“We’re a full service integrated marketing agency.” Sound familiar?
Trying to be everything to everybody is just one of the big mistakes that agencies today are making when it comes to attracting new business. Agencies hate to leave money on the table, even if it’s “bad money.” But we all know what happens when you chase after or work with clients who aren’t in your sweet spot. They clog your new business processes and cost you time and money.
My podcast guest, Lee McKnight, Jr. helps agencies solve this conundrum and many more in the dreaded agency quest for new business. He helps agencies get out of their own way and identify what makes them a unique option and just what certain prospects need.
We cover a lot of ground in this podcast including the following:
- How to prevent your agency from making the major mistakes that agencies make all the time
- Why agencies need to specialize instead of generalize
- New business: how to develop a better, simpler new business process
- How to use a delicately balanced process that uses all different kinds of marketing
- Why patience is so key in closing on new business
- The importance of having one person who is the leader on a project
- Why there needs to be a balance between showcasing the figurehead and the agency
- The tools you’re going to need to put into practice the objectives discussed in this episode
Lee McKnight Jr. is the Director of Business Development for RSW/US in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are a new business development firm that works solely with agencies and marketing services firms. After graduating law school, he ran away as fast possible from that profession and worked for an internet healthcare start-up until the bubble burst and his magical stock options disappeared in the late 90s.
Fast forward through some interesting marketing and sales positions to RSW/US where Lee has spent the last 8 years working with agencies of all types to help drive their new business efforts. A big fan of history, comics and horror novels, he’s currently in a few bands in Louisville and Cincinnati and likes to pretend that chicks dig married, 44-year-old guys with kids that play in cover bands.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/lee-mcknight/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build A Better Agency where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew: Hey, everybody. Thanks very much for joining us for another episode of Build A Better Agency. Our goal as you know with this podcast is to help agencies run smarter, build their agencies to be bigger, stronger, better, whatever that means for you as an owner. And at the end of the day, put more money at the bottom line for you the owner. And so one of the topics that is always a burning issue for agency owners is the whole issue of developing a new business process. So I’m excited to have our guest Lee McKnight Jr. with us.
So let me tell you a little bit about Lee. Lee is the director of business development for RSW US in Cincinnati. As many of you know they are a new business development firm that works solely with agencies and marketing service firms. But what many of you probably don’t know about Lee, even if you’ve bumped into him before is that he actually graduated from law school, but apparently ran quickly away from that profession. And jumped into the Internet healthcare startup space where he hung out until the bubble burst and all his magical stock options disappeared. So he had to get a real job. Did some other things until about eight years ago. Landed with RSW where he has spent the last almost decade working with agencies of all types, to help really drive their new business efforts.
When he’s not at work, Lee is a big fan of history, comics, and horror novels. He’s also in a couple bands in Louisville and Cincinnati, where he says, this is not me saying this about him, but I’m sure it’s true. He likes to pretend that women dig married 44-year-old guys with kids that play in cover bands. So with that, Lee, welcome to the podcast.
Lee: Thanks, Drew. No, I’m excited to be here. Yeah, I think I said previously, my wife just loves that last part when I throw that out there. But no, this will be fun.
Mistakes Agencies Make in the New Business Process
Drew: Yeah, it will be fun. So you know, as you know, all agencies worry about new business and fret about it. So over the course of the eight years, you’ve bumped into a lot of agencies and you sort of observed sort of where they’re at in their native environment before they start working with you guys. What are some of the mistakes that you see agencies make around the new business issue?
Lee: Oh gosh. I think…you know, I think initially, you know, part of where they go wrong is agencies tend to get in their own way, right? I mean, kind of out of the gate. And we understand it because you know prospects really kind of have to…excuse me, clients really have to come first. I mean that’s part of kind of where we come in, to be honest with you.
But I think in terms of some of the things that I think happen to them, you know first I mean there’s a couple. Probably the main ones are one, I think unfortunately and I touched on this when we were in Nashville and a few of these things at the Fuel Lines conference. But a lot of marketers see them or prospects see them, first of all, as you guys all do the same stuff. And God forbid the clients sometimes think that way. You know, they put that label on you. They want to put you in your box. And that’s what you guys do.
And so agencies get frustrated understandably. But that’s one of the big reasons why it’s so important, first off, to use that language that’s not all the same. And I’m sure, Drew you’ve seen it. I mean…
Drew: We’re a full service integrated marketing agency.
Lee: We’re a great partner. We solve these problems. And you know I do think they’ve gotten better, agencies generally and understanding at the very least, we can’t use those very same words. But it’s still out there. You know I think also a couple other things. Marketers and prospects and I know sort of our prospects are not necessarily all marketers, but I’ll use that term throughout to sort of ease, but, you know, they’re getting hundreds of touches a week. And we’ll hear agencies get frustrated to say, “You know I’ve been reaching out, for God, at least for weeks. And what’s going on?” It’s like well. Yeah, four weeks is a drop in the bucket as far as that goes.
And then the other thing is, you know, marketers only read what’s in front of them. And I think a lot of agencies tend to forget that too. And I know you guys do some great research. We do some on our own as well. And you know we see it. I love the stats that it’s really encouraging. 43% of marketers read agency blogs. We got that from one of our agency marketer’s surveys. And then 57% of them read agency newsletters. So it just behooves agencies, especially when it, obviously when it comes to content for example, that you’ve got to keep in front of them but…and if you don’t, your competitors are. But take heart. Because maybe you didn’t get a comment on that one post but they are, if you’re putting it in front of them, a good chunk of them you know are reading what you’re doing for example.
Drew: But it also means that if you say you’re doing a monthly newsletter, sending it out seven times a year is probably not brilliant.
Lee: Thank you. Yes. Which I mean in that scenario. I think that’s where you know consistency is so important. And you know just in terms of how often you’re doing it. I totally agree. Yeah, just a few times a year is not going to cut it.
Drew: Right, right. So where else are agencies sort of stubbing their toe in terms of new business?
