I have had several phone conversations recently with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their business development activity, they all admitted that they’d taken their foot off the pedal. Sure — they all had great reasons why they didn’t do the follow-up or initiate the new tactic. You know what I’m going to say because you’ve said it to yourself. There will always be another reason/excuse. There’s always a fire to put out or something to be done internally. You have to carve out the time to work your new business plan and protect it like it’s your favorite kid’s birthday. It’s too easy to slide backward and once you lose the momentum, it’s back to the starting gate. Like exercise, it’s a lot easier if you work the muscle on a regular basis. By the way, this is never going to happen by accident or wishing. If you don’t calendar it out, your day is never going to suddenly free up. In our Best Practices of Agency Owner’s workshop, Running Your Agency for Growth, Profit (and a little sanity!) in March, we’re going to show you some strategies for actually controlling your days so new business happens on a consistent basis. We’re also going to walk you through how to construct a business development plan that is actually sustainable and successful. Be sure to grab a seat if you think it would be helpful! This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
Given the amount of competition out there, the challenges of landing a new client and the struggles with keeping the clients you have – I totally get the hunger to have the right answers. After all, that’s what they’re paying us for, right? Our expertise. Our years of experience. Our guidance. I want to suggest that while all of that is true – our expertise, experience, and guidance should show up in a different way. It’s not about the answers we provide, it’s about the questions we ask. When we are meeting with a prospective new client, the sentence I love to hear more than any other is “I’ve never been asked that before.” That means I am adding value. I am taking them in a direction they haven’t been before or coming at their issue from a different perspective. And odds are, the closer I am getting to the best answers. Many agency owners are frustrated that they’re the only ones who can do strategy inside their shop. I believe that’s because they’re the only ones who know how to ask questions that go beyond the surface or the expected. If you recognize your shop in that description, it’s time to teach your employees how to ask better questions. It helps if they’re naturally curious. Is their brain wired to wonder? That’s a critical trait when you hire. But if you have some team members who aren’t, then you need to help them exercise that muscle/develop that habit. Here are some tips you can offer as you’re coaching them. Keep it open-ended: Try to keep the conversation going by asking questions that require a longer response than a yes or no. Certain words trigger [...]
We're getting ready to head into a long holiday weekend. Are you planning on unplugging? Really unplugging? I'm talking about focusing on recharging your battery, investing in your family and friends, and most importantly — doing something that makes you feel like a priority. Don’t worry — I am not giving up AMI and going into the Oprah business. I swear — this is very relevant to my day job. In fact, it may be one of the most important best practices that I preach. Agency owner/leader burn out is one of the biggest threats to the health of your agency. You have to understand your role in the agency. You are the epicenter. Your energy, your focus, and your contributions are what set the course. When you let yourself get too weary, too burdened or too overwhelmed — everyone feels it. They may not be able to articulate what they sense, but it absolutely changes the dynamics in your shop. I just had this conversation with two of our coaching clients — I believe your #1 obligation as an agency leader is to make sure you stay replenished, refreshed and that your head/heart is in a very good place. That does not happen by accident. Is protecting your state of mind a conscious part of your week? None of these things will happen if you don't commit to them, which means putting them on your calendar and paying for them in advance. We all know what happens to an open hour on your calendar. Here are some suggestions: Weekly: (3 measly hours) Take 15 minutes to write in a gratitude journal every day. You'll be stunned at how powerful this is Take an exercise [...]
I don’t know a single agency owner who does not lament over the lack of time. Every one of us faces a daunting To-Do list and there are very few days when you push away from the desk and think “Wow, I covered it all today.” I am not going to promise you a magical solution to wiping out your To-Do list. But I can help you put a serious dent into it. The only way I’ve discovered to be uber-productive is to be ruthless with your mornings. For the last few months, I’ve been conducting an experiment. On the days where I carved out 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time in the morning, I crushed my list. On the days that I started with calls, meetings, or checking my email — I got significantly less done. Every night, I write down the three biggest things I need to accomplish the next day. I would get up and be working by 7 am and work for 2-3 hours without checking email, voicemail or picking up the phone/texts, etc. On my power mornings (as I’ve come to refer to them) I could usually get at least two of the three accomplished. I have a lot of all-day meetings so on those days, I might only get an hour in. But I’d try to knock out at least one of my must-dos before the meeting started. Now that I know the value of these morning sprints, I am marking off my calendar to protect that time as many days a week as I can. It’s a work in progress but the more I do it, the better my outcomes. The trick is the solitude. No team, no [...]
Most agencies struggle with sales. Honestly, I think one of the challenges of business development is that many agencies blur the lines between marketing and sales. Many agencies are getting better at marketing. Technology and social media, and all of that make it easier for you to create content or do an e-newsletter, or have a Facebook page. The challenge with that is — it’s not sales, it’s marketing. It feels like you have a new business program when really you have marketing activity. In some ways, the fact that agencies are better at marketing makes some even worse at sales. All of that marketing “stuff” makes them feel as though they can check the box of new business activity. But really that’s just erroneously putting two things in the same box that should be in separate boxes. Many agency owners say to me, “If we can get across the table from someone, we can make the sale.” And what that says to me is: A) they’re probably punching below their weight class because nobody wins all the time. B) they’re waiting for opportunities to present themselves as opposed to going out and creating an opportunity that really is the right kind of client, the right fit, the right industry, and the right size. Take a good look at your business development efforts. Do you really have a sales program or are all of your marketing activities blurring your vision? If you’re waiting for luck and referrals to completely fill your pipeline — is that helping you grow the agency you actually want to build?
