The next big thing

How do you win a tender with a customer you already have? This is a challenge for anyone who works in a project-based industry, where good work on a current project is no guarantee you’ll be successful in winning the next one.

Chasing new business is expensive. According to Gartner, it costs 5-30 times as much to win a new customer as it does to keep an existing one happy.

Nurturing existing customers will also grow your profitability: Bain & Company found that a 5% increase in retention can lead to a 25%-95% boost in profit.

However, customer retention and growth is a real challenge for people who need to win work on a project basis, including technical professionals like engineers and architects, creative professionals like event managers and graphic designers, market researchers, and project management consultants.

Despite doing good work and having good relationships with their existing customers, project-based professionals constantly need to pitch these customers for new projects that they believe should just be handed to them. It hurts when jobs go to competitors that by rights, really should have been theirs.

What they are reluctant to admit, but know is an issue, is that it is surprisingly difficult to find the time and space to prioritise the next project when you’re knee-deep in delivering the current one. It’s easier to hope that your good work and good relationships will carry the day – but this isn’t always a successful strategy.

Heidi Grant Halvorson is a psychologist, TED speaker and the author of many books on the topic of what really makes people tick. In one of her latest books, No One Understands You and What To Do About It, she cites a range of studies proving that people are much more impressed by our potential than our track record.

In other words, when we are deciding who to hire, promote or do business with, it turns out that we aren’t impressed by the ‘big thing’ nearly as much as the next big thing.

This is a challenge for incumbents who need to win work on a project-by-project basis, because customers are primed to want what is new and shiny, rather than what is existing and reliable.

To fill your pipeline in a project-based business, you need to be constantly positioning for the next job while you’re on the current one.

I have worked with many technical, creative, research and consulting people who are professionals first, and salespeople a distant second.

It’s no good just telling professionals to go and talk to their customers so they can win more work – they need something valuable to talk to them about. This has to be something that will help the customer to compete better or do business better, and it can’t just be about the job they are currently doing.

My new program, Win More Work With Existing Customers, is designed to help project-based professionals to understand what customers want to buy, not just what they want to sell, and to position themselves in the box seat to win more work with existing customers.

This program is also available as an in-house workshop for firms who want to make sure everyone in their business has the skills and confidence to share the responsibility for winning work.