The ABCs of sales & confirmation bias by Keith Smith, Managing Director of new business platform The Advertist.

I love being able to discuss and debate new business trends and techniques with the best and brightest in the UK industry and – since starting the Fuel podcast, with some of the best that America has to offer.

Here’s two wonderful examples of sales techniques you can learn from the folks that do the job of new business #newbusiness day in and day out.

Because there is one metric that stands above all others in the I of KPI’s

New business.

ABC (always be closing)

I know it sounds corny but it’s more of a mantra than a piece of literal advice. In order to keep the new business funnel healthy, you need to be looking to stimulate new business all the time.

It’s not always possible, I know. Other jobs always seem to get in the way and sometimes, the last thing you need is extra work.

But projects rarely start immediately and there always need to be some chemistry conversations to discuss the finer points of any deal so it’s worth having one or two of these on the go at any one time.

Also, the economy is not a constant and when the ride gets bumpy, you need to be able to switch gears. When deadlines get punted, people leave, or your client experiences their own turbulence, other options are always your greatest insurance.

It’s how big companies survive downturns – they’ve always got other projects they can work on.

To borrow from the wonderful Lucy Mann of Gunpowder Consulting, her ‘marginal gains’ strategy applies to prospecting too. Use conversations and meetings to advance the ball forwards, sometimes by inches and sometimes by yards but always forward.

Take small wins and use them to parlay up into bigger wins.

Confirmation bias

I read an interesting post on LinkedIn the other day, from Steve Fair, the MD of new business agency Sponge (he’s always good for some straight-talking, no-nonsense advice) I was please to read it because was a perfect form of confirmation bias.

I’ve been putting together some new copy for The Advertist web site, trying to create the distinction between referrals and cold new business. There is a clear difference between new business that comes from referrals and new business that is won from cold outreach.

Steve approached the subject from the perspective of winning referral new business requiring a different skill set than winning cold new business.

Just because you’re good at one, doesn’t mean you’re good at the other.

WARNING: having a diet of referral new business can get you out of shape mentally and unprepared if you find yourself out in the cold, having to prospect for brand new business.

You forget how long it can take to convert a new client from initial contact to winning the work. I’ve had clients that took 2-3 years to get across the line.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it

Here’s three very important benefits for your agency that cold prospecting delivers:

1. Cold prospecting sharpens your skills

You are in control. You get to determine the location and time of your hunt. What sector or what specialism or both? Perhaps you want to target clients that look like your other clients, or maybe you want to target clients of a different stripe, size and shape.

Most cold new business is won because the agency has developed trust with their prospect; proven values and benefits of doing business. It requires an understanding of the needs of the prospect.

It means having conversations, meetings, email exchanges that give you important insight into the mindset of your prospect. Developing your listening and social skills brings so many benefits and it helps in all areas of life – business and personal.

2. Cold prospecting puts you in charge of your agency’s growth and direction

With referral new business, you have no control over when, where and how you grow – you’re always behind the curve, trying to meet demand that’s already a priority.

It’s easier to make bad decisions under pressure and make great decisions when you’re not.

You choose.

In a pressure-free environment, leaders can plot the future direction of their agency, looking at the available skill set, resources and abilities and think about where they’re going to be in 2-3 year’s time. This gives them the freedom to start making in-roads into these new areas, developing collateral, credibility and conversations.

3. Cold prospecting helps you build a quality team.

Making HR decisions under pressure – to meet unanticipated demand – often takes you down a dark path. Leaders find themselves blaming new business people for lack of performance, before the person has had a chance to start running, understand the culture, integrate into the business and learn to speak credibly as one of the team.

Moving into new areas takes time, and building trust with new prospects is rarely an overnight process, so give yourself and your agency time to ease into it.

Cold prospecting – when done correctly, gives the whole agency a clear direction and understanding of the short and long-term mission.

Giving yourself time to acclimate a new business person, or to speak with a professional agency or consultant means that you are both managing expectations.

To conclude….

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating against referrals because that’s where you develop your quality control, relationship-building, project management and delivery skills.

But you need to develop two parallel streams of consciousness with your new business – referrals and cold new business.

Think of it as insurance. Think of it as you prepping your agency, making sure that you have redundancy – and back-ups to that redundancy.

 If it helps you survive an economy like this, it’ll help you thrive in the good times!

For those of you who are looking for a business development platform to help fuel your new business pipeline we may be a bit partial but check out The Advertist and see how it can help you prospect for new clients!