Lee: Yeah, I think the other thing is that marketers are telling us like from the same survey, 88% of marketers want to work with an agency that has some kind of specialty. And I think sometimes agencies get a little, get their hackles up when that happens. Because that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be health care, right, or CPG. And if you know it’s, in fact, I was talking to an agency owner. Not to keep referencing that but it happened to be in Nashville, the Fuel Lines conference again here just because that’s been in the past several weeks.
And I spoke there and brought that up. And he came and said, “You know we’re generalists and we’re doing great.” And you know and of course, you can’t argue with that, right, because they are doing well. But I think it was interesting. Once we started talking a bit more. What I realized was yeah, you’re working in multiple categories. But however you do own, and in their case, it was in how they worked with their clients. And I’m not just talking about a process, which God forbid everyone says they have.
Drew: Everybody has one right.
Lee: But we realized…
Drew: They have cute names for it but it’s all the same.
Lee: I know. I love the cute names. I think it was one of the speakers at Ballowitz said, “You know you all got the bubbles.”
Drew: Right, right.
Lee: And I love that. He had like eight slides up. And they’re all exactly the same. But you know it’s one of those things where as we were talking, he realizes like well, yeah. You know what? You’re right. We own this and it’s too much to go into what that was. But so I think that’s part of it too and I think where else they kind of stub their toe if you will, maybe…folks love stories, right? That’s what we do. I think one of the things, and I’ll use one of our own clients. I will not throw their name out there.
But I will say they started off, you know, a little bit of a stumbling block I think. Because in terms of what we do, I mean we’re…our goal is to get our clients, who are all as you mentioned in the beginning, you know what, they’re all agencies or marketing services firms. But the goal is to get them qualified meetings and do that with right fit prospects, you know, to build lists for them where we’re going to be able to really go after the right folks. But in terms of those qualified meetings, we realized look, there’s a lot we can do beyond that to help clients get closer to closing business.
And so some folks, some agencies actually they need more help in like getting to the table. And they ask us to help them in those first meetings because they may be used to referrals, right? And it’s a different ballgame, you know, than with what we’re getting them. Doesn’t matter how qualified they might be. So we had a client who it was like their second meeting. And the new business director asked, as we often do, if it’s a phone meeting to start, can we be in that? Now sometimes, we just introduce the client, for example. And if the client’s been around longer maybe we’ll even take part in it.
But what we always try to tell them to do is in that first meeting, unless that prospect has specifically asked for some kind of a presentation, or you know to walk them through a WebEx, that’s fine. But if not, close the laptop and listen, you know? Have a conversation, like you and I are doing right now. So this client started off pretty well. Unfortunately quickly devolved into just kind of talking about themselves. I mean you couldn’t have asked for a better softball. The prospect like three sentences in literally said, “Our challenge is…” and then laid out three challenges they had. And I mean how awesome is that right?
Drew: Right, right. Stay there, stay there, stay there.
Lee: Oh, my gosh. Right and It’s like oh you just…thank you for the silver platter you just handed to us, you know? And they were legitimate challenges within their wheelhouse. You know, our new business director had done a nice job of and our list team. And you know it’s a team effort with us. We’ve got good folks that are all helping the new business director. So thought there’s the home run. And then God bless him, our client went…I think in their head…well I know, what they had was we’re going to use this example. We’re going to use this case study and that’s what we’re going to tell them and they’re going to love it.
Well instead of bobbing and weaving and you know talking about those three challenges, which as I said were in their wheelhouse. They just went with what they thought, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” And it had nothing to do with those challenges.
Lee: Oh, and so this director is trying to, you know, happened to be a she in this case. Kind of hold her tongue and managed to kind of turn the corner. And the client I think realized it too. And then when that call was done, our new business director, she said, “Okay guys. This is kind of hard to say but here’s where that went wrong and we can fix this.” And we did and through both, you know, of them working our client and our new business director working with them actually ended up and they’re doing great. But that’s one of those things where you know you’ve got to listen and be able to get those verbal cues, right? And as I say kind of bob and weave with where that prospect’s going.
Drew: I think one of the issues for agencies is they’re so anxious to get to the close. That they sort of go from Hi, It’s nice to meet you. And would you like to marry me? Right.
Drew: You know and there’s no sort of you know can I buy you a drink and let me ask all about you and you know let’s gaze into each other’s eyes for a while. That whole new business process sort of gets lost. And agencies, you know, you can’t go from A to Z in one in one fell swoop. And unfortunately, I think agencies are so anxious and because they often let new business lag, that effort lag until they’re in a desperate situation, I think they sort of wear their desperation on their sleeve. And I think clients don’t like the smell of that.
Lee: Yeah, no, I think your 100% right. Actually, I love that. I’m going to steal that from you actually.
Drew: Have at it.
Lee: Yup, the first date. I mean you’re exactly right. It’s like don’t give them the ring yet. Good Lord. Yeah.
What Can Agencies Do to Get Better at New Business?
Drew: So when you work…when you guys are working with clients, what kind of things do you teach them how to do better? What are some things that the agencies need to learn how to get better at that you help them? You know, actually, let me self-direct this a little bit. One of my pet peeves is the generalist comment. So I believe that and our research shows, and I know yours does too, that clients are saying loud and clear, “I want specialists.”
And in our research, last year’s research that we did, what they said is, “I want you to have at least 25% of your business in my category. Otherwise, I don’t think of you as an expert. So I want expertise.” So how do you help an Agency who believes that the generalist methodology is the way to go? How do you help them understand the risk of that?
Lee: You know that’s interesting. Well, I think first answer to your question. I mean we’ve got first of all we have stats to back it up. And some of those that it’s good to put kind of just good old plain hard facts in front of folks. And then I think then part of it is what…I’ll give that example…I’ll go back, excuse me to that first example I gave from the agency owner at the national conference was that. So the first thing is what we want to talk it through. And typically what we realize is number one, either really they are owning something and they just didn’t realize it. Or the other…in the other ways, I mean typically what will try to do is go walk them through what is your new business process now? You came to us for a reason, right?
And so, and specifically, to answer your question when it comes to generalists, you know, we will tell them. And in our own experience what we have found is when you play that way, yes, it’s good to not put all the eggs in one basket so to speak. And I think that there’s always caveats to that too because you have your pharma agencies, for example. But I think just as one example. But I think also what we try to do is show them…like I think for example. We talk about folks that are who’s really doing this well?
