Archive for the ‘Tools’ Category

Show me the money (part three)

October 22nd, 2013

We all know the importance of credit checking clients, especially in the current economic climate. But at what stage should you do this?

 

Julie Fawcett from Heart Business Consultants gives us her advice:

 

Many companies wait until they have won the business and are about to sign the contract before checking the credit worthiness of the client. But what happens if the check shows them to be un-credit worthy? Would you ask for payment up front? Or turn down the business? What if the client is unwilling to pay up front? Wouldn’t it have been better to know all this at the start, before you had dedicated all that time to the pitch?

 

Wasted time is not the only consequence of this scenario. You may damage your company’s reputation by declining the work as the client will certainly feel like you wasted their time and now they have to either start the pitch process all over again or face an awkward conversation with their second choice about why they would now like to proceed with them.

 

And don’t forget the cost of lost opportunities. What work might you have won had your pitching efforts been focused elsewhere?

 

To prevent this from happening to you, introduce a credit check to your ‘to pitch or not to pitch’ criteria. It takes less than half an hour to do and it could save you a lot of heartache further down the line.

 

Digital distraction – a force for good?

September 10th, 2013

I was once given some very good advice, second hand from a business coach. The motto was “If you are going to be in the room, be in the room”. This proved valuable advice for me. As someone who seemed always to be juggling too many things at once, the discipline of focusing on one thing at a time and doing it well was something of a revelation. By making lists and prioritising I was able to get things done more effectively, meetings were focused, my productivity soared. And they key to “being in the room” was removing distractions.  Simple.

 

Fast forward 15 years and the game has changed beyond recognition. Much has been written about the evils of this digital age. Our days are an assault course of distractions – from our own needy smartphone tics, to the constant barrage of emails, texts and social media notifications. We are dual screening, checking in, hashtagging our way through life, and business. Many a meeting now takes place accompanied by furious tapping into keyboards and phones while conversation falters, skype connections sputter and die.

 

But. There is a kind of digital distraction that I believe is a glorious force for good.

 

Take Google. A simple Google search can take you off on a journey into the unknown. By beginning to research a company, a prospect, a brand with a few keywords you can helter skelter through all kinds of facts, links, soundbites and unexpected connections.  The more you look, the more you find and the web of information (literally) expands.

 

For new business folk – this is wonderful news. Your clients and prospects need to see that you understand their business, their markets, their people, customers and competitors, and getting the inside track has never been easier, if you look, and are prepared to keep looking, the answers are there in the far reaches of the web. Interviews, shareholder presentations, chairmans statements, annual accounts, LinkedIn job descriptions provide a range of clues – not always facts – but clues that will help you to build a war chest of questions, intelligence and contacts.

 

So make time for the Google breadcrumb trail and embrace the distraction of Google alerts.  Enlist the help of Flipboard and Delicious and set up bookmarks to organise your findings. File stories, set up tags to categorize LinkedIn profiles currently outside your network.

 

The clue you have been waiting for may only be a few clicks away.

How to protect your pitch ideas

July 8th, 2013

So you’ve been given the opportunity to showcase your creativity, concepts and ideas to a potential new client.  But how can you prevent your materials and ideas being “pinched” and used by the client without you or, even worse, with another agency?

 

Copyright will subsist automatically in any drawings, illustrations and designs that you present to a client and therefore any unauthorised use would amount to copyright infringement however copyright does not protect the ideas or concepts themselves or any straplines.  In any case, you would ideally be able to deter the client from pinching your materials in the first place rather than having to take them to court later.

 

There are some practical steps that agencies can take to help deter clients from doing this and to protect their materials and ideas.  Firstly, always keep clear records of all materials including drafts, the details of who created the materials and the date of creation.  These records should be retained even if you are unsuccessful in the pitch.  This will help to evidence the fact that you were the original creator of the materials in the event of a dispute.

 

Mark each page of your pitch presentation and all accompanying materials with “Confidential. © [Your agency name] [year]”.

