Business development is and should be a key function for any corporate entity. It’s important to continuously generate clients and customers for the products and/or services that a company has to offer. It’s no different for communications consultancies. If a consultancy has a service to offer, there needs to be buyers for its business to sustain. Some consultancies have more clients, and some less depending on their reputation. If clients are serviced well, it leads to client retention for the consultancy. If they are not, they always have the option to look out for an alternative. One firm’s loss would be another’s gain.
Gone are the days when communications consultancies worked on a ‘factory & sales’ model, wherein the Head Office branch would generate a product (read ‘clients’) and the regional centres would be the sales offices selling (read ‘servicing’) the product. The clients would generally be out of the ‘strategic’ centres of Delhi, Bombay and more recently Bangalore. These were the cities where most of the firms were and still are headquartered. And these used to be the cities which earned the monies for various consultancies through client acquisitions. Other centres like Chennai, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Pune and Ahmedabad would have 1 – 3 employees each depending on the requirement, and these employees would look after the requirements for the those Head Office clients in their respective cities.
The salaries and branch expenses of each office used to be taken care of by the Head Office. There was no pressure on New Business Development (NBD) for these centres. It worked on the ‘hub & spokes’ model, wherein the strategy and planning happened from the client’s home city and only the implementation happened at the branch offices.
The communications business has drastically changed over the past decade. The way clients, media and other stakeholders look at PR has changed. Acquisitions have brought in fresh thought processes and practices. Consultancy set-ups have also changed. The branch offices, which used to simply be ‘sales’ offices, have now become profit centres, wherein every centre has to earn its own salary.
It’s imperative today for every branch office to have its own client base and service them locally, regionally or nationally, as the need may be. Client retention and NBD, which used to be only the Head Office’s responsibility, have now become important branch responsibilities.
Today there are senior-level teams formed for new business development in almost every consultancy…at the Head Office and at the branch levels. Weekly, fortnightly, monthly calls are held to update where each branch stands on the NBD front. Terminologies like NBD tracker; NBD master sheet; hot, warm & cold prospects; first call; meeting; credentials sharing; brief; pitch presentation; next steps; negotiations; closure have become common; wherein every prospect moves from one box to another on the grid / excel sheet. There is continuous pressure on every branch.
Prospects broadly fall under three categories…
- Category 1: They have a consultancy…they know about PR, and have their likes and dislikes about their PR firm. This category needs to be convinced that the pitching firm can deliver better value than the present firm.
- Category 2: They understand and implement PR, but do not have a consultancy. This category needs to be convinced about the advantages of outsourcing the PR function.
- Category 3: They do not understand, and hence don’t implement PR. This category, which is the largest in size, needs to be educated about PR and how it can impactfully build a company or brand.
Closures take more time to happen in case of categories 2 and 3. It’s simply because the prospect is not decided on his own next steps. A law abiding prospect knows for a fact that if he signs on the dotted line, he will have to keep the firm engaged…and he is not very sure about the same. He knows that the moment he signs on the agreement, billing will start. And then these bills would go into dispute…the prospect turned client wouldn’t want to pay because he has not seen any result; and the firm’s argument would be that the client never gave inputs for them to deliver results.
For Category 1, it’s all about timing…the pitching firm needs to ascertain the renewal time and start the pitch process two months before it. A prospect in Category 2 and 3 would want to convert only when they have some good announcement to make…basically they want to start with a BIG BANG. In a nutshell, a prospect generally materialises to a client only when he has that immediate need. ‘PR sustainability’ is a later thing…about which again he is never too sure. And in most cases, and rightly so, prospects don’t want to get into ‘sustainability’ first and ‘big bang’ later.
The wait for this ‘Big Bang’ leads to a delay in box movements in the firm’s NBD excel sheet…and pressure mounts.
Make New Business Everyone’s Business
In most cases, a prospect converts when he wants to convert. And this want cannot be ascertained by the senior team members of the NBD team on real time. So many a time, they miss the bus. Here’s it’s very important to think from a prospect’s perspective. There’s no fixed formula here. A consultancy may have done everything right with respect to an NBD prospect…approach, brief taking, pitch presentation, follow-ups, negotiations. Yet that ‘Closure’ eludes for a long time, and in many cases does not happen at all.
Which brings us to a very important question…
Why is it that new business development is the responsibility of just the senior team?
Why not make every employee, right from a trainee to the highest levels, a part of the NBD process? And why just the white collars? Why not include the office boys and attendants too.
In one of my previous assignments, an office boy came to me one fine day and said that his ex-boss (where he used to work before) was looking for a PR firm. He gave me a phone number, to which I called…and yes, the gentleman on the other side (the Managing Director of the company) was indeed scouting for a PR partner. Two meetings later, he was a high-paying client. And to make our office boy feel good about it, our company gave him a good incentive. And indirectly, he became part of the NBD team.
So it’s very important to involve every employee in the NBD process. Someone somewhere may know a prospect who is waiting to immediately convert to a client.
Once this involvement happens, the movement between the ‘First Call’ and ‘Closure’ boxes in the firm’s excel sheets will be faster. And incentivising it will work wonders for every consultancy.