We have all bought clothes that weren’t quite the right fit. Whether too tight, too big or whatever the issue — they are uncomfortable and when you are wearing that misfit of clothes — you are very aware that something is not quite right. In fact, pretty soon, the pinching, sagging or snugness is all you can focus on. You either bought it without doing your homework (trying it on or moving around in it) or it was so cool/cute/dashing that you ignored the intial discomfort, thinking you could either fix it or get used to it. But we don’t. I think that exact same thing happens with clients. We either ignore the warning signs, think we can fix them or, if we’re honest with ourselves, we want their money and don’t care if the fix is off. You know it when you do it. There’s that nagging voice in the back of your head that you shhh every time it raises a concern. We’ve all done it. If you haven’t done it yet — you haven’t owned your agency very long. I get why we do it. But I also get the price we pay. I have never seen an agency turn that situation into a profitable one. In the short run — sure, you can make some money. But in the long run, you are going to lose money and even worse, potentially lose critically valuable team members. That’s why I wrote the article How to Find New Clients That Fit Your Agency Perfectly for Forbes. I not only believe we don’t have to settle for wrong fit clients but I think we’re fools if we do. Take the time to find the [...]
Let’s be honest — sometimes the biz dev process can leave us feeling like we’ve somehow compromised ourselves to get a seat at the table. Hopefully, we don’t make compromises that actually left us feeling dirty but even with a sweet spot prospect, we can certainly feel like we’ve twisted ourselves into a pretzel or performed like a dancing poodle rather than being respected for how we can elevate the prospect’s business. I think it’s easy to forget that clients actually want their agency to have a point of view and an opinion about the work and the direction the client should pursue. We’re so busy trying to be invited to the dance that it’s easy to lose a little bit of ourselves. I wrote an article for Marketo about this idea that clients actually long for brave agencies and it’s our responsibility to walk with some swagger and confidence to the negotiating table, rather than acting like we’re grateful for the handout. When I look at the agencies who are knocking it out of the park from a biz dev point of view, they all have one thing in common — the courage to speak their mind. I’d love to hear your take on this topic and on the article. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
You have probably said or at least heard the agency-centric expression “new business cures all ills,” and it’s pretty accurate. Will it fix fundamental problems at your agency? Unfortunately, no. Those are still on you to solve. But it does fix a lot of cash flow challenges, too much time on our hands bickering, and morale issues. I believe that agency owners need to invest a significant amount of their time and attention to biz dev and yet, when I get into most shops, to say the effort is haphazard is an understatement. Most of you have a reactive new business program, which means you respond to what walks in the door through referrals, RFPs, etc. One of the areas where I see the least amount of prep is in that initial conversation. You go to all of that effort to get the meeting. I want to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. I wrote an article for Spin Sucks about seven steps you can take to improve that first impression, whether it’s a coffee meeting or a full RFP presentation. My guess is that some of them will just be a reminder but hopefully a few will inspire you and your team to tweak what isn’t working. Making some minor tweaks in how you show up may be all it takes to move you from being the agency that hears “we really liked you but we went a different direction” to “We can’t wait to work with you!” This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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 Robin Boehler & Stephen Boehler (Founding Partners of Mercer Island Group ) Covid-19 has changed our lives and our work. Business as usual has been interrupted, yet your clients and prospects are trying to remain truly operational. Agencies may find themselves in a pitch process that has become a virtual exercise. To capitalize on these opportunities, agencies need to adapt – and adapt quickly. How do you pitch your agency without a face to face meeting? The pitch will likely be a virtual meeting which requires different planning and approaches for your agency to stand out and win. To help agencies during this difficult time, we have put together a practical guide on how to pitch effectively via virtual presentations. 1) Ensure you have the right technology in place, and expertise using the technology Use a professional web conferencing platform for your presentation. These platforms enable the agency team and the prospects to see each – a much more personal experience than a conference call. You are also able to control the slides that your prospect sees, enhancing the communication. There are many fine web conference platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting and BlueJeans. Choose one and master it. The presentation is not the time to explore the rich capabilities of these platforms. Also, keep in mind that your agency may need to use the prospect’s platform of choice. Some client firewalls prevent other platforms. Be sure all agency presenters have hands-on experience managing the intricacies of the selected platform. 2) Prepare materials with the medium in mind Online presentations are very different than in-person presentations. For example, the screen sizes of the participants can vary dramatically. You need to be sure your presentation is clear and [...]
We’re all blogging, writing newsletters, trying to speak at conferences, etc. We’ve got content coming out of our ears but content does not equal thought leadership. If you and 1,000 other agencies all blogged about the new Pantone color of the year — that’s content, not thought leadership. No one is going to pay you to create that. But genuine thought leadership that makes me better at my job? Now that you can get paid for! Think about how much more motivated you and your team would be if your content actually made you money and helped your clients as well. Check out an article I wrote about thought leadership and the fine line we walk to get it right. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. This was originally published in the AMI weekly newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
Study after study tells us that CMOs rank lead generation as their #1 priority and one of their biggest sources of frustration. So if we practice the tired “what keeps you up at night” exercise — I think we know the answer. Most of our clients and prospects need to generate more qualified leads and they admit that they don’t really have the tools or know how to do it. I speak at conferences where I am surrounded by agency owners who drive leads for their clients. But even among these agencies — there’s still a lot of discussion on how to develop a better strategy and how to help the clients embrace the technology that is part of the solution today. The truth is, many business leaders and many agencies (maybe you?) haven’t yet embraced the 2020 version of driving leads for our clients. There are lots of reasons why (cost, complexity, lack of content, etc.) but the truth is — if our agencies don’t figure out how to deliver on this need, someone else will. I don’t believe it’s optional today. A story I wrote for Forbes on marketing automation highlights this topic. How are you bringing new leads to your clients and what role does marketing automation play in that model? By the way — this isn’t just a challenge for our clients. How are you driving right fit prospects (not just anyone who walks in the door) to your agency? This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
I have had several phone conversations lately with agency owners who have sales pipelines that have dried up. They’re frustrated and scared about business development. I get it. We’ve all been there. But when I asked them about their new business 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. This was originally published in the weekly AMI newsletter. To subscribe, click here.
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 [...]