Thursday, January 28, 2010

Four Basic Steps to More New Business for Service Marketers

At a recent meeting, the marketing manager for a new start-up marketing services company asked me for advice on how to put together a winning new business program. As he described the exciting new technology and services they had developed, his question "what's the best way to reach out to new prospects?" reminded me that too often we look for the executional solution and forget that a sound, basic strategy must be in place before we make that first outbound call.

So here are four basic steps that every services marketer should take when planning your business development program.

Step One: Narrow your focus to the most important and most unique service(s) you provide. In today's overcrowded world of service marketers, the key to success for a small company is to be a specialist, not a generalist. I have worked with a lot of ad agencies and marketing services companies who offer a variety of services, but the ones that have been most successful have focused on the one or two services that give them a point of difference. If there is an area in which you truly excel, that's where you need to start when developing your new business outreach plan.

Too many service providers fall into the trap of saying that they don't want to miss an opportunity, so they tout every service offering to make sure they don't miss anyone. The problem with this approach is that you are competing with all of the other full-service, or multi-service providers, and unwittingly defining yourself as a commodity, not a premium product. If you are the same as a group of other companies, then the decision may boil down to who's the cheapest/fastest/easiest choice, not who is the best choice.

Step Two: Pinpoint your target prospects as tightly as possible. When you narrow your focus, you will most likely narrow your prospect list, but that can be a good thing. If the service in which you excel is truly important to a company, they will be more likely to listen to your message. And that increases your potential for a faster ROI on your marketing efforts.

Knowing your primary target group isn't rocket science, it's basic marketing. But as noted in Step One, too many service companies try to be all things to all people and end up wasting a lot of time, effort and money chasing too many prospects. A better strategy is to build a pyramid of target groups with the tip of the pyramid defined as a very small group who really want and need your service. And that's the first group to start with in your business development efforts.

When I work with an established company, my first recommendation is to carefully examine your current (or past) clients to determine why they hired you. Was there one particular service area in which you stood head and shoulders above your competition? If you don't know, ask; you might be surprised at the answer you get.

Step Three: Understand and promote the derived benefit your service offers. Several years ago, a colleague and I developed a systematic approach to strategy development that we called "The Derived Benefit Copy Model". Our hypothesis was that most companies talk about who they are and what they do, but they neglect to clearly articulate what that means to the customer . . . why should they care?

If you want your company to stand out in the prospect's mind, you need to identify and feature benefits, not attributes in external communications. And I don't mean just the rational benefits, but the derived emotional benefits as well.

In the aforementioned "copy model", we placed a special emphasis on the importance of understanding the emotional benefit that derives from a purchase decision. We used automobile marketing as a great example of the emotional basis for purchase decisions. Why does someone buy a Mercedes when a Hyundai performs equally well? The same question can be asked about people who buy a Mac instead of a PC? Or choose Nike over Avia or Brooks? There is an emotional reward to that purchase decision that transcends the attributes of the product.

The same thinking should be used when developing your outbound marketing copy strategy. Is there an emotional benefit to my service that can be capitalized upon? Can I structure my "brand promise" to differentiate my services from other similar companies by offering something beyond the physical performance of my service?

Step Four: Look for ways to give your prospect "permission to believe" your company is the right choice. There are two major factors at work here that should be noted. First, the pressure on marketers to avoid mistakes has never been greater. A recent Forrester study concluded that the average tenure of a CMO is less than three years. Too often this leads to a safe decision that can be defended to management. And one way to make your company a safe choice is to give your prospect a rock-solid conviction that your company is the right choice to make.

The second factor that must be considered is that marketers have an inherent mistrust of agencies. Let's face it. Agencies have a bad, but somewhat deserved, reputation for overpromising and underdelivering, and for basing recommendations on factors that were not necessarily in the best interests of their client. For years, the prevailing compensation system led too many agencies to recommend commissionable media buys over "below the line" alternatives that might have worked just as well to grow the client's business.

That's why the most critical factor in the decision process is to provide the prospect "permission to believe" that your company and service(s) is the right choice to make.

"Permission to believe" can be gained in several ways -- category experience, expertise in a particular medium, successful marketing to a specific target audience, are just a few of the ways to reassure a prospect that you can help them grow their business.

Over the past year, social media and SEO have been the hottest topics (and biggest needs) in the marketing community. Specialty service providers who understand the nuances and pitfalls of the digital space have been a strong growth area, but without "permission to believe" they can truly help a client, they face the same uphill battle as more traditional service suppliers.

