biz ladies 09: successful biz dev (from a client’s p.o.v)

by Grace Bonney

one of the things that can really give you a leg up in a tough economy like this is knowing what your client wants and how they want to hear it. so today i’m thrilled to have back to talk about improving your chances with potential clients- from the client’s point of view. whether you’re looking to sell new services to your existing clients or sell your existing services to a new set of clients, meg has written up a great article full of advice for doing both from start to finish. in tough times it always pays to know what the person on the other side of the desk is looking for, so i hope you’ll check out meg’s post after the jump. thanks again to meg for sharing her advice today! looking for more biz ladies advice and topics? click here for our biz ladies archives.

CLICK HERE to read meg’s full article after the jump!

Successful Biz Development Meetings…From the Client’s Perspective

There are two overall paths to increasing revenue in a design business: selling new services to your core group of customers or selling your core services to new clients. As the economy ebbs and flows through 2009, I bet you have been marketing your firm in both directions. As a senior executive in brand management of creative businesses, I have been on the receiving end of many, many such pitches and presentations. In this column, I will offer my personal perspective (as The Prospective Client or “TPC”) on how to improve your chances of engaging clients. You may often ask yourself…What is the decision-maker really thinking? How might you modify your stock presentation approach to be even more tempting? Read on for advice from the other chair!

Overall Perspective

Think of each new opportunity as a “first date” between you and the current or prospective client or account. Don’t be complacent even if you think the new Biz is yours for the asking! Although you may know the client well from prior business or friendship, treat the “pitch” of incremental services with novelty and professionalism. Winning business is serious business, especially with budgets so tight and competitors readily available. Even if your prospective client is a returning customer or longstanding friend, she wants to see that you are not taking her business for granted and will handle it personally and with great thoughtfulness.

Example: When my friend of many decades had the potential to represent my business in a real estate transaction, I was impressed that she responded to the opportunity with a well-prepared meeting and explanation of her credentials specific to my needs. This professional approach assured me of her true capabilities and enabled me to present her to my team members as a compelling industry figure

What’s Important to the Prospective Client?

Most important to me as a “PC” is that the service or supplier has thought about the meeting’s purpose, and is not just adding my logo to her boilerplate presentation (or, said inelegantly but accurately, “showing up and throwing up”)

When someone I don’t know approaches me with an unsolicited expression of interest, I am likely to be open, but skeptical. I need to understand her competence, her firm’s relevance to my business, and our personal chemistry. Don’t be intimidated, just be prepared!

o I may restrict this type of “first date” to 30, or maximum 60, minutes. Don’t push me for more time, it will be an immediate turn off. Let me like you and your capabilities so much that I want to extend our time together. (Do allow yourself at least 30 minutes “over time” in case things go well!)
o It will be unlikely that I will want to travel to your office on our first date, so do expect to meet on my turf or to present to me by phone/electronics. Please don’t push me to see your studio or meet everyone on your team until I know I am interested enough to make the effort. I really don’t want to waste my time, or yours. By your coming to me, I can also assess if you are a good fit with my organization’s products and culture. Make sure you demonstrate interest about the office, the displays, the resources, the people? You need to know that even as I am considering your qualifications, I am also asking myself if we would have fun with you and your colleagues “around” all the time

What (and how) to present to the Prospective Client?

Have a general presentation of your services and firm. As a 40-something, I like a true presentation (preferably on paper but projected is ok too) or at least a “hand out” one page introduction. This shows you are thoughtful, suggests “you are for real,” and has your information readily available. And, I have a handy place to write my notes.

o I like this flow of an introductory agenda:
+ Description and Expertise of your firm
+ Description of special capabilities (that you think will relate to my needs)
+ Client list and length of relationships
+ Case studies (LOVE THESE! Describe the situation and what your firm did to create, add, turn around, communicate or otherwise satisfy the client’s needs that they could not have done in-house! I want to see that you have done this kind of work before, that you are familiar with pitfalls and challenges and are likely therefore to execute on time and on budget )
+ Biographies of principals
+ Examples of work (can be 3D props or clipped in the presentation)
o It can be nice to tailor the pitch to my business, but never use low resolution versions of my logo or my images. This can backfire as it suggests you don’t value the integrity of my company identity
o If you have a formal induction presentation, don’t use it as a crutch or a script! If TPC chemistry is a hit from the start, then just talk and let me have the presentation on paper or email afterwards. Sometimes it is most impressive to hear someone’s passions and knowledge come across spontaneously without needing to reference page numbers or materials. That way, I know you really know your stuff!
o Use props sparingly. Bring a few good examples to illustrate your points: your design portfolio, packaging examples, products or swatches, etc. Don’t bring work that you really didn’t do, or that is out-dated.
o Be self sufficient. Don’t require me to provide easels, plugs, screens, or a flash drive or paper and pens.
o No Entourage. I am interested in you as the leader, and to hear what you say and do. It might be appropriate to your biz to have an associate or assistant on the cold call meeting and I will likely have an associate with me too. I will be turned off if there is a group as I will be concerned that you operate in a bureaucratic manner.

