Garbage in, garbage out! It’s all about the process.

Have you ever been asked (or been the one asking): Why are our conversion rates so poor? If so you have probably also been asked (or asked): What can we do to improve them?

How many times has the answer been a mixture of confusion, self-defence and exasperation as to what else can be done? The team’s activity levels are high but the outcomes are poor and no one can understand why sales are not forthcoming.   Frequently this is what occurs in many start-up firms  and it is often due to the lack of a clearly defined process with distinct steps and actions that can be measured and which individually and collectively work in tandem to deliver high probability attractive leads?

Client acquisition is one of the key activities that any company regardless of size will undertake (it’s not an understatement to say that for start-ups it is the lifeblood of the firm) yet many fail to implement an efficient process for this activity and consequently end up with weak sales pipelines resulting in disappointing outcomes.  Equally important, the associated inefficient and ineffective allocation of limited resources on activities or presumed leads that result from having no process or a poor process can also lead to frustration and disillusionment amongst team members.

We recently ran a client acquisition programme in a geographic market that had previously been serviced opportunistically but which was now been given greater attention.  We employed a systematic approach to this activity and had


Set an objective

This may be a number of new recruits. Or it may be a new revenue amount.  Either way our experience is that without an end objective you have nothing to measure your process against and consequently will not be able to assess your performance at each stage or activity in the process vis-à-vis achieving your goal.


Define your Ideal Customer Profile

How can you find what you don’t know you are looking for?

The first step in developing your process is to define the characteristics and attributes of your ideal customer.  These may be both quantitative and qualitative in nature.  They may describe the size of the organisation, its structure, its culture, its buying processes and/or the markets it serves.  It should also include evidence that identifies its potential need for your products or services.  There is clearly a balance in developing this profile as you do not want the data requirements to be so burdensome that you spend excessive time researching very difficult to find information on each and every potential lead.  But it should be sufficient to allow you to discriminate between various would be targets in your universe.


Build your target list

Now that you know who you are looking for, how do you find them?

There are a multitude of channels and sources that you can use to source your initial targets.  Depending on your sector the volume of potential targets may be in the tens, hundreds, thousands or millions.  So what is more important that the channel that you use is the rigorous application of our ICP in determining whether a given company qualifies to enter your database of targets or not.  We are looking for quality here above quantity as any dilution of the quality factor here will mean that we waste time later on activities targeting unattractive prospects.  This is probably the most important step in the process as if it is not done well you will end up with irrelevant leads (i.e. those not conforming to the ICP) and this will result in wasted energy and reduced conversions and poorer outcomes.

In our case we used very traditional sources such as trade media, trade associations, trade shows and channel partners to build our initial list.


Prioritise amongst your initial list

Once you have built this initial list you will need to prioritise the various leads as it is unlikely that you will have the resources to target each and every one of them or to service all of them if you were to win business across a significant number of them.  We also want to learn from each wave of activity that we undertake and working in batches allows this.  In doing so we can see how one message works over another or how receptive one group of targets in a given segment are over those in another.  We also want to drive each batch to a conclusion before commencing with a subsequent batch as that ensures that we put emphasis on driving our activities to a conclusion rather than starting many activities and bringing none to an end.

We used our ICP to prioritise amongst all of the initial firms that we had identified as being of potential interest and decided to initially target the top 15%.   Once we had targeted these we then went back and targeted an additional 15% of our original list in a second wave based on our learnings and outcomes of our first wave at which stage we had met our objectives.


