Separate client development from new business to win more work

If you are a person working on client projects – but with added responsibility for bringing in new business – work can be a bit squeezy.

First off, you have one, and only one, job.

Look after the clients you have

Because (and we all know this, but I’ve got to say it anyway), without them you haven’t got any work, Ergo, without them, your firm is out of business and you are unemployed.

Now, a more cheerful note.new business

Let’s assume that bit is sorted and clients are happy. Ah, for anyone who’s ever been responsible for client delivery – what a huge, murky and dangerous assumption THAT one is. But I’m writing this, so I get to dictate the assumptions….

Now you just have to bring in new business.

Simple, right?

Nope. It’s actually as tricky as heck, which is why so many people don’t want to do sales. But someone’s got to, so I’m here to help those that do.

First up, new business can mean quite different things to different people, so here’s my handy alternative guide to get you started.

Six ways to define new business (other ways are available, just not here)

  1. Another project, existing client
    • Often regular or predictable in its timing, this is a piece of work your client needs, and is broadly what you normally do for them.
    • Good to have. In fact, vital to have – but let’s face it, you’ve forecasted it ages ago, so it was always yours to lose.
  1. Different project, existing client 
    • A bit more exciting, this is a regular client using you for something new, but still one of your core services so no real stretch from a delivery point of view.
    • Client account teams high-five each other when this happens – but there’s no need for a change in routine.
  1. Eeek! project, existing client
    • Admittedly not a well-known professional term, the Eeek! project is one that sales folk love to sell, directors love to tell others about, and client account managers hate to deliver.
    • Well out of your comfort zone, but potentially within your capability. Potentially. A bottle or two of Prosecco may be cracked open for bringing this one in – but may I suggest you wait ‘till after project delivery?
  1. Any project, dormant client
    • Satisfying in the same way it’s satisfying to hear an ex-girl or boyfriend say they wish they hadn’t dumped you. And would it please be possible for you to go out with each other again?
    • The important thing here is, be gracious. Be pleased to see them, don’t talk about where they’ve been since you last saw them (unless they bring it up, it could upset you), and do a wonderful job.
    • They’ll never leave again and if all goes well with the next bit of work, will become one of your strongest advocates.
  1. Foot in the door project, brand new client
    • My personal favourite. This demonstrates a lot of good sense in both client and supplier. Your team has built up a good enough relationship that the client now trusts you enough to begin work. And importantly, you’ve sold in something you are easily able to deliver well.
    • The client has also been commercially savvy enough to know that all the best relationships develop over time. So they’ve kicked off working with you, with a test project. A smaller piece of work, that is yours to do brilliantly. Or not.
    • If the client is a great fit with your positioning – get the bonus cheque-book or employee reward notes out. This client should be the right size, sector, nature, in the right location and with pretty good potential. Yay!
    • If the client is a terrible fit, something somewhere has gone badly wrong. Give me a call and we can fix it.
  1. Huge great project, brand new client
    • On first appearances, you might think this would go hand-in-hand with shouts of joy, backslapping, a day out for everyone involved in winning the work – and bonuses all round.
    • More commonly this comes with an enormous cost of sale followed by a lengthy headache. This is from having typically been the result of a 256 page tender with an equally lengthy process attached to it…. Could look like this:
    • An RFI (Request for Information) or an ITT (Invitation to Tender), followed by an RFP (Request for Proposal), slowed down with some ROSRQs (Rounds of Seemingly Random Questions), chivvied along with a PSAD (Potential Supplier Away Day), partnered by several MTAF (Meetings to Assess Fit), and polished off with a DOHYWFOPFF,JICWDGAWAS.TY (Demo of How You Would Fix Our Problem For Free, Just In Case We Don’t Go Ahead With Any Suppliers. Thank You).

There are lots of other variations and permutations, but in my mind, those six are the ones that really count.

And if you can separate out your processes for acquiring these different forms of new business, then you are well on your way to winning more work

Existing clients – people you already work with

The first three definitions were purely client development. These are existing clients, even though the work you do with them may be new.

Those people in your firm who already look after these clients need to be the people responsible for bringing in the new work. They already hold the vital relationships. A sales person or team can’t – and shouldn’t – get involved and muddy up that connection, unless things are going wrong.

If you’re looking for more detail on how to build your client development efforts, you can find it here, in a previous post.

Dormant (snoozing, sleeping or hibernating) clients

Dormant clients are different – and can be treated as either existing clients or as truly new business, to suit your own resources.

A word on this though.

It can be too easy to assign the dormant ones to client services or client account managers to develop. But it’s worth having a think about what has changed client-side to bring about that dormancy, and then make a decision based on those facts.

Key client contacts moved on to new jobs and no real relationships in place

Can be best to treat this as a completely new prospect and allow the sales team to nurture them, with the past relationship as a good conversation starter.

Ooops, we forgot about them and they’ve gone a bit quiet – but we’ve only just noticed

Leave them with the client team to re-establish the connection – but give them a sensible timescale to get it done by. Then if there’s still no movement, hand over to sales for re-qualifying or restarting.

Client gone very quiet for unknown reasons

If there’s no clear reasons after a bit of proper digging (illness, company struggles, change of leadership etc.) this can sometimes point to bigger problems in your own client service levels.

On that basis it’s important that a senior member of your team gets in touch to find out more, or you even consider getting an independent customer research professional involved. As long as the client is happy to take part, you’ve then got the chance to find out what went wrong. And learn from it.

(NOTE: Customer research can have unexpected benefits, particularly in client development – more on that here.)

Truly new, new business

These are the businesses that you’ve never worked with to date.

Not two years ago, not five years ago, and not even when your business had a different name and your dad/auntie/grandpa ran it.

Three very important facts about bringing in new business

  1. Your client services team cannot be responsible for bringing in these new (new, new) businesses. Because they are busy looking after the existing clients and this where their energy should be spent. More on precisely why that is – and what goes wrong if you don’t do it – here.
  1. Someone who only cares about bringing in new business should be tasked with this. Someone who does not have to worry about your existing clients. See point above – and link – for an explanation.
  1. You need to have lots of different types of contact, over time, with that prospect, before they will buy from you. Because they don’t know you. Yet. This is where marketing comes in. Make sure you dedicate time and effort to marketing to the people who don’t know you, but are a really good fit with what you do best. More on what I mean by that here.

Sticking with those three basic rules should see you in a pretty good position to bring in more of those lovely new clients which we all want, need and love.

One final thought from me. You might just only need three of them. And here’s why.

2 Comments

  1. Brian said:

    Good blog, Kim.
    This is the second time I have read your strong opinion that new business requires staff dedicated to that task. The first time my reaction was that this was difficult because clients build up a relationship with the initial sales person. If the initial sales person is percieived as having left the scene, This can then lead to a reduction of trust by the new client
    Now I have come to realise that this problem can be overcome if the new client is handled by competent staff with the full authority to handle those matters which arise as both parties get used to each others expectations.
    In these circumstances, your opinion becomes very valid and sensible.

    November 17, 2016
    Reply
    • Kim Mason said:

      Thanks for your comment Brian. My experience has taught me that the relationship between sales and client staff – individual as well as general – has to be strong and mutually respecting for this to work; but work it certainly can. The biggest gaps I’ve seen have happened when sales staff oversell against what you can actually deliver – or when sales staff are paid a commission so strongly tied to contract signing that they are accidentally incentivised to spend minimal time on a handover.

      November 21, 2016
      Reply

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