And I think one of the things that we try to do in our own, and I know that you all do too, is try to put out good content that agencies can use whether they’re going to work with us or not. I think that’s something our owner, his name’s Mark Snyder, that he and myself have really embraced. And course we’re not the only ones. I mean a lot of folks follow that model. But I think one of the things that we did recently is we put an e-book out within the last six months. And there’s a point to this, by the way, Drew.
Drew: I have no doubt.
Lee: So we…
Drew: You’ll get there. Just keep talking.
Lee: We’re there. Yeah maybe. So we wanted to have a series and I think we did six, it was on our blog, but we did an interview with different individuals at agencies who headed up new business. And we wanted to make sure that none of them, in this case, were our own clients, to show agencies out there and folks who might be listening right now, you know, that look, here are folks who are doing it and doing it well. And here’s what you can learn from them.
And so we’ve used that quite a bit, whether it’s, you know, and part of my job here at RSW is to bring agencies on board along with our owner Mark. And so I’ve used this e-book in the past. And it resonates. And it really was small to mid-size agency, you know, was really our sweet spot even though we work with some larger and that’s what we tried to do here.
But so we interviewed all six of them and we used the same 10 questions. And one of the things we found was…well, a couple of things but specifically to generalist, I mean, first of all, that they got it. They saw that new business is a process and it needs support. That that these folks are you know in terms of what they’re doing on day to day basis, that each agency considers new business an agency-wide endeavor. You know, all of them are vested in it. They realize they have to hunt and that thought leadership has to be a part of it. That referrals are fantastic, you know, they need to pursue those. But don’t let that be your entire strategy.
But overall each of them owned something. And we can show concrete examples to some of these folks that are coming on board to say…and again, might not necessarily be category specific. But that they own something there. And so I think that just to give you another example of kind of some things that we’ve seen out there. And that’s an e-book. I mean it’s on our site. You can download it. But it was interesting that all of them, you know, some of those factors that had in terms of what they all had and that they’re doing the same, that was one of them.
Drew: Yeah. I just think in today’s world, you know, one of the other things I know your research showed, and ours did do too. Is that not only do clients want specialists, but they also typically are working with two or more agencies. So they, by default, are putting a label on agencies. And whether your specialty is a vertical like healthcare or pharma or whatever it is or it’s a deliverable like SEO or PR or whatever that may be, they do want to put us in a little box.
And I think one of the mistakes agencies make in the new business process is struggling to be everything to everybody, thinking I’m leaving money on the table. But the truth is a lot of that money is money that you’re not going to get to keep anyway because when you work with clients that are not your sweet spot clients, they end up costing you time and money. You’re actually paying for…you know, some of the things, when I’m looking at some of AMI agencies and I’m looking at some of the clients that are giving them trouble, when we really crunched the numbers, they’re literally paying for the privilege of working with that pain in the rear end client. And when you show them in black and white you go, “Are you kidding me?” They begin to understand the importance of…the importance of understanding who can we serve and delight on a regular basis.
Lee: Yeah, and you know I really like the way, and we don’t have to just like get into it now, but I’ve been a groupie. I’ve seen you speak twice in the last couple of weeks, Drew.
Drew: You know and neither time did I see you in the back with like your Bic lighter or anything.
Lee: You know, I really wanted to. I had my Iron Maiden T-shirt on. You know it was…
Drew: I love that.
Lee: Yeah, but one of the things you mentioned, and specific to that, and quite frankly I would love to kind of incorporate that into even conversations that I’m having when that would come up and I think one of the ways that you framed it was wasn’t like that the stool? Where you talked about, you know, here’s where things are going to fall out. And I loved how you laid that out. And you even got some push back as I recall from a couple of agency folks in the audience.
Drew: Yup, absolutely, yeah. The agencies are very leery of saying no to some clients or prospects. And the truth of it is that that’s a position of power that when your agency is really healthy, that feels very good to go, “You know what? This is just not the right fit for us.” And be able to walk away from that opportunity is really liberating. And it also says to your staff that you’re serious about this and that you really respect the work that they do and the clients they can serve best. And you sort of get it.
And you’re really about, this is really for the agency that wants to make good money doing the work they do as opposed to taking a client for cash flow. And one of the things that worries me about agencies that don’t make time and invest in new business is they’re often coming at new business from a point of desperation, which means they don’t get to choose. They don’t get to choose. They have to take whatever comes across the transom. And that’s a very dangerous position to be in.
Lee: Yes. Yeah, really couldn’t have said it better. I think that desperation point, we’ve seen it. We’ve seen it many times. And I think, you know what? We get asked often…you know, because we certainly talk to plenty of agencies, that the timing is not right or we may not be the exact right fit. So again, in this business you never know, right? So I think one of the things that we try to tell agencies, you know because you are so much in your own head space understandably, you’re close to it, it’s…with a lot of these of folks, it’s you need to get back to basics. And almost in a lot of ways wherever you are, do a reset and think about…I’ve talked about this in the past. But what is your reality as an agency in terms of what you can truly handle out of the gate?
And look, the reality is that you never have time. So yes, you have to push yourself past what really is your reality. But I think it’s always talk about like the four you know…look at the simplest. You make things too hard, and agencies make new business so hard. Make it…I mean simplify it up front in terms of here’s what the process is going to be. Here…I mean, and it write it all out. And then consistency, of course, is part of it with the messaging, you know, methodology, outreach. Have that process in place and then we always try to tell them, it’s about baby steps. You know, it’s please don’t try to jump out of the gate.
I talk to these agencies who, God love them, but they hire a consultant, they start HubSpot, and then they think, “We might start with you guys too.” And I’m like, “When are you going to do that?” We’re going to start with all you guys like in a month. It’s like, “Oh my God. Don’t. No, don’t do that.” And this one example, whether it’s us or somebody like us, but it’s like you take a step back and look, you know, clean house first. You know, get in there first. So yeah, it’s interesting.