Send your initial email 

Without repeating the multitude of commentary that already exists regarding emailing, it still remains a very important introductory tool in our opinion, as even if it is not responded to directly itself it gives you permission to follow-up via telephone soon afterwards.  In our experience, if an email follows the following rules and is targeting appropriate people then it will have success

  • Have a very compelling title which encourages the reader to open the mail. The importance of this is often overlooked by many writers and yet it is the first thing that the recipient will read along with your name and is the primary factor which they will use to determine whether to read further or not
  • Have a strong opening sentence which introduces who you are, where you sourced their details from and why you feel you are of relevance to the recipient. This will determine if they read any further having opened your mail.
  • Use headers in the body of your email. Your recipient is being inundated with emails, is probably reading your mail on the go or during a meeting and is more than likely using a mobile device, so make it easy for them to speed read and navigate through your email.  This will help them digest your message and make a decision as to whether they are interested in meeting you or not.
  • Finish strongly with a request to meet. Ideally, suggest some specific times or dates rather than making an open ended request to meet as the former will encourage them to accept if they are interested or to suggest alternative dates if those suggested do not work.
  • Also make a note that you will be following up in the next few days if you do not hear back. This will encourage recipients to reply yay or nay quickly and part of our objective is to drive out the uninterested targets early so that we do not waste time chasing them.
  • A final important factor is when to send your emails. We have found that sending emails on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning or Thursday afternoon works better than sending on a Monday morning or on a Friday.  This makes sense when you think about it.  How many of us look forward to reading through a bunch of emails on a Monday morning while on a Friday we are looking to wrap-up any outstanding tasks before the week’s end as opposed to initiating new dialogues.


Conducting a quick follow-up

After 3-4 days follow-up with those non respondents with a short but polite follow-up email.  Request that if they are not interested that you would be very grateful if they could indicate so.  This is a great way to avoid wasted energy chasing hard to reach contacts who will ultimately prove to be uninterested in our offering.

We have found that it is this second email that resulted in many of our most interesting meetings as those who replied positively to this email were usually in need of support and had been delayed in initially replying because of their workload but once they were re-prompted we moved up in priority in their to-do list.

In our example this approach resulted in securing a first meeting with 65% of those companies that we targeted in our two waves.


 Securing the first meeting is only the beginning

Once you have secured that first meeting there are two things that you want to understand so that you can progress the lead to the next stage in the sales process.  The first is to identify their needs prior to the first meeting or to have them laid out by the target during that first meeting so that you can demonstrate how you can meet them.  The second is to understand their buying process and to see how that aligns with your sales process.  This will allow you to prioritise amongst live opportunities and to progress those that align best with your process and offer the quickest route to achieving your stated objective(s).

Now it’s time to demonstrate the substance behind your communications.


Why should we work with YOU? Circumventing the challenges faced by small enterprises selling into corporates


“No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”.  Frustratingly, not all suppliers are created equal.  Quality of service is just one consideration; innovation another consideration; too often, the critical consideration of a corporate buyer is the risk, or perceived risk, of buying services from ‘small’ players.  Importantly, this risk may not be organisational risk, but more personal (read: career) risk.

I have worked through this problem, with varying degrees of success in the outcome, many times during my career advising growth companies.   As with any challenging situation involving people, a good starting point for problem solving is ‘the other person’s shoes’.

Consider yourself as a buyer in a corporate.  You are leading a programme that, given your meteoric rise through the ranks, is of such profile that it hotly tipped to create major organisational benefits across multiple geographies.  Conceptually, the intent is defined – you understand what the organisation needs to achieve, and in some cases how it is going to do it.  Your next step is to identify supporting companies to help achieve the aim.  Remember, potential suppliers: corporate customers are not waiting for you to come and solve their problems – they are already seeking to solve them.

You line up a series of companies that appear to fit the bill, inviting them in to present how they believe they can support you in achieving your aim and the value they will add over and above.

The first supplier wanders in.  Hopeless; the sales team has a big brand behind them, but the sales execution is poor and they haven’t picked up on the hints you’ve been throwing them as to the true requirements.    This is going to be a long day.

Next is a big western brand; the sales team is highly motivated, the sales lead is inspirational, the proposal almost exactly what the organisation is looking for – looking good!  Furthermore, they’ve done loads of work with you before so have lots of great relationships around the organisation so they can get things done.

