You have existing clients that need your time and attention. You also need to prospect. Your current clients need things now, and you need to communicate with them to help them—and retain them. Because they have needs you need to address now, you neglect prospecting and creating new opportunities. You may not pay the penalty for having not prospected until some time in the future, but eventually, know for sure that you will indeed pay. At some point, you will lose a very large client that generates an equally large portion of your revenue and most of your compensation. When this awful event occurs, you will be twelve to eighteen months behind acquiring a replacement.
You Lost a Large Client
You acquired your dream client years ago, and you have faithfully served them, taking care of their needs. You have deep relationships with the people who work there, and there is no hint of anything going wrong. One day, the company is acquired by a larger company that has a contractual relationship with your competitor. Or a new stakeholder decides to make a name for themselves by removing a supplier and bringing in the team they used to work with at their last job. Whatever the reason, you lost your largest account.
Because you have not been prospecting, you have exposed yourself to the risk of not having a strong pipeline, the only thing that can inoculate you from losing the revenue and compensation when you lose a large client. You are now so far behind on prospecting and creating opportunities that you are some many months away from replacing your major account. The time to have created new opportunities was while you had your dream client up and running. How many months behind are you when it comes to winning a new major account?
How Many Months Behind
Large clients don’t tend to change suppliers often. They tend to find a partner who will take care of them, and they live with some amount of errors and unfulfilled needs. Because these relationships are strategic, these large clients live with some problems and find ways to work around others. In short, they are not highly compelled to change. They are even less interested in switching only to end up with the same set of problems they already experience—or new challenges that might disrupt their business.
A normal distribution curve would show you that there are fewer of these larger clients, and they wouldn’t be large targets for you if they weren’t already spending significantly on what you sell. To win a new large client, you are going to have to displace a competitor from a relatively small number of targets, a meager percentage of whom will change in a given year.
During the time you were not calling on these prospective clients, your competitors were nurturing relationships, sharing insights and ideas, and scheduling meetings. The people who will decide to select a new partner when it is necessary to have your competitor’s business cards, and they are familiar enough with them to know whom they like and whom they won’t consider. You, however, are a complete unknown, making it unlikely you even get a call to compete.
My guess is you are eighteen months away from winning your dream client. Even though you may be able to find a few dream clients who explore change, you aren’t likely lucky enough to win a large client on your first time when there is a competition (even though I hope you do!).
Prospecting Isn’t About Today
Prospecting isn’t designed to produce results today. The effect it produces doesn’t show up until some time in the future. When you decide not to prospect, you push the work of creating opportunities into the future, and in doing so, you push the acquisition of new clients even further into the future.
I am more than fond of the idea of Year Negative One. When you are prospecting and nurturing your dream clients now, you don’t believe that they are going to change for three years. Year Negative One precedes Year Zero, the year in which the client starts to recognize some need to explore change. Year One is the year in which you compete for their business. You start Year Negative One when you commit to pursuing your dream client in earnest, building and sustaining a long term campaign to win their business.
The idea isn’t that it is going to take three years to win business from a major account, even though it very well may take that long or longer. It’s a recognition that some small population of large clients is going to change in any given year and that you need to work to be in front of that decision, doing the work to be known and preferred.
Prospecting needs to be continuous and unceasing. The same is true for nurturing relationships and capturing mindshare. The more proactive and disciplined you are about this work, the more you are immune to the adverse events that occur in sales, including the loss of a significant client. Given a long enough timeline, you will lose your large accounts. Thankfully, that truth applies in equal measure to your competition. The only way to protect yourself for the inevitable loss of a large client is to have a pipeline full of potential replacements.
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