The best business development technique I know.

There are two types of jobs:

  1. Those that require you to attract new clients.
  2. Those where you just show up and work for the clients that someone else attracted.

I have had a significant role in attracting new clients since the 3rd year of my career. In fact, I spent so much time earning the trust of prospective clients throughout my career that it gave me the confidence to launch my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016.

One of the questions I have been asked most often over the past two years is: Where do you find your clients?’  There are a lot of fun answers I could give. Because all of our client relationships seem to have a fun origin story. But a couple of facts stand out. 

4 Fun Facts About Our Clients.

  1. Our first four clients at The Weaponry were clients I had worked with earlier in my career.
  2. Two of our clients have now hired The Weaponry for two different businesses.
  3. One of our clients has now hired The Weaponry for three different businesses.
  4. One of our collaborative partners has introduced us to 8 new businesses that have become clients.

Key Takeaway

Doing great work for your current clients is the best approach to business development.  Those clients will recommend you to others. They will hire you again when they change jobs. The partners you collaborate with will see how you treat your shared clients and recommend you to other clients they work with. It has been a key driver of growth for The Weaponry. So, as Bill Belichick would say, ‘Do your job.’ Because when you do, more opportunities will come your way.

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Why you should give it away, give it away now.

A year and a half ago I was in a fender bender. I was hit by a woman who was hit by a distracted driver, who didn’t realize that everyone else on the road stopped at a railroad crossing. I wrote about the experience in the post, Could You Pass The Fender Bender Test. While waiting for the authorities to show up, Laura ‘The Bumper Thumper’ and I began talking. We quickly struck up a friendship. It turns out that Laura has her own marketing business too.

Chapter Two

A couple of months after the incident I got a call from a potential client about a new marketing challenge they were facing. We agreed to meet face to face, and I invited Laura to bring her face to the meeting too.

The client was dealing with a new law that was dramatically changing the way they could market their service. More bluntly, their primary way of finding customers was now illegal. (So tawdry, I know!) The change posed a monumental threat to their very existence. They needed to quickly replace their old marketing approach with a new one, or there would be no business. (dun, dun, dun)

Laura and I met with two of the partners for two hours. We discussed numerous potential solutions to the problem. As I had imagined, Laura was a valuable asset. She asked a lot of smart questions. She had a very good understanding of the industry, and the major players in the market. Best of all, she didn’t hit anyone with a car.

When we left the potential client’s office, Laura said,

‘You really give a way a lot of ideas for free.’

She’s right. I do.

Here’s why I give ideas away for free.

I love free samples at the grocery store. Nothing sells me on your southern ham, spicy cheese, mango salsa or Fruity Barky Bites like tasting it myself. That tiny plastic cup worth of your product gives me everything I need to know to purchase more.

My business does not make Fruity Barky Bites. At least not yet. We produce ideas. So when I meet with people about their marketing challenges, I dig in. I start thinking through solutions with them. I offer up initial ideas worth considering. I get excited about solving the problem. They get excited about having the problem solved.

People don’t like to be sold to. They want to be in a position to buy. So rather than sell a client on why they should work with The Weaponry,  I like to offer people a sample of what they would get if they work with us. If they like it, they will want to buy. If they don’t like what they hear, they will pass. And both sides win.

Key Takeaway

I believe you should always add value before you try to extract value. Prove your worth. Make new clients and customers feel as if they have received more value than they have paid for. Give them a test drive so they can imagine the future. Once they decide to buy, don’t slow down. Keep over delivering. Always make them feel like they are getting more than they are paying for. Even when they are paying a lot.

*If you found value in this post, and would like more free samples, consider subscribing to this blog.

This is where I encourage you to pitch your elevator pitch.

In 2015 I decided to launch a new advertising agency. I already had a vivid image of the agency in my head. So I began mapping, sketching and listing every detail of the company. I considered the business from every angle. I even created a Life Stage chart of the yet unborn business. It was like What to Expect When You Are Expecting. Except I was expecting a bouncing baby business.

