Over the past two years since I joined RIG, I have worked with two service clients. In each case, the brief was the same: “we have plateaued in terms of growth, please help us go out and win new customers.”
Both had been in business for more than 10 years. They had reached what they thought was the limit of growth with their current clients and had been spending time trying, without success, to break into new organisations through sales teams and cold calling.
The similarities were striking. We found that:
- the companies’ service offerings on paper had little differentiation
- their current and past customers rave about their work – how competent, innovative, knowledgeable, and proactive they are
- most of their customers and projects had come from the founders’ networks
- they were so busy that they had lost touch with many old contacts
- they had foisted responsibility for ‘selling’ onto junior team members
- both companies had a core offering for which they were known but were afraid to take a focused message to the market in case they missed out on opportunistic non-core work
Where a product or service is hard to differentiate (because all vendors make the same claims) and only appreciated once used, then it falls into the category of ‘experience goods.’ In the B2B world, the best way to sell an experience good is via referrals.
First we sat down with companies’ principals and took stock of everyone they had worked with, and looked to see where they were currently working and where they used to work. In one case, we then gave each person two scores – one for how useful they are in terms of their job position and their networks; and one for how likely they were to want to help. The second prong was looking at how each of these people was networked into the individuals and organisations that we wanted to access.
We had our clients re-connect with their contacts, talk through their focused business objectives and find out what was important to them. Our aim was to be able to build a nurturing programme, and also to put together events and marketing collateral to address the needs and interests that would speak to our companies’ audiences.
The amount of goodwill, recommendations, and willingness to make introductions that we found was astounding. Just making contact was enough to put our clients front of mind and led to some immediate project enquiries. Going forward, these networks provide the best way to leverage the goodwill that our clients enjoy.