“Hit another home run”, “What’s on deck?” and they just ‘threw a curveball’ are just a few of the many baseball metaphors that are used in business. Some other worn out clichés include: ‘step up to the plate’, ‘swinging for the fences’ and ‘striking out’. My favorite baseball business metaphor however is ‘touching base’. This by far is, to me, the most important one. Staying in touch with clients and following up on open-ended contract negotiations or pending projects is a critical business skill all in itself.
When you are running a small operation or business, and by small I mean 1-25 employees, more often than not, you are going to be wearing many different hats. While I’m the creative director and lead designer at my design company, I’m also the Chief Marketing Officer and more realistically, most often just a sales guy. An account executive assigned to a particular client. In my case, I’m account executive for all of my clients.
The rush of receiving a signed contract by fax or email is hard to describe, but I bet that Wall Street stock traders can identify. What no one sees or knows about is how much time and effort went into closing the deal.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Glengarry Glen Ross. In it, “Blake”, played by Alec Baldwin (in his best performance ever) tells the sales team: “These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they’re gold, and you don’t get them. Why? Because to give them to you would be throwing them away. They’re for closers.”
He goes on to tell Shelly Levine (brilliantly played by Jack Lemon) to “PUT THE COFFEE DOWN”, “COFFEE’S FOR CLOSERS”.
Are you a closer? Do you get ‘them to sign on the line which is dotted’?
Like anything else in life, some are easier than others. Some clients will come to you so highly recommended that they just want to get the project started asap. Others come with the baggage of having been burned before or had a website held hostage by a rogue web developer. Others are just difficult and require high maintenance and lots of hand holding. Whatever the type of client it is, you must exercise patience.
I typically follow up every few weeks with an informal email stating that I’m ‘checking in’ – its only fair that in the realm of Project Management, that you should be able to forecast somewhat what your staff’s workload will be and factor in any vacation time or conferences and just confirm availability in general. My emails are about the client, not about me. I make sure to ask if:
A) Is the project still on the radar?
B) If so, how ‘hot’ is it?
C) Can we schedule a conference call (if necessary)?
D) Has the launch date or completion date been pushed back?
E) And I also mention that I will ‘touch base again in a few weeks’
I like to use a large whiteboard to keep track of projects in several different categories:
A) HOT projects
B) Pending Projects
C) Holding Pattern Projects
HOT Projects are well, hot. Those are jobs where the client is engaged, and we owe THEM something. Holding Pattern Projects are jobs where the client owes US something, usually content, and we do follow up with them to avoid projects from dragging out to long, but again we are already engaged and the gears are turning. It’s the Pending Projects that I focus on in follow up emails. I don’t usually call repeatedly (may be too intrusive/desperate sounding) but I do send out ‘blips’ via email. A ‘blip’ is like the ‘blip’ on the radar of a submarine. You are just letting the client know that you are still interested in the project and are wondering if they are too. It’s a fair question. Time is money. Their time and your time is money.
The goal here is to finalize a contract, send it over, and get them to sign it so that you can begin work. I wouldn’t recommend going into a working relationship without getting it in writing. You’d just be asking for trouble. Any good client will appreciate a well thought out agreement, complete with deliverables and a production schedule. And of course a contract implies that it’s a win-win for both parties involved.
This process may drag out over a period of 3-6 months. Its not unheard of. Often times its not about you or your firm, or your proposal, but its about the internal dragging of feet at the client’s company. Who knows what the reason is, its basically not your concern. You are ultimately powerless over whether or not your firm is selected. What you can control however is how often you ‘touch base’ and follow up. Its an art-form. Too little, and it implies that you are aloof and not concerned. Too much and you lose leverage and appear desperate. How frequent you ‘blip’ is something that may change with each client, and that you’ll develop a feel for over time. It comes with experience.
Sound like a lot of work? It is. Clients and deals aren’t going to just get slid under your door like a hotel checkout bill. It’s going to require a lot of effort on your part. Next time you see a successful small business, or in this economy, one that is surviving, just think how easy they are making it look. That just means they are working like mad behind closed doors to make deals happen. They are ‘batting 1000’. They are closers. And they get to drink the coffee.
Golf and Other Bad Metaphors for Business
How to Follow Up with Potential Clients
Ramon has over 19 years of experience in award-winning, market-proven, print collateral, marketing material, iphone/ipad app and website design specializing in corporate identity and branding. Ramon’s passion for entrepreneurial design was borne out of 10 years as Creative Director for Jay Walker at Walker Digital, the Stamford based idea laboratory and business incubator holding over 300 US Patents. Ramon served as Senior Art Director on the start-up launch team behind Priceline.com, a Walker company and invention. Most recently, Ramon’s logo and identity work was selected to be published in “Typography and Enclosures” the fourth book in the Master Library series by LogoLounge.
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