 

Where possible, enter into a pre-pitch agreement.  This would take the form of a mutual confidentiality agreement that includes mutual obligations to keep any materials, ideas and concepts exchanged during the pitch process confidential and undertakings from the parties that such materials, ideas and concepts will not be disclosed (other than to specified permitted disclosees such as professional advisors etc).  The fact that the agreement includes mutual obligations will make the agreement more palatable to the client so that they are more likely to agree to sign it.

 

Agencies shouldn’t be worried about presenting such a document to a potential new client. The document doesn’t need to resemble War and Peace – it can be just a couple of pages long.  In any event, it shows the potential client that you attach great value to your ideas and therefore so should they!

 

Sharon Playford is a solicitor with Excello Law and specialises in providing commercial legal advice to communications, design and digital agencies. splayford@excellolaw.co.uk

Show me the money (part two)

May 31st, 2013

Back in December, show me the money (part one) explored the murky topic of incentives and performance related pay for new business teams and lead generation agencies. In part two we are going to look at what for many is the holy grail – getting prospects to spill the beans about money!

 

As more businesses use search and social to source supplier information, it has never been easier for an agency to be found by potential clients. Forrester produced this fantastic illustration of today’s B2B customer journey highlighting exactly this point.*

 

But this influx of inbound enquiries means that the effective qualification of new business opportunities is more important than ever. Credentials meetings, proposals, research and pitching all take up valuable time and agency resource. If those leads then go cold, disappear or that prospect turns out,  in hindsight, not to have anywhere near the available budget required for your services, the cost to your business and morale is considerable.

 

And we have all been there. Promising conversations, detailed briefs, a fascinating project… but no mention of money. Or, when you ask the question about budgets, you hit a brick wall. It isn’t easy. Prospects can be steadfast in their refusal to reveal budget availability, but there are ways of asking the question that can yield results. Use open questions to  start a broader discussion rather than simply asking for a number.

 

Next time, try these lines of questioning and see how you get on:

 

  • How do you handle budget considerations?
  • How will funding for the project be justified?
  • How much is this problem currently costing the business?
  • It’s important that we provide a solution that meets your budget allocation for this project, any guidance on budgets will help us to do this.
  • Based on what you’ve told us, we anticipate a ball park figure of XXX to XXX how does that fit with your budget allocation?

 

If after trying this line of questioning you are still in the dark, seriously consider how much more time or resource you are prepared to commit to pursuing the opportunity. For help with effective lead qualification scorecards see me.

 

*with thanks to Wyndham Lewis at Equimedia for sharing this article.

The secret to a healthy network

April 30th, 2013

Next summer I will be celebrating 30 years in the workplace. I’m going to try not to dwell on that number too much, for obvious reasons, but the last few months have got me thinking about the wonderful network of colleagues, clients and associates that has grown, as I have grown, throughout my career.

 

When I launched Gunpowder late last year, I was overwhelmed by the unsolicited offers of help, referrals and recommendations that came my way.  Consequently, the tricky (branding, website) and dull (legal, financial) stuff was dealt with swiftly and expertly, leaving me to focus on my offer just in time for the new business referrals that followed.

 

A good friend who has just given up an executive position at a large corporation to take a six month sabbatical before, well, who knows what, has experienced the same tidal wave of “network love”.

 

So what, we pondered, were the secrets to network Nirvana? Here are our tips on growing and maintaining a healthy black book:

 

1.     Size isn’t everything
A 500+ LinkedIn network has become the bulging Rolodex of today. But size isn’t necessarily the right measure. Just like a marketer trying to figure out the value of a Facebook ‘Like’ – the focus needs to be on engagement. Yes, LinkedIn is a convenient way to keep track of those you meet and do business with, but you would be far better to have a smaller number of contacts with whom you engage rather than striving to hit that 500+ marker without keeping in touch.

