewed it like B2C creative firms used to view B2B firms: the domain of those not good enough to do the real work.)

Having the answers, I felt, was the height of expertise. Sixteen years and hundreds of engagements later, I now see that when it comes to positioning your firm and so many other issues, for the answers to stick they have to be yours, and they have to be hard-won. The key to your success is in the struggle that I long thought I could make go away. Of course you have to have complete faith in the path as you struggle, and it’s helpful to have others to lean on as you travel it, but there is no success without the struggle. Our job is to show the way, ask some tough questions, lend some occasional support and guide you further as you translate that decision into the tools for success, building your investment in your decision to the point where you are fully committed, and success becomes inevitable.

Then your positioning work will be done.

Here’s the positioning path we have our clients take.

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You Can’t Teach People To Sell By Teaching People To Sell

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Why are so few salespeople highly successful? Why do talented, intelligent people, with outstanding products and excellent training, still plateau well beneath their potential?

In fact, many more salespeople fail than succeed, with less than a quarter typically reaching high sales levels. Just teaching someone product knowledge, sales skills, and activity-management processes, although necessary, won’t cause the person to sell successfully.

That’s because up to 85 percent of success in selling is rooted in feelings, attitudes, emotions and beliefs. Yet most sales training fails to take these critical factors into account, and as a result, most sales training ultimately fails the people (and the organizations) it’s supposed to be helping.

So say Sales & Marketing Management, in offering a Webinar to explore practical, proven ways of training professionals and sales managers to influence behaviors and attitudes that lead to higher levels of productivity and better bottom-line results. (Note: That’s easy to say; much more difficult to resolve).

I suggest an even more important bottom line. It takes a certain “personality-type” to sell, to be prepared for what a salesperson experiences. The prospect’s failure to listen, the rejection, mistrust and suspicion. The incredibly long lead-times from introduction to close. The jigs & jags along the way. An introvert can become a successful outgoing comedian; we’ve all heard about their introverted off-stage personalities. But an introvert seldom succeeds at sales if what they need to do day-in and day-out is in conflict with their basic areas of comfort. Within the agency world, many are educated in creativity and expression. Ironically, few ever receive training in new business development. In my experience, creative personalities struggle to fare well in a leading new business development role. But there’s hope; that’s not to say they wouldn’t fare well in a presentation role.

The lesson?  Don’t try to fit a square peg in the round hole of sales.

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The Agency’s Educational Transgression

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

A recent HubSpot article described an agency survey that revealed few agency employees stood up to accept responsibility for the development of new business for the agency.

No surprise there, it’s a function of the age-old agency mantra – New business is everybody’s business! Or, as you so clearly identified – new business is nobody’s business! Dating back to 1990 when we were conducting agency new business seminars stateside and in the UK, it was just the same. Agencies have managed to avoid the obvious for at least 26 years! Why? Because none of those in advertising ever had a class in what it takes to grow an agency business. It is almost a criminal oversight in the University community. And to suggest that agency “types” stoop to the lows of salesmanship, we’re not having any of that!

I don’t have the statistics at my fingertips, but as I recall, Gallup for years has ranked advertising folks depending, above or below “used car salesmen.”  So what’s the shame in shame! As of now, I have yet to learn of any University or College that offers anything more than a cursory pass at “business development.” So is it any wonder that those at an agency that are brave enough to at least try their hand at focused new business development, bail (unless they aren’t already terminated) after 6-12 months. They weren’t prepared or trained for the pressure that prevails.

I suspect little will change unless and until the industry accepts the fact that education and training are mandatory. BTW, all the recently surfaced “lead generation” software vendors will do little if anything the change that.

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When Clients Ask for Financials

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Agency Search Tips, Blog Posts

Today’s enlightenment was supplied by Blair Enns, CEO with Win Without Pitching

I recently spoke with an agency ownership team about an RFP they had received from a new prospect. One of the submission requirements was a copy of the firm’s financial statements.

