Business Development

The Four Criteria of New Business Success

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

It’s not your job to win more new business says today’s Guest Author Blair Enns

It’s your job to win the right new business. That means engagements that meet the following four criteria:

1. A proper-fit client that takes you one step closer to the strategic vision of the expert firm you are building
2.At high profit margin
3.With low cost of sale
4.And your firm positioned to have the greatest possible impact

Let me unpack each of these criteria and then give you some options for improving your new business performance across all of them.

Proper-Fit Clients
Whether you acknowledge it or not, you reinvent your firm one new client at a time. You should have a vivid and wildly important goal off in the distance that you are navigating toward. It’s a detailed vision of the expert firm you are building, and each new client is a step toward or away from that vision. No vision means no standards about what client engagements it makes sense for you to take on. A vision that is continuously compromised by a leader that keeps making exceptions for clients because of revenue or “the portfolio” is ultimately hollow and dispiriting to the larger team. A top-down vision is required and each new client engagement should be a measure of how serious the firm is about that vision. The vision exists or it doesn’t. It’s meaningful or it isn’t.

High Profit Margin
Profit margin is like power in the relationship in that it only diminishes with time. The new business person or team sets the profit standard with the very first sale, properly expecting that it’s all downhill from there. (The only question is the steepness of the slope.) Winning business on price while hoping to make it up later, or on volume, is not a valid approach for an expertise-based business. Profit diminishes as you move from the expert practitioner position in the relationship to partner status and then quickly to vendor. The slide is inevitable so it’s your job to start high with the first engagement at a price and profit level higher than the overall average you’re targeting.

Low Cost of Sale
Of course nobody wants higher costs than necessary but a low cost of sale is vital because it signals other more important things. Are you seen as the expert practitioner or just another vendor? Vendors have high costs of sale, low profit margins and lack the high ground required to challenge the client’s thinking. Your cost of sale is a barometer of the relationship and its power dynamics, which will ultimately play out in the engagement itself, impacting your ability to create value for the client.

Positioned for the Greatest Impact
The sale is the sample of the engagement to follow. To have the greatest impact on your client you must be allowed to lead. If you are not allowed to lead in the sale then you will not be allowed to lead in the engagement. That’s why winning a pitch or in any way winning new business while playing the polite, compliant rule follower is not good enough. You cannot be a good soldier in the sale, dutifully following orders, and then suddenly try to become the general in the engagement. That’s the definition of a coup. Rather, you should be navigating the sale in a way that sees you seamlessly take the lead, with the client allowing you to move naturally and unthreateningly from the vendor position to the expert practitioner position.

That’s what they teach in Win Without Pitching.

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7 WAYS TO CREATE NEW REVENUE STREAMS

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

Guest Author: Tim Williams, Ignition Consulting Group

Tim’s contributions are “spot-on” and we’re happy to share them when available. His content is significant and if you read carefully, it suggests that running an agency is clearly a full-time job (for those who missed that class).  The same goes for everything you find necessary for new business development.  With today’s litany of business development options, it make sense to bring in someone with special skills to teach and train your people. Many of the skills required today are not “self-taught.” And if not special people with special skills, engage a service that delivers “opportunities.” Is your answer to Tim’s first question “Yes?”

Would you like to earn money while you sleep? Most of your clients do. 

While most product and service companies have diverse ways of generating revenues, agencies and other professional firms generally don’t make money unless they’re recording hours on a timesheet. “Work a million hours, make a million dollars,” as the saying goes.

This is why the agency business is not really scalable. As long as your product line consists of “billable hours,” the only way you can scale your company is to add more people. And with the current pricing pressures on the time-based compensation system, this makes agencies perpetually high-volume, low-margin businesses.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. An emerging crop of innovative firms across the globe are successfully cultivating new revenue streams, diversifying their sources of income, and yes, even making money while they sleep.

How do they do it? Here are seven ways you can accomplish this in your own business.

1. Diversification
Purposefully diversify your compensation approaches with clients

Your personal investment portfolio (the money you’re saving for retirement) is diversified for a very good reason: you’ll get a much better rate of return. The same logic holds for your firm’s compensation portfolio. If your revenue streams are generated in a variety of different ways, you dramatically improve the chances of earning an above-average year-end profit.

