Client acquisition: Networking, RFPs, cold calling, LinkedIn, incoming inquiries. However you go about it, trying to identify a good new client, and then actually getting them on board, is an exhausting and costly process.
Remember the good old days when you could hand out a well-crafted paper note (preferably folded into an origami triangle) that simply asked you to circle yes or no in response to a life-altering question?
For example, “Would you like to be my boyfriend? I think you’re as cute as Jonathon Taylor-Thomas. Circle yes or no, and leave this note under the recycle bin. XOXO – Sara”
Wow, do I wish the client acquisition dance worked like that.
“Dear company with lots of marketing money, would you like to be our client? We think you could really use a good integrated marketing campaign. If you agree, please circle yes or no and drop this note off at our office between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday.”
Client Acquisition: Do You Come Here Often?
Obtaining new business is so parallel to dating it’s almost ridiculous. Timing is so crucial. The RFP process, in theory, should be the most lucrative way to win a new client – they are actively looking for an agency. But, as we’ve all undoubtedly experienced, an RFP process does not guarantee that the “most qualified” agency will win (although, we may be a little biased).
There are often internal politics involved, and sometimes, the organization requesting a proposal decides they aren’t ready to hire an agency. PS: Thanks for all the research, spec work, and marketing strategies you’ve just given us!
I’m OK, You’re OK
In addition, any healthy relationship has to be a mutually beneficial. Both parties have to buy into the idea of “give and take” and compromise. Gini Dietrich has written, in-depth, that when starting off with a new client, an agency and client need to work together to set realistic expectations. As PR professionals we know that obtaining meaningful media coverage and building a team of brand advocates takes some time… much like developing trust in a romantic relationship.
When feeling out a new client acquisition, if a potential client has unrealistic expectations they are not willing to negotiate on… well, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I envision a conversation along the lines of something like this, “I’m so sorry, director of marketing at company, we cannot get you on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, featured in The Huffington Post, and create a “viral” video the likes of ‘Gangnam Style’ in the first three months we will be working together. That’s just not realistic.” #BrutalTruth
Trust me, I know it’s hard to say no to new business. But, an important part of the process is vetting good clients in order to keep your business’ reputation and office morale in good standing. Nobody wants to work for the “crazy client.”
A’Courting We Will Go!
When dumping hours upon hours of unbillable time into new business ventures, we often ask ourselves, “Is this even worth it?” After months of “courting” a new client through networking, emails, meetings, and information sharing, it can be really exhausting. I get that. But, the cliché is true, as unfortunate as it is: Nothing worth having comes easily.
So, with vigor as powerful as if you’re courting Ryan Gosling or Kate Upton – keep at it. Share value, don’t just talk at prospective clients or sell to them nonstop; talk with them. Invite them to networking events that are relevant to their businesses, email them articles that they appear in and give them “free” (gasp!) advice. This all builds the ultimate foundations to a good relationship: trust and communication.
Truth is: The simple days of obtaining a new relationship through a simple “yes or no” note are far in the rearview mirror. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. At times, it’s exhausting and frustrating to try and land a new client, but the ones that are worth it will be a little hard to get.