When the going gets tough

Winning new clients is the name of the marketing game – but be sure you really want the ones you pursue and be sure you are right for them.  Dr Clifford J Ferguson of The PACE Partnership describes how to make these strategic decisions.

The recent events in Iraq have left many City analysts speculating on what effect the war will have on the Construction industry.  Whilst UK companies are in the running for contracts to rebuild Iraq post-war, some feel that construction may take a hammering if war is protracted.

Winning new clients was never easy and some would argue that is has just got tougher.  That’s not to say that in the current climate it is impossible and in this article we examine how we can gain those significant new clients and, more importantly, hang on to them.

It’s a matter of balance

New clients (and in particular significant new clients that are going to bring tremendous lifetime value to our company) can be won but only by achieving a balance between the two pillars of thought and action.  Unfortunately excellent selling skills are not enough.  Instead, we need to think and decide first what is best to win these clients and then carry out an appropriate plan.  Believing that hard work alone will bring the right level of reward will not necessarily come to fruition.

Do we really want this prospect as a client?

Simple enough question isn’t it, but very few companies actually take the time to ask let alone question it.  If they did then probably the number of lost pitches, dissatisfied clients and unprofitable clients would significantly reduce and everyone would be a lot happier (and more profitable).  It’s a brave question to ask, but in doing so we are able to assess:
• Do we, as a company, have the right expertise to service this prospect?
• Do we have sufficient resources to service this prospect?
• Is the quality of our service superior to the incumbent advisors?
• How strong is their relationship with the prospect?

If we don’t have a competitive advantage over the current advisors it is unlikely that we are even going to get a look-in.  (In our previous article ‘Identifying prospective clients’ Volume 1 Issue 7 page 22, we looked at the PACE Pipeline model and how to assess prospects in terms of ‘Triggers and Filters’.  This approach should also be adopted).

Knowledge is power

When I’m driving from A to B in part of the country I’ve never visited before, I usually use a map.  I might also consult the latest travel news for delays and ask a friend about the time it typically takes to get there.  Intelligence dramatically influences our choice of action, and with superior intelligence we have a stronger chance of ‘outwitting’ our competition.

When targeting a new client, we need to know as much as possible about them.  Otherwise any offer we make will be ill-informed and unsuccessful.  Would you award your expensive construction project to a company that didn’t really understand who you were or what you needed to achieve?  One of the key strategies of winning new clients is securing knowledge.  To achieve that, it’s best to conduct an information gathering exercise.  This will draw on many sources such as published information, sources within our own company, other suppliers to the client, and even people within the client.

The information gathering exercise satisfies a ‘wish list of need to knows’ which will guide us in targeting and winning this prospect.  It helps us understand the prospect’s business and competition, it makes us aware of the current business issues that will affect them, it will remind us of the key industry developments that will have an impact on their project.  It will also start to identify the key people in the prospect we need to convince and what they will be looking for.

One last point on information gathering – do beware of ‘analysis paralysis’.  For intelligence to truly support the business development process it needs to be comprehensive, accurate but above all timely.

Taking on the competition

Sun Tzu (a Chinese Warlord) said, “You can be sure of succeeding in your attack if only you attack places which are undefended”.

The information we have gathered will now guide us towards one of two strategies to overcome our competition with this prospect.

1 Frontal attack – this is where we go in all ‘singing and dancing’ and try to knock out the competition by having the best ‘product’, having the cheapest price and being better at selling.

2 Flanking attack – here we have identified areas of weakness in our competitor’s situation, service or relationship.  We then focus all our efforts on winning in that area.

The latter is more likely to succeed, yet invariably the former is almost always attempted.

Yes. You can manage the decision-making process

In a simple world the prospect’s decision to purchase our expertise would be made on one person sifting through the facts and deciding on the best solution.  In that case, we would need only to identify who that person was and arrange to go and persuade him / her whey they should choose us.

Life – and sizeable prospects – are, however, not like that.  Consider how important decisions are made within our company – the different people involved, the ebb and flow of influence and the various motivations.  Managing the decision-making process in a prospect requires a lot of thought and a planned approach.

We need to:
• Identify the right people
• Get to the right people
• Influence them to our solution

Identifying the right people

It’s not enough to try and establish who will make the final decision, there are many people and influences in the decision-making process and we will need to understand as many as we can.  This means identifying:
• Who will be affected by the project and will be consulted in the process
• Who has specialist knowledge and will therefore have an input
• Who will screen out bidders at different stages of the process
• Who may be consulted by the decision-maker and influencers, although they are not specifically affected by this decision
• Any others whose influence could sway this decision.

To find this information out we need to question carefully.  We need to draw on other sources in the prospect of who will be involved in the process and what form that process will take.  This may mean examining the culture of the prospect and their past experiences of this type of project.  Excellent information gathering skills will help us enormously in winning this client.  Having as many ‘allies’ as possible feeding us accurate information at the right time, will be crucial.

Getting to the right people

Most of us have found ourselves in the position where we are blocked from getting to some key influencers.  Too often we get in this extremely frustrating position because we take the route of least resistance and ‘see the people who will see us’ or we do not gather intelligence before we make the approach.  We therefore need to plan our initial approach if we are going to get in front of the key people.  If it is appropriate, we should start with the key decision maker(s) first as it is risky to rely on others in the organisation to make our case for us.  If we cannot get to the key decision-maker first, we need to develop ‘allies’ of those people whose opinion the decision-maker(s) values.  This will enable us to book a meeting at the right time with their backing.

Influencing the right people towards our solution

We may need to influence several or dozens of people.  To do this successfully, we need a campaign planned at the start of our approach and modified as our understanding of the prospect improves.  This campaign should:
• Include an analysis of the decision-making process, based on all the facets above
• Enable us to decide on who has more or less influence.  This will determine the order in which we plan to see people
• Be directed towards making use of any allies already in place, as well as developing more of the right allies as quickly as possible early on in the campaign


Without our strategic plan in place we will be unable to decide upon and implement the best tactics to win this prospect.  In our next article we will examine how you plan and carry out the best tactics.  There the focus is on winning!  Coming second gets no prizes and we will need to invest the appropriate energy and resources to make sure we are successful.

We said at the beginning of this article that winning new clients means achieving the balance between thought and action.  It means deciding what is best then carrying out the appropriate plan.  If this seems like a lot of effort – it can be.  Whether it is appropriate depends on one question – ‘what is / will be the “lifetime value” of this prospect as a client?’


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