 

2.     Show up
Turn off your computer and get out from behind your desk. The more people you meet, the more people you get introduced to and the more events you get invited to. Be the person who RSVPs on time and once you have accepted an invitation, don’t cancel unless it is absolutely unavoidable. A reputation as a ‘no-show’ won’t help you. Turning up to the event that you’d almost forgotten about at the end of long day almost always rewards you with an interesting new contact.

 

3.     Be curious
Ask questions and show your interest. Most importantly listen to the answers. If you don’t have a fantastic memory – keep notes. You’ll find out all kinds of nuggets that will be useful later on.

 

4.     Give selflessly
This is the Big One. Now your network is growing nicely and you have a clear idea about the individuals, their businesses, challenges and motivations, get stuck in. Offer help, make introductions, refer business, give advice, write testimonials, share useful articles, give up your time. Do all of these things without any thought to what’s in it for you.  The more you give to your network, the more you get back. Author Adam Grant explores this in more depth in his new book Give & Take

 

5.     Say thank you
This may sound obvious, but is so often overlooked. When the time comes that you need to call on your network, for a referral, a new job, for help or advice, you may be surprised who comes to your  aid. Whatever you do, remember to follow up and say thanks. It’ll go a long way.

Top tips for new business presentations

March 25th, 2013

I’ve been thinking a lot about documents lately and what a missed opportunity they often become in the new business process. Much of this will be second nature to most of you  – feel free to look away now, but I’m convinced that for many, lack of time, or a preoccupation with the detail means we lose sight of what’s important.

 

So let’s start with the big one. There has been much written about the tyranny of powerpoint. We all know the dangers of those little white slides. The need to fill them up, to pour out our thinking until it becomes a stream of consciousness, neatly chopped into rectangular boxes.

 

Cathartic for you, possibly. But what about your audience? Guy Kawasaki created the 10:20:30 rule for powerpoint presentations.  No more than 10 slides, no more than 20 minutes long and a font size no smaller than 30pt.

 

This is a tough regime, but his points are valid. Putting yourself in the shoes of your audience is imperative. My tips would be as follows:

 

Preparation

 

  • DON’T start writing your presentation in powerpoint/keynote. It will restrict your thinking and you’ll get bogged down with the detail too quickly. Instead find a large piece of paper or whiteboard and just start scribbling. This will give you far greater freedom to organise your thoughts. Only once you have organised your presentation content and messaging, should you switch on your computer!

 

  • PLAN. Make a list of all of the images, statistics, logos, testimonials or case studies that you are likely to use and don’t have to hand and figure out how to get hold of them. Ask the people you need to ask, delegate where you can. You don’t need the stress at the eleventh hour.

 

Structure

 

  • ALWAYS start with an agenda. It sets the scene for the presentation and manages expectations.

 

  • SIGNPOST. Using the structure set out in your agenda, include title slides or other navigation techniques to break up your presentation. It will help your audience to understand where they are in the proceedings.

 

Content

 

  • LESS IS MORE. The more slides you have and the more you have on each slide, the less able your audience is to follow. You will fall into the trap of reading from the slide, talking to the screen and not the people in the room. They in turn are trying to listen to what you are saying and read the text on the slide all at the same time. It doesn’t work! Remember that your slides are there to support you and not the other way around. Keep bullet points short and do what Mr Kawasaki says – no less than 30pt please.

 

  • USE BUILDS WITH CAUTION. The animation features that powerpoint and keynote offer should generally be left well alone, however, builds can be a useful way to bring in key facts or images one at a time allowing you to verbally expand on each without the audience being distrated by the next point. But do use sparingly and go for the simple ‘appear’ option rather than ‘fly in’, ‘cascade’ or any other migraine inducing function available.

