Are your clients in the funnel? I've been struggling for the past 6 months or so to come up with a new visual metaphor for the client engagement cycle because the funnel just doesn't work for me. Visually, it sets up a one-way street that begins at the top with this nebulous group of leads and dead-ends when someone becomes a client . . . or worse, clients drop through the funnel into, where?
How we talk about ideas informs how we act on those ideas. So let's push away the funnel and define communications & outreach as ongoing, immersive, peer-based, mutually-beneficial engagements that build social capital for all participants, bringing together designers who have unique expertise and the clients who will grow and succeed as a result of working with you.
Visually, I'm resorting to the good old circle. And I'm adding one level of engagement to the model: first you talk to your community, then your leads, then your prospects and then your clients, who then feed back into the community.
Design firm principals: you are not running a standard B2B business. You are creative consultants, strategic partners, enduring voices of reason and change for your clients. When you're developing new business for your firm, you're not trying to sell people on a "practical service." You're not fixing their roof or preparing their tax return or writing their will. It's just not that kind of service.
The work you do changes the way people engage with information and objects and ideas; brings beauty and meaning into the world; creates enduring bonds with people (be they customers or clients or audiences). And more, right?
So how you do what you do, how you talk about it, the way you impart to clients the greater value of your work as designers exists beyond "service" and "outcomes."
How you talk to your clients about your work can help them change the conversation they're having with their colleagues and peers about why these things matter and how these ideas take shape. These are engaging conversations about how this wonderfully nuanced thing you do leads to their success: often measurable and quantifiable but sometimes more subtle and evolutionary.
In terms of actionable steps that bring each group of businesses into conversation with you:
1. Focus Inquiry & Open Conversations Within the Target Community
Inspirational, educational conversations & content aimed at the community level about your unique, ownable point of view yield leads who start to take interest in your ideas from a transactional, client-ready point of view;
2. Targeted Outreach to Leads
You engage directly with those you identify as leads with focused, outreach activities - anything from inviting them to your studio to talk about your work to developing a lead-specific pitch to preparing focused educational content that intersects with their particular concern - that drive them, when they have a qualified project, to seek you out for a proposal;
3. New Business Development to Prospects
You continue the conversation with them as clients to demonstrate the value of your ideas beyond the project scope - strategic project presentations that go the extra mile - to show them the always-evolving capacity of your firm to inform positive growth in the industry at large;
4. Partnership Nurturing with Clients
You partner with the best clients - your greatest advocates and referral sources - after projects end to continue those conversations at the community level - preparing shared content with them about your intersecting expertise and experiences to be presented in industry publications and at industry events or inviting them to serve in an advisory capacity to your business.
From funnel to cycle, you are re-staging the conversation to demonstrate your real commitment to your client community and reaping the mutually-beneficial rewards.
Keep the funnel in the kitchen (or the garage) where it belongs!