Drew: Yeah, I think that’s the other misperception that agencies have is that they think they have to be on every social network and they have to be producing content every day. And every piece of content they produce has to be a 25-page white paper that is so earth shaking that, you know, the Pope is probably reading it as we speak. And you know the reality is, and I said this in one of my recent presentations, the truth is the bar is so low. Your competitors suck at this so badly that you have to be one step above crappy to be good at your business. And that’s the good news. Is you just have to do a few things well and consistently and you’re going to be ahead of the pack.
Lee: Yeah, it’s funny. And you actually said and our owner Mark and I said it too. And you know it’s kind of it probably hurt some people in little pangs. But of the things and you said it on stage there in Nashville was I think someone in the audience had brought up to you. something along the lines of well, you know, if everyone’s doing this, I mean we’re already competing with each other anyway. And you immediately looked at them and said, “I’m sorry to tell you that most of you will not do this. It’s just a fact. And I’m telling you what to do. And if you followed it, you would succeed. But you’re not.” And you know it’s like that’s just the hard truth. And it is true and I guess in some ways that helps us. But yeah, I mean that’s spot on. Absolutely.
Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing for New Business
Drew: So you know I know that one of the things that you guys do is that you sort of talk about both inbound and outbound. And everyone is so…every agency I know is so enamored right now with the inbound thing. And I’m and don’t get me wrong. I think it is a fine tactic to take and every agency needs to be producing some content and drawing people to them. But I know that for you guys, you believe in sort of a blend of outbound and inbound, which I happen to share that belief. So could you talk a little bit about that?
Lee: Yeah, absolutely. You know I think in terms of what we’ve learned over these, it will be that you mention it will be…we will be ten years old in a couple of weeks. And I’ve been here eight of those. So we have certainly learned and of course, as we know many tools rapidly change. Twitter today could be who knows tomorrow. But I think ultimately what we’ve realized when folks like…I’m not picking anybody, but HubSpot obviously being one of the big players, or Marketo, or whatever it might be, you know that was one thing that when it just exploded a couple of years ago, it was kind of similar to I wanna say social years earlier where, to your point, we’re all going to do it. We’re all going to jump up on these platforms. Oh yeah, now we’re all going to do…because we’re all doing inbound because you’ve got to do that, right?
And so I think what I’ve really appreciated from folks like HubSpot or Marketo is that they also and they’ve engaged us on some content, which we love doing, that they get it too and they see that look, it can’t just be about inbound. And so yeah, I think the answer, to fully answer your question, I mean for us it’s got to be about every channel and it certainly is the way that we work for our own agency clients. And it’s the way that we’ve built this business.
So I think from day one, even before it was called inbound, and certainly, we’re not the only ones because you have been doing it. And I think for us we realize that ultimately prospects you have to hit them where they live. And if all you’re doing is banging away on the phone or just creating content but you’re not really doing much else with it, you’re not going to succeed. I mean we see and we have stats to back it up. I won’t go into a myriad of those. But just in terms of email, phone calling, yes. Creating some content in other channels out there like social, you know, LinkedIn obviously being one of those. And did I mention direct mail?
So, you know, all those together have to be used in concert with each other. And that absolutely is something that we’ve been preaching. Our owner Mark spoke at Inbound. And I thought it was really cool that they firmly knew you know what he was talking about. And he certainly didn’t…nothing denigrating about HubSpot. But he did kind of throw out to some of these agencies that it’s a little worrisome to see some of these agencies who have become solely inbound folks. And a lot of them are doing really well. But I think a lot of them they will understand that okay, maybe this maybe we need to make sure in terms of this model that it’s not just this. But I think it’ll be interesting how it plays out ultimately.
What we’ve seen though is using a new business process in place, where all of these pieces are put together. We start…so every four weeks for example when we’re working with our clients, a direct mail piece goes out. We’re touching them two more times with a phone call and typically what is a voicemail there and an email. We’re not even selling at that point. It’s all about awareness. And then the next three weeks, it is, yes, selling but it’s done a politely, persistent way. It’s not a real word, is it? Polite persistence, at least we do that.
Drew: I think it is.
Lee: If it’s not, it is now. But you know and it’s about all those multiple touches. And it’s about making sure that we’re using all those together so we’re not hitting them too often with one. But it’s how we get to the first meeting. And then you know one of the things in Bolo where obviously we just were…you know and actually, you were part of this too because Lisa from Access Confidential RP had said, asked the audience, you know, “What, okay. What is the purpose of the first meeting?” And correct me. I think it was you but you said, “The second.”
Drew: Yeah it was me. Yeah.
Lee: And no one else said anything at all. And I’m not sure that they were thinking that. And I thought, “Oh my God. You’re kidding me that that’s not what your very next thought was is getting that second meeting.”. And so again it’s all about using all those channels to do just that and then get closer to closing business.
Drew: Yeah. But again that gets back to our, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. Will you marry me?” You know, we forget that there’s 4 other meetings or 4 other touches or you know 20 other touches. And you know literally sometimes a client can be on your radar screen and they’re just not in a position to buy for years. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t keep going at them and talking to them so that when they’re ready to buy, you’re top of mind. And the only way to do that is to be consistently present.
Lee: Yeah. You know and I’ll continue to use…I’ll tell you if I may another story. And I’ll throw myself into this and show how I spectacularly bombed on the first try. But I…
Drew: This is about your wife isn’t it?
Lee: Oh God. Well, it could be. She’s like she’s here. She’s actually like to in. No, there’s been other bombs. But specific to new business actually. One of the things that you again had brought up and some of the research that you guys have done what we know was that the fact that and I’m going to butcher this for you. So you’re welcome. But I think it was you said, “Typically these days’ prospects or marketers if you will, are taking on average what I think it was three months?”
Drew: Yeah, three months at a site. And that’s once they’re in the hunt. That’s not from oh, gee I need an agency. That’s once I’ve started the process. I’m meeting with the agencies, and all that. Three bloody months.
Lee: I mean, agencies, I cannot stress for anyone listening right now or agencies in general that you’ve got to keep that in mind. And you’ve got to realize that you cannot get frustrated and that patience is key. So that story that I bring up is when I started here at RSW. So I was a new business director to start with and I had my own agency clients. So typically a new business director here at RSW will have four clients. And typically no more than four.
