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About Jody Sutter

Jody Sutter, is the owner of The Sutter Company, a business development consultancy that specializes in working with leadership at small ad agencies who are underperforming when it comes to winning new business and would like to win the right clients consistently but also make the process less chaotic and exhausting for their teams. Learn more at www.thesuttercompany.com. Jody is a keynote speaker at the upcoming BABA Summit in May- find out more here https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/babasummit/

3 Mental Blocks That Get in the Way of New Business Success

Whether we like it or not, the end of the year is fast approaching and a new one is close behind it.  Have you started thinking about your agency’s new business plans for next year yet?  I’ve seen—and created—my fair share of annual new business plans. Some were good, some not so good. The good ones were more recalibrations than wholesale reinventions. They built on successes, plotted a clear direction, course corrected away from mistakes, and had just enough stretch goals to keep things exciting. Plus, they actually offered a plan, not just a statement of hopes and dreams, and everyone understood their role in the plan’s success.  The bad ones?  They were overly complicated, sank too much time in navel-gazing analysis of the marketplace and competitors, lacked clear direction, and were overly ambitious. And they were likely to be under-executed or not executed at all.  What a waste.  I sometimes wonder if agency leaders hide behind the activity of planning. It sure feels like you’re moving forward, but there’s a point of diminishing returns where the planning becomes an excuse to postpone the doing.  I’ve always been curious about why that is—I’ve seen this tendency in myself as much as I have in others. What holds agency leaders back from the doing part?  Time, or lack of it, is the usual suspect. There always seem to be myriad priorities that get in the way of those commitments to pursuing agency business development goals. But I think there are also some powerful mental blocks that we don’t consider enough but should.  Here are three that might be standing between you and those big, hairy, audacious goals for growing your agency next year (plus some strategies [...]

By |November 14th, 2022|

5 Ways You’re Not Controlling the Pitch (and How to Change That)

It doesn't take long for most of us to buy a pack of gum. It can be a matter of minutes from the moment we feel the need arise to the moment we become 100% owners of that gum and pop a piece in our mouths. There was little deliberation or weighing of options. It was a low-cost, low-risk purchase—if the gum-chewing experience turns out to be unsatisfactory, it’s pretty cheap and easy to reinvest in a different option. Obviously that's not the case with buying agency services, which is a complex, time consuming process involving multiple stakeholders with different personal and professional agendas and their human idiosyncrasies. When a marketer shops for agency services, it’s embarking on a journey. And at each step you have the opportunity, perhaps more than you realize, to exert some control over the journey and affect the outcome (ideally in your favor). Each buyer’s journey is unique but here are five common situations in which I see agencies relinquishing control when they should be asserting it. Client says “just email us a proposal” It sounds promising when a client asks you to submit a proposal. And many times it is, but only under the right circumstances. This is where formal agency reviews, while far from perfect, offer some structural benefits for agencies: There’s usually a defined step-by-step process, sometimes designed and managed by an experienced search consultant. There are opportunities to exchange important information. At the very least, the marketer provides a brief of an RFP in exchange for the agency’s response. The client sets ground rules that all are expected to follow. But when you’re operating outside the confines of a formal agency review, as you are [...]

By |August 8th, 2022|

Small Gestures that Make a Big Impact on Agency Business Development

I was working with an agency this week, coaching them through rehearsals for a final meeting of an important new business pitch. At times my feedback had to do with weighty stuff like pitch strategy and meeting flow, but I was also struck by how many of my comments pertained to smaller gestures that are no less consequential. Why does the small stuff matter? When you bring two humans together in a high-stakes situation like a new business pitch–or interactions leading up to or following the pitch–both want something and neither is sure if the other can provide it. Agencies want among other things the revenue, the morale-boost of a new client, the prestige if it’s a high-profile client. If revenue or morale is particularly low at the agency, the stakes are even higher. In worst cases, they translate into a sense of desperation on the part of the agency. In the way dogs smell fear, marketers smell desperation and they tend not to respond well to it. Plus, marketers have their own wants and needs. They’ve got myriad problems they're expected to solve. They may welcome good solutions but is this agency enthusiastically clicking through its credentials slides going to provide those solutions? Or is it an unwelcome, irrelevant distraction that prolongs their having to deal with the problem? Even the most receptive marketers are likely to have their guard up just a little bit. It’s simply our primal instinct to protect ourselves from unpleasant and difficult situations. And they’re probably  not going to give the agency the benefit of the doubt either–until it proves it can make it worth their while. But, until you get the meeting, or an exploratory call, or an [...]

