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Sometimes we need a little reminder on the basics of proposal writing.

1. Always dissect the proposal into an easy to comprehend outline and be considerate of what the client is asking to be presented.

2. Be vocal – We all know that relationships win business, but sometimes there’s an RFP out on the streets from an unknown person/organization/community/etc., that’s a perfect fit for your firm’s qualifications. Don’t let not knowing anyone on the selection committee preclude you from going after the job, but do make a courtesy phone call and try to schedule a meeting to learn more about the project and the client’s needs. Make your presence known before your proposal lands on their desk and your chances of making the shortlist will escalate.

3. Coordinate the staff that will work on the proposal. Give them an outline early on with detailed writing assignments and due dates. Follow-up, Follow-up, Follow-up.

image credit: flickr user Q is for Quilter

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annoyingI’m looking at doing a few different projects at my office. Each one requires the use of an outside vendor. I’ve dealt with salespeople before – hey, I’m in marketing, I’m part of the sales process. But this round has been different. I’m not sure if it’s bad luck or too many people reading too many books on sales processes, but I’ve come across a lot of annoying sales habits lately. I’m sharing my top 5 with you in hopes that you wont repeat the offenses.

My (current) top 5 annoying sales habits:

  • email read receipts – don’t give me an extra step in reading your email. I really don’t care to let you know that I’ve read your message, or deleted it.
  • Pick up the phone and call me if you have a question, but please don’t ask me to attend a web meeting in order to review something mundane. I don’t care about your sales process and looking at a contract via a web meeting just annoys me.
  • Don’t tell me that I need to make a decision today so that you can make your sales numbers for the month – you making your sales numbers is really of no interest to me. Remember, in this transaction I care about me, not you.
  • Emails sent front salesforce – it just makes you look like a sales weasel. Don’t make your tracking process obvious to me. It makes me feel like a number instead of a human being.
  • Don’t tell me what I need before you’ve asked me what problem I’m trying to solve – It makes you sound ignorant.

image credit: flickr user BarelyFitz’s

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manonphoneCommunication preferences vary. Some people prefer to handle all communications via email, others phone conversations and still others via social networking sites. I prefer email and texts. But those are my personal preferences, not necessarily those of the people trying to communicate with me. And shouldn’t I communicate in the way others are comfortable reaching me, especially potential clients or partners?

I was reading an article and was struck by the following excerpt: Mr. X (not his real name) consciously decided not to become over-reliant on e-mail and does not carry a Blackberry or PDA. He does spend a lot of time on his cell phone and always has it with him. People who he regularly works with know that’s the way to reach him quickly. It’s his way of being available and responsive. Mr. X can be reached by email at MrX@company.com.

All I can wonder is, if Mr X prefers to be contacted by cell phone why not leave that as his point of contact instead of his email address? The statement above leads me to think that if I email him, I shouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a reply.

Luckily for Mr. X, or maybe me, I have no need to contact him. But what if, after seeing the article I thought Mr. X’s might be the perfect company for an upcoming project? I might feel like an email is likely to go ignored and since that’s the point of contact he left (instead of his much more paid attention to cell phone number) I may decide to contact someone else about my project.

The moral of the story? Communicate how your clients want you to communicate, whether or not it be aligned with your personal preferences. When you’re easier to get a hold of, regardless of the medium, people trust you more and feel that you value them more. And that’s exactly what you want.

Image credit: Flickr user cobalt123

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salonI’m a salon hopper. It’s not that I’m not happy with the umpteen places I’ve been too, but none of the salons I’ve visited have ever encouraged me to come back. So the next time I need my hair done I find another salon (I live in an area with hundreds of them) with a new customer discount, book an appointment, get my hair done and repeat the process in another 4-5 months.

What should these salons be doing? At the very least they should be encouraging me to book my next appointment on my way out. And if they haven’t done that, well then hopefully they’ve taken the time to collect some minimal contact information from me so that they can keep in touch while I’m between cuts.

It’s a story that’s all to common, and not just with salons. We’re often so busy trying to win new clients and servicing the ones that are in front of us that we loose sight of the previous clients whom we’ve finished servicing.

Keeping in-touch with past clients should be one of our biggest priorities. Everyone knows the saying it’s harder/more expensive to gain a client than it is to retain an existing one. Yet more often than not we’re so focused on winning the next job that we forget to reach out to established clients that may have another project waiting for us in the wings.

There are a number of simple things we can do – send them the firm’s newsletter, connect with clients on social networks you both participate in, add them to the holiday card list, send out a post-services survey. But more important than those tactics and more personal, keep a list of the important clients – the ones that you want repeat business from – and pick up the phone once a quarter. Give them a call to see how their new office building/home/whatever it is you did for them is working out. Share some news that might be applicable to them, ask to take them out to lunch, anything in order to have a quality conversation. With minimal effort your firm is back in the consideration set next time they’re looking for a designer. And all it cost you was a little bit of your time, and maybe lunch.

I realize I’m not conveying anything new here, but based on a few conversations of late I felt it was a good time for a reminder. So if you’re not already doing it, stop, make a list of past clients and pick up the phone. You’ll be amazed with the results.

Image credit: Flickr user stpiducko

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We all want to be liked; it’s human nature. And we often carry that need into our businesses. We’re not likely to turn down a paying opportunity, particularly in today’s economic environment. But there are many we shouldn’t be wasting our time on.

In recessionary times our firms’ mantras tend to shift from niche, niche, niche to diversify, diversify, diversify. Diversification is important. The firms that focused all past efforts on developer projects are likely not doing that well today. Those that focused solely on municipal work are probably doing OK today, but what about tomorrow. The point is, diversification is an important strategy, provided the execution is smart. It’s when firms take the position of trying to be everything to everybody, just to get work in the door, where things start to fall apart.

I’m sure you’ve noticed your competition on any number of job opportunities has increased. But if you take a close look at the competition you can break it down into three categories:

  1. The usual suspects; all qualified to win the job.
  2. The bottom feeders, you know, the guys that are sort of qualified, but appear even more qualified when they start low-balling the bid.
  3. And then there are the firms that are diversifying.

Number three isn’t too much of a worry for you. Yes, you may be among 40 respondents instead of 10, but those that are qualified will rise to the top. Those diversifying for the sake of diversifying aren’t going to get much consideration (unless they hold brand creed and the prospect is swayed by that over credentials which is another post altogether).

The firms that are scared and turning that nervousness into a diversification strategy that’s more akin to ready, fire, aim are setting themselves up for failure. Instead they should reflect on their strengths, put thought into where true areas for growth are and pull together a strategy to enter those markets in addition to their existing ones. Better yet, develop and execute your diversification strategy before you need one. But when crafting it, remember, not everyone has to like you. It’s only important to be liked by the ones offering the projects that are a fit for your firms’ strengths.

Originally written for Help Everybody Everyday

Image Credit: wanderinghome on flickr

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