Is now a good or a bad time to be trying to win new clients?
Why it might be a bad time:
- We have only limited time available and must focus effort on our existing clients to ensure they stay with us;
- In difficult times clients stay with advisers who they know and trust;
- The incumbents will be defending their existing relationships with every weapon at their disposal; and
- Everyone else is desperately looking for new clients and is already besieging our targets.
Why it has to be a good time:
- However successful we are in defending our existing clients they will not be spending the money we need to succeed – we need more clients;
- Buyers are under pressure from all sides to get the best ‘deals’/solutions for their companies – they will try to consider all credible options; and
- ‘Loyalty’ is fragile – just as our clients are vulnerable to attack, so are our competitors’ clients.
The implications? We have no choice! We have to find the time to approach new clients. And we have to approach them in a way that sets us apart from the crowd, enables us to get into dialogue as a credible and potentially more attractive provider and gives us the best chance of winning work from them. Another implication – it will be tough! Expecting to approach a high quality new client with a cold call or a brochure, to achieve a meeting with a senior decision maker and then to convince them that they should buy from us quickly is naïve in the extreme.
So what do we need to do? Putting together the best practice we have learned over the years and the approach we see working even now for our most confident clients we suggest the following:
1. Calculate how many new clients you need, based on revenue required and the probable spend of each organization. Remember that average spend is likely to be less than in normal economic conditions.
2. Estimate the number of organisations you will need to be in dialogue with to win the required number of new clients. At this stage if the task seems insurmountable don’t despair! You can only do your best.
3. If you are short of available time and resource consider – ‘brutally’ – everything your people are spending their time on, including all of the clients they are working with today. Is there anything that is less important than this project? If so, however painful it is, redirect your people’s efforts.
4. Quickly decide who your best targets are. Consider what types of organisations are most attractive to your firm today and, as importantly, which might be most likely to be open to your advances. Where do you have a strong ‘story to tell’? Who have we worked with in the past who might be open to dialogue today? Who can we get an introduction to? Who would see us a leader in the field for which they might have a need? The key is to be selective with the scarce time and resource available.
5. Build a ‘hit list’. Include some ‘easy wins’ – targets you are pretty sure of being able to meet with. Agree responsibility for all targets. If possible promote teamwork in approaching these targets. Set deadlines for action. Plan to continually ‘top up’ the hit list as targets are approached. Advertise the hit list widely – some colleagues might have valuable information and the greater the visibility the greater the ‘motivation’ to do something.
6. Research – but not too much! Spend a few hours researching each target. Don’t allow the desire to know everything before approaching a new target to lead to analysis paralysis.
7. Find a powerful, professional and distinctive way to approach these targets. Explore the ‘soft’ options of referrals, introductions, past relationships, meeting at conferences and seminars etc. first. If there is no soft way to approach this target develop a high impact campaign.
8. Follow up the campaign – secure as many introductory/exploratory meetings as possible. This is the bit where you will need to maintain and strengthen the motivation and enthusiasm of your fee earners. You will need to provide support, recognition, coaching, reassurance and discipline if this is not to be a real barrier to the success of the whole project.
9. Make sure the first meetings are as effective as possible in starting a profitable relationship and developing that relationship at the right speed. Trying to move too quickly will be counterproductive and reduce your chances of success. Being too coy – and ending up having lots of ‘chats’ with lots of potential clients – is unlikely to be of value to either side. All fee earners involved in carrying out these meetings must have an understanding of best practice and the confidence and skills to make these meetings as productive as possible – they are too precious to waste!
10. Conclude the meeting with two things: as deep and acurate an understanding of the client, his world and what makes him tick as possible, and an agreement to the ‘best’ way forward for both parties based on that understanding.
11. Invest the necessary time needed to turn this target into a client. Don’t push. Don’t be solely focused on what you want from the relationship. The key is to treat them as though they already are a client – add value, demonstrate interest, be generous with what you know, build credibility and trust, continually build understanding and insight into how to ‘help’ them and their business – in the belief that this is both the best and the quickest way of convincing them to buy from you for the first time, when the time is right.
12. When an opportunity for work arises make sure you have at least as much of an ‘inside track’ as the incumbent and make sure your proposals are as close to perfect in their eyes as possible.
13. Invest the right amount of time, effort and teamwork needed to make sure you win this first project, even if it is small. The size of this project is perhaps less important than the potential lifetime/medium term value of this client if the efforts you are putting in are intended to contribute to your strength after the recession as much as they are necessary for short-term survival/success.
14. Deliver in a way that delights your new client and make sure he believes he has made the right choice. Obvious but difficult with all the other demands on people’s time. Now is the time to ensure he looks favourably on your firm for all of the other areas of expertise he has not yet bought from you.
15. At the right time and in the right way ask for one or more referrals. Most delighted clients are only too happy to effect an introduction to other people who might have a need for your services, if they think about it. Introducing the idea in a way that you are comfortable with (with this new client and indeed all of your existing clients) may mean you never have a shortage of high quality new targets who are keen to meet – ever again!
None of this is rocket science but it is clearly more difficult to do than it is to list out. Those of our clients in whom we have the most confidence are doing more of it more skillfully and more confidently than those for whom we have the most concerns in this economic environment. And remember, you don’t have to be perfect, you only have to be 1% better than your competitors to win more than your fair share of the market. And maybe that is all that is needed for success today and real strength when we all come out the other side.
And finally, all of the above relies on the efforts of fee earners. Their success will depend on their knowledge, skill, confidence and motivation and on the senior managers in the business providing them with high quality leadership, management, support, direction, coaching and development – specifically focused on their role in winning new clients for the firm.
Is now a good time to be winning new clients? Of course.
- How do I find the time? Published 9th January 2009
- Brilliance in Business Development Published 6th June 2008
- Business development: get up and go Published 11th December 2008
- Making a Breakthrough Published 14th May 2009