By |April 18th, 2022|

Not Finding Your Ideal Clients? Maybe You’re Looking for the Wrong Things.

At the beginning of most of my engagements, I start by sending the client team a questionnaire that helps me establish a baseline understanding of how the agency approaches business development—strengths, weaknesses, skills, and areas of resistance. In it, I ask them to describe their ideal client. Here’s a sampling of what I hear more often than not: “Open-minded, seek out expert advice, and take it, challenge us with problems they can’t solve, value our time and expertise.” “Really smart, and motivated to get things done.” “Collaborators who recognize the importance of strategic planning and thoughtful execution.” “They provide us with direct access to key decision-makers. They’re collaborative, value our opinions and input, and have a healthy balance of practical and aspirational thinking for their brand.” “They’re ‘brand collaborators’—marketing-led companies looking for a long-term, transparent partner to challenge the status quo and collaborate on integrated solutions.” “They trust us, respect us, and like spending time with us. Discussion is always thoughtful, relaxed, and challenging. It never feels like we’re not on the same team even when we disagree.” “They are appreciative of the work we do and pleasant to work with.” These are pretty idyllic descriptions. And not necessarily unrealistic. Every agency deserves to work with clients like these. The problem is, these descriptions are limited in their ability to help you find ideal clients. I began to consider why agencies default to describing ideal clients in this way. What I realized is agencies tend to frame the question as "who are we best served by?" when the question I’m really asking is “whom do you serve best?” Understanding the distinction between the two has big implications for the effectiveness of your new business outreach. Who is [...]

By |January 25th, 2021|

Not Finding Your Ideal Clients? Maybe You’re Looking for the Wrong Things.

At the beginning of most of my engagements, I start by sending the client team a questionnaire that helps me establish a baseline understanding of how the agency approaches business development—strengths, weaknesses, skills, and areas of resistance. In it, I ask them to describe their ideal client. Here’s a sampling of what I hear more often than not: “Open-minded, seek out expert advice, and take it, challenge us with problems they can’t solve, value our time and expertise.” “Really smart, and motivated to get things done.” “Collaborators who recognize the importance of strategic planning and thoughtful execution.” “They provide us with direct access to key decision-makers. They’re collaborative, value our opinions and input, and have a healthy balance of practical and aspirational thinking for their brand.” “They’re ‘brand collaborators’—marketing-led companies looking for a long-term, transparent partner to challenge the status quo and collaborate on integrated solutions.” “They trust us, respect us, and like spending time with us. Discussion is always thoughtful, relaxed, and challenging. It never feels like we’re not on the same team even when we disagree.” “They are appreciative of the work we do and pleasant to work with.” These are pretty idyllic descriptions. And not necessarily unrealistic. Every agency deserves to work with clients like these. The problem is, these descriptions are limited in their ability to help you find ideal clients. I began to consider why agencies default to describing ideal clients in this way. What I realized is agencies tend to frame the question as "who are we best served by?" when the question I’m really asking is “whom do you serve best?” Understanding the distinction between the two has big implications for the effectiveness of your new business outreach. Who is [...]

By |November 9th, 2020|

6 Bad Habits To Break When Writing New Business Proposals

Writing proposals–whether responding to RFPs or pitching new services to existing clients–is a responsibility that most agency execs would rather avoid. Some agencies, especially larger ones, outsource the task to professional writers or even have a proposal specialist on staff. They’ve realized that it’s inefficient to ask highly paid executives to perform a task that’s outside of their zone of genius. Smaller agencies may not have that luxury and must learn to incorporate proposal-writing into their long list of responsibilities. I’ve noticed a series of bad habits that, if broken, would make proposals not only easier to write but also more effective at what they’re meant to do – win you more business. Bad Habit #1: You leave writing a new business proposal to the last minute There are dozens of reasons why people leave proposal writing to the last minute. Most have to do with paying clients coming first. Many are just thinly veiled attempts at procrastination. Staring at a blank page can be scary. All writers, even the greats, procrastinate to avoid the fear of starting. But this kind of writing (actually, most kinds of writing) is easier when you start sooner and break it into shorter, multiple sessions. Use the first session to get some ideas down on paper, set your purpose (see more below), make notes about what you want to highlight. Don’t fret – it’s only a set of notes. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can be an abomination. Every first draft is. I guarantee it’s going to be much easier to edit an ugly first draft than dealing with the pressure of spitting out something far from perfect hours before the deadline. Bad Habit #2: [...]

