You’ve built a successful agency with great people and award-winning work. Your awesome clients love you and have been loyal for years. You’ve received “best place to work” awards every year. You’ve got a team of superstars who keep the agency running and the clients happy. Great work. Great people. Great results. Why isn’t that enough to get new clients in the door?

The simple answer is that those qualities are the outcome of great agency-client relationships and not the benefits that initially attract new clients. Marketers expect those qualities in any agency they choose. It’s table stakes.  They will judge the chemistry and fit further down the process. You can’t sell those characteristics even though many agencies try. You can’t claim those qualities you have to demonstrate them if you get the chance.

Marketers hire agencies to solve their problems; declining sales, competitive threats, low awareness. When they look for a new agency, they are searching for one that they believe will advance the ball and do so fast whether on a project, a specialty, or a full-service relationship. The real reason why new clients aren’t walking through the door is that they don’t know what’s behind that door and how it will benefit them. What they do know is that changing agencies is costly, time-consuming, full of spin and hyperbole, confusing claims, inconsistent results – lies, damn lies, and statistics.

It all sounds so futile. What is a great agency to do? In the most simplistic terms, agencies have to reach as many marketers as they can with a viable solution to their problems. It’s not enough to say we get results, or our work works. It has to be industry-specific, audience specific, product specific, solutions that are credible, trustworthy, and seem possible in the context of the marketer’s resources, organization, and capacity to execute. They have to see in work you’ve done the solution and like it. Every marketer comes with their own biases, likes and dislikes, and agenda. One may see your agency as a perfect fit while another will conclude the opposite. But hey, 50% ain’t bad. In truth, 50% is just the beginning of the elimination process.

For agencies with great work, people, and results, the initial strategy has to be multidirectional. It begins by building awareness. If marketers don’t know of the agency, they won’t come looking. However, you can’t possibly reach every marketer. You have to know who your highest potential prospects are and execute strategies to get in front of them. I fielded a survey a couple of years ago asking marketers where they go to identify new agencies. The number one response was referrals. If your agency isn’t actively working your referral sources, you are missing out on a critical new business tactic. If your agency isn’t aggressively growing its network and providing the means for that network to make referrals, they won’t. Dave Currie has a great post on developing an ad agency referral strategy with tactics that you must read. Also, check out HubSpot’s post on how to get ad agency referrals.

The second highest resource is the trade and business press. Marketers follow their industry in those trade publications, online, and other news sources, especially the success of their competitors and companies they admire. Agency news in these environments will get their attention. Campaigns, client successes, marketing, and advertising solutions, executive moves, and more. If your agency isn’t executing a PR strategy, you are missing another good opportunity to get in front of prospects and tell your story. If you haven’t tried a PR program yet, or tried and failed, or you don’t see the value in the investment, you should contact Eric Eddy at Double E Communications, to see what a successful ad agency PR strategy should be.

The third source is, no surprise, search. SEO and SEM tactics should also be a critical part of your strategy. Almost every marketer goes to the web to research agencies. Google returns 2 billion+ results for “Advertising Agency.’ Search experts know the diminishing effect of second, third, and higher page listings. If you don’t show up in the right search criteria, your competitors will. Granted search can be expensive; however, with the right strategy and execution agencies can get clicks. I recommend going to an outside specialist for help. Managing your own search is difficult to do well while handling client assignments and often gets neglected or left on autopilot with decreasing results. An outside resource will also provide objective advice on all the factors related to search success including your website, content, copy, and of course keywords.

Social channels, especially LinkedIn is mentioned by as much as 50% of marketers when searching. Pushing out content in those channels is another ‘must’ for building awareness. I’ve heard many skeptical agency leaders dismiss social even though there is convincing data. While it is true that recent trends suggest a declining use of social media, it remains a viable channel for a significant percentage of marketers. LinkedIn, for example, offers a variety of ways for free and paid tactics to reach your best prospects. Success is in large part due to the content strategy, like everything else. Unfortunately, too many agencies don’t understand the primary purpose of content on social and don’t support their business development strategy with it. I’ve got some additional thoughts on the purpose of content here; Ad Agency content has one primary goal, and here; To blog or not to blog, that is the question.

Awareness is the first step in a successful new business program. Ironically, it is one of the things agencies do so well for their good clients yet the hardest thing to do for themselves. Once you’ve incorporated these tactics in your program and you get their attention, remember they have a very short attention span, you’ve got to satisfy a few key questions to keep them engaged. Check out “What do marketers want to know about a new agency” to gain a better understanding of what they look for first.

Finally, when it comes to outreach, I asked marketers how they prefer hearing about a new agency, and there is a clear difference between preference and standard new business practices. It is no surprise that 51% of marketers prefer to hear about a new agency from a friend, colleague or peer. That stands to reason since they seek out referrals when on the hunt. 28% said an email from an agency was their preference while a phone call earned only 1.5%, rounded up. You can find other data points about marketers’ preferences by downloading the results of the two surveys – Marketer Preference Survey Results 1 and Marketer Preference Survey Results 2.

Happy Hunting!

I’ve got a lot of advice on how to make your business development efforts more effective and would enjoy sharing what I know. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures.#LetsGrow!