And that’s what we found, where we can get a good service level and make sure we’re getting the requisite readings that we say you know that we’re going to get. So I had set up and it started via email that actually got a response back in this case. And in about five weeks of kind of going through our process. Certainly, I won’t want to name check this prospect. I mean or even talk about the fact that it’s a women’s shoe retailer out of New York. I mean I would never say that.
Drew: No, no, no.
Lee: But so I get the email, and she finally…she says you know, “Yes, I’ve gotten your stuff. I’ve appreciated the fact that what you’ve sent me seems like spot on. You guys know this space. Why don’t we talk…” I think it was you know let’s say next Tuesday at 11, I’m not sure what it was at this point. And this was the VP of marketing, you know. So of course you know, I’m excited. Give her that call that she asked me to do on that Tuesday. And the first thing out of her mouth was, “You know what? You have got to stop calling me.”
Drew: That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.
Lee: And it was, it was awesome. I almost laughed but of course, I’m like taken aback. And I thought, “Oh my God.” So I as politely as possible told her that, “Well, actually you did ask me to call you at this date and time if you recall the email.” And she just kind of got flustered and said, “Well, I can’t do it now.” And hung up on me. And I can honestly say that’s one of the few abrasive calls.
Now honestly I think she just had a bad day. And I’m not going to put that on somebody. But I really did. I hooked the phone and the way we’re set up, I mean we’re close to each other here. We’re all in-house, the salespeople. But someone, the woman sitting across me said, “What in God’s name was that?” I told her. And the whole office is like dying laughing. And I could be glad I could give them that for that day.
Drew: It’s a real gift.
Lee: Wasn’t it, though? And the moral of story was though I did ultimately get that meeting. She apologized to me. I actually sent an email back to her. I apologized and said…which I really shouldn’t have. That’s the one thing I think I did wrong again was I didn’t need to apologize. But I just said, “Look obviously it wasn’t a good time.” However, I said I go, “But we did have this set up and we really love…you know I think there is something here for my agency to help you.” And she apologized. Had the meeting.
And so I think moral of that story is obviously two things. One of the things I realized then early was as a company, we were still young. We had a process in place, but you know always trying to look at how to make that better. And so what I did then was have a little bit more in-depth you know invite process, making sure I gently followed up before just to remind these folks.
But then also it was just another reminder, right? That look you’ve got to stick with it, and maybe you know it most people in office said, “You’re not really going to email her back are you?” I said, “Yeah, I am. I’m going to be polite. I’m going to be respectful.” And you know it worked out. So…
Drew: Well, I tell agencies that you know that their hit lists should be people that they are going to pursue relentlessly until they either get hired or they’re told for the love of God go away.
Lee: 100%, yup.
Drew: Because you just never know. I mean, you know, we…you know, as the listeners know not only do I own and run AMI but I still have my own agency. And you know, we had a prospect walk in the door. And he’d called out of the blue. I had never heard of them before. And he walked in the door. And I write a weekly column for Iowa’s Business Journal. And he walked in the door and he opened up his briefcase, which will tell you how long ago this was. And…not a messenger bag. Not a backpack but an actual briefcase. He opened up his briefcase. And he laid out probably ten articles that I had written over the last like three or four years. And he said, “I’ve been waiting to be in a position to hire you.”
Lee: That’s awesome.
Drew: And I thought, “You know…” And he’s like, “I’ve been getting your e-newsletters because I signed up for them. And I’ve been obviously following your column. But I’ve been waiting.” And the truth is we have no idea the position someone’s in and why they can’t hire us today. But that doesn’t mean they can’t hire us tomorrow or a year from now.
And so as long as we’re being helpful and we’re not you know talking about ourselves, and all the things that everybody knows you shouldn’t do, there’s no reason to not stay in touch because you want to be top of mind on that magic day when all of a sudden the planets align and they either have the budget, or a new job, or their agency you know really messed up or whatever, that they’re ready to talk to somebody else.
Lee: Yeah. I mean you make such a salient point. I mean…and you put it more eloquently than I am going to right now. But we say that all the time here. And the short version is a prospect may be cold but they’re never dead. Unless to your point they say, “There is no way this is happening.” For whatever reason. And so yeah. You’re so right. And I think prospects, they’ll ask us sometimes, “Well, what do you do with these prospects who’ve been on your the list for you know eight weeks.” And we’re like, “Eight weeks is nothing.”
Drew: Right. Talk to me after eight years.
Lee: Yeah. And we have you know we have had, thankfully, it does not typically take this long. But we’ve honestly had new business directors who have been here with us for a while that prospects know them by name. And a year and a half later we have multiple stories about this, that the closed businesses said, “You know what? You have stuck with me. You’ve been respectful. You’ve given me nuggets that I can use. I see that you guys know it. I just I couldn’t….there was not…I couldn’t pull the trigger.”
Drew: Right. I was either in a middle of a contract or whatever.
Lee: Yeah. It’s so true. And you know that’s hard for agencies. I get it but it’s the truth.
Drew: So in terms of…and let’s go back to the inbound-outbound because I wanted to make a point that I think a lot…even the agencies who have drank the inbound Kool-Aid, the ones that are really knocking it out of the park are doing outbound things too. They’re writing books, or they’re speaking at conferences, or they are doing other things that…I think the two work hand in glove together. And I think either of them without the other today is short sighted.
Lee: Yup, yeah. Absolutely. Yeah and I think…you know, because I think where agencies have gone wrong, I mean they have that mentality. First, it’s like you know build it and they’ll come. Like the Field of Dreams. They all think it’s Kevin Costner. That’s not going to happen because it’s going to be passive then. And then or they treat it like a part-time sport or a lot of these…like, I had an agency principal who will ideally be a client soon. But one of the things great, great work. But I asked him specifically about content, you know, and kind of the whole inbound thing. And he actually had started the conversation along those lines. But he said, “You know no one wants to hear you babble on about myself.” And I said, “Well, you’re right. But that’s not…”
Drew: Amen to that.