How do you respond in such situations?

You would be well within your right to issue the most impolite of two-word responses to such a demand. Of course that’s not necessary, though. This is, after all, merely a game. Rather than stress you out, such a request should bring a smile to your face and an eager acceptance of the challenge. Let’s go over how to play the Show Us Your Money game.

Is This a Game Worth Playing?

Before we begin, prepare yourself for the fact that any selection process that begins with a request for financials might not go well. When the client opens this way then they’re likely a price buyer. If the relationship begins through procurement then whatever you’re being asked to bid on is seen as a commodity and you will have no power. It’s a price-driven decision all day long. Best to bow out.

If things have gone well in the sales cycle only for procurement to pop up at the last minute and demand financials, that’s actually good news. When procurement gets involved at this stage its almost certainly because they see this as final negotiations with the preferred firm – although they will never let on that this is the case. You’ve got more power than you realize in this situation but wielding it begins with the word “no”. Until you clearly say no, procurement is hearing yes. There’s rarely a need to get uppity or indignant. Remember the WWP key principle of kind ruthlessness: be ruthless in your behaviour – in this case getting right to the issue of why the client is asking and what a more appropriate answer might be – but be kind in your words. So a healthy amount of skepticism and direct professional questioning is called for.

Playing The Game

First, let us recall the Win Without Pitching Four Priorities of winning new business:

  1. Win Without Pitching, if possible. If you cannot then…
  2. Derail the pitch. If you cannot then…
  3. Gain the inside track. If you cannot then…
  4. Walk away.

Priorities two and three are about gaining concessions that affect the buying process thereby giving you an indication of how likely you are to win. You proceed with opportunities where you have proven that your odds of winning are good, ideally better than 1/n (with n being the number of firms under consideration). The assumption is someone has the inside track. If it’s not you, it’s someone else. This is the inverse of the saying about poker, that “If you can’t spot the sucker at the table, it’s you.”

Now, the step-by-step guide to our game. A lot of these steps are the same as those you would follow for any RFP response, with the specifics around financials added.

Step 1: Pick Up the Phone

The first thing you do is call – even if the RFP says no phone calls. Don’t apologize, just ignore and call. Get to a real decision maker and not a gate-keeper or process manager if you can. If the opportunity has come to you through procurement and you can’t get to a decision maker then you’re either a filler candidate rounding out the roster, perhaps there as a source of pricing pressure on the others, or the entire engagement is seen by the client organization as a commodity. In either case you want to think deeply about the merits of proceeding.

Step 2: Why Us?

Once on the phone ask why you’ve been selected. You’re looking to see who referred you, if anyone, how they see you and ultimately, how much power you might have in the relationship. Like step one above, this is standard RFP response protocol. “Thanks for thinking of us. I’m curious why you did think of us?”

Step 3: Raise The First Objection

Now put the RFP objection on the table. “We don’t typically respond to RFPs.” You can say this in different ways but I strongly recommend you use these exact words. Now pause, if you have the stomach for it, and listen. Whatever you hear next will be invaluable in letting you know where you stand with this client.

Leaving the objection on the table, which subtly implies the smallest of openings through the word ‘typically,’ proceed. It might sound something like, “I did want to say hello and explore whether or not there’s a path forward here.”

Step 4: Now Raise the Financials Objection

Proceeding full steam ahead you are now putting on the table all of the items in the RFP about which you have questions or issues. “There are some things in here I’d like to talk about.”

Right to the financials. “You ask for financials. We’re a private company and there are no circumstances under which we would hand over financial statements, but tell me what you’re looking for and why? I’m certain there’s a way to get to you what you really need.” You’re saying no but also that this is not a barrier but a bump. Let’s get over it together.

Step 5: Identify and Address the Real Issue

Now you are two people having a real conversation. You have placed aside the direct request and are in search of the reasons behind it. Some are valid. Some are not. Let’s explore each.

