This book tells how creative firms can win business by being expert consultants instead of pitching. It also tells how to walk clients through the sales process and how to charge more, and provides other valuable advice. There are 12 proclamations in this “Manifesto of Business Practices for Creative Firms.” The writing is intelligent, confident, professional, and sophisticated.
The Twelfth Proclamation contains an excellent summary:
“We will see ourselves as professional practitioners who bring real solutions to our clients’ business problems. We will seek respect above money, for only when we are respected as experts will we be paid the money we seek.”
I especially like the approach to sales as the expert practitioner determining fit, rather than as the persuader.
As I read, I kept thinking of ways to use the advice in my web design agency, OptimWise. I found myself saying, “we really need to do this,” or, “I can’t wait to follow this.” Still, I feel that the proclamations are easier for established firms to follow than those that haven’t yet built up a strong reputation.
We Will Specialize
“Expertise is the only valid basis for differentiating ourselves from the competition. Not personality. Not process. Not price. When the client has few alternatives to our expertise then we can dictate pricing, we can set the terms of the engagement and we can take control.”
We Will Replace Presentations with Conversations
“Presentation, like pitch, is a word that we will leave behind as we seek conversation and collaboration in their place.”
“Practitioners do not present. Stars do not audition.”
Strategy First: “We will not develop, nor share with the client, creative of any kind before the challenge has been diagnosed and the strategy prescribed and agreed to.”
Continuous Reference to Strategy: “Immediately prior to presenting any creative, we will review the agreed upon strategy with the client.”
Freedom of Execution: “We welcome the client’s input on the strategy and in exchange we ask him to grant us the freedom to explore various ways of executing it.”
Fewer Options of Better Quality: “When we present creative options we will strive to limit them to as few as practical. There is an inverse correlation between the quantity of creative options we present to the client and the confidence we have in their quality. When we present options we will recognize our obligation to recommend one over the others.
Only We Present Our Work: “Whenever our diagnostic findings, strategic recommendations or creative solutions are presented to anyone in our client companies, it will be personnel from our firm that does so.”
Presentations (in which one party tries to convince the other to hire them) build buying resistance; conversations (in which both parties endeavor to make an honest assessment of the fit between one’s need and the other’s expertise) lower it.
“It is not our objective to sell, convince or persuade. It is simply to determine if there exists a fit suitable enough to merit a next step.”
“Move from the presenter/complier role to that of the expert practitioner. This we do as a doctor or lawyer would, through conversation and collaboration and not through presentation.”
We Will Diagnose Before We Prescribe
Fully diagnose the client’s challenge before prescribing solutions.
4 phases in client engagements
- 1. Diagnose problem/opportunity
- Prescribe therapy
- Apply therapy
- Reapply therapy as necessary
“A good client will begin to relinquish control once he has the confidence that the expert practitioner knows more than he does, or has the tools to learn more. Formalized diagnostic processes are such tools.”
We Will Rethink What it Means to Sell
3 selling steps, based on client’s place in buying cycle
- 1. Help the unaware
- Inspire the interested
- Reassure those who have formed intent
“The very best salespeople are respectful, selective facilitators of change. They help people move forward to solve their problems and capitalize on their opportunities. The rest talk people into things.”
Take the long road of helping future clients, over time, to see that perhaps they do have a problem. Do this primarily through thought leadership—our writings on our area of expertise.
“We can build a business with enough people saying no to us every week, provided many of them agree to subscribe to our thought leadership and we are diligent about future follow-up.”
Closing is all about reassuring. When a prospect asks for a written proposal containing free recommendations, his primary motivation is fear of making a mistake. Find other ways to offer reassurance, such as phased engagements, pilot projects, money-back guarantees and case studies.
The Four Priorities of Winning New Business
- Win Without Pitching: “secure the business before it gets to a defined, competitive selection process”
- Derail the Pitch: “… get the client to put his process aside and take an alternative first step with us.”
- Gain The Inside Track: participate in the prospect’s process, but constantly gauge whether prospect is willing to tread you differently and grant the inside track (“inside information or access to hard-to-reach decision makers.”)
- Walk Away: “Good prospective clients who recognize and value our expertise will grant us one of the above.” If a prospect won’t, walk away.
We Will Do With Words What We Used to Do With Paper
“We are not trying to talk the client into hiring us, and where we invite him to say no early and often.”
If the prospect isn’t committed to a future date or event, then “the written proposal is not the tool to help propel him forward. If the engagement has not yet moved from his wish list to his to-do list, then it is still inspiration he seeks. … We are better off in these cases exploring our previous work for examples of inspiration, or examining with him his competitor’s work or other best practices from further afield. Sometimes such explorations merit a small paid discovery engagement, and sometimes they are merely part of the conversations in the buying cycle.”
“We do not begin to solve our clients’ problems before we are engaged. … Doctors charge for MRIs. Accountants charge for audits. Lawyers charge for discovery. And we charge for our diagnostic work as well … our clients pay us to write proposals via a phased sale that begins with a diagnostic.”
We Will Be Selective
“If we are to build a lucrative expert firm then we must regain this balance of a small number of high-quality clients. Once regained, we must accept that our client base will turn over and we must understand that this churn is healthy.”
“If the opportunity is right and we retreat just a little, the client is likely to follow. The retreat-and-follow is an important test of how much the client recognizes and values our expertise.”
“We want to develop the habit of putting on the table for early discussion these or any other concerns we, or the client, might have.”
Raise the objections first. Instead of waiting to hear, “You seem expensive,” we might say, “I’m a little concerned about the ability an organization of your size has to afford us.”
We Will Build Expertise Rapidly
“The skills we must possess or acquire in order to succeed in a differentiated creative enterprise are,” in order:
- consulting (problem-solving, advising, leading client through engagement)
- writing (blog, newsletter, published articles, thought papers, books, etc.)
- creative work (often the commodity)
We Will Not Solve Problems Before We Are Paid
“If we do not value our thinking, the client will not. How can we diagnose and prescribe for free one minute, and later ask for hundreds or thousands of dollars for similar thinking?”
“… there is a line that separates proving our ability to solve the client’s problem from actually solving his problem. We shall not be lured into crossing over this line before we are paid.”
State with polite conviction, “It is our policy to not begin to solve our clients’ problems before we are engaged.”
“… we should not progress so far as to share our diagnosis with the client before we are hired and appropriately paid.”
We Will Address Issues of Money Early
“If we were to accept even half of the project work that comes to us, then we would find ourselves aimlessly building a tactical firm burdened by too many small clients and projects, with the commensurate challenges of poorer financial reward and less fulfillment.”
We Will Refuse to Work at a Loss
Profit margins are highest in the first two phases (diagnose and prescribe) than in the last two (apply and reapply). Our thinking is the value-added differentiator in the first two phases.
We Will Charge More
“… to our clients, the smallest invoices are the most annoying. Through charging more we will create more time to think on behalf of our clients and we will eliminate the need to invoice for changes and other surprises. … Firms like ours are not fired over the large invoices for strategic work; they are fired over the small invoices for tactical work. It is the change order that creates the resentment that builds until the relationship snaps.”
“We must price our upfront work, right up to the first creative deliverable, in big round numbers that end in zeros, and thus clearly imply that our pricing for these services has little to do with the hours it takes to deliver them. For the reapplication work that follows, we are free to charge by the hour.”
If you work for a creative firm, what’s your take on the Win Without Pitching approach? If you’re a client who’s hired creative firms, what are your thoughts? Leave a comment.