How to gain "permission to believe" is an important topic that will be explored in future posts. The most important thing you should remember from this discussion is to really think through the strategic basics if you want to have a successful new business program.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Move Beyond Cold Calling If You Want to Grow Your Business

Cold calling as a primary outbound marketing tool just doesn't work for ad agencies.  Never has, never will.  Yet I still run into agency principals who think that blanketing selected targets and industries with sales brochures and unsolicited telephone calls or emails is the best way to grow their business.

The latest edition of Marketing News from the American Marketing Association has an interesting case study on how a small Indiana service provider doubled their revenue last year through web-based marketing in lieu of cold calling.  Here's what they did, and what any b-to-b service provider can do to grow their business.

The first step was a redesign of their web site to move it from a brochure site touting their background and experience to an interactive experience that walks potential customers through the steps of deciding if they need their service to why they should choose their firm.  Along the way, they adopted several best practices to simplify the navigation and reduce copy to add more graphics.  They rewrote copy using direction from Google Adwords and adopted some other simple SEO principles to re-write title tags and add keywords to their code.

The next step was to launch a blog to feature their knowledge experts' insights on topics of interest to their key audiences.  They used SEO tactics to ensure that blog posts ranked high for searches related to their content matter, added a link to the blog to the company's web site and shared blog posts with LinkedIn groups.  According to their marketing director, tracking analysis found that LinkedIn was particularly effective in driving traffic to their blog which in turn led to more attention to the company's web site.

Although they did not use Twitter, I believe that tweeting with a link to the blog post is another way to effectively drive traffic to your blog and ultimately to your site.

They extended the company's thought leadership profile by expanding selected blog posts into magazine articles, white papers.and presentations that led to conference speaking engagements based on their demonstrated credibility and subject matter expertise.  They also began a concerted effort to establish strategic partnerships with complementary service providers.

The combination of web-based marketing efforts and new partnerships has led to a "snowball effect" according to their marketing director.   Traffic to their web site jumped from an average of 10 to 15 visits per week to 1,500 to 2,000 visits per week.

Prior to launching this intensive web marketing program, nearly 80% of their new business came from cold calls and traditional outbound selling.  This year, more than 80% of new business has come web driven initiatives and revenues have doubled.

These changes weren't rocket science.  And they weren't particularly expensive.   What they did is take advantage of an integrated marketing effort to allow prospects to move through a decision thought process before they even talked.  That led to a much more cost effective way to invest their time and efforts to grow their customer base.  Is it time to rethink your business development strategy?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Year's Resolution for New Business Development

Are you happy with your new business development program?  Is it working?  Could it be better/more effective/more efficient? This is the time of year when people reexamine their life choices, so it makes sense for agencies and other businesses that sell products and services to reexamine their business and especially their business development program. 

The old saying that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is never truer than in new business development.  Even if your company has been successful with past bizdev efforts, the dramatic and continuing changes in consumer attitudes, media consumption, etc. dictate constant re-appraisal and refinement. 

A good new business program starts inside the agency, not outside.
Before you begin an outbound marketing effort, you should make sure that everything internally is as strong and effective as it can be.  It's no surprise that economic conditions and the digital marketplace have affected all businesses, so the first step is to re-examine how external conditions have affected your company.  You should be asking yourself and your management team questions in several key areas.

Are we positioned correctly to attract and retain clients?
  • Does our agency positioning have a clear focus that differentiates us from our key competitors?
  • Is our agency positioning right for the needs of today's clients and prospects?
  • Do we have any proprietary processes that can be leveraged to give clients and prospects "permission to believe" we can do things better than other agencies?
  • Do we have all of the services we need to support our agency positioning?
  • Have we focused on what we do best?
Do we have the right people to support the agency positioning?
  • Do we have the right skill sets to support our agency positioning and meet the needs of current and prospective clients?
  • Does everyone inside the agency understand our brand positioning and their role in delivering on our brand promise?
  • Do all employees know how to communicate our brand positioning and their role in new business development?
  • Are we organized in a way that supports our positioning strategy?
Do we have the right criteria and tools for identifying and approaching prospects?
  • How well do the needs of our prospects match our agency capabilities?
  • Do our promotional materials reflect our agency position in a way that will attract and intrigue prospects?
  • Do we have a defined promotion and publicity plan for the agency that consistently builds awareness and credibility of the agency brand?
  • Are there new products and processes that we should be developing to better meet the future needs of clients and prospects?
There are many other questions you could, and should, be asking that relate to agency policies and processes that will affect your new business efforts.  But as we begin a new year, you need to start somewhere.  In my experience, these are some of the most critical. 

It's time to make a resolution to take a fresh look at your agency and your business development program.  Welcome to 2010.