It is always important to follow up

If I think there is no hope, I may turn you down. If I say the door is open for another time or another type of work, believe me but trust me the time is not now. Again, don’t push me. But, if you accept the rejection gracefully and then approach me a short time later with “I thought about what you said. Maybe we could reduce the scope/ phase in the work/ use different materials/add a junior consultant. Would that address your concern? HMMM…I think…now this might work!

Example: an office designer presented me with their overall capabilities and I was tuned off because the length of time required to design and build. She accepted the rejection gracefully, and then within a week emailed a rough sketch with suggestions on materials to reduce lead time and coast. Bingo, I was now impressed with her ability to listen and respond without ego

Do’s and Don’ts

It’s a balancing act! Ultimately, a successful meeting that awards you a new piece of business will come down to a blend of factors: some you CAN control and some you can’t. Here’s what you CAN do or CAN avoid:

* Think through a strategy for each meeting; tailor your materials and select colleagues deliberately, even if you have worked for the client before or have a long standing personal relationship.
* Prepare. Use the internet to research the company and the decision-maker ….but don’t assume that you “know it all.” It is very important to me that someone ‘did their homework” on my company, but such passive research is not a substitute for good, curious questions.
* Show the efficiency of your workstyle. Be on time (of course!), don’t stay a minute longer than the time allowed, don’t ask for logistical support from TPC.
* Use your past accomplishments to illustrate how you might best address TPC’s opportunities, but show respect that her issues may require different techniques or may involve situations or needs you have not encountered.
* Be honest. If you haven’t worked with a particular construction technique, or factory, or product category, say so. Don’t apologize. I won’t rule you out if you describe how your actual experience is relevant to my needs. I will rule you out if you prevaricate or aggrandize your experience
* Seem relaxed. People want to work with people they simply like. Let your style be conversational, smile and be upbeat even if rejected. You never know when TPC‘s business needs may change or she may even change jobs and need someone like you!
* Don’t play “6Degrees” to excess. We can establish that we know the same people, but don’t assume that I have the same views as you do.
* Answer my questions in a straightforward way. Be ready with ranges for your fees, for your availability, with references and for other FAQ’s
* Even if the outcome is negative or uncertain, follow up with a thank you (email is OK) for my time and consideration. Make it personal—again, avoid “boilerplate” thank you language.
* Keep a Contact Log of the meeting: who was there, major points or opportunities. Whatever your next is, The Prospective Client will be flattered by such attentions to detail and thoughtfulness!


Meg combines her love of design, fashion and culture into her career as “the business side of creative people and entrepreneurs.” Her past roles have spanned from product development, to sales, to operations and marketing and licensing for premium brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Kate spade and Waterworks. She has 3 children and enjoys involvement in the public schools. In 2007, she became an entrepreneur herself and with her business partner, founded Design Investors LLC in Westport, CT


Design Investors LLC was established with a singular objective: to support the growth and profitability of the design industry’s most promising product, business service, and media companies. The firm partners with founders and management teams of portfolio companies to infuse creativity with capital, and reinforce business plans with an extensive resource network and many years of relevant management experience. Appreciating the unique vision and opportunities available to each investment, Design Investors works side-by-side with companies to maximize value through building market leadership positions.

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    Great post! As a marketing manager, I often coach the principals of my firm as they head out of the office to pitch our work. When the pitches are in-house, I’m often at the table. This piece has some great reminders of basic skills. All of us in business, in any capacity, need to know how to pitch well and win business. Along these lines, I keep a copy of the 1937 classic *How to Win Friends and Influence People* in my bedside drawer. When I can’t sleep, I pull it out and read a chapter!

  • Thanks for this!! I really enjoyed reading your perspective. I am an independent jewelry designer who reps my own product to indie boutiques. Even with my ventures, your words resonated with me. One of the most important things you mention: honesty. Be yourself. This one works every time.

  • thanks for all the fabulous biz ladies posts! they are so helpful, and i love the ‘rosie the riveter’ pic.

    since halloween is upon us, i wanted to share my ‘rosie the riveter’ costume:

    i figured biz ladies readers would get a kick out of :)


  • as someone who often creates presentations/materials for small businesses, but is not often in the meetings, this is very helpful (particularly the agenda/presentation flow)… thanks!

  • Yes! I loved this!
    I especially second the part about investigating the company and respecting the PC’s time.
    I run a bakery and it always AMAZES me (not in a good way) when someone tries to drop in on me or call to sell me something right at lunch or after school (our high traffic times).
    It shows that they clearly haven’t thought this through and aren’t used to dealing with food service industries!
    Yay for biz ladies posts- LOVE THEM!

  • Such a great article. As a cabinetry and furniture artist, I truly enjoyed learning the perspective of a “TPC”. Lots of great tips!

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