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June 29, 2015

Getting first-time clients to take a chance on you.

Imagine that a research buyer at a Fortune 1000 firm is about to start looking for a new agency to work with. She starts with a list of potential suppliers, gets some recommendations from colleagues and industry contacts, does some online research… and eventually narrows it down to a short list of 4 or 5 – and your firm is one of them!

Congratulations! All of your marketing – your new website, your active social media sites, your email marketing, networking and advertising – has paid off.

But now the real fun begins… what can you do to convince the buyer to select your firm… to mitigate any fears she has about switching suppliers… to convince her to take a chance on you?

Well, if you’ve made it to the “Final Round,” then you have two big opportunities to answer that question… at capabilities presentation time and with your proposal.

The Capabilities Presentation

Standing in front of a room full of potential buyers is such a huge opportunity… an opportunity to tell your story and an opportunity to get them to know you/like you/trust you. So don’t blow it!

Rule #1… when presenting, stop blathering on – PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide – about every little service you offer. They already know all that – they’ve been to your website. Instead, focus on the benefits of working with your firm and how you’re different than the others. Tell stories about you’ve helped other similar firms with similar challenges.

And remember, in most cases, research buyers don’t have research problems… they have business problems that they need research to help solve. So talk to them in those terms.

As you’re speaking, the people sitting around the room are asking themselves questions like, “What’s in this for me?” and “Why should I care about this?” Your job is to make sure you answer those questions.

And stop it already with 10 bullet points per slide and complete sentences for each bullet… and then reading from the slide. The slides are just guides – use them to keep your comments on track. Remember the ‘4×4 rule’ – no more than 4 bullet points per slide and no more than 4 words per bullet. Less is more! When you start reading from wordy slides, so do the people you’re presenting to… and when what you’re saying is also up on the screen – you become unimportant.

Finally, make sure the PPT deck is part of your integrated marketing strategy. That is, that is looks and feels like your other marketing materials – your website, your collateral, your ads. That consistency helps to reinforce your brand.

Note: given the choice to send the deck to the buyer or to deliver a presentation in person, ALWAYS opt to deliver it in person. It’s a small price to pay, considering the potential result. Even with all of the methodologies, technologies, analysis and reporting… we are still in the people business. And it’s difficult to establish a relationship if the primary communications tool is a printed document.

If your presentation goes well, you’ll be invited to deliver…

The Proposal

Like capabilities presentations, proposals in our industry tend to be way too long – regurgitating everything the buyer has already read on your website and seen in your presentation.

Feel free to include a simple, one-page summary of your capabilities, in the Appendix, but quickly get to the point of the document… a summary of the client’s problem, what you’re going to do to solve it, how your solutions will solve it, the process of making it happen and – of course – the fees and terms of the engagement.

Much like the presentation… less is more. Enough with the jargon and buzzwords, write your proposal so that your 12-year-old daughter could understand it – the more clarity and the less questions, the better.

Include a ‘special offer.’ Occasionally, we’ll see a proposal that includes a financial incentive of some kind… a first-timer discount, a freebie of some kind thrown in, some sort of guarantee, etc. Are these right for you? Maybe, maybe not… but they’re worth considering.

Can you really do what you say you can do?

Perhaps the most compelling information you can deliver – that is, those things that can truly help the buyer make a decision in your favor – are ‘proof sources.’ Those things that say to the buyer, “we don’t just talk the talk, we also walk the walk.” Think about these things and whether you should include them on your website, as a handout during your capabilities presentation or as an attachment to your proposal.

First are the knowledge proof sources – things that showcase your expertise. This could include articles, eBooks, webinars, etc. These kind of things allow you to showcase your knowledge of methodologies, applications and certain industries.

Then there are the client proof sources… those things that convey that “we’ve been doing these kinds of things for a long while with lots of other businesses and we’re pretty good at it.” No buyer wants to feel like they‘re a guinea pig… like they’re the first one!

For this, consider things like a simple listing of clients (with logos is even better), case studies, testimonial quotes with real attributions and a making available a list of references (make sure you get permission first).

How are you doing?

So, you’re focusing on getting first-time clients… terrific! But how is it working out?

One of my favorite sayings in business – and it’s a favorite because it’s so true – is this: “What gets measured gets done.” Let me suggest two ways to measure your business development efforts with new clients:

  • The mini-pipeline: Each month, track: # Presentations # Bids vs. # Wins. If you’re getting the opportunity to present, but it’s not leading to many bids, then perhaps your presentation or PowerPoint needs to be tweaked. Likewise, if you’re bidding a lot but not winning many, take a look at your bid package. By the way, the average ‘win rate’ I hear across the industry is 35-40%.
  • What happened? If you didn’t win a bid, pick up the phone and ask the buyer, “What happened?” Was the project cancelled… did you lose on cost… did the buyer decide to stay with their current supplier? Track and trend this over time to learn from it and get better.


Bottom line: Successful businesses are built on long-term clients… but you can’t build long-term clients until you have first-time clients. Convincing a business to take a chance with you the very first time is one of the hardest things to do in business… but focus on it, be smart about it and you will find success.


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