Welcome to a short series of opinion pieces, highlighting what I believe are effective commercial drivers for start-up and fast growth creative, marketing and tech businesses.
With over 10 years’ experience in B2B sales & marketing, I am passionate about developing others and fostering a collaborative working environment focused both on individual and collective success. I am now a Partner with leading growth advisory and M&A firm, Waypoint Partners, working with shareholders and leadership teams in the creative, marketing and technology sectors, to grow and realise value.
The first three articles in this series look at the importance of: focused target identification; effective planning and strategic outreach; and, maintaining and replenishing the new business pipeline. This final article explores the rich growth opportunities that result from nurturing clients once won.
ARTICLE 4: UNLOCKING REVENUE GROWTH THROUGH CLIENT INVESTMENT
Businesses invest a significant amount of time (and therefore money) in the process of targeting and pitching on new business opportunities in order to convert leads into fee paying clients. It’s therefore a commercial ‘no-brainer’ that, once a client relationship is established and secure, additional growth opportunities are explored, delivering the best return on that initial investment.
Conversely, there’s the reality that client revenue needs constant defending. This could be defending:
- From other agencies providing similar services to you, with the (unproven) promise of better results;
- Diversification of your client’s other service providers and ‘discipline creep’, as they start to offer services that your client previously procured from your team;
- From unexpectedly reducing client budgets for political and financial reasons out of your control;
- And, dare I say it, but defence from client / service-provider fatigue?
I could write a whole separate content series on the threats facing creative, marketing and tech businesses in today’s climate. However, as the saying goes: attack is the best form of defence; and by that logic, the steps that I’d take to mitigate against threats, perceived or real, would be the same as those I’d employ to create and capitalise on opportunities for client growth.
As with your initial lead generation planning, it is well worth taking a systematic approach to upselling and revenue defence. Here are some elements to consider as part of that plan.
Establish clear ownership of the client relationship:
For each of the key stakeholders on the client side, appoint a relevant member of your team to be their ‘opposite number’. It’s important to cover all bases, developing strong relationships with key individuals, from the economic buyer through to the day to day account manager. Similarly, be sure to lean on your senior exec team to cement the client relationship, linking them in to the client’s CEO. The most senior of client stakeholders can sometimes be overlooked in favour of a relationship with the COO.
Clarification around relationship ownership places account servicing at the heart of your team’s tasks and prevents a client feeling overlooked. Each team member should gather information from their relevant contact in order to identify upsell potential at the same time as any threats to the current revenue base.
Make it personal:
Most business is based on relationships; so, make it your business to develop close ones with your clients. If you really think about it, it’s not unusual to spend more time engaging with your clients than you do your best mates. Forging a more personal relationship should come fairly naturally. Treat client engagement dinners like dinner with a friend.
You know whether they have children, where they are off to for their summer holidays, and if they have any milestone celebrations coming up. Contact them on key personal dates, ask them how their marathon training is going – it shows you are listening and builds on a trust that any new service provider is yet to establish.
Review, listen and adapt:
Make it a formal part of consulting for any client that you seek feedback and their opinion on your business’ performance. Depending on the length of contract you might consider monthly or quarterly reviews. Determining your Net Promoter Score will give you a good insight into where you customer sits in terms of satisfaction and whether upselling other services is an option. Ignorantly upselling to a dissatisfied client is potentially a big mistake!
If you are worried about asking for the client’s views, ask yourself why this is? Knowledge is power and if there is a problem, it’s better to know about it and have the opportunity to amend process or approach, as required.
Better still, if you receive a glowing review, use it to generate further work amongst your client’s peers, contacts and feed it back into your lead generation plans as a testimonial.
Consider how the work that you are doing for one client, can help your business make headway into a completely different sector, whilst maintaining quality and kudos. Ensuring insight is shared internally is key to achieving this. Consider which client case studies will unlock quick wins elsewhere in the business if shared internally. Have you got an effective internal communications plan or a central place where customer information is kept and referred to?
Having a Key Account Management (KAM) system in place, where pertinent facts about clients are stored will assist in systematically growing the long-term profitability of a relationship. Depending on the size of your organisation, you might want to consider investing in KAM software solutions.
Whilst the above focuses on client servicing and satisfaction as a means to identifying opportunities for up-sell and revenue growth, (or indeed areas for improvement), it’s important that you regularly review whether each client relationship continues to serve your team and business.
As discussed in the first article, being clear on the type of client that you want to work with (from the point of view of financial return, cultural fit, opportunity to develop additional profit streams) is key. And whilst a client might initially have ticked the right boxes on your Lead Qualification Scorecard, the lived reality might be significantly quite different. A regular review will establish this.
At Waypoint Partners, we encourage those we work with to carry out annual Customer Base Analysis (with the use of a Boston Matrix) across their entire client portfolio, looking at profitability versus revenue growth. It very simply, but effectively, highlights the clients that drive (and those that hinder) growth. It’s not uncommon for the least profitable clients to occupy the greatest proportion of your team’s time, making for difficult working relationships, employee dissatisfaction and churn, and therefore perpetuating a cycle of unprofitability. Identify those clients with untapped revenue potential and instead focus efforts and resource there.
Whilst fresh leads are key to growth, securing revenue through upselling / growing existing clients, generally requires far less time-investment than generating leads and income from scratch. If you can nurture a client effectively, it will free up team resource, which in turn can be allocated to strengthening your business and market share in yet to be explored sectors.
And so, in conclusion:
These four articles have hopefully given some insight into our approach to successful lead generation, from initial planning right through to capitalising on converted leads.
Whilst it is can feel like an overwhelming undertaking, effective planning is key and will break the process down into manageable tasks, which will set you and your team on the right path. However, if you take just three things from this series, let it be these:
Information is key: be it sector identification right at the beginning of your new business planning or understanding how a client feels your business is performing once appointed, be armed with information! It allows you to make an informed decision about what the next right move should be.
Evaluate and re-evaluate against predetermined criteria: deciding on profit related and non-profit related criteria, against which a lead should be judged, helps eliminate panicked decision making. But equally, a client who may have originally met your criteria, may not continue to do so. Re-evaluation is critical and avoids stalling growth.
Hold your nerve but be open to opportunity: with adequate planning you will have greater confidence to resist work that you know doesn’t align with the business vision. But, remain open to and seek out opportunity – just one client could take your business in a direction that completely (and positively) changes its shape. In a tech driven world, we are becoming more familiar with the approach of testing, failing fast and iterating. There isn’t one way to approach success – but be proactive and find what works for your business.
To speak to me directly on the subject of lead generation or how Waypoint Partners could work with your business to unlock future potential and drive growth, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To read the other articles in this series click here;
• Article One: How to avoid poor-decision-making under the pressure of an empty pipeline
• Article Two: Planning for success: a three-pronged approach to lead generation
• Article Three: Replenishing the new business pipeline to drive ongoing growth