Tremendous Opportunities & Unprecedented Disruption: Courtney Partlow, ICF Next

Courtney Partlow
Managing Partner, Growth ICF Next
ICF Next
Full Service
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How would you define your role, it is simply about bringing new clients into the agency or is it more nuanced? Please tell us about your responsibilities. 

My role is to bring new clients into the agency, but rather than being market-facing, my job is to arm our experienced growth team with the tools and insights they need to share our story in a compelling way. I’m also responsible for adding rigor and strategy to our new business process, ensuring that we use available resources wisely, and that we quickly share and apply lessons learned along the way across the team.


Where does most new business come from, where does the process tend to begin?

While new business comes to us from a surprisingly wide variety of sources, we find that most often it comes through clients who have moved to new companies and would like to work with us again. With the incredible impact that COVID has had on the workforce, we’ve seen a significant number of clients move around then reach out to us when they land in their new positions.

Often, the process begins with a small pilot or discovery project where we help address a distinct business need. From there, and after we’ve introduced ourselves to others in the organization with whom we hadn’t worked in the past, we see the scope grow across a wider array of integrated offerings.


It seems that many clients are moving towards project work rather than the old AOR model. How, if at all, has that changed how you approach a pitch?

Yes, many clients have moved to the pilot or small initial project concept, which allows them the chance to “try it before they buy it.” Instead of sharing our full integrated approach and capabilities set as we would for an AOR pitch, we now drill down into the details of the client’s need at hand. This results in a much more targeted, narrowly focused conversation, with the scope expanding only after we’ve proven ourselves through strong performance in the initial engagement.


In your opinion, what are the key things a client looks for in a pitch presentation, aside from the work?

The client is trying to determine what it will be like to work with us – if we’ll be a good cultural fit. They’re also looking to see if we are good listeners, quick on our feet, creative and engaging, and have a mastery of the subject at hand.


How did you adapt your process during COVID? Were there any advantages that emerged?

COVID’s biggest impacts on our new business process were related to how we find and meet prospective clients when events and lunches are no longer an option, how we work together internally to develop creative solutions to clients’ challenges, and how we pitch the work in such a way that we stand out and build a connection. Our biggest area of focus has been how to develop a sense of community when we are not able to be in the same space. 


What are your predictions for agency growth in 2021, where do you see opportunity?

We see tremendous opportunity coming out of COVID due to the unprecedented disruption the pandemic had on nearly all businesses. Important lessons learned during this time have resulted in companies rethinking many things about their businesses and considering how to lure back customers who left or retain new customers they gained.