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Overwhelmed by your inbox? Constantly have dozens of tabs opened on your browser or simply lost track of what your strategy ought to look like? Get ready for an epiphany-instigating ride.
LONDON - A few weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend. We'd both settled on a cortado and a pastry, and my friend, who I admire and respect hugely in the industry, casually mentioned that after ten years of conversations, a new business prospect had finally turned into a client.
We all know that new business is a long game (for the thick-skinned and not the faint-hearted), and I began to wonder, how did she maintain the relationship in such an exciting and engaging way that the prospect ended up being a client? This conversation prompted me to look at the relationships I have built during my 15-year new business career.
Pinpointing the advice I could impart to help others take a step back from the day-to-day and focus on developing their relationship development skills - what we refer to as the softer skills in business development.
The tools and tech needed to win new business are continually recommended to us - nailing the value proposition, having a laser-focused positioning statement, implementing a CRM system, and landing on the proper channels at the right time. Without a doubt, all these things, plus lots more, are the fundamentals to ensure you have a well-oiled new business machine. But how often do we hear and talk about the art of relationships – how to start, grow, and maintain them?
We are so engrossed in our laptops, emails and social media that we have forgotten about the value of meeting in person, a simple telephone call or a handwritten letter. Think about the number of times you have received an email only to think that you will return to it later – it happens to all of us. Electronic communication is too easy to ignore.
On the point of meeting in person, during those strange days of being in lockdown, I inadvertently stumbled across a prospect on LinkedIn who, after a few messages back and forth, I discovered lived on the next street away from me – less than a 2-minute walk from my house. We decided to meet up for a walk on a gloriously sunny day when walking was all we could do. This walk became a weekly lunchtime rendezvous where we'd chat about our careers, lives, and professional and personal experiences. She has become a good friend, and we've taken the step from walking to sharing a bottle of wine of an evening - maybe one day she will become a client – although I've been using it since 2006, the powers of LinkedIn never cease to amaze me.
I often use an age-old phrase penned by an author unknown to me – "People like people, like themselves". Prospects are more likely to engage with you as an individual rather than the agency or brand you work with. In the recently published What Clients Think report by Up To The Light in association with the Design Business Association, 75% of the 600 clients interviewed prefer to follow people, not agencies. So spend time building your personal brand, think about the content you share that best reflects your values and beliefs – be authentic, become memorable, and hard to ignore.
A prospect that I've been in conversation with for a few years now recently said to me - "I do appreciate your kind style – you are an exception in the new business field." And I took time to meditate on what he meant by that. Our conversations over the years, the think pieces, examples of work and articles that I thought might have interested him. My advice is if you're undecided about sharing some content, do it! People do appreciate you thinking of them.
Thoughtfulness goes a long way in new business.
Remember, it's unlikely that your first 2-way interaction with a prospect will turn into a brief. We often have our eyes fixed firmly on the prize, but the first conversation we have will be the first of many. Relax, be confident and fabulous, and do your best to be as helpful as possible. When a prospect moves jobs, it may well be that they will remember you and get back in touch to discuss a project. Or, taking a recent example, it may be that the person you meet forwards your details and presentation to a colleague, and you receive a brief a few months later.
We all know that relationships aren't always easy. They have their ups and downs and bumps in the road. Still, suppose you are being consistent, persistent and genuine in your approach, building those essential relationships and remaining front of mind. In that case, the projects will eventually come your way, no matter how long it takes.