Four Segments of New Business

Blair and David come up with descriptive words that help clarify each of the four parts of what David calls the "pantheon" for new business: positioning, lead generation, sales, and pricing.

Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour

Mastering the Value Conversation podcast episode



DAVID C. BAKER: Blair, how are you today?

BLAIR ENNS: I'm really good. I just found out last night that my wife has listened to a few of our podcasts recently.

DAVID: And that's good news.

BLAIR: Well, it surprised me because I was really getting the feeling that she just wasn't paying attention. And maybe I said something she felt guilty. And I have some constructive feedback that I'll share with you when we're not recording.

DAVID: Is it about me or is it about you?

BLAIR: I'm doing great apparently. Word's gotten back to her that you're talking about her, your business partner and she's feeling like I need to monitor this. She specifically mentioned the reference about how you and her are the same disc profile. You and Julie are coming to visit us shortly, we're going to have a conversation about this. But let's get into today's topic.

DAVID: Today, we're going to talk about sort of this pantheon. I don't really know if it's a pantheon, but I've always wanted to use that word.

BLAIR: I'm not sure what a pantheon is, I think I have a general idea.

DAVID: I'm not sure either, it's just such a great word. We're going to talk about this pantheon, this four-part way of looking at how we get new clients. We're going to divide it into four different segments and it might surprise some people what we're going to include here. First, positioning, then lead generation, then sales and then pricing. And it feels like we're kind of going to feature you more than me today because I only work with positioning and lead gen. You actually work with your clients through the training programs and cover all four of these things, right?

BLAIR: Yeah. And these tend to be the best podcasts I find, so I think we're set up properly here.

DAVID: Good All right. As I was thinking about this and then you and I were bouncing a couple of texts back and forth, we were wondering if there's some quick way to just put a name tag next to these things so that at least it's clear to us and maybe it's clear to the folks that are listening to us so graciously what we mean by these things. Positioning if it means anything, to me, it means courage because when I talk with somebody about their positioning, they frequently know ... I suspect this is true for you too. They know that their positioning is not very good, it's somewhat lame. It's maybe in the right direction but it stopped from where it could be. Sometimes, they really need more information, and I enjoy those engagements because I get to help them just like you do. But most of the time, it feels like it's more about courage. And that's why I thought it might make sense to just call this positioning segment about courage. Does that make sense?

BLAIR: Yeah. And I think we'll do this for each of the four sections. Positioning is about courage, lead gen is about blank, et cetera. And it really does come down to that word. I like the metaphor of the creative principle, standing in a room full of doors and you're a highly curious, creative problem solver. And behind every door is a problem or a set of problems. And you want to walk through every door and solve every problem on the other side of every door. You structure your business in a way that allows you to walk through every door and then I'm standing over your shoulder as are you and saying, "No, no, no, pick one door, walk through and never look back." And you don't walk through because you're certain that on the other side of the door is your death from boredom. It's a gray boring room and you're in a straitjacket. But that's not what's on the other side of the door, it's more doors. But it's the fear of not being able to see what's behind those other doors.

BLAIR: That's where the courage comes from. And people like you and me say to our clients all the time, "No, no, you have to trust me that that's not what's on the other side of the door. There's a rich, exciting, and very lucrative world on the other side of that one door." The courage comes from everything that you'll walk away from, just imagining all of the wonderful things that you might possibly do that you're going to give up. And that's why it's about courage.

DAVID: Yeah. And leaving opportunity on the table. I remember speaking somewhere sometime and saying to people, and I think they'd kind of drifted off at the point. And I said this and I saw some of them paying more attention, the kind of attention that I deserve in this talk. And I was saying to them, all right, fast forward to a point in your lives and pretend that you're looking back, you're still saying you can still think objectively. And you look back over your life and you say to yourself, "Why didn't I accomplish more?" And then ask yourself is, it because you didn't have enough opportunity or because you didn't make choices? In other words, if you felt like you needed more opportunity, you wouldn't go through that door using your image because the notion of leaving all that opportunity that you see right now behind you is just terrifying. Is it that? Is that why you weren't as effective as you could have been or is it because you didn't ever focus, you didn't have courage? And that's where all of this comes into play.

