new business

Every duck has its day

3 minute read

Pitching is fast, frenetic and unforgiving. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s also exciting, adrenaline-pumping, physically and intellectually demanding. It is not open to reason. You’re either up for it or out of it.

Win a new client as a result of a pitch and the crowd goes wild. Out comes the Champagne, bells are rung (literally in some agencies, metaphorically in others), congratulatory emails circulate around the network.  You’re a god/dess.  A rainmaker. Bask in the glow of your glory.  Bash out a press release to the trade media (with flattering photo).

Contrast this with winning a new project or introducing a new service line to your client that results in additional revenue. You might get a cursory, “well done”.  You may get mentioned at the next company meeting (no Champagne though, we’re on a budget). After all, you’re just doing your job aren’t you?

Too often huge effort is focused on winning new clients to come in the front door without enough attention paid to why so many existing clients are disappearing out the back.

Most people working in professional service firms instinctively know that developing more business from their existing client base is desirable – it’s unlikely they’d argue against it.  But too often the drama of pitching for new business takes centre stage instead of committing to the necessary but less spine-tingling business of nurturing existing clients.  Result: a revolving door of pitches won but existing clients lost. You’re running to stand still.

“Let not the perceived glamour of pitching overshadow the importance of client development.”
For every heroic new business hunter, organisations need valiant farmers.  Often it takes different types of people and different skills to win new clients and then maximise those relationships over years. Both types need recognising, nurturing and rewarding but often the showy swan of pitching overshadows the, let’s say ‘less aesthetically pleasing’ duckling of organic growth.  It’s time to make the case for making organic growth a company’s top priority.

The number one argument for organic growth is that it is more profitable and higher-margin than gaining new business from new clients.  It’s as simple as that.  There are a number of reasons for this:

  • The cost of the pitch itself. The desire to put clear water between you and your competition can manifest itself in ever more extreme demonstrations of ‘differentiation’. Fast-cut video vox pop?  Senior leader flown in (Business Class) from New York? Glossy full colour hardback ‘book of the pitch’? Your costs can run in to thousands even without taking the team’s billable hours into consideration. Billable hours that are not being billed as a result of them working on the pitch instead.
  • New clients eat up time and resources as the team gets up to speed with their business, the market and the task at hand. Over-servicing a new client at the start of the relationship is inevitable.  It’s important, it needs to be done and it should build a stronger relationship over time but there’s no denying it is expensive.
  • Given that a relationship already exists, often assignments given to the incumbent supplier are non-competitive. Given that the odds of winning a pitch are one in three (at best, and often the odds are far worse) then you’ve greatly increased your chances of knocking out the competition given there is none.

And beyond money, organic growth is of great value to the future prosperity of every professional service firm.

Keeping clients over the long term and gaining additional business from them is the ultimate quality assurance to all current and prospective stakeholders – clients, employees, shareholders – of your company’s abilities. There is no finer compliment a client can give than to award you another slice of their pie.  It is the best evidence that they believe you are doing a great job for their business.  It’s also a motivating reward for your firm’s employees because it means that their expertise and advice has merited further commissions from a satisfied client.

“Pitching is fast, frenetic and unforgiving. It’s not for the faint-hearted.”
The death of the pitch has been prophesised for years.  Like democracy, it may not be perfect (err..Brexit?) but it is still the best system for deciding between competing ideas and those that supplied them.  But if I was a client putting my business up for pitch and I visited a number of potential professional advisers to help me decide which one I wanted to appoint, I’d be more likely to be impressed by Company ABC which has been awarded additional business by 75% of their existing clients over the past year versus Company XYZ which has won 75% of the new business pitches they’ve competed in over the past year.

Let not the perceived glamour of pitching overshadow the importance of client development.  After all, as we know from the story, every duckling has its day and becomes a swan in the end.

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Louisa Clarke

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