We recently attended an industry event billed as revealing the secrets as to why design businesses fail to sell themselves effectively.
Whilst our work across a number of different businesses and disciplines gives us a broad understanding of the various new business issues, pressures and market conditions that agencies face it’s always interesting to hear another point of view (and of course the promise of a magic new business secret!)
The main thrust of the presentation turned out not to be new business at all, but business development.
Various statistics were presented about the likelihood of your ideas and proposals being accepted by existing clients versus lapsed clients and new prospects, ostensibly showing that it’s better to focus your efforts on the existing clients.
Now don’t get me wrong, one of the easiest and best ways to strengthen your business is to treat existing clients well; primarily by doing an excellent job for them, and to try to grow the amount of work you get from your client. Unless you get out there and approach new prospects, you’re going to limit the possibilities for yourself from the outset. There will always be a natural attrition rate as economics, politics and clients change (the last I heard, the average tenure of a marketing manager was about 17 months) and relying on a client being with you year-in-year-out to deliver growth is foolhardy.
Part of what drives new business is reputation – as we all know, word of mouth is incredibly powerful. Apart from the obvious of delivering excellent work that gets talked about, if you’re not also out there speaking to prospects and promoting your own work, it’s very hard for new clients to know about you.
It’s no secret that new business is frequently frowned upon as either a bit grubby (that dirty word, ’sales’) or as a job that agency people just don’t want to do. I absolutely see the appeal of seeking growth from existing business rather than chasing new. But the hard fact of the matter is that if you’re not out there at the coal face seeking new business, it will come back to bite you at some point, probably when a major client suddenly puts their work elsewhere and you realize that you have nothing in the pipeline to replace it.