The Elevator Pitch 

However, there was one detail that start-ups typically obsess over that I skipped entirely: the Elevator Pitch. It is supposed to be the centerpiece of a startup’s marketing efforts. If you’ve never heard of an elevator pitch, the idea is that you have to summarize the essence of who you are, and what you do, in a short statement that you could deliver to a captive hostage on a brief elevator ride. Apparently, lots of entrepreneurs stalk high-powered executives on elevators, thinking it would be a great strategy for winning their affection.

I’m not buying it.

I hate the whole concept of the elevator pitch. I think it is the most overrated, over-discussed element of salesmanship. And entrepreneurship. And elevatorship.

Sure, it is important to be able to succinctly talk about your business. Your Great Aunt Petunia doesn’t have enough time left on Earth to waste it on your full story. But I have never bought anything or hired anyone because of a brief discussion I had on an elevator, escalator or Wonk-avator.

In fact, I have been in business for two years. And not once have I found myself in an elevator with someone who told me I had 10 floors of verticality to perform the sales pitch of a lifetime.

My Approach

Instead of scripting and performing an elevator monologue to an audience that never shows up, which feels a little like writing an acceptance speech for an award you didn’t win, I take the opposite approach.

The Quiet Game

I play the quiet game. You know, it’s that game where you see how long you can go without talking. I was terrible at the Quiet Game as a child. Scratch that. I was the Cleveland Browns of The Quiet Game. But today, as an entrepreneur, I am quite good at it. When I meet a marketer, I don’t whip out a polished sales pitch and throw it at her. Instead, I listen.

I want to hear what potential clients talk about. I want to hear what challenges they are facing. I want to know where their pain points are. I want to identify their greatest unmet needs. I continue to grow and transform The Weaponry in response to the unmet needs of our clients. Because we are focused on solving client problems, we grow in the direction that our clients’ needs dictate.

Key Takeaway

If you want to collect more great clients and grow your business, don’t practice your elevator pitch. Practice listening. Play detective. Or doctor. Listen for the discomfort, the bottlenecks, and the solution-less problems your clients and potential clients are facing.  Discover their unmet needs. And you’ll have found your next opportunity.

*If you found anything of value in this post, please consider subscribing to this blog. You’ll receive two fresh-baked posts via email each week. Oh, and you may also dig this post I wrote about My Vanilla Ice Philosophy. Vanilla Ice himself liked it. And Tweeted it. And hung it above his bed (ok, that very last part might not be true).

 

You are NEVER going to be in my network unless you do this first.

LinkedIn is an amazing professional resource. It’s offers a great way to further your professional development through education and association. Thank you Reid Hoffman for creating LinkedIn. But I’m sorry to say that I wouldn’t accept a LinkedIn request from you. I get requests from people wanting to join my network almost every day. But I have a clear philosophy that guides my networking on the platform. It goes like this:

I only Link In with you if I know you.

I can’t tell if this is a really simple and obvious philosophy, or if it is a radical departure from the norm. But I am always surprised by how many requests I get with absolutely no introduction or context as to why we should be LinkedIn. I find this very odd. Which is only surpassed in oddness by people who send me an introductory note trying to sell me something. I hate that. It’s like be approached by a stranger whose opening line to you is, ‘Hey! Let’s have sex.’ It tells me everything I need to know about you. And your sex.

My Network As A Garden

I think of my LinkedIn network as a garden. Everyone in my LinkedIn garden is there because I planted them. So if anyone in my garden says, ‘Hey Adam, (yes, these are talking plants) I see there is a Bob Smith growing in this garden. Tell me about Bob.’ I say, ‘Ah, Bobby is one of my college track & field teammates. He grew up in little Marshall, Wisconsin, near Madison. He used to raise ferrets, and he could put the shot farther than most people can throw a fit. He is an art teacher. And he makes amazing pottery. I own two of his pieces.’ Suddenly Bob Smith goes from the most generic name in America to a specific human with colorful details.

