Don’t Let Credibility Damage Your New Business Pursuits
Credibility is at the core of trust. Maister & Green in “The Trusted Advisor” made that clear.
Credibility is also crucial to new business pursuits. Prospect decision-makers, especially at the C-Level, won’t consider your agency or firm if you don’t have experience and success in markets or segments that they view as comparable to theirs.
So why do so many organizations pursue business where that experience is lacking? And when invited to pitch, or decide to pursue despite a lack of experience, how in the world can these teams create decent odds of winning?
The best answer, of course, is one I’ve always advocated: When your credibility is low to a potential prospect, that’s an opportunity not worth pursuing. You’ll be competing against others with stronger credibility. You’ll be the biggest longshot in the pack.
But if you’re going to go after it anyway, there’s a lot you can learn about increasing credibility from an unlikely source: Job seekers.
Credibility Lessons from Job Seekers
Lots of people in the job market are new to it or trying to change the trajectory of their careers. They constantly wrestle with credibility issues. Many have learned to overcome them through several concurrent steps. This excellent HBR article lays out those steps. Take a look at how advice to job seekers can apply to new business. (The italics are in the language of the job seeker, followed by my advice for new business pursuits.)
- Leverage your research skills. When pursuing a prospect in a category that’s new to you, put your research capabilities to work to gain a unique, intriguing perspective on that category. You won’t know as much about it as the prospect. But you can know something about the category that the prospect might not know. These insights can be extremely valuable during the pursuit.
- Identify (and embrace) your specific contribution. Know the measurable outcomes that you deliver. For example, when you discuss your case studies, you need to confidently present the results that are traced to your solution. It’s amazing how many providers don’t get this information, either directly through their processes or from their clients.
- Volunteer willingly. Don’t give away your services. But you can offer low-cost solutions that will demonstrate value and allow you to build credibility. When pursuing prospects where your credibility is low, this is an easier way of gaining a foothold. Pitching for a small, relevant, initial assignment is often a better way to go. BTW, I’m NOT advocating spec work. I’m strongly opposed to it. I’m talking about a real, not made-up, paid assignment that lets you strut your stuff.
- Work to build a network of close relationships. Those in your close-in network will be less concerned with your lack of relevant experience. They will judge your credibility in ways that are more favorable than how it’ll be judged by the stranger who ships you an RFP. It’s the same old story. It’s who you know that’s important.
A lot of opportunities are attractive. Be honest in judging your credibility. And, if you must pursue when credibility is low, take all the necessary steps to overcome this obstacle.
If your new business pursuit strategy is mainly reactive, it’s a really hard to avoid credibility issues. You’re invited into a lot of pitches based on reputation or a recent solution that’s gotten good press. By the end of the sales cycle, though, you’ve still got that credibility barrier to overcome.
Effective new business strategy minimizes credibility risks by placing more emphasis on highly targeted prospecting. Our Strategic Planning Workshop is a practical approach to the kind of decision-making that will put you in better shape to convert more opportunities. It engages just the right number of people with just the right amount of data, working within the confines of your current culture and your honest assessment of the market and your capabilities.
Professional services firm really like this approach. It results in prospect lists that represent high value, high potential targets. Since many such firms don’t have dedicated sales forces, the resulting strategy can be more readily adopted and executed by the professionals within the firm or agency who have other billable responsibilities. Less time spent selling with better returns.