Newborn Agencies: ‘We started nothing’.
– by Tran Nguyen Ly
9:27 AM. OK. Don’t panic. Still 3 minutes left. I’m gonna make it.
9:33 AM. Damn it. Why does it take so long to park?
9:36 AM. ‘Excuse me. I’m looking for Mr. Pham Truong Son.’ I rushed into the office, breathing heavily.
‘You’re talking to him right now.’ – he chuckled.
And that is how I met the Deputy Director and the co-founder of LIN Center of Community Development. (I know, kind of embarrassing but still a funny incident, right?)
Anyway, LIN is not quite an NGO yet an agency. Besides providing direct support for those in need, LIN also helps companies that are doing CSR/philanthropy, which is also their clients, know how to spend their resources effectively. In other words, LIN acts as a supervisor and strategy advisor for their clients. Although LIN has only been active since 2009, they have gained certain reputation in this field.
Sounds odd, doesn’t it? A newborn service provider with a unique offer like that can get that far in such a short amount of time, not to mention their service is exclusive in Vietnam. I bet most of you guys would not buy it if you were the clients (well at least when you first heard of it).
That is why I have to meet him, to know how he built trust with the clients from scratch so effectively. So to those who are interested in running their own businesses in the future, including me, this is a good opportunity for you to learn from his experience.
► Seeding is the new self-endorsement
From the interview, I have inferred three key points in total (that’s right, exclusively for you guys).
To begin with, when I asked what a brand new client service provider should do to introduce themselves in the market, Mr. Son replied: ‘Regular promoting is not that effective any more. Seeding is the new alternative.’
Okay. Don’t you get confused yet. The term is actually much more familiar to us than you thought. According to him, seeding is a combination of viral marketing and word of mouth but in a controlled scale: you plant an idea in a group of people and let it grow and spread within the desired area. If applied appropriately, it will generate interests spontaneously in the targets’ minds. ‘Seeding is still relatively new in Vietnam so strategy planners could utilize this for their ideas’, he added.
Figure 1. Reproduced from: TVF 2012
Mr. Son’s advice, to some extent, is related to the idea of Godin’s. In his 2003 study, the author emphasizes the importance of spreading the word about an idea. However, the idea should earn the buzz itself, not by force. Moreover, the author also suggests that the more remarkable the idea is, the more efficient the tipping point it would reach.
Therefore, Mr. Son shared that although seeding methods may vary (and can be mixed up for your preferences), there are normally three phases to attract new clients in B2B field:
- Spread the word – let them find out who you are
- Set anticipation – make them want to see you
- Make first impression – set the score in their eyes
And by the third phase, I mean you should be presentable for your debut, both visually and qualitatively (and in a good way, not like me being late for the interview).
► Make sure the clients know what they want
‘They say we should give them what they want, but sometimes they really don’t know what they want.’ – Mr. Son continued.
Well, that was unexpected. But then again, aren’t we lost in our desires every once in a while? The clients are no exception. He explained that after attracting new clients, pitching is the hardest part. Due to the fresh start of LIN, some clients mistook the company as a PR or an event agency. In addition, some of them required less expense or did not like the changes his team made for their plans.
‘That’s why you need constant consultation with them as they would be still in doubt until it really works.’ – He underlined. It took a lot of time and effort but their ideas later proved necessary and LIN earned the respect they deserve.
Figure 2. Reproduced from: ChicQuero 2012
Compared with the theoretical concepts, Mr. Son’s recommendation both supports and contradicts the work of Solomon’s (2008) at the same time. For instance, Solomon only suggests supply the clients’ demands at first (chapter 43) while insists on making no commitment without consultation later (chapter 40). About this negation, he said that he would stand still because LIN is not looking one-off contracts like that. Moreover, if anything went wrong, his team would the one that take the blame, not the clients which would only cause a lose-lose situation.
► Put on a show and pull it off
Well, the headline tells it all. Simple but it is no less important. If you pass the previous two but mess this one up, I guarantee there is an 83% chance of closing your agencies in the next three years (OK. I made that up but you know what I mean, right?)
‘This is the point where you prove that you’re worth it. Make sure everything is on the right track.’ – Mr. Son highlighted. ‘Once you pull if off, you’re one step closer to being trusted.’
In fact, Labahn and Kohli’s 1997 and Gounaris’s 2005 research shares some similarities with Mr. Son’s statements. The authors find out that the quality of service is the key factor that decides the degree of trust between the clients and the service provider, especially in the beginning of the relationships. As a result, it would help decrease calculative commitment and replace it with mutually beneficial one.
That’s right, my friends. Expecting the unexpected and prepare any possible solutions, putting on the show in its finest circumstance is what you need to go the distance.
OK. To recap, when you’re a newborn agency/service provider trying to make it, encountering roadblocks is unavoidable. To overcome, there are three key points client managers should keep in mind: seeding for exposure, consult with the clients until everything is right and pull it off, hard. Of course, these recommendations are for references only. At the end of the day, how to apply them effectively is up to you. ‘Remember to stay wide awake and know what you’re doing’, Mr. Son concluded.
It took LIN two years to officially put their name on the map. What about you? How long do you think you’re gonna make it? I’ll be right here waiting.
Word count: 1087
ChicQuero 2012, ‘Want vs. Need’, image, ChicQuero, 14 March, viewed 2 September 2012, <https://chicquero.com/2012/03/14/want-vs-need/>.
Godin, S 2003, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, Portfolio Hardcover, Penguin Group, USA.
Gounaris, S 2005, ‘Trust And Commitment Influences On Customer Retention: Insights From Business-To-Business Services’, Journal of Business Research, Vol. 58, Issue 2, pp. 126-140.
Labahn, D & Kohli, C 1997, ‘Maintaining Client Commitment in Advertising Agency–Client Relationships’, Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 26, Issue 6, pp. 497–508.
Solomon, R, 2008, The art of client service, Kaplan Publishing, New York, NY.
TVF 2012, ‘Seeding’, image, TVF, viewed 2 September 2012, <http://www.theviralfactory.com/#!/seeding>.