DAVID: We're on the same page about this. Positioning, sometimes there's an element of education and we try to do research, we try to read, we try to listen to podcasts, we talk to our peers and so on. But many times, it doesn't happen without courage. That's the first one.

BLAIR: Yeah. And if I could just touch on this for a little bit longer. I just want to make the observation that I think I am seeing our clients be more courageous as time goes by. Wed did a two-day training workshop about a month ago or so. And last night, I was just going through the file of stuff that I had brought back from this workshop. And there was an exercise where I just gave a simple formula for stating your positioning, which is discipline for market X for Y. So, two boxes, just fill in as few words as possible. We do X for Y, discipline for market. I had these 50 documents and I was just about to throw them away with everything else that I was throwing away. And I just leapt through them one more time, and I was really struck by how tightly focused most of these firms were. And I wish I had some, they're anonymous so I wouldn't be giving anything away, but I wish I had some examples with me.

BLAIR: It was very, very specific disciplines for specific markets or at least in the vast majority, one of them was very tight. And you could easily imagine a firm being a deep expert in almost every one of these areas. And then about every fifth or sixth one, you would get advertising, marketing, and brand strategy four, and then something B-to-B. B-to-B is somewhat narrow, it's 72% of all business. Maybe, it isn't somewhat narrow. But that advertising, marketing, and brand strategy, that's somebody who has not yet summoned the courage. I just wanted to say that clearly in the 15% years or so that I've been doing this and the 20 years that you've been doing it, there's a clear trend towards people being more courageous in the positioning of their firm.

DAVID: Absolutely. And this is in the context of more opportunity out there than they've ever had and more capabilities and employees who know so many things and bring it to them. It's remarkable the sort of courage that they're displaying. That's good, we have to be patient with our clients, we have to be patient with ourselves if we're talking about this from a client's perspective. But in the end, you do have to make a courageous choice. And this is the first one, the other three don't come before this, they follow positioning. You've probably tried to have a conversation with a client about the next one, which is lead gen. You try to have a conversation with a client about lead gen and the positioning decision hasn't been made. And at this point, you don't know where your prospects are, you don't know what they're like, you don't know how to reach them, you don't know what to say to them when you get them. You don't know what your service offerings are, you don't know who to hire to fulfill these promises that you're making. It all does start with positioning.

DAVID: But the second one then is lead gen, what word do we want to use to sort of put a moniker on lead gen? If positioning is about courage, lead gen is about-

BLAIR: Discipline. You and I both arrived at this word independently and so we both agree. And I think we both agree on positioning as well. Lead gen is absolutely about discipline, it's about doing the work. And I really like your idea of fast forwarding in your life and looking back and thinking, "Well, if I haven't been as successful as I thought I would be, what would it be? In the developed world, you're never not going to succeed because of a lack of opportunity. It's not about the opportunity. The gift of being born into the developed world is you just have so much opportunity. There's vision, there's the ability to see that opportunity and some people can't see it. But for most, its courage. It's the courage to leap, to make the sacrifices. And those are reflected in positioning to carve out deep expertise. And then it's followed by, after courage is discipline. You do the courageous thing and you craft your business to build a firm of deep expertise. But then you've got to go through the lead generation work, and there's a lot of work here.

BLAIR: And the perfect metaphor is turning a flywheel, it takes so much effort in the early days. And then once you get that flywheel spinning, it actually takes very little effort to keep it moving. But the amount of work, and it really comes down to not just volume, but the discipline to do things in a steady rhythm and to do that, to put your head down and do that work for like 24 months I want to say, 18 to 24 months, that is really the workload that's required and the discipline that's required to be able to succeed on the lead generation front, at least that's the way I see it.