Lee: No, but thanks for saying that. Great mindset. But now the next step is but they do want to hear how you can help them. And inbound and content, it’s not about you. And I think you’ve got to change your thinking there, with all due respect. You know we had asked, and I’ve used one of the stats before, you know one of the things we’d asked in our in our past reports and survey reports, do you use inbound marketing for new business agency owners?
And 76% said, “Yes.” The very next question was but how effective has it been for your new business? And only 25% said that it was effective. And that was just last year. So it’s getting better because two years before it was 8%. Yeah. And so I think, you know, it’s encouraging though because agencies, they’re getting it. and I think to your point. They are seeing that it’s got to be that blend. It almost has to be. And you know and the fact that yes I’ve said it. Cold calling is dead but conversations are not. So it does have to be all those working together.
Drew: Well, and I think to your point about you know nobody wants to hear about me, that sort of circles the wagon back around the differentiation. So what I tell agency owners all the time is the reason why you are blathering on about yourself is because you don’t understand who you’re talking to. If you knew exactly who you were talking to and only talked about things that they cared about, then you would be talking to them about ways that they can be better at what they do rather than the generic I don’t know who I’m talking about, so I’ll talk about myself because that’s universally fascinating.
So, you know, I think an agency owner that is looking at their own content and saying, “Boy, this is too much about us,” you need to recognize that you’re trying to be a generalist in a world that generalists are unfortunately a commodity. And so, you know, unless you want to be the cheapest game in town that’s often, for most agencies, not a brilliant play.
Lee: Yeah. I mean it can’t hammer that point home enough. I mean we had, an example of…and I don’t want to make this all about us by any stretch. But I will tell you, I mean we typically see, going back to your point about that once you’re in the hunt, that three months. You know, we typically see work close through our efforts, for example, between month 6 and 12. And you know once we start the process of ultimately where you close business.
Now we have 20% of clients that will close business before month 6. And that’s only 20% and we are very upfront you know with prospective clients when we’re talking to them to say, “This is a process,” you know? But I think going back to the generalist point is we had a client, I’ll give you one kind of a little success story, which we were pretty proud about of getting them to the table and they knocked it out. But one of our clients that was only four months in. And we set the table nicely for them. Again, the team had built a list correctly and done good things. But ultimately they came in and ended up getting an initial project for $750,000, which was great. They’re not a huge agency by any stretch.
Drew: Well, even a good sized agency would be happy with that number.
Lee: Absolutely. And these are 15 folks but the reasons why, I mean, first of all, they think they get it. New business is a process. You need that support. You know the fact that the principal who is the one who’s taking those meetings, he’s just good, quite frankly. He knows how to listen and focus on his cues I said. But he also realizes they can’t do it all. They’ve got to have that support. But most importantly is that they do own a space, which in this case it happens to be insurance.
Drew: Yeah, I think it’s easier to close when you have a very specific story to tell.
Lee: Yeah. For sure. And you said it exactly right and that’s what this, that what our client did is the fact that he did not talk at them. He knew exactly who he was talking to and just destroyed it. And I think you have to go about it that way.
The Costs of Not Having a New Business Process in Place
Drew: Yeah, yeah. So you know, I think both you and I bump into a lot of agencies who are doing this well and we also bump into sadly agencies that are not doing this well. And you know, interestingly, I think post-recession the agencies that are still left standing are probably stronger than pre-recession. I think a lot of the recession kind of cleared out a lot of people who were struggling, to begin with. So I think the good and bad news is if you’re still on your feet, you’re a strong, healthy agency. The bad news is so are all your competitors.
So even more so I think today having a new business process and machine bodes well for the success of your agency. When you bump into agencies that are…have not been doing this well, what are the prices that you’re seeing them pay? What is the cost? Because I think part of this is sometimes I think agencies are chugging along and they’re doing fine. And so there’s no pain associated with not doing it and there’s a lot of pain associated with being disciplined enough to do it. So they just don’t do it. But sooner or later, the pain turns around and smacks them across the face. What are you seeing when agencies kind of come limping into your world, where are they at in terms of the mistakes they’ve made, and things that agency owner should avoid so they don’t put themselves in that position?
Lee: Yeah, yes. And you know you make a great point about post-recession. I mean and unfortunately, we all saw those folks go away that didn’t have a lot of the things we’ve been talking about that they should be living or embracing. I think in terms of kind of some of those prices that they’ve paid and once they come to us or folks like us, I think some of the things they’ve realized that they’ve done wrong.
So one of the things and I guess they could reverse it and say, “Well, here’s we’re telling them what you’ve got to be doing.” So either way. But one of them is I mean that you’ve got to start by picking…you know you have to pick an entry point. And that goes back to owning something. And I think it also goes back to kind of what I mentioned earlier about going back to the basics. Okay. And so let’s start by what is that entry point? Whether it’s three categories, or whether it’s work more going more horizontally. But we do own the fact that we are amazing at UX or SEO, whatever that might be.
But to your point then, also you cannot be everything to everyone. When you know what happens when you do that. But so you’ve already said it. So many agencies go that way. So decide what you’re going to own, build your program around it is number one. I think number two, and Drew I’m sure you have seen this. I’ll be interested. But I mean one of the other things that when they come limping in, God bless them, is you know they’ve never had someone leading the program.
Drew: Right. They have a big committee or everybody.
Lee: Oh, and it’s just brutal. And you’re exactly right. I mean if there are too many cooks in the kitchen and then suddenly…oh wait, I thought you were….well no, I’ve been working on this account. I’ve been in San Diego for the last three weeks. What are you talking about? So that’s really one of those things. And I do think, you know, I’ll have agencies that will push back on that little bit. And I think maybe they misunderstand me is that I’ve seen teams work, and I’m sure you have as well. But I do think it’s a bit more of a rarity when it’s truly more team based and not one person leading.
I think almost invariably that there’s got to be one person who’s the go to. And I think whether that’s…you know, and some of the folks I mentioned earlier that didn’t work with us but that we interviewed, a lot of those folks were VP’s in the agency. Some were certainly CEO’s. Others were, you know, heads of marketing, whatever that title might be. There was someone there with senior leadership that was that holding the flag. Here’s what we’re doing. Now certainly he has people who support him. But I think that’s big.