Valid Reason #1

The client wants to know what percentage of your total income their account would represent. This is perfectly valid. You want to know this, too. You want your new clients to be in the green zone, representing between 10% and 25% of your total revenue.

0-4% red zone
5-9% amber zone
10-25% green zone
26-35% amber zone
36%+ red zone

Smaller than 10% would not meet your minimum level of engagement (MLOE) and larger than 35% would be dangerous. The research that ReCourses CEO David C. Baker has done across hundreds of firms shows that when a firm loses a client that represents 35% or more of its income there’s a greater than 50% chance the firm will go out of business.

So, this is valuable for both parties to know, therefore it’s appropriate for you to disclose your revenue and even the number of clients you have, and it’s equally appropriate for the client to disclose the budget. If the client will not take you at your word for your revenue then this isn’t going to be a good partnership, is it? Go ahead and say that, if necessary.

Valid Reason #2

The client might have legitimate concerns over your financial stability. In the example I gave at the top, the agency had over two decades of experience doing this type of work for Fortune 100 clients. If that’s not enough to assuage someone’s stated concern about stability then the concern is a lie and there’s something else the client is looking for.

Find other ways to prove stability. There are many, including references from clients or your bank. Financial statement disclosure should not be required. Some RFPs, especially those crafted by procurement, attempt to pass all risk onto you and that’s just not realistic. They know that – they’re not demanding, they’re negotiating! Don’t assume because it’s in the RFP it’s mandatory. “I have to ask… if you think we’re a fly-by-night operation that might not be around to see this project through then why did you send us the RFP?”

The Big Invalid Reason (Which The Client Will Deny)

The client wants to dictate your profitability. Ahhh, now we come to the real reason. The procurement department wants to control your profit, ideally having you work at or close to cost.

You might want to lean right into this one. “Your only concern regarding our profitability should be that any work we might do for you IS profitable. How profitable is our business and not yours. You just want us to be profitable. And you don’t have to worry because we price all of our work so that it’s profitable for us and for our clients.”

If your spider-sense tells you this a price buyer, lean right into that too. “I’m concerned with this focus on our financials that this decision is all about price and I’ll tell you right now that we’re not likely to be the lowest price.”

The two valid reasons are easily dealt with without having to share your financials. The invalid reason, if it is the reason, needs to be outed and addressed head on before you politely walk away and leave it to your competitors to do the stupid thing. Sometimes that is just as gratifying as a win.

Wrapping Up

In summary, never share your financials. That’s like going into a fencing match in which your opponent decides he’s going to try something outrageous and ask you to hand over your foil – and then you do! Never give procurement the upper hand this way. Yes they sometimes ask but they’re laughing their asses off when you comply.

Look for the reason behind the request and if it’s a valid reason find another way to get them the assurances that any reasonable person would require. If they want to dictate margin to you, tell them to get stuffed. But do it kindly. This is, after all, but a game. Win or lose this should be fun.

Footnote: In any AgencyFinder review, you will know why and how you were selected. But as Blair points out, other parties including Procurement can join in after invitations go out. You can also ask me if you think some questions are out of line!

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What Would Shakespeare Call a Sales Person?

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

I’ve always said and tried to explain that agency people are not necessarily or naturally “new business” people. Most agency folks are trained in creative disciplines and even to this day, seldom do university curriculums offer anything that even touches on sales or “selling.” Regardless of what someone says, even in this new age, selling is a dog-eat-dog business. Maybe it’s done with a little less angst; maybe it’s a bit more polite, but I would describe it today as misdirected and lacking in focus.

My business friend Blair Enns has been guiding agencies for years, and in his post today, and in his words, goes to greater detail in what I am referring to above. I doubt Shakespeare could do better. See if you agree.

A Target Audience of One

There is a woman. I see her clearly. She is an artist, a creator. It is her passion.