DAVID: I agree completely. I was interested in what you just said about 18 to 24 months and then maybe some of that stuff pays off. And, obviously, that time period will be a little bit different based on what their lead generation plan looks like. Do you think that the principal of the firm ... Most of our listeners or principals or senior managers, whatever SVPs. How involved do you think the principal needs to be? Well, obviously, in the positioning decision very central to that. But how involved do they need to be in the lead gen side?

BLAIR: I think it varies with the size of the firm. But as the firm gets larger and you get more and more people beneath the principal who are participating in content generation, a lot of lead gen these days is really about creating content in various forms. As the content generators get further and further away from the leadership, and I think there's a less unique or identifiable or even novel either perspective and tone of voice. I think you would see this correlation that the more directly involved the principal is in the creation of content, not necessarily all the mechanisms involved in pushing that content out, but in the creation of content, the more successful the firm is on the lead generation front.

DAVID: Yeah. That makes sense to me. And something else that's changed, both of us have seen this is that lead generation has become ... There's more options to choose from, I've tested myself or with clients, I've tested almost 30 different things. Some of them look kind of silly now. There are more choices, but it looks like firms are simplifying their lead generation. I know that that's a big point that you have made especially in the last couple of years make a single or maybe a double discipline choice and just kill it, just knock it out of the park. An example of being disciplined would be if you're doing your own podcast where you have a listenership that expects this thing to come out regularly or if you're writing insight and it goes in an email, or if you're out speaking or you're a guest on podcasts or whatever it is, it just has to be disciplined. I think this is a perfect word, discipline.

DAVID: You have people who are making great positioning decisions but are not disciplined about their lead generation and nothing bad happens right away until those referrals start to dry up or they have a client concentration problem and that client leaves or something. The flywheel idea is a really powerful one because it does mean that you can leave on vacation for two weeks and nothing happens if you never touch that flywheel, but it does take a lot of time to spin up. If you spin it up right, it'll keep going.

BLAIR: Now, you did a survey recently where you got some interesting results. And I feel like I've said that to you a lot lately, you're doing a lot of interesting surveys that have yielded a lot of interesting results. But you did a survey on where folks saw their primary business development challenge. And I think you talked about selling versus positioning, versus lead-gen. Is that right?

DAVID: Right. Yeah, those three. And the question went out to tens of thousands of people, when you look at where the gap is, where do you think the biggest problem is for you? Is it you really need a better positioning, you need better lead gen or you need better skills at sales? And I again was surprised by this because particularly the last part of this answer, most people said that the problem was lead gen. Although, if you let them phrase the question, they probably would have said, "Listen, my problem is I just need to be in front of more people."

BLAIR: Yeah. I just need more meetings, I'm pretty good. Just get me more meetings, I can close. And I love meetings, everybody says that.

DAVID: Which is why they sometimes go to some lead generation plans that help them get more meetings. But that was the answer, this is the primary problem. Our positioning is good enough, we are good enough when we get in front of people, we just need more lead gen. And I don't know that they meant the same kind of lead gen that I was necessarily saying. That was the first issue. Then the next most common response was people saying we need a better positioning, we know it, we even know what it might need to be but we lack some courage there. And then the thing that surprised me the most is that very few people believe that they need sales help. Why don't we go to that, that's our third one. Our first one is positioning, which is about courage. Lead gen is about discipline. Sales, you're identifying as about leadership. And I want you to start by talking about why it is that you think anyway people don't believe that sales is as big an issue as maybe you and I think it is for them?

BLAIR: I wrote about this many years ago, I call it the marketer's dilemma. The marketer's dilemma is that he thinks because he's good at marketing, he's also good at sales. And he's not. In fact, most marketers look down their nose at sales. They see sales as the dirtier, less sophisticate mechanism that is designed to the same end goal as marketing, which is to drive a transaction. Most marketers see themselves as kind of the more noble, more sophisticated cousin of sales. And I used to too, and I think it's because we misunderstand what it means to sell. We think selling is about talking people into things, and we conjure up these images of these horrible sales experiences where we've been on the buyer side and the salesperson has been on full commission or in some way, their incentives were not aligned with things that were good with us. And that's why we feel dirty about sales.