 

  • BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU LEAVE BEHIND. Your presentation document serves a vastly different purpose to a document that is designed to be read. If you are taking hard copies as a leave behind or sending on a PDF version after the meeting, be aware that the same document will not represent you effectively. Imagine going to see a play. On its own, your presentation is no more than the programme and the set. It may be beautifully designed but without the actor on stage the meaning is lost. Now imagine the book of the play. This is what your leave behind document needs to be. Sounds excessive? Well maybe, but every document you send is an opportunity to sell yourself and once you hand it over, in person or by email, it may be forwarded to the board, or to procurement, or anyone else in the business, none of whom where in the original presentation and who will be judging you on only half the story. So have long form copy versions of your documents prepared which can be read and will make sense, without you in the room.

 

Good luck out there!

How to bring new business prospects in from the cold

February 21st, 2013

The best new business opportunities are undoubtedly those that arise from your network and referrals. But this inevitably needs  supplementing with proactive prospecting. So, how do you start a dialogue with someone who hasn’t ever heard of your or your agency? This month’s guest blogger Alex Sibille from The Future Factory shares her top tips for getting in front of cold prospects.

 

  • Purchase a database of relevant contact details. Or if you’d rather not spend out, LinkedIn and corporate websites should serve you quite well.

 

  • Find someone within your team, or an external specialist, with time to dedicate to prospecting, networking, researching, cold calling, schmoozing and marketing your agency to these target brands.

 

  • Expect approx 10-15 hours focused work to deliver one new business meeting – once you have started to create a pipeline of dialogues and opportunities.

 

  • The first month or so you will be honing your pitch, starting to raise awareness of your agency, as well as researching and building relationships with the decision makers in your target companies.

 

  • Splitting your time roughly 50/50 between calls and emails is a good guide.

 

  • Telephone calls give faster returns, and allow you to probe for more information, but some people are more easily accessible via email.

 

  • All approaches should be backed by a reason to get in touch. Developing this and the background research into your targets should take place over the first month, and then ongoing as you add new targets to your list.

 

  • On the phone, before you launch into a pitch, the first step should be to qualify that the person you are talking to does indeed look after the area you think they do.

 

  • In emails, short and personable usually does well.

 

  • Now and again you’ll be asked to send creds to a cold prospect you’re trying to impress. Ideally these should just be a page or two highlighting your most noteworthy achievements. If someone wants more detail they can investigate your website, or discuss further with you in person. Here is a brilliant example. A video showreel is another great way to convey your agency’s ethos.

 

For more advice on lead generation contact Alex Sibille

When new business is bad business

February 14th, 2013

Have you ever lost a pitch and thought “knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t have gone for it” or “we probably dodged a bullet there”?

 

Losing a pitch that you didn’t (in hindsight) want to win, is with out doubt the worst possible scenario. You will have dedicated untold hours of strategic and creative time and budget, not to mention travel, research and materials. And then there is the damage to morale. Losing, just doesn’t make people feel good.

 

So how do you avoid losing what you didn’t want to win? You need to learn to look a gift horse in the mouth.

 

  1. Work out what a good client or project looks like for your business.
  2. Create a set of criteria that each opportuntity can easily be scored against.
  3. When that new business opportunity comes knocking, make sure you ask all the questions you need to, to satisfy yourself that this represents a viable opportunity, and one that you feel you can win. Ask about budgets, ask about deadlines, ask why the opportunity has arisen and most importantly of all, ask who’ll be making the final decision and how.
  4. If the answers don’t satisfy your criteria. Just say no.

 

Interestingly, saying no is even more important for a start up. In those early months and years, it is very easy to take any business that comes your way. Hungry for revenue,  and with your first salaries and other overheads to consider, it’s hard to say no but beware: the projects that you accept in the early days will define you as a business as you grow. With limited resources you need to think ahead to how those case studies will help you attract your ideal clients.

 

Turning down new business opportunities will always feel like going against nature. We spend so much time and energy trying to get noticed, that an approach from a new prospect, particularly an unsolicited one is exciting to say the least. It means the website is working, your network is delivering, and that last blog post must have really struck a chord.

 

But evaluating the opportuntity against an agreed set of criteria will simply give you greater control, and the more questions you ask, the more answers you’ll get and the more informed decisions you can make.

 

For more information about lead qualification and new business planning see me.