Although it may be tempting to welcome all business prospects with open arms, it can result in too many projects with too little end benefit for your company.
Creating a framework for new business prospects streamlines the process and helps you discern between good business and good enough business.
Over a decade of business experience has taught me a simple rule: not all business is good business. Sometimes when a prospect crosses your desk, the best thing to do is say no.
Earlier this year my business partner and I developed a “New Client Acceptance Framework,” in part to help us with saying no to projects that aren’t a good fit for our studio. While a New Client Acceptance Framework may sound fancy, it is a simple Google Spreadsheet that outlines a list of “yes” and “no” qualities for evaluating potential new business. Simple? Yes. Valuable? Definitely.
When it came to sales and business development, we were noticing two pain points in our company:
1. Fluctuation in size and expertise
Since founding the company nearly twelve years ago, the kinds of work and size of projects we’ve taken on have changed and, to some degree, are always changing. Business development and sales habits are easily formed, and we found that at times we were following prospects that were no longer a good fit for our firm at its current size and expertise level.
Asking around, we found this was a common problem that smaller agencies and consultants struggle with. A project or client that would have been a great fit for you two years ago isn’t always going to be right for you today, especially if you’ve set new goals for the trajectory of your business. Familiar business feels safe and comfortable, and is often easy work to bring aboard. An acceptance framework can help objectively review whether or not a prospect fits into your current criteria.
2. Too much back and forth
Because we share business development and sales inquiry responses, my business partner and I would regularly check in with each other on whether or not new prospects were good fits for the company. I handled this work alone for nearly a decade and had developed a pretty strong gut-feeling response to prospects, but as we distributed the work during my maternity leave, we found that a single gut intuition would no longer work. And continuously checking in with each other was not a wise use of our time and resources.
What considerations should you include in your framework?
Always consider your minimums and maximums (as a smaller agency there are limits to what we can take on without sinking all our resources into one project).
There are some industries that we’re particularly well suited to working with and others that do not fit with either our expertise or company mission.
We’ve learned that projects that aren’t properly resourced on the client side will be both unsatisfying and often costly for our team.
An unrealistic timeline is often the mark of other problems in a project.
When new projects cross anyone’s desk we test them against this basic framework and are able to respond quickly with either a business proposal or a “no.” It has helped streamline our sales process and provide an excellent measure by which we can confidently say no to projects that seem compelling but may not be profitable or beneficial to the company in the long run.
Do we make exceptions? Absolutely. And we even list out cases where exceptions should be considered – like existing or long-standing clients, or where side benefits will outweigh some of the risk factors. The framework is an invaluable guideline, but, in the end, the ultimate decision is at our discretion.