2. Non-Standardization
Replace a standard rate card with an array of revenue options (a “pricing stack”)

Besides being remarkably uncreative, a standard list of hourly rates is a wildly suboptimal way to capture the value you create for your clients. When asked by a prospective client to supply your “rate card,” respond instead with your version of a “pricing stack” — an assortment of different ways your firm pricing its services. These can include such approaches as:

FIXED PRICE OPTIONS 

REVENUE SHARING

USAGE

DYNAMIC PRICING

SUBSCRIPTION-BASED

LICENSING

ROYALTDIES

3. Risk Management
Bet on your own success by injecting elements of risk in selected opportunities

Not every prospective client is a candidate for an outcome-based compensation agreement, but some are. When you sense an opportunity to get paid for marketplace outcomes instead of agency inputs, seize it. You’ll learn from it and get better as you go.

4. Productization
Turn selected solutions into programs and products

As stated earlier, labor-based services on their own are not very scalable. But programs and products are. By packaging up selected services into programs and products, you enhance the perceived value of your offerings and create the potential for new ways to charge for what you do.

5. IP Ownership
Package your intellectual property in ways that can generate recurring revenues

Most firms have a wealth of valuable intellectual property scattered across their file servers. This can be “productized” and licensed to clients.  Look for opportunities to license existing IP (software code, analytics dashboards) instead of approaching every assignment as “work for hire” in which the client automatically owns the IP. Why should your clients buy everything you do for them when they can rent some of it for much less?

6. Unmet Needs
Move beyond widely available services to develop solutions for the unmet needs of clients

The profit problems at most firms can be correlated directly with a service offering that the business strategist Clayton Christensen calls “overdeveloped services.” Good luck charging a premium price for something clients perceive they can get down the street at half the price. Instead, turn your energies to the “underdeveloped services” designed to meet the unmet needs of the marketers you serve.

7. Experimentation
Adopt a “test and learn” approach to generating revenue streams

The most profitable agencies we have ever worked with have the attitude that every new assignment is an opportunity to craft a new compensation approach they’ve never used before — the equivalent of a pricing “test kitchen.” They expect varying levels of success, but that’s the point. They learn from their experiences and get better and better at developing more creative, more effective ways of capturing the value they create for their clients.

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Propulsion is written by Tim Williams of Ignition Consulting Group, a U.S.-based consultancy devoted to helping agencies and other professional firms create and capture more value.

“As a next step, I’d like you to come back with some concepts on what this campaign might look like.”

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

Guest Author – Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching

The client was politely but firmly taking charge, proposing what he clearly saw as a logical next step. Even though he was still a prospect at this point and not a paying client, he seemed to be conditioned to believe that our firm doing work for free made sense for all. I didn’t see it that way. Matching both his politeness and assuredness, I replied without skipping a beat, “We never pitch.” It was a lie. We pitched all the time but I was getting tired of it. I’d seen this film before and I knew how it ended. I wanted to try to change the ending, even if I didn’t know what should come after my small act of defiance. What made this particular exchange interesting though was that my boss, the president of the firm, was seated next to me and he replied to the client at exactly the same moment I did. “That sounds good,” he said. Cue the awkward silence.

It’s so long ago now that I don’t recall what happened next. I think I remember the three of us exchanging glances, Mexican standoff-like, but I don’t remember what language my boss or I spun to extricate ourselves with minimal embarrassment before we retreated to work on the pitch. I do know the client never hired us. I don’t think he hired anybody. It was the classic example of an overeager salesperson (me) mistaking interest for intent, and then an agency CEO, who had flown in for a meeting that never should have been, wanting to salvage something from the trip. Neither do I remember the details of the conversation with my boss that followed. I vaguely recall there was no real friction between us. I think he appreciated my alternative approach but would have liked to have known in advance what the play was going to be. The problem was that I myself didn’t know. I just sensed another client who was about to put us to work, for free, and not hire us.

If we list the things that went wrong on this opportunity, we find: 

1.     The client had not yet formed any intent to solve his problem, therefore, in all likelihood, the meeting never should have happened. At the very least it was poorly qualified beforehand. Wasting your boss’s time and money by having him fly in for a poorly-qualified meeting is a major no-no. In all likelihood, he was probably coming to town anyway and asked me to line up some new business meetings. (Again, the details elude me.) Such a request is perfectly legitimate but also enough pressure to cause a salesperson to set up meetings that shouldn’t be. I don’t remember anything about the dialogue that led to the meeting, but I’ll bet it was me pushing for it and not the client. In such a context the dynamics become clear, with the client thinking, “these people really want my business. Of course, they’ll bring me some free ideas!”

2.     We let the client lead in the meeting and then we agreed to follow even though the place he was leading us to wasn’t in our best interest, or at least I didn’t see it as such.