I think the third thing is just the commitment to support the effort, period. Whether that’s supporting a new business director or whoever it might be, I think, you know, we hear kind of horror stories of, and I mentioned it earlier, but whoever’s running new business. And a lot of times that title is new business director in these cases, you know, yeah. They really are an island unto themselves. And they’re not supported in the least. Whether it’s something like case studies or…and you know, another other thing is that that person typically is wearing multiple hats in the sense of yes, yes we’re hunting. But I’m also answering RFPs. I’m also pitching. And you know what? I actually have a little bit of account management going on as well.
Drew: Yeah, right.
Lee: And I think, “Oh.” That I rarely have seen that work. And that’s why the tenure of a new business person is the same as a CMO, about, you know, two years. Is that they’ll get burnt and move on no matter how good they might have been. And I think a lot of times too, you’ll get like…I’m going to get roasted here maybe. But I think creatives typically don’t, they just don’t see the value of new business. Or they are busy, mind you, but I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself. You know a lot of times they’re like I’m not…why do I have to…I’ve got clients take care of. What is this? I’m not creating any, you know.
So and I get that. But it can’t be that way. So I think that’s why leadership has got to, from the get-go, tell everyone in that agency, “Look, all of you are a part of this. Yes, I know that we have a new business focus with these people. But we’re all a part of this. And at our core, we have to be about new business.” So and I think last is that what I mentioned earlier, it’s that commitment to using every channel. And where agencies have fallen short is that again they will say, “You know we sent…” Listen, you know email or direct mail for example because that kind of snail mail thing is halfway dead people seem to think. But you know, it’s like we did that, you know, and it didn’t work. And they’ll say that to our owner Mark and I a lot of times. And we’ll say, “Well, why do you think that is?” Well, we don’t know. I mean we followed up. “You did. Well, how often did you follow up?” Well, we sent some emails out once. And it’s like, “Wait a minute, what?”
Drew: And we’d emailed one time.
Lee: Right. And we only did that once and it’s like, “No, no. Don’t you see?” And so it’s one of those things where it’s a mindset. But I think those are probably the top four I’d say in terms of some of the main things where they’ve gone wrong or haven’t embraced.
What Successful New Business Agencies Look Like
Drew: So one of the things that I think is I think a lot of it is about really the mindset of the owner. And you know, I think if once an agency owner decides that new business is not optional, and we are going to build a machine, and we are going to dedicate resources then I think all of the sudden the tide turns. What do you see in terms of when you’re talking to agency owners that are doing this well? And what is it about their mindset that is different?
Lee: I’m not here by the way. Don’t tell them. I’m not home.
Drew: Yeah, no, no. Yeah, okay.
Lee: Yeah, what do you think about their mindset? I do you know it’s interesting. I do think when leadership does, as you said, right? And you would know better than anyone obviously you know. I think it is a bit of a turning point. So I think, gosh. I think in terms of kind of what we typically see, one of the first things is, and I don’t want to repeat myself, but I think one of them is number one, that they do first of all instill in everyone in the agency that, look this is what we’re doing. And this is how we’re going to move this agency forward.
And again, I think for that, it’s that they’ve got to consider new business an agency-wide endeavor, that it’s a critical factor to their success. I think also they get that the fact that thought leadership has to play a part of it. I think a lot of the agencies understand…and it’s interesting because we’ll have agencies that will come to us and say, “Well, I am…myself as the owner, president, CEO whatever you might say. I don’t want to be the face of the agency. I want it… because we are X agency.”
But then you’ll have others with the exact opposite. And I think you know what we try to say there is it’s got to be typically in any way and it’s your take on it, I think it’s got to be a blend. So yes. I mean we want the, from a thought leadership standpoint, I think it’s important, we think it’s important that the owner, for example, or multiple partners that they are a known quantity, that their face is there, especially if they’re out speaking for example, because…
Lee: …they’re leading that charge. But we also understand that look, if you can have and it’s hard, but if you have a blog for example. We don’t just want and you probably he or she probably couldn’t do it all themselves. You’ll also want to show them that look, we are a team, though. We’re not a one-man show. But I…so I think that scenario I’ve laid out is more of a blend.
Drew: Well and I think the danger is if you make the owner of the sort of the marquee, that the danger of that is when that owner wants to exit or whatever, all of that thought leadership and all of that esteem walks out the door with them or if they want to focus on other parts of the business. So I think…or if they want to sell the business, all of a sudden the equity is tied up in them. And it’s not in the agency as a whole. So I think that you do have to build it in the agency as a whole. But the owner has to play a role in that. Absolutely, I agree.
Lee: No, yes. I agree with you there. And then I think ultimately I think it’s more once you have some of those pieces in place part of it is understanding that, and I touched on this. I think part of this is just understanding that now that the leadership has kind of taken this and embraced it that they do understand that someone does have to not only own the process but that they have to own then in terms of positioning and getting themselves out there that they’ve got to own something, as we’ve said multiple times here, versus the generalist piece.
I think that’s when they can tie it all together and realize that okay, now that we were at this place we actually have to come out and make it. Because what’s interesting is you know, agencies all have processes in place, right? Whether it’s account management or payroll. But what they typically until, as you said, until they kind of have that turning point, new business is never part of the process. But you know, but we did buy Salesforce. I mean we haven’t actually used it in six months but we bought that. And we did get some you know we got some new case studies. Now we haven’t actually pushed those out to anyone.
So I think it’s, to tie that and kind of bring it full circle, it’s where that leadership finally puts all those pieces in the play but then sets out that program and actually sticks to it and keeps up with it to where they are meeting with and they’re engaged ongoing. Now whether they’re leading, because it might not…that person might not be able to lead it, because Lord knows they’re not the owner. They have multiple hats. But to be involved and then put that into play and I think it’s one of the things that we’ve seen not only with our own clients but those individuals who are really knocking out of the park at their own agencies. That’s ultimately those ones who…and it sounds like well, duh. But it’s there are consistently engaged and it’s something that they see that and they take the long view there.