BLAIR: I think most agency folks like the idea that they could land a new client without ever going into sales mode. And that's because again, they kind of misunderstand what it means to sell. There's a few words I could have used here when you put this to me, selling is about blank. I could have said helping or facilitating or changing or more correctly, facilitating change. But I chose leadership. I think all of those are relevant because selling is really the face to face or the human to human, one-to-one interaction part after somebody expresses an interest until the moment they buy. It's the facilitation through the rest of that buying cycle. It's not about convincing, I think it's in your job as salesperson for your firm whether you're the principal or the dedicated new business person, I don't think you should be trying to talk anybody into anything ever. That's not your job, your job is to facilitate their journey through the buying cycle. And the best model for that is leadership.

BLAIR: In any complex, customized sale that probably describes almost everybody who's listening to this, you're not behaving like the vendor, you should be behaving like the expert practitioner. That should be your objective. You're not talking people into things, you're facilitating. And if you just take those two ideas and combine them together and you wanted a word for that, that word would be leadership. In fact, I may have mentioned this before, but I think you can read any book on leadership or take any kind of existing model on leadership and you can use that as a sales methodology because selling complex, customized services is the exact same thing as leading. Leadership, there are many definitions of leadership, but the one that I like is, and I'm going off the cuff here, it's directing people to better versions of themselves. That doesn't quite do it justice, but the idea is the focus is entirely on the other person and helping them get to a more beautiful place.

BLAIR: That's what you should be doing when you are selling from the expert practitioner position and you're bringing this kind of clinical professionalism where your focus is really on helping the person across from you, it's not on selling more stuff.

DAVID: I think we need to do an episode on how the similarities between leadership and selling, that's a new concept to me. What are people missing if they do not think that sale should be in this four-part pantheon? They understand why positioning is, they understand what lead gen is and they'll understand why the fourth part is in a minute. But if they don't think sales is a part of this, and we know they don't because we look at the survey results and most of the respondents said sales is the least of my problems. What are they missing here?

BLAIR: Yeah. And I bet if you went back to those people and ask them, "Well, how are you on presentation?" If you said to them, "I'm signing up for a free class, a one-day course in either selling or in presentation skills," they would all take presentation skills or most of them would be because in the creative professions, that is our substitute for selling. If you think of selling as this human interaction, this two-way conversation where you're focused on the other and you're doing what you can to help move this other person to a greater place versus a presentation. Presentation is all about you. I talk about this in my first book, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, it's the second proclamation, we will replace presentations with conversations. We are so addicted to the presentation in the creative profession that we're instead of seeing the noble view of selling as this helpful facilitator, helping to lead somebody to a better place for themselves, we see it as dirty. And we think the more noble way to do this is to stand on a podium with our PowerPoint presentation and go into convinced mode.

BLAIR: And I'm fond of saying and I've said it before in this podcast, you can present to somebody or you can be present to them, you can't do both. You have to choose one or the other. And when you're in presentation mode, you are not present to somebody. And it's one of the requirements of leadership is to be present and empathetic, those are two elements of leadership. You're focused on them and you're present to them. You can't do that when you're in presentation mode.

DAVID: In some ways, it's possible that when I asked this question on the survey which areas do you struggle with, they might have almost substituted sales for presentations and said we're really good at presentations, we just need more opportunities to make them as opposed to sales, which is more of a soft learned skill about facilitating a conversation? What you just said about how leadership is similar to selling because of the ability to be present and empathetic, that makes so much sense. Are you still comfortable with the word leadership here given the other options?

BLAIR: Oh, yeah. We're good there.

DAVID: All right. The first one positioning, about courage. Lead gen is about discipline. Sales is about leadership. And the fourth one, most people have probably guessed where we're headed with this. This one is really about pricing. And I think this is the one that people might be surprised that it's included in this four-part pantheon. And your phrase for this was about creating value. I want to talk about that because when you gave me that phrase, my mind went to the wrong place immediately. I thought you were saying creating value for yourself, it's like getting more money from the prospect. But that's not what you meant.