At some point she decides to make her passion her business. She opens a design firm. Owning a business demands other responsibilities of her. Now she must sell as well as create.

I see her standing in a room of people who are judging her work. Because her work is also her art, she is vulnerable. She does not see herself as a natural salesperson. Most of the advice she gets on this subject grates on her, or is laden with beguiling, debilitating conventions that cause her to feel even more vulnerable.

The business that is Win Without Pitching is built around helping this one person conquer this one situation. We teach creators how to sell. We empower them to stand up for themselves, to push back on the conventions that say they must first give their art away for free, and we help them to triumph in one of the most stressful situations in business.

Just as often, the woman is a man and the design firm will take a different form of creative practice, but I try to conjure in my mind a vivid image of the artist-business owner who must pass the test of selling in order to keep bringing her gifts to the world. I want to help her. I want my team to be heros to her.

I don’t know what other sales trainers or consultants see or even do. I don’t know or judge their motivations. All I know is, if, in our careers, we can help her and many more just like her then that will be enough for us.

In the Win Without Pitching program we have owners of other types of businesses beyond just creative firms, but they’re not with us because we pursued them. They’re here because, for reasons that are entirely their own, they identify with the artist-business owner and therefore our message resonates with them, too.

While I, too, identify strongly with this person I see so clearly, I am not her. You do not have to be your target audience of one, but you do have to have an enormous amount of empathy for her. I am not a designer, but I have huge admiration for all creators. I believe these people were born into their craft or called to it.

Let someone else help the natural salespeople, and let others help our artist with other areas of her business. This one thing for this one person we will do and we will do it better than anyone. If others find resonance in this they will be welcome, but we will stay resolutely focused on solving this problem for this person.

Against this certainty, this vivid picture, all of our big business questions become easy, their answers obvious and unavoidable.

How much confusion and inertia could you eliminate by simply answering the question, to whom are you going to be a hero?

There is a man. Can you see him clearly?

Blair Enns
Win Without Pitching
202 B Ave #454
Kaslo, BC V0G 1M0
+1.250.353.2591

You’ve Been Invited; Great! Now How Should You Handle Your Due-diligence Interview

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Headshots-April-2014-005-150x150In our AgencyFinder process, when you get an invitation on behalf of the client, carefully read all our invitational materials and in particular, study and then “vet” their Request for Dialogue (RFD). If you find everything to your liking and want to investigate further, that’s precisely why we offer the no-cost due-diligence telephone interview (for those at the Manager Plan level). I could have written something, but I spotted this piece by Jami Oetting that does a great job on our behalf. She approaches it from a slightly different perspective, but that too is worth the read. Now on to Jami – enjoy!

Are They Worth It? 26 Qualifying Questions to Ask Prospects

Written by Jami Oetting | @

How many times have you pitched a potential client, or sent a proposal, only to get a “Thanks, we’ll think about it and get back to you” email or phone call?

If you’re like most agencies, you pitch way more often than you close. And after awhile, you can become so discouraged you want to throw in the towel. Many agencies struggle with cash flow and thus leap at the chance to pitch anyone, hoping to get some business, any business, to keep the cash coming. And while we all need to put food on the table, (continue here)

 

The Five Objections

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

by Blair Enns @  www.winwithoutpitching.com   (Chuck says – from time to time I want to share what other business development pros have to say)

I spent the early part of my consulting practice advising you on using classic selling techniques to help overcome objections raised by the prospect in the buy-sell cycle. Over time it became clear that rather than trying to overcome these objections, you should be raising them for the prospect to overcome. I wrote about this idea of racing to object in the August, 2006 issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter, titled Creating Objections. This month I go deeper into this subject by exploring the five most common objections that you should arm yourself with, for use early in the buying cycle as a means of quickly shifting the power from buyer to seller.

