Exploding some new business myths


There are some ingrained ideas about how design agencies go about developing business.

DBA Expert Jonathan Kirk demonstrates why many of these are rather tired and deserve to be challenged by sharing a few examples:

‘Send them a case study’
A new website allows customers to research a car, collect the keys for a test drive and buy the vehicle.

This is a new service created by Hyundai and is apparently based on research that suggested a third of drivers would be more likely to buy a car if they didn’t have to deal with a salesman. The new website is an admission that some of the car salesman’s traditional role is now defunct. We can research car brands and models ourselves. We don’t need to rely on a salesman simply to access information that is now widely and easily available. Let’s compare this to an agency situation. Should clients want to access information about an agency and their case studies, then much of this material is just a few clicks away. In this sense, agency new business is no longer about simply providing information for clients in the form of conventional case studies. Clients now expect us to be curators of information. That means overseeing information and translating it into something more meaningful and relevant. Every new business message should feel individually tailored and crafted, including how you talk about past projects.

‘You came a close second’
When a client picks up the phone to say that you haven’t won a pitch, they’re not exactly relishing the conversation. It’s all a bit awkward and they’d rather it was a short conversation. In these instances, ‘You came a close second’ rolls easily off the tongue and it’s usually intended to do no more than attempt to cheer you up. Up to the Light conducts ‘lost pitch’ interviews with clients to find out the real reasons why an agency was unsuccessful. In fact, there is almost always clear distance between the winner and second best. It’s a case of asking the right questions to find out why and not just accepting at face value what the client says. It is tempting to look back at lost pitches and console yourself with post rationalist theories about why you lost. Unfortunately, these can have more to do with a psychological process of putting the pitch behind you and making yourself feel better, as opposed to finding out the truth, learning from mistakes and ensuring that you are sharper next time.

‘We need a 12 month New Business Plan’
The problem is that they rarely work. They are usually over ambitious and can become an embarrassment by month 2. Then events come along which the plan did not take account of and it begins to feel inflexible and cumbersome. Modern new business is about keeping agile, having new ideas, testing different approaches, sharpening what is working and throwing out what is not. Rather than a 12 month plan it is surely a better idea to deal in 30,60,90 day Action Plans that are regularly reviewed. This approach is more flexible, more enjoyable to implement and more effective. The only caveat is that the Action Plans are founded on a clear understanding of your point of difference, where your main strengths lie, who you are your targeting and who you are not targeting.

‘I’m not very good on the phone’
This comment can often be the justification for employing an external company to follow up mailers and generate leads. ‘I’m not very good on the phone and I’m too busy to devote enough time to new business’ may sound plausible but there are 2 problems with it. Firstly, the notion that new business is all about ‘getting on the phone’ is outdated. These types of phone call are not working. For most clients the landline telephone is now associated with unwelcome sales calls. Their business is done on the mobile and by e-mail. Therefore, it’s a largely ineffective method. It also relies on clients’ willingness to window shop and see the dreaded ‘credentials presentation.’ Most clients are just too busy. Secondly, the best people to represent and sell the business are the founders and principals, not a third party. It’s about finding an achievable way to do this that plays to your strengths, is sharply focussed, more imaginative and tangibly different from that of competitors.

‘The credentials presentation’
Credentials can be established in a matter of minutes. The real issues are how you, rather than another agency, are right for the client, what you are like to work with and what constructive thoughts you can offer about the client’s particular situation. That’s not credentials. It’s consultative new business. Credentials is passive information sharing. Consultative new business is persuasive and tailored. So stop thinking about ‘credentials’. In fact, stop thinking ‘presentation’ which is another passive word. Every new business meeting is an opportunity to pitch for business so how are you going to win through? What’s your argument?