Business Development

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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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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