Anytime you sense there might not be a perfect fit between the offering or ability of your firm and the needs and means of the prospect, you want to raise the objection before the prospect does. As I’ve written in this space previously, the dynamics of objections are such that if the prospect raises them, it is incumbent on you to deal with them, but the opposite is equally true. You will demonstrate an expert’s selectivity if you raise the concern first. If the objection is significant to the point that the prospect would be better served by another firm then you are not going to disguise this over a long sales cycle, so it is in the interest of both parties to deal with this early, before extensive resources are wasted. If the objection is less onerous, or if the prospect sees a route around it, he will help you deal with the objection, provided you give him the opportunity.

While it is in your interest to address any objection that you sense, there are five main objections that you should be prepared to drop on the prospect at any time. Let’s explore them, the language around them and some situations when you might employ them.

Objection #1: Money
Money, or price, being the most common objection, is the first one you should be prepared to raise. Some prospects simply will not be able to afford you. Some will come to you with engagements too small worth considering. And others simply need to know that there is a minimum price of entry to get onto your client roster. Be sure to raise this objection as soon as you sense it. Contrary to what some believe, it is never too early to talk money in a business setting.

The Language

An annual minimum level of engagement is a good place to broach the subject of money. (I addressed the math that allows you to arrive at your firm’s minimum in the January, 2008 issue, Business Development Planning.) Raise the issue of your minimum as soon as need or opportunity is identified. In its simplest form the objection sounds like, ‘Before we go too far I should tell you that we have a minimum level of engagement of $xxx in fees.’

You can follow up with, ‘Does the engagement we are discussing meet this minimum?’ Or, just silence. Silence is a powerful conversational tool. Like nature, the average person abhors a vacuum and will attempt to fill it. If you can resist filling the pregnant pause, the prospect will fill it for you, often by overcoming the objection or by beginning to close the gap between positions that the objection represents.

You might hear, ‘Yes, we’re prepared to spend that much.’ Or conversely, the prospect might respond with, ‘Oh – we can only afford a fraction of that amount.’ In either case the next steps are obvious; one is a sign to proceed and the other a sign to send the prospect on his way.

Between these extremes lies interesting middle ground where the prospect might consider adding more work to the engagement to meet your minimum. You will also uncover situations where the budget does not meet your stated minimum but might be healthy enough to merit consideration, given your capacity and ability to command a good profit margin on the engagement. In this last example be sure to keep the objection in place while you resume conducting your due diligence. If you do remove the objection, make sure it is the last thing you do before you close.

Objection #2: Project Work
In last month’s issue I discussed the idea that you should not be pursuing project work. When it does come to you, begin by raising the objection that you are not in the project business, then see what happens from there. By project, I mean short-term tactical engagements of any kind. Substitute brochure, website, or whatever tactical piece being discussed for the word project.

The Language

If a prospect calls to discuss a brochure assignment then you would respond accordingly: ‘We’re not in the brochure business.’

Then follow-up your objection with your reassurance statement – a description of the business you are in. In our brochure example you might proceed with, ‘We’re in the business of developing entire visual branding platforms.’ Then further explain, ‘We often do brochures and other sales collateral as part of that larger engagement, but if you are just looking for a brochure, ours is probably not the firm for you.’

Now the power begins to shift as you raise the initial objection, stopping the prospect at the gate. Continue by probing for a higher value, higher margin opportunity that will determine if you let the prospect through the gate or turn them back.

‘Before I say no let me ask, is this brochure part of a larger initiative?’

If you remember from the January, 2008 issue (Business Development Planning) in which I discussed your business development goals for the year, you do not build a lucrative practice by adding many small projects, but by carefully managing a small stable of high quality clients who engage you at a more strategic level. If the opportunity at hand is nothing more than a small project that would position you as the small project firm, then demonstrate an expert’s selectivity by sending the prospect packing, thereby preserving your positioning as an expert firm and preserving any future business opportunity.