3.     We, my boss and I, were not operating from the same playbook. I had contradicted him in front of the client. If I had told him in advance how I wanted to handle such a request, I think he would have agreed to play it my way. He was a great that way. But it wasn’t part of any predetermined plan of mine either.

All the errors seem silly to me now, but back then I just didn’t know. I was a new business person. It’s not like there was anything that resembled training for this role. You copied what was done by those around you and those that went before you, based on the stories and the decks. And you improvised.

In the many years since this incident I’ve seen that this lack of cohesion on business development topics is common–perhaps even the norm–even if most examples don’t manifest themselves in a subordinate putting his boss in an awkward position the way I did. Just today I heard from an executive at a medium-to-large independent firm frustrated at the firm’s leadership team’s inability to get on the same page. “We have rules we’ve agreed to about when we will pitch and when we won’t but we break those rules all the time, and we always lose.”

There are so many different challenges that can affect a firm’s new business success, but not having everyone agree on some basic policies and procedures has got to be one of the most common and most significant.

If you’re trying to extricate your firm from a new business rut, a good place to start would be to get all the key players together (I mean ALL. Don’t let the chief transgressors skip this.) and agree on some basic new business rules, such as:

What do we require from the client before we will incur any expense?
What information do we need before we agree to a meeting?
Under what conditions will we respond to an RFP?
What is the smallest engagement it makes sense to take on?

Of course, agreeing on the rules and enforcing them are two different things. I suggest that once you lay out the rules, commit to a brief postmortem on each late stage opportunity (any opportunity that proceeds to a win or a loss) and, rule by rule, ask yourselves how you did. After a few such reviews, the patterns of transgressing and enabling will become clear. Then you need to decide what to do about  that . You can cross that bridge when you come to it. For now, commit to getting everybody on the same page by setting up the rules and reviewing every won or lost opportunity against them

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You’ve Landed a New One! Now 3 Principles of a Successful Client Onboarding Process

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

By Eric Taussig, Founder & CEO, Prialto

Making the client onboarding process successful is crucial for any service company.

When done well, your onboarding process is the mechanism through which your business development and/or sales team does an elegant handoff to your service delivery people. This instills confidence in your offering, and makes your new customer glad to have signed on with you.

Getting your client onboarding process right—especially when your service is offered remotely from a globally distributed team—is even more important and difficult.

Below, I outline three principles we’ve kept in mind while structuring our onboarding process, a process that we see as foundational to Prialto’s success.


3 PRINCIPLES OF A SUCCESSFUL CLIENT ONBOARDING PROCESS

1. Make the new customer glad to have signed on with you

Savvy buyers are always hesitant to sign on to a new service. They fear the inevitable productivity dip that takes place before a new service becomes additive.

Our new customers are particularly fearful. They worry that they will need to provide a lot of heavy personal management time to make our service work in light of our virtual assistants residing a world away in Asia and Latin America.

To overcome this, we work to awe the customer with the amount of management support we will provide on their behalf. We put their entire support team of virtual assistants and their manager on the onboarding call so that they hear from each person and understand how each of their roles will help make the service exceptionally “turnkey” such that the productivity dip common in adopting a new service will be minimal.

This addresses one of the greatest fears with which the customer comes to the new relationship. It puts them at ease and encourages them to follow our lead.

Instead of regretting that they’ve signed on, they rightly feel smart for having done so.

2. Create a detailed, personal and professional context around which to collaborate 

Contrary to conventional wisdom, studies show that when meetings begin with a bit of personal sharing they are more productive than meetings kept to “just business.” Sharing and honoring the personal context in which work is conducted creates the trust and respect that is foundational to work collaboration.

We begin each onboarding call by introducing each of the several key Prialto employees who comprise our new customers’ support team. By this time, we’ve already sent the new customer a detailed biography of his/her primary virtual administrative assistant. On the call, we outline each of the team members’ roles in helping the customer.

We then ask the new customer to introduce him/herself. While making the request, we invite the new customer to tell us about both the professional and personal aspects of his/her life.

When the new customer pauses, the Prialto team comments or asks follow-up questions to show that they understand the professional life being described, the personal world in which it takes place, and the connections between the two.

We follow these introductions with a series of preference questions. Many of these preferences might have been collected in advance of the call via a web form or survey. However, asking the questions on the call allow us to follow-up with personal insights and questions that further build trust, primarily my telling the new customer that “we’ve been here before.” We have worked with people like him/her, and we know how to successfully lead a busy professional through the productivity dip to the “sweet spot” in which the service we offer is creating lasting value.

