A recent PRSA NJ Senior Pros “Shoot the Breeze” virtual event featured a panel discussion about how agencies can jumpstart sales with prospects and existing clients.


Panelist Bret Werner, who is president at PR agency MikeWorldWide, recommends that agency folks ask themselves “Where’s my pipeline?” every morning, spending at least 30 minutes a day on new business. He says the secret to keeping yourself honest is to block off time and document it. “You’re not selling if you are not sharing information,” he says.


Panelist Chris De Maria, who is head of home entertainment public relations at LG Electronics North America, says new business is all about the approach. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is one of LG’s top annual events, so striking up a conversation with him on the tradeshow floor would score points with him. “Show me you’re knowledgeable about our industry,” he says. “Learn about my work and my challenges.”


When approaching De Maria via email, he says to show some tact. After a three-day event in NYC, several PR firms reached out to him looking for business. One salesperson told De Maria how he could have done a better job, while another salesperson acknowledged the event and offered to share some new ideas to help elevate the campaign moving forward. (Which approach do you think worked?)


3 Questions to Close Prospects


Preparation is a large part of success and high close rates in the new business game.


Generally speaking, there are only three questions you must successfully answer to win new accounts. The three questions, however, are more of a sequence than a series. In fact, the first two questions are marketing questions. (Google’s 2015 report about the new buy cycle in a digital world infers that sales is 90% marketing.)


The third question is a sales question, which is how you get paid.


You must prepare for these three questions to ramp up your sales:

  1. Have you ever worked with a company like mine before?
  2. What makes you special? (Why should I hire your company specifically?)
  3. How much?

Of course, you may have to put in a lot of energy just to make it to the Q&A portion of the show.  Jeff Graubard of The Other Agency leveraged a past relationship with a retired Hall-of-Fame Major League Baseball player when a prospect mentioned that he was big fan. So Graubard mailed the future client an autographed baseball from his childhood idol. “Nothing happens when you stand in line,” he says. “You have to step out of line. Make sure they know who you are.”


That said, Graubard doesn’t recommend stepping too far out of bounds. When a job candidate tried to sell him, he received a bottle of beer in the mail with a customized label that read, “It’s Miller Time” to play off the candidate’s last name. Unfortunately, the cover letter was littered with typos.


“Creativity doesn’t excuse the basics,” he says.


Senior Pros Chair Ken Jacobs of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, who also served as a panelist, believes agency owners and solo practitioners must develop a strategic written business development plan that includes ambitious goals and “stretch” goals to encourage growth. He recommends identifying your ideal clients, which includes determining your real industry expertise, which industry segments will need your services (and will pay you so you can make a fair profit), your practice area proficiency, and the practice areas for which you can generate the most fees. “That’s your sweep spot,” he says.


3 Questions: Converting Client Delight into Revenue


Upselling existing customers is another important part of new business. Werner says more time should be spent on organic prospecting involving your current client base since they already know and pay you. Unfortunately, he says the order is typically reversed: over the transom, new business and organic.


So how do you respond when a client says they love your work? Do you seize the moment?


When it comes to monetizing client delight, you must build your “muscle memory” so this routine becomes second nature. Once a client praises your work, you have four things to say. Regrettably, most practitioners stop at “Thank you”, which is the first thing you are supposed to say.


However, it should be followed by three valuable questions. Ask the easier ones first.


For example, start with, “Would you be able to provide a testimonial?” This is the easiest one because in most cases they have already sent you an email acknowledging your accomplishment.


Then, ask the second question, “Can we work more together?” In reality, you will have to modify this one based on prior discussions and circumstances with your client. For example, you could say, “Hey, remember the newsletter that we talked about last September? Would now be a good time to launch it?” Bottom line, the second question needs to be specific—not open-ended.


And don’t forget the third question, which is the biggest stretch: “Would you feel comfortable referring me to another?” If they agree, make sure you follow up, because referrals are valuable.


Werner says his close rate is 15% higher with referrals than RFPs.


Jacobs says you should be constantly bringing new ideas, initiatives, and channels to your clients, especially when they’ve voiced delight with your work. “By doing this you’re bringing value, building the relationship, and acting as a true partner with your client and doing so at a time when they’re most responsive.”

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