The Holy Grail of New Business
In November of this year we’ll be celebrating our 20th birthday. Having been born out of the last recession we reckon it’s as tough now as it’s ever been – particularly when it comes to acquiring new business so time for a light-hearted look at our search for the NHA Unique Selling Proposition – the Holy Grail of new business.
First up a bit of background: Like many in the service industries we’ve always had a particular problem describing exactly what we do – we operate in so many areas and use so many different skills and experiences for any given project that describing the NHA Service in a word or two has proved very difficult. Yes, we’re designers; Yes, we’re printers; Yes, we’re copywriters; and so it goes on.
When you make a new business approach in whatever form, the majority of prospects will try to pigeon-hole you in a suitable category to make the proposition easier to understand – something that ties in with the way they work. To begin with it was relatively straightforward: we were a below-the line agency handling just about everything to do with marketing (except press, tv and radio). We concentrated on designing and producing brochures and other marketing material with the odd promotion, point-of-sale item and premium thrown in. Printers were still perceived like devils-incarnate and service was a dirty word.
We used freelance designers, copywriters, photographers and any other skills required, pulled the whole project together in one package and then bought the repro (remember repro and typesetting?) and print to deliver a complete package to the client. Our USP then was, what has now become a much-maligned phrase “The One-Stop Shop”.
Then “below-the-line” became increasingly irrelevant as a phrase: Sales Promotion agencies appeared; designers started buying print; printers started giving away design and providing a decent service; typesetting disappeared completely (together with the absurd union practices of the time – NGA sticker anyone?) and everyone started treading on each other’s toes, blurring the distinction between the various skills.
Around the mid-90s we didn’t want to be perceived as “just” designers or “just” this or “just” that as the service NHA provides is much more comprehensive and experienced than that. So we muddled along without a USP and really struggled to promote exactly why NHA was a better bet for that project than the local designer, for example – our proposition was too complicated to be easily communicated and so the new business efforts fell on stony ground. We tried telesales, direct mail, cold calling and all the standard stuff, with very little to show for it.
Come the Millennium and fortunately our computers continued to work, unfortunately the lack of a USP and clear sales message didn’t. We interrogated clients (well… fed and watered them ‘til their defences were down) to try and identify what “they” thought we were and how “they” perceived us rather than what “we” thought we were. Some thought of us as Designers, some as Printers, others as a soft touch for lunch! There was no consensus but the conclusion we did draw was that our clients didn’t really know how to categorise our services either – and us a communications company.
After plenty more discussion and exploration we became “Creative Project Managers” – described beautifully what we do, provided one didn’t immediately relate project management with the building industry.
Despite all of these shenanigans, our best source of new business over the years has been, unsurprisingly, personal introductions or recommendations from existing clients. This is true for almost every industry for one very simple reason: you don’t have to win someone’s trust “before” they give you the business – unless you turn out to be a complete idiot. A personal recommendation brings with it a level of trust: “if you’ve done a good job for my friend/colleague or whatever then I know you’ll do the same for me.”
And so the search for the definitive USP continues.
Any suggestions will be gratefully received…