These questions and introductions also help bridge the context gap between our customer operating in a high pressure North American business environment and the world in which our virtual assistants live in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

3. Begin taking steps to ensure continuity

Customers who sign on with a firm for a new service are often attracted by one particular partner, employee or executive. But the firm and the customer hope the service is not dependent on any one or two people.

Building continuity of service starts with the client onboarding call. That’s why the call should never be with just one person. It should always be with the broader support team.

It’s important to note that someone on your team should always document all preferences and key information shared on the call. And whenever possible, the call should be recorded (if that’s okay with the new customer).

THE ONBOARDING BRIDGE

Services are difficult to sell because of all the trust building required between provider and buyer. The provider must convince the buyer that the productivity dip will be minimal, and the buyer must convince the provider that s/he will be a customer capable of riding out the productivity dip.

A good client onboarding process will:

  • Help the new customer slow down in a time-efficient way in order to get started
  • Help overcome the business and social context gap between the service provider and service buyer
  • Begin the process of ensuring continuity of service for both the firm and the customer

By proactively addressing each of these bulleted needs, the onboarding process becomes an elegant handoff from sales to service that positivity defines your brand.

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Five Rules for Pursuing Project Work – Applies to Agencies of All Size

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

Some firms don’t take project work at all, while for others project revenue vastly outstrips the income from their few ongoing clients. What’s the proper role of project work in your firm, and what’s the proper approach to pursuing or vetting it? In this article I lay out some specific guidelines on projects as a part of your overall client mix, and the rules of pursuing and accepting project work.

My own experience has been that the most profitable firms are the ones with what I would call ‘tighter’ client bases – fewer, more loyal clients who entrust their firm with a large percentage of their budgets, rather than breaking it up among many firms. Although I haven’t formally quantified this, it has been my experience that firms with higher volume of project work are busier but less profitable than their more AOR-focused counterparts. While I’m a firm believer in the idea of ‘fewer clients, more money,’ I recognize that for many firms project work is helpful at plugging capacity gaps. What follows are five rules on pursuing and accepting project work, and some final guidance on the mix of projects to longer term engagements.

Rule #1: Don’t Chase It

It may be okay (or even highly lucrative) to take project work, but, with few exceptions, most established firms shouldn’t be pursuing it. Your business development goals should be focused on replacing your outgoing clients with even better, more lucrative incoming clients, while striving to keep the ongoing client base at somewhere between eight and twelve clients. Through regular business development activities, and just by answering the phone, project work will come at you. Short of finding enough project work, your bigger challenge is probably saying no to the bad stuff, so don’t focus business development resources on an outreach program that targets project work. Project-based opportunities are a natural by-product of targeting larger ongoing engagements, but with rare exceptions, you should not be devoting business development outreach attention or resources to it.

Rule #2: Don’t Offer Incentives for It

Your business development incentives should be focused on rewarding personnel for managing the churn of on-going clients, and should not reward for project work. Discretionary bonuses for project work, at the end of the year, are okay, but keep the focus, and the incentives, on the larger ongoing clients.

Rule #3: Object to It

When a prospect inquires about project work, the first thing you want to do is remind him that you are not in the project business. “We’re not in the brochure business. We’re in the business of creating total brand experiences.” (As a broad hypothetical example.) “We often do brochures as part of that, but if someone’s just looking for a brochure we usually refer them elsewhere. Let me ask you, is your brochure part of a larger undertaking?”

If your efforts to uncover a more comprehensive need come up empty (“No, we just need a brochure,”) you still have the option to take the work. “Before I say no, let me ask you a few questions…”

If your questions into the project reveal it to be a potentially lucrative one, and you happen to have the capacity then perhaps this is a project worth considering. Either way, by leading with your objection (“We’re not in the brochure business”) you should have positioned yourself well if the project is indeed a desirable one. It’s now the prospect’s turn to talk you into waiving your no-project policy and taking this on. Remember that you reserve the right to retract every ‘no’ or every objection or obstacle that you place in front of the prospect. Creating these objections allows you to gauge whether or not he recognizes and values your expertise. As you begin your retreat from the opportunity does he follow, or does he let you walk away?

Rule #4: Don’t Compete for It

You’ve established with the prospect that you are not in the project business. You’ve questioned him further about the assignment and found that it is indeed well suited to your firm and could be quite lucrative. If the capacity to do the assignment is there then this might be a project worth taking. Before you remove the obstacle (“We don’t do projects”) make sure that every other potential obstacle to doing business is identified and addressed.

