Does one ever get work unless the deck is stacked?

So the Brains on Fire Blog has a post about how they don’t respond to RFPs as an agency (with the exception of “unless we have the inside track or we write them” (which is really no exception at all). Good for them, and I mostly agree. At our company, we do some times respond to their idiot cousin RFQ, but only as a “one-night-stand” proposition, and only when the customer (yeah, in this case, they’re customers, not clients) has given us pretty close product specs and they have their logo absolutely ready. We have about a 10% success rate on those types of commodity quote situations. It’s like picking change up in the road. You feel silly doing it; you feel silly not doing it.

 But reading Robbin Phillips’ post also got me thinking about something even more potentially depressing (or liberating). Most All of our really good clients came to us in one of the following ways:

  • We knew someone within the organization. As in, we knew them well, not “we met them at a meet ‘n greet.”*
  • We were referred by an existing client.
  • They came to us because they heard about what we did for an existing client.

The “exception” that I put in the footnotes barely qualifies, but just enough that it bothers me. Enough that I keep right on going to meet ‘n greets, which I often enjoy socially, and which have value because I stay in touch with people who are valuable to me in other spheres (politics, community, etc).

But while I sometimes get a small order out of the deal, I just never get a really good client out of:

  • going to a conference and “reverse-marketing”** the booths, regardless of how suavely.
  • unloading my elevator speech on someone I’ve met at a conference, show, social occasion, wedding, funeral, or in an elevator.
  • giving someone a really cool logo pen.

Which means, either:

  • I, personally, suck.
  • There’s a lot about this marketing stuff that doesn’t track well with what they teach you at school.

I lay awake at night sometimes about that first one, but I have a decent track record on closing people when I’ve been properly introduced, so I’m getting more suspicious about the latter as I get older. Problem is, some of my clients are themselves “buying this dream” about marketing technique, some of which depends on using products like I sell. How do I advise them? I still think there’s a place in the world for traditional marketing. I think that place is in situations where your business wants a lot of small clients with a low involvement in the decision (cell phones, really cool logo pens), as opposed to high involvement in the decision (floor covering, company stores).

Problem is, how do I systematically go about finding more clients, then? We do networking to try to get to a point where we know people well, and we try to do a good job with clients so that they will refer us to others. But oddly, the more you try to “push the buttons” around these relationships, the more suspicious they get that you’re just using them. And they’re generally right. So you’re back where you started.

If you’re waiting for the solution step in this post, sorry. I don’t have an ephiphany about this one yet! 

 


* We have one great client that came to us because I did some work for one of their key employees. I met him (at a meet ‘n greet) when he was running a small business, and I was just starting out. I think I did about $180 worth of business with him, then about five years later he had moved on and he remembered me. However, we had formed a great association over that small order and I think we clicked because we had a lot in common. Trying to recreate this scenario would be like trying to write a business plan on how to win the lottery.

** Yes, I know the textbook definition of reverse marketing,” which is so arcane that probably none but marketing majors are aware of it. MY definition of “reverse marketing” is “going places where people are trying to sell you and trying to sell them.”

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