When it comes to opening up a dialogue with a new prospect, I've never been a fan of the overly-needy “We really want your account,” approach, the related plea of “We're really passionate about your brand,” or the “I'm going to be in the area,” lie. I do have more experience with all of them than I'm comfortable admitting, but learning means trying out different methods and over the years I learned to discard these approaches for others.
There are better ways to open up a dialogue with prospects, ones that don't see you sacrificing the practitioner position in the relationship.
Here I list five ways to say hello and get the relationship off on the right foot without sacrificing the power position in the relationship.
1. Respect for the Incumbent
The first piece of business I ever won in my agency career was a professional sports team. I had heard that the client's senior account person at their current agency was leaving and I knew he had only been on the account a short period of time. I suspected the client might be fed up with the revolving personnel on her account. I called and left a voicemail message.
“I know you currently have an agency, I know they do good work and I'm sure you're quite happy with them. I just wanted to introduce myself and the firm and to let you know that if your situation ever changes I'd be happy to have a conversation about how we might help you.”
She called back in ten minutes and handed us the account without a competitive review two weeks later. Our competitors were stunned. One even complained that the fact there wasn't a pitch was “unfair.” A mystifyingly-absurd lament I've since heard many times.
Ninety percent of the success of the approach was due to timing, but I believe my respectful approach was what got my call returned and set the stage for a collaborative discussion about working together in place of a pitch.
Such an approach also works with a change on the client side. It's most effective before the turnover becomes public knowledge. I was tipped off by a supplier. If I had read about it in Ad Age it would have seemed disingenuous and I would have been lumped in with the other ambulance chasers.
2. “We Have This One Thing…”
Let's say you're doing business development for a “full-service” firm with a broad range of capabilities. You're working an outbound lead. What value proposition would you rather put forward?
A) “We can help you with whatever advertising or marketing communication needs you have.”
B) “I know you have a relationship with another firm and I'm sure you're quite happy with them. I'm not looking to replace them. The reason I'm calling is we have this one thing that we do better than almost anybody else. If you have a need in this area I'd be happy to discuss how we might help. If not, just let me know and I'll move on.”
I know which weapon I'd rather wield. Give me the scalpel over the dragnet any day.
3. Our Perishing Asset
I don't know where I first encountered this line but I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it and I've parroted it many times since.
“I'm calling because we have a valuable but perishable asset.”
The asset is intimate knowledge of the prospect's large competitor. This is the introduction you use when you've just lost or walked away from a significant account, ideally a category leader, and you're looking to replace it with their largest competitor.
The beauty of this introduction is the implication that you know everything about the competition while implying urgency in a sophisticated manner. Between the lines the prospect can also read that you will be putting your offer in front of their other competitors as well. You're in control with this opening.
4. Get Ahead of the Client
I mentioned the first piece of business I ever won, now I'll draw one lesson from my last win. There were many lessons in a long journey with this Fortune 100 company, but it began with the client contact starting her first day on the job with my introduction package on her desk, front and center, with implied priority over everything else.
I had been working this one for awhile, having conversations with the soon-to-be-client's boss. He was trying to fill the position that would ultimately hire the agency and I kept in touch while he did. One day I knew the role would be filled internally. Then I knew the name of the person and the start date. I sent an introduction package. I called the boss again the day before the new hire started and confirmed my package was buried in her inbox. You don't get what you don't ask for so I asked, with a smile on my face that I made sure he could hear, “Would you mind pulling it out of the pile and putting it on her desk?”
He agreed and complied. Again, the journey was a long one but I was the first agency person the client talked to in her new role. We ultimately won a large piece of business via a pitch process that we were able to alter significantly to our advantage, giving us the clear inside track.
5. Use Comedy
Okay, confession time. I can only think of four interesting ways to introduce yourself to prospects in ways that set you up for success, but as the headline says Five, I'm going to tell you about an approach I used only once. I'm not recommending you use this, I'm just filling space, okay? Okay.
I was trying to get past a gatekeeper on an account I can no longer remember. I was having no luck and was getting frustrated. One day I tried again. “Who shall I say is calling?” came the usual first block from the assistant. A little exasperated, I found myself saying, “His mother.”
“I'm sorry?” She replied in disbelief to my male baritone voice.
“It's his mother,” I replied as matter-of-factly as I could.
[the world's longest pause]
“One minute, please.”
Oh my God, what have I just done?
“Hello?” came the confused voice of the man I was trying to reach.
I introduced myself and launched into my pitch, making no reference to my brazen gate-crashing approach. The client never questioned me and I got the conversation but it was clearly going nowhere. He couldn't figure out if I was the world's biggest cad or if his assistant was confused and his mother was on the other line, so I never had his full attention. Nor did I feel comfortable in the call.
The conversation ended quickly and I never called him again. I did get a good story out of it though, and the right to say to you don't bother with this approach – it doesn't really work.