Vetting new clients is a lot like choosing who you’re going to marry. No one gets married after a handful of dates, and no company makes a strong client connection after one meeting. Just like jumping into a marriage can lead to disaster, moving too fast with a prospect can also spell trouble for a business.
Unfortunately, because many businesspeople are Type A personalities, the patience needed to grow relationships with prospects is lacking. We’re aggressive and competitive, always pushing for the win. Sometimes, that’s a great thing. But too often, we can jump the gun.
To prospect smarter, agencies should focus on the four Ts: teach, trust, told apart and timing. Agencies that follow these strategies should have no issues securing new clients who are a perfect fit.
1. Teach: Use provocation-based selling as a learning experience.
Too many agencies continue selling long after they’ve secured a new client. Selling is necessary at the beginning, but it becomes overkill after a certain point. Once you’ve started working together and you’re investing in the relationship, it’s time to switch gears. No one enjoys being constantly sold to, but everyone loves learning.
Teaching clients something new builds relationships. It shows you’re passionate about their brand and want them to grow.
You don’t need a doctorate degree to educate, but you do need to do your homework. When you go to trade shows or conferences, soak up insights, trends and case studies clients might be interested in. Even better, use that information to provoke problems they didn’t even know they had.
Shining a light on things your agency can help with is essentially selling, but it doesn’t feel that way. It comes off as helpful and informative, which builds trust between you and your client.
2. Trust: Start small, grow strong.
My colleague and owner of AAR Partners, Lisa Colantuono, gave me a great example of the meaning of trust. At a meeting she attended, the owner of one of the companies hardly said a word; he just sat in the corner of the room. It wasn’t that he didn’t care, he just trusted his team to lead the conversation in the right direction without his micromanagement.
You need your client to have that kind of trust in your agency. After all, you’re taking the reins on what might be their baby — projects they’ve poured their heart and soul into (let alone money).
So, how does that kind of trust develop? Provocation-based selling is a great place to start, but then you need to deliver. Identify where clients might need help, and let them know how you can lighten the load. Pick up project work and demonstrate your worth.
Of course, you don’t want to do project work forever, so find brands where long-term growth exists or is possible. And when you find them, make sure they know what you can deliver.
3. Told Apart: Why are you special?
When your clients can trust you, suddenly they can tell you apart from the competition. You’re not some generic agency — you’re their agency. But to get to that point, you have to do some homework again.
Be sure you know exactly what your company stands for. Look at your agency closely and do some introspection. What purpose does your agency serve? What problems are you great at solving? Which categories or disciplines have you mastered?
Ironically, these are the same questions you’ll ask new clients as you develop their brand strategies. Your own strategy should be just as solid, if not more so. When your clients understand exactly what your agency is and what it stands for, they’ll be able to see more clearly how it fits with their own mission.
4. Timing: Don’t be desperate.
First, select the subset of businesses that makes up your best potential new clients. But don’t always make a move as soon as you find who you’re looking for. Coming in at the wrong time can make your agency look desperate or clueless. Be patient. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to make a connection.
Another example from Lisa helps illuminate this: She had her eye on a fast-casual restaurant. She noticed it conducted a creative agency review at the beginning of the year and knew reviews of other disciplines were coming. Sure enough, later that year, a public relations review arrived.
The restaurant called the review because its incumbent PR agency had experienced some executive changes. For rival agencies, that’s always a golden opportunity. It turned out to be one here. The new executives at the agency didn’t even bother to introduce themselves to the client during the review. Within months they’d lost the account, and the restaurant was looking for a new agency — the perfect opportunity for anyone else to make a move.
Patience pays off. Opportunities will present themselves as long as you’re paying attention.
Find new clients and keep the right clients.
The main theme of each of these strategies is personalization. Mass-blasting emails or using one-size-fits-all approaches won’t yield the clients that fit best with your agency. When you really want to work with a brand, that passion will shine through and you’ll do great work. In turn, you’ll have a loyal client and plenty of business for the future.
New business is always great, but keeping current clients happy is really the key to surviving and thriving. And when you find the right new clients in the first place, they’re much more likely to love what you’re doing.
This article first published on Forbes.