Finally is a ten man technology company – the ‘wildcard’ selection.  The CEO runs the pitch, is inspirational, and the proposal scope goes way beyond what’s needed – at a competitive cost.  Then you move onto the questions – you work out, through questioning, that the deal will equate to a 100% uplift in the company annual revenues – it will ‘make’ them.  Clearly there needs to be a plan as to how the CEO will manage this – but under questioning the CEO falls down: has he managed this level of growth before? Is he intending to recruit more people to service the work? What are his proposed ways to de-risk the project?  These weren’t expected, and the supplier sales team flaps.

You choose the big western brand, and share some of the ideas from the wildcard with them (some of the other parts of the pitch they made didn’t really make sense in the first show, so you bin those – even though they were probably pretty good), and your career continues happily.

You are the Wildcard – What should have happened

 Understand the customer requirements, and either fit them exactly – or adjust and explain why.

  • Identify how your offering can we credibly expanded beyond the customer’s requirement – and explain the how and importantly why in simple and succinct language
  • Highlight the competition’s weaknesses
    • In the UK, this is invariably by highlighting your ‘strengths’ (which you know to be the competition’s weakness)
      • Or, and as I understand US sales culture, openly attack the competition’s weaknesses
  • Brainstorm all the questions you don’t want to be asked – invariably these are asked – and produce rational, practiced answers.  A starter for ten:
    • How will you manage a piece of work of this magnitude ?
      • Think: people, processes, and partners who can support
  • Why should we work with you (….over and above the big blue chip supplier you are pitching against)?  Turn size to your advantage:
    • Emphasise the importance of the customer within the business’s world – the most important customers get all the senior management attention
    • Consider the flexibility of a smaller business (“please submit your change request to the appropriate subcommittee two weeks in advance of their quarterly meeting”)
    • Go in heavy on the experience of the management team – just because they work for a smaller organisation doesn’t mean they always have – nor that they have no experience of larger corporate
  • What happens if you fail? Think:
    • Software code in escrow
    • Transfer of dedicated staff to the customer
    • The nature of the people currently funding the business – how deep are their pockets, and how supportive have they been to date (consider taking them along to show how serious you are)
  • Practice, practice, practice – and go in confident.

Angel Investors and SEIS – is it working for the UK?

What’s SEIS?

SEIS (Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme) is the UK’s answer to the funding gap that often exists for early-stage start-up – when they’re past that £5,000 grant from Innovate UK but are still a fair bit off the million or two that most venture capital funds are interested in. It’s a set of tax breaks designed to incentivise the individual investor who’s looking to put in somewhere under £100,000.

This scheme has been operating in the UK since April 2012 and was made permanent in the 2014 Finance Bill.  In this time, what’s it actually accomplished?

The Data

In total, over £250 million in investment has been raised since April 2012 and over 2,900 individual companies have received funding.


SEIS Investment    *

The average investment per company in 2013-2014 was £82,000.

Is your company eligible for SEIS funding?

For your company to be eligible for the SEIS you must:

  • Have fewer than 25 employees
  • Be resident in the UK
  • Raise less than £150,000 through SEIS
  • Have gross assets worth less than £200,000 at the time of shares being sold
  • Have been incorporated for less than 2 years
  • Spend at least 90% of the money raised on qualifying business activities within three years of issuing the shares

You must also not be on the list of excluded trades (see here). Sorry to all the shipbuilders out there – looks like you’re out of luck!


*Chart Source:


Rapid Innovation Group Oil and Gas client wins orders of $10.2 million this year

The client is a world leader  in corrosion monitoring systems and this year’s order intake has grown significantly despite the downturn in Oil and Gas. Compared to last year, order intake has grown by 38%.

RIG helped its client drive this growth, by focussing on emerging markets in Asia and Australia. Growth in order intake in these regions was 175%.