Objection #3: Request for Proposal
The formal document called a Request for Proposal (RFP) is a sure sign of a bureaucratic selection process designed to bring the illusion of objectivity and transparency to the process. Be prepared at all times to whack this one down as soon as you get a hint of it. The language is straight-forward.

The Language

‘We don’t typically respond to RFPs.’

Alternatives include a stronger, ‘It’s our policy that we do not respond to RFPs,’ or the more fluid and playful, ‘We’re not in the proposal-writing business.’

With every objection you raise, you reserve the right to remove it. You are simply reversing the typical dynamics in the buy-sell cycle, asking the prospect if he will address the objections for you. His willingness to bend is an indication of the extent to which he recognizes and values your expertise, and an indication of the control he will give you in the buy-sell cycle. From time to time it may make sense to remove these objections (again, only right before you close) but you keep them in place as long as possible as a means of getting and leveraging power.

Again, in this example you can follow-up your objection with silence, or you can proceed right to, ‘Before I say no, let me ask you a few questions.’ If the prospect is willing to dismiss you at the first sign of the objection, then that is an indication that he sees many alternatives to hiring your firm. You therefore you have no power in the buy-sell cycle, which means no power once engaged. With few exceptions, this is not an opportunity worth pursuing.

Objection #4: Free Thinking
Free thinking, whether in the form of a formal speculative creative pitch or just uncompensated strategic guidance offered in the buy-sell cycle, is a danger zone that you want to avoid. Any client worth having will respect the fact that you do not give your highest value product away for free. As soon as you get a sniff of a request to part with free ideas or advice, draw the line by raising the objection in strongest possible terms.

The Language

‘It’s our policy that we do not begin to part with our thinking before we are engaged.’

As I’ve written previously, prefacing your objection with the words ‘It’s our policy,’ goes a long way to melting resistance. Other means of saying this include, ‘We don’t begin to solve our clients’ problems before we are engaged.’

There is a line that separates proving your ability to solve the prospect’s problem from actually beginning to solve it. When the prospect invites you to step over the line, simply point out the fact that the line is there. ‘I understand why you would ask us to come to you with some ideas – you’re simply looking for assurances that ours is the right firm for the job. But we would have to send you a contract and an invoice before we began working on the engagement. Keep your money for now, and let’s explore other ways we might determine if this is a good fit.’

In my own practice every once in a while I will cross the line and offer insight into the prospect’s situation – usually a form of diagnosing challenges rather than prescribing solutions, but before I do I will point out: A) the line exists, B) I’m going to step over it, breaking one of my own rules, and then C) watch me quickly retreat back over the line once I’ve made my point (and demonstrated my expertise.) It’s a playful approach that demonstrates a willingness on the part of the seller to work with the buyer while generating an understanding of exactly where the line is. Once you describe the line, the prospect will usually not ask you to cross it again.

Objection #5: Fit
The objection of poor fit is a broad one that can cover many situations. You would use it after diligently qualifying the prospect and determining that they cannot afford you. You would use it when the prospect’s needs are clearly outside of your area of expertise. You would also raise the fit objection with an unsophisticated prospect who doesn’t seem to recognize and value your expertise.

Determining a fit is almost always your objective in each and every business development interaction, and this objective should usually be stated aloud: ‘Our objective is to see if there’s a suitable enough fit between your need and our area of expertise to merit taking a next step together.’ Positioning yourself as an expert requires the demonstration of selectivity that a meaningful exploration of fit implies. If you suspect there is not a fit, say so and see how the prospect responds.

The Language

‘I don’t think there’s a fit here,’ is the straight-forward approach. Also try, ‘I think you might be better served by another firm.’ Feel free to suggest some options, pointing out where your firm differs from those you are suggesting.