What strangers need to do first.

I want to be able to vouch for everyone in my network. Including you. It’s how my network becomes valuable. This doesn’t mean that we can’t meet and develop a relationship on LinkedIn. But if you want to join my collection of professional contacts, we must have contact first.

Here’s how it works.

  1. You send me a LinkedIn request.
  2. You add a note about why you think it would be good to connect.
  3. We set up a call or a chocolate milk meeting (I don’t drink coffee).
  4. We talk, and you don’t try to sell me anything or exhibit psychologically deviant behavior.
  5. I accept your LinkedIn request.

This process works because I make connections quickly. I can learn a lot about you in an initial conversation. Then, when someone in my network asks me about you I can share your story.

The Right Way.

Here is a request I received recently. It is a great example of the right way to introduce yourself to a stranger on LinkedIn:

Adam -We don’t know each other, yet. I moved here from Minneapolis and I am hoping to connect with a few fun people. My sister-in-law sent me your blog. You seem fun. -Jennifer

This stared a dialog. I discovered that Jennifer is related to one of my former coworkers (that’s co-worker, not cow orker). I have invited her to stop by The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, for an introduction. After that, we can be LinkedIn.

Key Takeaway

Don’t let just anyone into your professional network on LinkedIn. It devalues your network because there is nothing that distinguishes those inside your group from those outside your group. When you are sending LinkedIn request don’t be lazy. Don’t be random. Be purposeful and personal with your introductions. And for Reid’s sake, please don’t try to sell anything in your intro. It’s a turnoff.

Do you have a LinkedIn philosophy? Please share it in the comments section. If you want to know my other philosophies consider subscribing to this blog. If you want to know about my philosophy that Vanilla Ice tweeted about, click here.

The best $240 an employer ever spent on me.

My first job in advertising paid me $21,000 a year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to eat. But I was thrilled to be a professional copywriter. I was rolling in that thin dough for three months before I surged to $22,000. I was making it drizzle. Six months later I got another bump to $24,000. I bought a used Toyota 4-Runner with 175,000 miles on it.  Then, 18 months after I started my first job, my salary climbed to $30,000. Ever since then I have felt rich. Seriously.

However, none of those salary adjustments made me any more valuable to my employer.  They spent more money on me because I was good at my job. And because they underpaid for my value from the start.

The Best Investment

But as I look back at my career, there was one investment that an employer made in me that truly made me a more valuable asset to them. In April of 2000 Cramer Krasselt sent me to a seminar in Chicago on presenting creative.  It was led by Toni Louw.  It cost $240. And it made the agency more money than the salary they paid me.

At this one day seminar I learned how to see creative work from the client’s perspective. I learned about persuasion, about pre-selling and demonstration.  I learned about storytelling, about building a case and developing logical conclusions  I learned about showmanship and being a good host to clients. I learned about how to turn a passive audience into an actively engaged audience. I was hooked.  (I also learned that I could sew a rip in my pants, in a bathroom stall, in less than 5 minutes with the sewing kit I kept in my work bag.)

The timing could not have been better.  I had three years of experience. Which was enough time to know a few things and enough experience to recognize what I had previously been doing wrong. Yet I still had the majority of my career to get it right.  I soaked up the ideas and techniques like a Shop-Vac. Presenting was already one of my favorite parts of the job. But now I had a great base of theory and technique to build on.

When I got home I typed up everything I had learned, and added 2 scoops of my own personal style. Suddenly I had a game plan and a process for evaluating client-worthy creative ideas. I now knew how to present them in an effective and entertaining way. Altough the entertainment may be more Branson than Broadway.

Within two months I had the perfect opportunity to put my new skills to use. The Ski-Doo snowmobile account went up for review. Because of my passion for snowmobiling and enthusiasm for the opportunity, I was allowed to lead the creative charge for the pitch, despite the fact that I was only 26 years old.