BLAIR: Yeah. People think the goal of value-based pricing is to charge more, and that's not the goal of value-based pricing. The goal of value-based pricing of moving to pricing based on the value that you create for the client, the goal of it is to create an organization that is laser focused on creating extraordinary value for the client. And a happy coincidence of creating such an organization is that you will generate significantly greater profits, that's the goal. I talk about this in the book Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour. I've got six rules of pricing creativity. The fifth one is master the value conversation, we did a whole podcast on that. I've taught a lot of people, here's the framework, go ahead and try it. And it's an easy four-step framework, you can look up that podcast. I give you the framework, but most people who try to use the framework end up giving up fairly soon. They run into the first bit of trouble and they give up because it's not a pricing discipline, it's really a selling discipline. It's really a human interaction discipline, it's getting better at having a conversation.

BLAIR: And we in the creative professions as I've already said, we're not so good at conversations. We default to presentations. But when you do this well, when you master the value of conversation what happens is you end up having this value conversation where you ... Like I was talking about under sales and leadership, you're so completely focused on the client. And we all know people in our personal lives, and maybe we don't see them so often. And when we do see them, we're always so happy to see them, we have this brief interaction with them. And they walk away and we think, "Oh, what a great person. I really like or even love that person, I don't see them very often." And then you think, "Oh, my God, I see this person twice a year." And once again, the conversation has ended and she didn't tell me anything about her. The whole conversation was about me, she was just asking about me and what I'm doing, and she made me feel so important. And now I feel a little sense of guilt because once again, I didn't get the chance to ask about her.

BLAIR: I think we all know people like that in our lives. And what I'm suggesting is when you do pricing well, your prices going up is a consequence of you taking that incredibly valuable social skill and you translating it to your business. And you just imagine creating an organization full of people like that where when they're talking to a client or a prospective client, they're just so intently focused on what is it that you want, what's the great value you're looking to create? And then how might we be able to help you with that? When you do that, your prices will go through the roof, but it's a complete mindset shift. If you think pricing is about gouging or getting paid more for what you do, you really should be thinking about pricing as changing your focus from what you do and what you sell to what the client needs and how you can help create extraordinary value for the client.

DAVID: I've known you for many, many years, read your books, we've done the events together and so on. I have never heard that clear a discussion of that where it's actually so inspirational. It means a lot when you're saying it like that. I'm really glad I'm sort of just listening to you talk about that stuff because it makes so much sense in that context. If we don't land this pricing stuff right, it's about not doing everything we could do for the client, and that's the primary thing. I'm just rephrasing what you've said. And then, oh, we're going to make more money in the process or we're going to make the same money but with less resentment from the client. It's just so powerful. But then tying all this together, that's not going to happen unless we're good at sales, navigating these conversations. And sales and pricing are obviously tied together closely. And we're not going to get those opportunities unless we're disciplined about lead gen. And we're not going to get lead gen happening, it's impossible to do it well unless we have the courage to make the right positioning decisions.

DAVID: All this stuff gets wrapped together. And I just want to go out and sell, what do I need to sell? What can I sell here? Tell me what to sell.

BLAIR: I've got a training program you can sell.

DAVID: It just fits together well, it feels great. You and I didn't really know where we were going to go with these four things. But they fit together so well, it just felt like we needed to talk about them. And now that we're doing it, it makes sense.

BLAIR: There's probably a book there or maybe even a podcast.

DAVID: Could be.

BLAIR: Yeah. No, that's great. If I can recap, positioning is about courage, lead generation is about discipline, sales is about leadership, and pricing is about creating client value.

DAVID: Yeah. That's beautiful. I think we should leave it right here before we screw this up and say something that's going to take us down from this high.

BLAIR: I'm going to go have a cigarette.

DAVID: Thank you Blair.

BLAIR: Thanks David, I'll talk to you next week.

David Baker