Abbi Whitaker is the founder and creative engine of The Abbi Agency.
I like to think that my public relations and marketing firm is cool and distinctly cutting-edge.
All the things, in other words, that would seem to keep us from winning the business of long-established, old-school clients. The Abbi Agency is full of young executives who are eager to use the newest platforms to get clients' messages in front of national and regional audiences. Clients love our style.
But if we focus only on young executives of young firms--the sort of clients, frankly, that lie well within our comfort zone--we're leaving a lot of potential revenue on the table. In our markets, like most markets across the country, long-established companies hold dominant positions in most key industries. They're the big fish in the pond, and we're sorely mistaken if our sales and marketing efforts attempt to catch only the young minnows.
Here are five steps we've found to be critical when a "new-school" company sets out to win old-school business:
1. Get your head in the right place.
We're all hard-wired, I think, to be slight intimidated by older, more successful figures--especially if they actually look good in that bespoke suit that they wear to the office. But there's no need to be intimidated. This isn't like meeting with Mrs. Grundy, the scary principal of your middle school. Your product brings value to the old-school company, and they need to hear from you. In fact, if you can help them become more profitable, they're probably really eager to hear from you.
2. Get creative about the products and services you're pitching.
At The Abbi Agency, we're savvy with social media, and potential old-school clients sometimes call us to make a pitch simply because they think they need some new-school product. But we always go into our pitch meetings with some "old-school" elements such as press releases, too. Combining traditional PR elements with the enthusiasm of a young team often presents an unbeatable combination for well-established clients.
3. Get the right person in front of the client.
Some members of your team are going to feel comfortable with establishment clients, and they're going to make a better emotional connection. It's not necessarily the oldest person in your office, either. Pay close attention to the team for this assignment.
4. Get in front of the client.
You may be completely comfortable doing business through texts and social media. But even if your potential old-school client wants to talk with you about cutting-edge products, be prepared to spend time building a relationship over a traditional business lunch. The pace may be just a little slower--not sleepy, but measured--as you build a working relationship with your establishment client. Give it time. And when you go to lunch, dress accordingly.
5. Get rid of your phone for a while.
Glancing at the messages on your phone during a meeting with an old-school client is a guaranteed deal-killer. Don't even bring it into the restaurant during a business lunch. Shut it off and put it away during office meetings. For new-school entrepreneurs, constant connection is a way of life. For old-school business owners, constant connection is simply rude.
It's not hard to tap into the abundant pools of potential business represented by well-established firms, and the opportunities are too great to talk yourself out of making the effort. Winning this business is like any other pitch: understand what makes the potential client distinctive, and shape the message so that it's simply irresistible.