By |February 24th, 2020|

Create a Captivating Agency Pitch through Storytelling

I’ll set the scene: Your agency is a finalist in an important pitch. You’ve got a presentation filled with ideas- In fact, it’s overflowing. You’ve got too much you want to say and not enough time to say it. Of greater concern, you’re not sure how compelling it is at all. Your team worked like dogs getting their sections ready, and the work is good, but when woven together, the presentation feels a little Frankenstein-esque. You take a break, leave the war room, and go for a walk to ruminate. Before you know it, you’re thinking about why you got into this business in the first place. You were planning on writing that novel and then… You think, "Whatever. I can still write that novel someday. But for now, there’s nothing better than witnessing how a germ of a creative idea can transform a business." Each day, you embrace the joys and sorrows of running an agency. Yes, joys and sorrows, because every single challenge you’ve met on the way has taught you something. Each frustrating problem you overcame shaped your values! Then you think about the client whose business you want to win. You think about the challenges they’re facing. You recognize their anxiety. They’ve got some big choices to make. Some are safe; others are riskier. That’s where you come in. And you realize that at the heart of the disjointed pitch deck pinned up on the war room wall is an idea so bold it could transform this client’s business. It’s not without its risks, of course. You’ve done the work dozens of times before—and often with stunning results. It’s why you’re in this business. It’s why you built this agency in the first [...]

By |June 10th, 2019|

The Specialist Agency: An Argument For and Against

Earlier this year I had the honor of serving as the morning keynote speaker for PRGN’s semi-annual member summit in Toronto. My topic was on the five indicators of new business success that I consistently see in the agencies I work with (and, likewise, the corresponding indicators of agencies that stay stuck in a feast-or-famine cycle). One of the indicators is a specialist mindset, as opposed to an “all things to all people” approach. This elicited a comment from one of the agency owners in the audience. They tried this specialist agency strategy at his agency and it didn’t work. It had the opposite effect; they couldn’t find enough new business opportunities to sustain the firm. What did I have to say to that? (Gulp) Before I tell you how I responded, let me explain that I’m not a specialist agency hardliner. In fact, this time last year, I wrote about this. To be sure, I see enormous benefits to specializing when it comes to new business. Pitching for new business is a big investment. The more specialized your pitch, the more efficient your investment. That’s because: Generalists seek out clients; specialists are more likely to be sought Generalists differentiate based on price; specialists can afford to charge a premium Generalists will always be tempted to reinvent themselves to suit the nature of the prospect; specialists find it easier to home in on a consistent message that’s effective for the right audience But I also don’t see it as a stark choice. In my piece, I referred to the proverb about the shoemaker’s children who wear no shoes. This is a favorite to describe agencies that can’t seem to take their own advice when it [...]

By |August 7th, 2018|

What’s Your New Business Strengths Profile?

Have you ever found yourself in a position of being forced to do something you felt you weren’t suited to do, that was a poor fit for your business strengths? My life partner has a small 4-seater airplane, a Piper Cherokee, in which we make occasional trips to Newport or Boston, or even an impromptu flight to Block Island for dinner on a summer evening. He thought it would be a great idea for me to be a pilot too, and I didn’t disagree. How cool would that be to have two pilots in the family? After my first flying lesson, the answer to that question was, “not cool at all.” I’m not afraid of flying—in fact I love being a passenger—but I was surprisingly petrified sitting in the pilot’s chair. I was overwhelmed by all the information a pilot is required to juggle and, what’s worse, I found it all pretty uninteresting. Fear and boredom – not a good combination. Some people feel the same when confronted with business development responsibilities at their agencies, and just like in life, you can't force someone to do something they don't enjoy or that don't align with their strengths. In fact, there are four distinct types of personalities that can fall into the business development category. Hunters Promoters Communicators Thinkers Hunters  Hunters have an instinct for selling among their most prominent business strengths. They’re energized by making connections with other people and feel at ease when interacting with strangers, whether on the phone or in person. Most agencies are not filled with natural-born hunters, which is why they usually fail to sustain any sort of plan that entails outbound prospecting. Neither carrots nor sticks seem to make [...]

By |March 21st, 2018|
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