Drew: I agree. So I want to wrap things up as I always try to with some really tangible takeaways. So for the agency owners that have been listening to us that have finally…who are saying to themselves in their heart of hearts, “Damn it. My children are going to get some shoes,” what are some things that they can do right now to improve their odds of being successful in this space of new business?
Lee: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I certainly would start with a couple of things that I mentioned before and then throw in some new ones at the end to kind of cap it. But I think start, picking that entry point to start, understanding you can’t be everything to everyone. Deciding who is going to commit and who’s going to lead it. Commit to that support and commit to using every one of those channels out there.
So then to take it to the next step, as we as we wind up, I think as now you’ve committed a couple of things to understand is number one, some of the tools you’re going to need. You’ve got to understand that you’ve got to put not only your own support in terms of time behind it but you’re going to have to look at that budget and set some of that aside for new business. You simply, you’re going to have to.
And one of the things you know that we’ve tried to lay out to agencies who maybe, like I said earlier, maybe they’re not going to come on board right now. But you know, one of the things we want to be able to do is hopefully then ideally we can leave you with some takeaways here that you either will or won’t do for yourselves and maybe you’ll come back you know to us. But one of those things is what are the tools we need?
And I’ve laid…excuse me I can’t talk today. I’ve laid out some of those in previous posts and things like that. But it is a piece of every one of those channels. So you’re going to have to make sure that well, you know, the phone thing takes care of itself. You’ve got those, but I think you really should invest in thinking about some kind of direct mail piece, or including just a nice handwritten letter, quite frankly, can really do the trick these days.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely.
Lee: I mean that’s something that we being RSW, our owner Mark and I, we use those to this day about every other week. We send about 50 or 60 of them. And I’m telling you we still get compliments on it. And then think about the content. And you had touched on it earlier. And one good blog post a month. Now that’s not going to be enough ongoing. But if you just start there, because you got to start somewhere, it’s amazing how…and using that in more ways than one. Not just your blog but you’re pushing out a newsletter. You’re putting it on LinkedIn. And I talk about that reality. You know, the reality that within your own agency, that you can do. You know, you can have someone help you and it’s not going to take you an inordinate amount of time.
And then I think you’ve got to do something where you’re got some kind of email platform if you don’t already and there’s tons of them out there where you can send and then get analytics on some email blasts you’re sending out and some of those opens and clicks. But then also in terms of social and LinkedIn is where you need to be, I mean if you going to pick any one of them, you know? So there’s those tools.
And then the last three things I would say. Number one is patience. And if I had to leave you with three things, agency owners, one of those is patience. And I’ve now said it eight times. But go back to Drew’s staff. I mean his own research about once when we talked about a couple times already, the fact that once these folks are in the hunt, it’s taken them three months. So you’ve got to have that mindset that you’re in this for the long haul, number one. Number two, I would not…make sure that you do not treat your new business director or whoever’s in charge as the savior of the agency. You know because and I’m not the one…
Drew: As I call it The Magical Mythical New Business Person.
Lee: Thank you. Yes. I remember you did say that. You know it’s, oh my gosh. Yes, I mean they’re there to do that job. And of course you’re going to have parameters and you know where you’re going to be following what they’re doing in the course of three months, six months down the line and setting those goals for compensation or otherwise. But I think you’ve got to understand…and so many agencies do it, right? And I know you’ve seen it, Drew. It’s oh, we’ve hired this person. It’s going to be…
Drew: Troubles are gone.
Lee: It’s going to save us all. And that’s where that you know that desperation comes in from what you just threw out there right in the very beginning. So I think you’ve got to give them a chance. And you know, understand that it’s a team effort with that support. And then the last one is, and again I didn’t coin this either, but it really is treat yourself as your best client, you know? It’s if you have that mindset out of the gate, think about how you treat your best client. And you’ve got to do that for yourself.
Now I realize that you can only do so much. But I think that’s one of those things agencies forget. And I’ve talked to a few agencies over the years that really have embraced that mentality. And quite frankly we probably will never work with them because they’re just they’ve got it. You know and they are always going to be kings with their new business. Kings or queens. And good for them, quite frankly. So you know I think that’s maybe what I’d leave with is treating yourself that way. And that just creates the mindset for the entire program and process.
Drew: Yeah. Great, great counsel. Thank you very much. Hey, I appreciate your time and I appreciate all…you know, you guys create some great content. So one of the things I want to make sure we do is give people ways to reach out to you guys. But before we do that, you know, thank you for caring as much about agencies as you guys do and going out of your way at conferences and on your own website and with your research to help agency owners get smarter. And certainly thank you so much for your time today. You have helped a lot of agencies I know and will continue to do that. And as somebody else in the industry. I just want you to know it’s appreciated. So thank you.
Lee: No, please. Thank you so much, Drew. And I appreciate your support. And yeah, we love it. And this has been great. I mean thank you for letting me be on the podcast and asking me. It’s awesome. My one regret is I was going to be really edgy and drop a bunch of F-bombs. And I don’t think I ever did.
Drew: Yeah, that’s probably okay. I said, “Damn it.” So we got that swearing in, yeah.
Lee: We got one in.
Drew: We got one in. But you know what? You’re sort of hurting your rock star image by now.
Lee: I know.
Drew: Yeah, yeah. So how can folks find you?
Lee: Yeah so we’re at rswus.com and we try to have everything kind of self-contained. So there’s a bunch of tabs there. The most important one for listeners, just in terms of content, is on our resources tab. We’ve got everything from, you know, webinars to video to looking at the surveys, all at no cost. And then if you want to get a hold of me. It’s L-E-E [email protected], or I’m on Twitter. It’s @LeeMcKnightJr all one word. But yeah, I appreciate you letting me throw that out there to the folks.
Drew: Awesome. Thank you very much for your time. Listeners, appreciate your time as well. Check back next week for a new episode of Build A Better Agency. Thanks so much.
That’s all for this episode of Build A Better Agency on developing a new business process. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. While you’re there, sign up for our e-newsletter, grab our free e-book and check out the blog. Growing a bigger, better agency that makes more money, attracts bigger clients, and doesn’t consume your life is possible here on Build A Better Agency.