In situations where a highly-coveted prospect begins discussing an enviable, lucrative engagement that is outside of your area of expertise – something you’ve never done before – then you should raise the objection. ‘While you’re talking about something that we would be excited to work on, you need to know that we’ve never undertaken this exact type of engagement before.’ If this is going to be an issue, then have it be an issue early and not late. Objections are your friends when you raise them early, and they are your enemies when the prospect raises them late. You build credibility by raising the objection and allowing the prospect to tell you how meaningful it is. If he sees your expertise as closely translating to the assignment at hand he may reply with, ‘Is there any way you could bring in some outside expertise to help you?’ Or, ‘I’m not worried. Based on your related experience I think you could do this.’

Your response might be, ‘Absolutely – we’re not worried about our ability to do this, but I wanted to be upfront with you about our experience.’ You are better off raising the objection for the prospect to address then you are pretending it does not exist and trying to close with the elephant in the room that nobody is discussing.

Summing Up
Expert firms drive the engagement. Order-taker firms let the client drive. If you want to drive like an expert once engaged then you need to begin to take control in the buy-sell cycle, before you are engaged. Taking control begins with raising objections to the common concerns outlined above. Look for the signs that the concern exists then raise the objection as soon as possible. From there, sit back and enjoy the awkward silence while you watch to see if the prospect overcomes the objection, or if he smacks into it and runs away.

To badly mangle an old adage, if you want the engagement bad enough, whack it hard. If it comes back, it’s yours (and you will be properly positioned as the expert); if it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.

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The agency game: Six tips for choosing an agency (client advice)

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Agency Search Tips, Blog Posts

Just saw an interesting article at HIGHTAIL, a file sharing and thensome site. The author Scott Moe did a nice job working through 6 tips a client could use to evaluate agency candidates. I periodically see articles along these lines, but in most cases I spot a serious omission. And I commented accordingly (there and here).

Good article. These Six Tips cover important ground and if you’ve got a handful to start with, any comparative process should lead to your winner. I’ve always argued choosing the ideal agency is relatively easy once you’ve identified your qualified candidates. The real problem is finding those qualified candidates! Last I checked there were some 30,000 firms in the US that call themselves ad agencies or some such (integrated marketing communication firms, digital agencies, PR firms). That’s just for starters. So for those who speak of starting with 3-5 firms, I always wonder because they don’t say – how do you identify those?

Some suggest asking colleagues, asking media reps, or Googling for agencies with specific characteristics in your area. Some “directory” websites offer “alpha-ranked” agencies. But visit their websites and you discover “Contact Us” often fails to reveal their location, nor how many people actually work there. The data elements you want to use to winnow your list don’t exist. That was our discovery almost 20 years ago when we were teaching agency business development and little has changed. That absence of necessary data led us to develop an agency profile and search process that draws upon more than 500 agency profile data fields. And for years, we’ve been helping clients identify their handful to invite and have done so for thousands. See for yourself.

“Sales is Not a Dirty Word in the Agency Business,” with Chuck Meyst & Drew McLellan of AMI

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Chuck Meyst has been in sales all his life, from his childhood bike route to CEO and founder of AgencyFinder.com, a matchmaking service for agencies.

Chuck and Drew discuss the value in finding the right business matches for your agency. They cover everything from measuring the quality of potential match to how to stand out and create value as an agency.

The interview begins here: http://buildabetteragency.com/chuck-meyst/

Some highlights include: 

Have a clear focus of your goals and priorities going into a business match, and you will be a better client. Create something of value for potential clients, and you will be a better match as an agency. Chuck describes strategies to achieve this near minute 11:00 of our interview.

At minute 20:00, Chuck explains how the word “sales” is not something to fear, but something to embrace, and how to create maximum impact from it.

At minute 28:00,  Agencies make themselves valuable and different by being good listeners and asking pertinent questions to their clients.

At minute 37:00, Chuck describes the “power index,” AgencyFinder’s measurement tool of new business’ readiness. This index is powerful because it serves as a regulatory tool for an agency’s quality.

At minute 50:00, make your agency available for potential matches.  Chuck highlights simple ways to do this, without adding extra work to your agency.

That’s a wrap folks!

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