Clients in the UK are spoilt for choice. There are a lot of good design consultancies, all producing great work, but this leads to a problem.
In this environment, having the right plan for developing new business is imperative. How you differentiate your consultancy, how you target your prospects and how you go about your new business activity are crucial. It’s all about attention to detail and ensuring that your consultancy is communicating the right messages at every opportunity.
Most of us would probably agree with this idea in theory. However, the reality is often alarmingly different. In practice, design consultancies are generally very poor at developing new business. Thoughtless – not thoughtful – new business is still the order of the day for many groups. Such a sweeping statement sounds provocative, so I’ll try to explain what I mean.
A major stumbling block in our industry is an ingrained but outdated idea of how to go about winning new business. Put simply, it usually involves hiring go-getting new business-people to make contacts for you – leaving them to it when things are going well and asking them tough questions when times are hard.
But the approach itself is flawed. In this environment, new business is too frequently seen as the responsibility of a person or department, rather than of everyone in the consultancy. For best results, the new business effort must be successfully integrated, it must be a collaborative effort shared throughout the business.
How often, for example, are designers asked to join regular proactive brainstorming sessions on key prospects? Have the most senior people in the consultancy really taken the time to mine all their contacts? Was it David Ogilvy who said that if everyone in the agency made the effort to call all their contacts, then they wouldn’t need a new business department? Everyone should have a responsibility for new business. When this is achieved the sense of united commitment to your design group will be very rewarding.
Another example of the thoughtless approach is mailing mania. In many consultancies the new business specialist has become a type of direct marketing manager, so fixated with the logistics of the next mailer that they’ve forgotten about the bigger picture. Of course, mailings can play an important role when they have a strong message and are well targeted and executed. But all too often design groups have a mailing programme, but no new business plan.
Many groups have very diverse offers, covering a broad number of communications disciplines. In one sense, this is good news because it widens your new business remit. The world’s your oyster, so to speak. Yet, it can also pose a serious problem, particularly in regard to knowing where to start. In this case, it’s so important to be clear about who you’re targeting and why, but equally who you’re not. Unfortunately, many design groups treat all their prospects as one generic group. No worse sin can be committed.
Rather than send out 50 identical mailings next week and get two new business meetings, wouldn’t it be a better strategy to send six individually crafted and well-researched letters and win three meetings? Letters that talk less about your consultancy and more about the client company in question are always more effective. It may sound obvious, but very few consultancies are doing it.
Consultancies should certainly not be afraid to express a strong view or be controversial when they are prospecting for new business. Raise your heads above the parapet. It’s a riskier strategy, but ultimately more rewarding. You’ll attract like-minded clients.
And what about new business collateral? Sadly, many case studies tell the story of a project but fail to impart how ‘our consultancy’, rather than any other group, makes a difference. Good case studies shouldn’t just tell, they should sell the differentiating qualities of your consultancy and help to reinforce your unique positioning. Similarly, do you have a sales presentation, or just standard credentials? Is your website just an on-line brochure, or a constantly evolving means of talking to prospects on a one-to-one basis?
Many design groups, particularly small to medium-sized ones, simply don’t have the time, resource or experience to develop their own effective marketing and business development programmes. Quite naturally, client responsibilities always come first.
But this really is too important an issue to be getting wrong. Be clear about your group’s point of difference and ensure that this runs seamlessly through all your new business collateral. Then decide who you are targeting and why. Most new business plans are never completed, so draw up a timetable that is realistic and achievable. Involve everyone in the company. Avoid ‘mailing mania’ and above all be thoughtful, not thoughtless, in your approach.
Jonathan Kirk is the founder of marketing and business development consultancy 2Fruition Limited