I poured myself into the Ski-Doo pitch. Through a combination of my personal drive, my new learnings from the seminar and great teammates, we put on quite a show. Not only did we win the account, we proceeded to pitch and win the other Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP) brands too. Those included Sea Doo, Evinrude and Johnson outboard motors, CanAm ATVs and the CanAm Spyder.

Pitching and business development became core strengths of mine.  And despite my early concerns, I continued to eat regularly.

Today I own my own ad agency called The Weaponry. As I think about investments to be made in my fast growing business I am reflecting on the ROI of that $240 that were invested in me.  It grew my skills and abilities. It help win new business and grow the agency substantially. It made the agency money, which made me a much more valuable resource.

It may be more fun to spend money on cappuccino machines, murals and foosball tables.  But if you want to invest your money and enjoy a huge return, invest in growing your people (this includes yourself). Make their strengths stronger. Make their breadth broader. Give them the tools to help them realize their potential.  Because money spent growing good employees will yield a greater return than any other investment you will ever make.

5 words from my Grampy that will improve your business and marriage.

Marriage is one of life’s greatest adventures. You can never be too prepared for it. Half of marriages end in I don’t. A healthy percentage of the other half aren’t any healthier. So on my wedding day I wanted to cram in one last bit of preparation. I scheduled breakfast with my three marriage mentors, my dad and my two grandfathers (who would all laugh me off the family tree for calling them my marriage mentors). At the time my parents had been married 32 years. My grandparents had been hitched 61 and 63 years.

After we sat down at Emma Krumbies in Wausau, Wisconsin and worked through some Northwoods pancakes and sausage I decided it was time for the knowledge share. I asked The Paternity, ‘What is the key to making a marriage great?’  With 156 years of experience at the table I felt like I just lit the fuse on a 4th of July fireworks grand finale. This was going to be an amazing show. So I sat back to take it all in.

Then my maternal grandfather, Kenny Sprau, crossed his arms, leaned back in his chair and said,

‘Keep doing what you’re doing.’

Um… WTF Grampy?  61 years of trial and error, nine kids and a World War, and that’s all you’ve got?  I wanted to give him a mulligan and see if he could hit it past the women’s tee this time. But he went on. ‘You have to keep doing the things that got you to this point.’

Over time I’ve come to understand what Grampy was saying.  When we are dating we are at our best. The unfortunate tendency is to drop the hard work, the energy, the attention, and charm we put into the relationship after the contract is signed.

This advice holds true in business as well as marriage.  Treat your potential partners well. Act as if you would like nothing more than spending the rest of your time together. Listen. Make them laugh. Show them you are interesting, kind and thoughtful. Get the contract signed.  And then keep doing what you’ve been doing.

If you are a creative it is easy to get precious about the work you do.  It’s easy to throw hissy fits (although the best place to grab the hissy to throw it is hard to determine). It’s easy to be combative. Oh, and it’s easy to go out of business. The statistics aren’t good.

But in business, as in marriage, listening and collaborating are valuable approaches to your growth strategy. Clients and spouses alike really like that stuff. Crazy right?  When you respond favorably to a client’s request they generate something called ‘good feelings’ about you.  And these ‘good feelings’ make them want to see you more and work with you more. And the result is business growth.

The opposite is also true.  If you are the all-time best seller at The Jerk Store no one wants to be around you. This is true of both the individual and the organization.

If you recognize complacency, apathy or combativeness between your organization and your clients stamp that out like a flaming bag of dog poo on your front porch. The behavior may feel justified today. But you’ll regret the justice leveled tomorrow when you’re trading the offspring in the McDonald’s parking lot.

At the Perfect Agency Project our goal is to treat our current business like new business. We never want to take them for granted.  We are trying to re-win them every day. Even after we put a ring on it. Thanks for the wise advice Grampy. Me and Grammy miss you.