You don’t want to say, “Okay, we’ll do it,” only to hear, “Great – we’ll get back to you after we talk to three other firms,” or, “Good, I’ll send you the RFP.”

You might say, “If we did decide to waive our no-project rule and take this on, what would need to happen before we agreed to get started?” If you hear, “We would need to meet with the other firms and decide on one,” or “I need to get approval from my boss,” then your job is to direct the prospect to go do what he has to do, then come back to you for a decision on whether you will waive your no-project policy afterward. If the prospect tries to put you to work (responding to an RFP as an example) then politely send him on his way. You want to get to the point where the prospect says, “We’ve ruled out other firms – we’d prefer to work with you, and I have approval to hire you right now if you’ll accept the assignment.” Then and only then do you agree to remove the objection – your no-project policy, and take the assignment.

Rule #5: Don’t Take Tactical Work That Would Neuter Strategic Opportunity

You’ll often encounter a prospect who dangles a project in front of you as an opportunity to ‘test the fit’ before they commit to you. While it is perfectly appropriate for you to agree to take a small first step with a client in order to assess the fit for a larger engagement, a first step should be just that – a first step and not a sample twenty-fifth step. By this I mean start at the beginning, which is almost always your diagnosis of the problem, or your validation of the client’s own diagnoses. To jump right to project work that is based on a bunch of assumptions may offer insight to the client on what it would be like to work with your firm on a daily basis, but it will offer no insight into your more valuable (and lucrative) strategic problem solving skills. Further, you’ll have to do some form of strategic work (diagnose and prescribe) to be able to deliver a tactical solution, but you’ll do it without the client’s full involvement, without fully applying your methods, and without appropriate compensation.

In short, don’t agree to a tactical ‘test’ that will only position you as a tactician and impair your ability to get paid for the strategic engagements. You’re better to suggest a phased engagement that has the two parties begin at the beginning, with your diagnostic and strategic development processes. Offer an opt-out point somewhere between strategy and creative platform at which the client can walk away if they don’t like the fit, or the work you’ve produced. You can further sweeten the pot by adding a money-back guarantee for the first phase. Together, these steps allow you to begin at the beginning, charge fairly for your strategic work, and allow the client a test period and an escape clause with no financial risk.

Summing Up

It should be clear now that I am not advising you to decline all project work. Focus on the larger on-going assignments. Don’t offer incentives beyond discretionary year-end ones for project work. When the subject is broached, lead with the objection that you’re not in the project business, then search for a larger underlying opportunity. If the project seems like one you should take, make sure you get every other potential objection dealt with before you agree to take it. And finally, never put the cart before the horse and agree to take a tactical project as a test of a more strategic or total engagement.

A Healthy Project Mix

What should your revenue mix be – project-to-AOR? If your total project work represents more than 25%-30% of your revenue, I suspect you might be doing too much of it and impairing your ability to more lucratively position your firm as an expert advisor seeking more complete, longer term engagements.

Four Steps To Lead Generation Success

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

by Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” John Wanamaker

Amen, brother John. Amen. When it comes to the various ways a creative firm might generate leads at the top of their funnel, I’ll admit that for too long I’ve been guilty of saying “Do all these things… some of them are bound to work.”

Blogging. Speaking. Webinars. Outbound calling and emailing. Networking. The more you can do, the more leads you’re likely to generate. It’s hard to argue with the general principle but it’s reasonable to expect that someone like me who has seen the insides of hundreds of firms should have some theories for what works and what does not. I do now, but I’ll admit that it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to tease out some of the patterns of effective lead generation.

Below are some principles for reducing the lead generation waste. Before I share them, allow me to reiterate my usual caveat about positioning: good marketing for something that has many substitutes isn’t good marketing at all. Marketing begins with assessing what is missing in the market and then matching a solution to that unmet need. If you don’t have something that is meaningfully different to some market segment then lead generation will always be difficult.

With that out of the way, here are four steps to building a simpler, more powerful and less wasteful lead generation program.

1. Bet On One Thing
If you had to bet all your chips on just one lead generation vehicle, on which would you bet? Put another way, if you were only allowed to undertake one activity or form of lead generation for years to come, which one would you choose? Few reply that they would smile-and-dial although that is what many have done for years. Most pick something that would drive inbound leads, like a blog, speaking, writing a book (or books). Some might launch a YouTube channel. Some a podcast. What One Thing would you do?

