Drew’s note: I’ve invited John Heenan, an agency growth consultant to share a little bit of his expertise with us here at the AMI blog.  Without further ado — here’s his take on business development insurance.

I’ve asked other agency owners and new business directors to talk about about their own business growth advice and as you can imagine there are as many opinions as there are agencies. But what everyone does agree on is that new business is the priority.

After all, winning new business is the future of every agency. So why is it so frustrating? There are so many complicating factors that play into the client-agency mating game. A little business development insurance can help.

In theory, getting a new client shouldn’t be so tough. Not so fast. LinkedIn has a little over 1 million marketers, and the government counts over 30 thousand advertising-like firms in the U.S.. That is a lot of competition for new business.

If you were a brand marketer, how would you sort out the differences among the hundreds or thousands of agencies knocking on your door? How would you distinguish between all those who claim the same things; innovation, creativity, great results, cool processes, big data expertise, and the list goes on. Most marketers say they all look and sound the same.

The struggle to differentiate is one of the fundamental challenges for agencies and the reason there are many resources to turn to. The challenge is further complicated by the way marketers choose their agency partners including how they go to market, what services they need, what experience they value, size, geography, resources, culture and many more.

There are also many tools to help find and engage prospects like databases, social networks, CRM programs, daily leads, and so on. All of these options can be useful. However, the result of any of these approaches will be greatly improved by doing a few key things first. That is why I call it business development insurance.

Marketers have their 4Ps, a term popularized by Neil Borden and E. Jerome McCarthy, the ingredients to define and promote a brand or product’s unique selling proposition, what differentiates it from competitors, to help figure out how to be successful in the marketplace.

I have a similar piece of business growth advice for agencies called the 3Ps. To be honest, there are a variety of “3P” theories and applications just like there are many “4Ps”, 7Ps and so on. The 3P approach is really nothing more than basic marketing and may seem a bit too obvious. In fact, it is what clients often rely on their agency to help them with yet somehow overlooked or short-changed when it comes to the agency’s own success. The cobbler’s shoes syndrome has never been so true.

Product – What do you sell including primary service offerings, category experience, leadership experience, case studies, expertise, culture, style, partnerships, etc.

Prospect – Who will buy what your distinctive product by industry, geography, sales, sophistication, personality, past agency experience, business goals, service needs, etc.

Plan – How do you find and reach them with inbound, outbound, PR, networking, speaking, publishing, blogging, etc.

Business development insurance is a three-step process where each step builds on and informs the next.

What is your Product? Agency owners can quickly tell you what they offer – full service, digital forward, media agnostic, and so on. Many will have a more refined description including things like passion and culture, client service, and ROI. These are all important attributes of your product however they aren’t differentiating and may not properly align with what your customer is buying.

Heed this business growth advice, agency owner: it is critical to understand what YOUR market is seeking and shape your offering around it. Otherwise, you won’t stand out and will be less likely to get into the conversation at all. Remember almost 100% of clients check you out before you even know that they are looking. What is it the client is looking for and how does that align with what you say you offer? How do you shape and sharpen what you sell so you can be in the right pitches, up your win rate and grow more effectively?

How many times have you cringed when your client says, I already know who my customer is and what they want. I don’t need to do any research or ask them. The Agency Management Institute, RSW/US, and others, do annual research among marketing executives to help agencies better understand what markets truly want. Have you seen this year’s report?

Who is your Prospect? Once you know what you are selling, your product, it will become easier to define who will buy it. Are you that bad client too? How do you know which prospects are buying today compared to two years ago? Agencies who reduce the number of industries they go after or limit their geography can better focus their time and effort on the most viable opportunities.

Also, personality plays a big role. Is that marketer ego driven and likely to only work with the top agency or a big agency brand? And culture is another important consideration. Does their work style align with yours? Do they treat agencies like partners or vendors? An objective, honest, brutal look at these and many other dimensions will help you sharpen your efforts and improve your results. Sometimes it is hard for agency owners to be brutally objective. Agency consultants or other resources can provide an outside perspective to help you decide.

What is your Plan? Once you’ve shaped and sharpen your services, and you know who is most likely to buy what you offer, and you’ve identified the verticals, geography and people who should be your next great clients, it’s time to ramp up the business development program. There are three areas where agency growth typically comes from, traditional prospecting, organic growth and leadership networking. You need a smart plan for all three to maximize the most revenue potential.

Too often agencies go all in on a prospecting plan and neglect the other two rich sources of new clients. I’ll go into greater detail about each of these areas in a future post because each is as important as the other. In fact, each of these three areas account for a third of new clients and new revenue. Not paying attention to any could be costing you. You can also read more about it on my website www.jheenan.com.

Agency leaders tell me they know these things intuitively or have learned these concepts at a seminar or other places. They also lament about the time and effort it takes to implement. If you take to heart what Adobe found, 76% of marketers believe marketing has changed more in the last two years than in the past 50, you should think differently.

Is your agency keeping up or do you look like you are stuck somewhere in the last 50 years?

Spending quality time up front on the 3Ps, Product, Prospects and Plan, is like buying insurance for better results in the third. My final piece of business growth advice within this post is to regularly review the always-evolving marketplace and how it aligns with what your agency offers will keep you growing.

Let’s Grow!

John Heenan | agency growth consultant develops agency growth programs that accelerate revenue through brand focus, client acquisition, talent, service offerings, and partnerships.