No one buys homeowners insurance because they actually expect to have a fire at their house. But they know if they wait until there’s a fire, it’s too late. So, on the very first day of homeownership — they buy the insurance as well, hoping they never have to use it. For some reason, agency owners don’t always apply this same logic to their business. If you have any sort of partner (minority, silent, 50/50, etc.) you need to have insurance in case that partnership goes south. Hopefully, it will never happen but an illness, a divorce, a midlife crisis or a myriad of other things could put your business in harm’s way. Without the proper partnership documents that outline how you handle any threat to the agency — you can be left holding the bag. I’ve had many conversations with owners over the years who find themselves in a position they’d have sworn could not happen. And yet it did. A good partner will welcome this conversation and exercise. After all, they’re at risk if you’re the one who gets sick, goes off the deep end or has personal issues that trickle into the agency. If you’re a 50/50 partner, your documents should also outline how to settle disputes when the two of you are on opposite sides of an issue and neither is budging. Don’t be the person standing on their lawn, watching their house burn to the ground, all the while wishing they’d purchased the insurance. Protect your partnership now — when there are no issues, problems or worries. It’s a much easier conversation to have when you can’t imagine ever needing it.
When I talk to agency owners about their employees, one of the common frustrations I hear is that they’re not strategic enough. Many owners feel like they have to stay in the day to day mix with clients because they’re the only ones who can develop fresh strategies and direction. In our AE Bootcamps, I teach the attendees to be nosy. We make so many assumptions about our clients’ businesses. But if we had to prove our assumptions, we’d be in trouble. The best and most strategic thinkers I know are the ones who ask the most (and most interesting) questions. I think agency people need to be good at sticking their noses into our clients’ operations. We should care about, wonder about and ask about everything from how billing is handled to packaging to who answers the phone. It’s all marketing. A great and easy exercise to do is to pull together your team (by accounts they work on) and make an extensive list of what you really don’t know about that specific client. Go into every aspect of their business from sales to production to distribution and operations and dig deep. Then, share them with your client and work on ways you can learn the answers. You’ll be amazed at how appreciative your client is, the things you’ll uncover and how much smarter your work will be. Teach your employees how to be nosy. Encourage them to go way beyond the questions on the creative brief. Celebrate when they start asking questions you hadn’t thought of. And best of all — watch how strategic they get.
I believe that one of the most challenging aspects of our work is the forced creativity. We have no time to wait around for a muse or to stand in the shower all day, hoping that inspiration will strike. Every day we need to be creative. Now. And I mean that in every sense of the word. The word creative no longer belongs to the creative department, if you even have one. Whether it is a strategy, a media channel decision, a messaging hierarchy or finding the right combination of words to get an uptick in Google Adwords — every single person in your agency needs to push past the mundane and expected ideas and find that diamond in the rough. Oh yeah — and they need to do it in 60 minutes. Or by tomorrow. Or in between meetings. I had an interesting conversation with Jason Keath, founder of the Social Fresh Conference about this struggle and from that, I captured 4 strategies to spark on-demand creativity in an article for Hubspot. Give one or more of them a try and let me know what you think.
I have yet to meet an agency owner who did not have a generous spirit. Whether your clients live in your community or not, every agency I know does a ton of pro bono work for the non-profits in their area. My agency has always been that way too. But I have to admit, I got tired of always being asked and feeling like a jerk when I had to say no. On top of that, I felt that in most cases, we were just slapping a bandaid on the non-profit’s issue. A run logo here or a golf tournament t-shirt design there or even a simple website now and then. But I never felt like we were leaving a true mark — I couldn’t see how we were deeply improving the non-profit in the long run. So I created a completely different way of approaching pro bono work. A way that allowed us to create events that attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars to some of the charities — year after year. Long after we were done working with them, they were still reaping the benefits. And we got a little publicity for our efforts as well. I described the pro bono transformation we experienced in an article for Hubspot and I’d love to hear what you think. I believe we can do good, make it really last, and benefit from it as well. I love that combination!
Last week, one of my mornings was consumed with podcast recordings and interviews. In some cases, I was the subject matter expert but in most, I was the host, asking questions of other agency- centric subject matter experts. By sheer coincidence every conversation danced around some aspect of business development, retaining clients and creating a culture that had the capacity and passion for chasing opportunities. Interestingly, there was a thread that wove through all of these separate conversations. The theme was consistency and the overarching opinion was that agencies live and die by their habits and by the agency owner’s habits. What we do (or don’t do) on a consistent basis sets our course. That got my wheels spinning and I came up with a little quiz for you to take. Do you have at least 4-5 hours a week blocked off on your calendar for new business sales (not marketing) activity? Do you hold (and not cancel) a weekly new business meeting with your internal team? Do you have a list of no more than 25 “I’d love to have them on our roster” prospects that you proactively touch at least every 6 weeks? Have you defined your agency’s philosophy/point of view so you can differentiate yourself and does every agency employee know, understand and use the same language to describe it? Now, a tangential question. How many new clients that are individually worth at least 15% of your agency’s current AGI have you earned since January? My guess is that there’s a correlation between how you answered the quiz questions and your answer to my tangential question. You and your agency are a product of what you consistently do. Are you reaping the [...]