When I think of the firms that drive numerous inbound leads they all have one very clear thing they do. Their lead generation efforts are as focused as their positioning. They’ve resisted diluting their efforts across numerous channels, avoiding Warren Buffet’s admonishment that “Diversification is for people who don’t know what they are doing.”

To Buffet’s quote I will add my favourite from Peter Drucker. “In business, all profit comes from risk.” The rewards you seek (high-quality inbound leads) are more likely to come to you if you take some risk and bet on One Thing. Risk mitigation is at the root of lead generation inefficiencies. Focus more, take more risk, and do less.

Your One Thing should constitute between 60% and 80% of your lead generation resources of time and money.

2. Now Pair It With a Complementary Thing
Marshall McLuhan noted that media tend to travel in pairs. Newspapers deliver type. Television, video. The Internet can deliver type, video or audio. The same principle applies to your lead generation One Thing, albeit more loosely, like a complementary pairing of wine and food. If you choose to write books, as an example, it will pair nicely with speaking, or blogging. Perhaps the blog becomes the vehicle through which you write the book. Or the speeches are the now-easy-to-obtain platform that get you face to face with your prospects after the book is written.

The key though is to decide on the One Thing and then pick the second Complementary Thing that helps you achieve or leverage the One Thing. If you misuse the idea of a Complementary Thing to hedge your bet on the One Thing then you will just create more work for yourself and dilute your impact. It really is One Thing aided by a truly Complementary Thing. Once you get traction with your One Thing, numerous Complementary Things will present themselves to you and many will be easy to pull off. You are free to pursue them or to remain focused on your One and Complementary Things.

3. Strive To Own The Channel
When choosing your One Thing choose something that you can own or dominate. I know firms that have founded conferences, networks, radio shows and other lead gen channels in which they had such a massive presence that it just would not make sense for competitors to try to replicate or follow. To choose blogging in a field where everyone is blogging and a competitor is already dominant might not be the wisest decision. Seth Godin blogs and writes books. He decided against other social media because, in his words “I couldn’t be the best in the world at it.”

Another book on branding? Probably not ownable. If someone has already written the definitive book on your area of expertise perhaps you should look for another channel. If the space is crowded with books but none that truly stand out then sure, got for it, but you really have to have something new and meaningful to say.

One more smart, but not belief-rattling, blog on healthcare marketing? That field is crowded. A YouTube channel or virtual conference, however? Those might be easier to dominate.

There’s a nuance here that I won’t be able to fully explore in this brief post and it centres around the idea of perspective. Perspective–an over-arching point of view on the firm’s area of focus–is the final differentiator that separates a well-positioned firm from its few remaining direct competitors. If your perspective is strong enough (contrarian but still accessible) then you don’t have to seek to dominate a marketing channel in your market, you simply need to dominate that point of view within it.

With a strong contrarian perspective it may make sense to launch an assault on a larger competitor’s dominant channel with the goal not to replace them but to carve out a devoted niche and achieve “leading alternative” status.

4. Consider Leveraging Your Discipline
It’s interesting to note that advertising agencies almost never advertise, direct marketing firms almost never build formal direct-based lead gen programs for themselves, experiential marketing firms rarely create their own experiences to drive leads and while most public relations firms claim to get business through word of mouth, few employ a formal plan for themselves like the ones they might sell to a client. Only social media firms seem to embrace the discipline they trade in to drive their own leads.

In the Win Without Pitching program we have a full term dedicated to Closing With Case Studies–an approach that uses carefully built IP-based case studies to derail pitches and eliminate unpaid proposal writing. Using “process-framed case studies” to close this way is powerful, but it is even more powerful when you use your own firm as one of your case studies.

Put yourself in your potential client’s shoes for a minute: from whom would rather buy discipline X?

A) Someone who does not use it
B) Someone who uses it
C) Someone who uses it and can use their own firm as a case study for how they use it and why you should use it too?

Someone in category A will lose out to someone in category B most of the time, and will lose to someone in category C almost all of the time.

In summary, bet on One Thing. Then add a Complementary Thing. Strive to own the One Thing channel you select, and if you cannot own the channel strive for the leading alternative in the channel by owning a provocative point of view, one that’s contrary to that of the leader’s. Finally, if at all possible, make that One Thing the discipline that you sell or most often trade in. The combination will focus your efforts, reduce waste and make you far more compelling to your target market.

P.S. – Chuck writes “I have to admit; I was hoping Blair would be even more specific!”

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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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