I know you have one in your head – but if I were to ask you to show me your new business development program (diagrams, action plans, actual tools to help with execution) – could you? I know, I know – you get most of your leads through referrals. While those are lovely to have – relying on them means you’re about to get stuck. We’re giddy about referrals because it means we don’t have to sell and most agency owners hate the “S” word.

And that’s what I talked with my podcast guest Mark Duval about. He teaches agencies how to prospect and sell.  

In this conversation, we work our way through the idea of how to develop and execute the right new business program so you can attract the right clients. Join Mark and I as we share these tangible, actionable steps by focusing on:

  • Mark’s background and how he got into the business of helping agencies
  • Why you need a written new business plan
  • Why you need to work on your differentiation
  • Finding the right new business program for your organization
  • Finding the right number of clients (and finding the right amount to bill them)
  • The danger of sounding desperate to clients
  • The importance of attitude and behavior
  • Questions any agency should ask their prospects
  • Why you need to serve up who you are and what you do on your website
  • Understanding what your prospects consume and figuring out how to position yourself as a thought leader in those spaces
  • Making introductions between prospects and the people you know that they need to know
  • Why you should set up Google alerts on prospects you really want to work with
  • Figuring out how to start your new business process program
  • Why you need salespeople to manage sales people

Mark Duval is the founder of The Duval Partnership, helping agencies win new business through a variety of strategic services including prospecting and lead generation, sales training, and agency auditing and diagnostics. Mark formerly headed business development efforts for Univision and CBS. He brings over 25 years of client direct sales experience to his work.

The Duval Partnership’s average client tenure easily doubles their competitors. They are the only firm in their space that offers sales training & coaching, and they are also the only firm in their space that employs strategists.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/mark-duval/) 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!)

  1. How Mark Got into the Agency Side of Business
  2. The Biggest Mistake Agencies Make When it Comes to New Business
  3. Why Your New Business Program Needs to Constantly be Moving
  4. How to Properly Communicate with New Prospects
  5. Why You Should Always “Interview” New Business Prospects First
  6. Understanding What Process Means for Agencies
  7. Can “Being a Thought Leader” Be Your Only New Business Strategy?
  8. The Questions You Need to Ask Prospects in Your First Meeting
  9. Other Ways Agencies Can Nurture Prospects
  10. The First Thing You Need to Do in Your New Business Program

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, invest in employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25+ years on expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan: Hey there! Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. There is the common expression in agency life that new business solves all business problems and there is a certain truth to that, that when your pipeline is full, when the opportunities are plentiful, when everybody is busy so that the projects are not expanding to fill the available time but everybody’s got plenty on their plate, that’s when agencies really feel like they’re cooking.

It’s oftentimes finding that sweet spot when we are busy enough and we have lots of opportunity, we’re able to trade up to better clients, we’re having lots of good exciting conversations with prospects. That’s when agency life is at its best.

For many of you, the whole idea of biz dev and sales is a challenge. It’s probably not how you came up into the business. For some of you, you’re a natural at it and you love it and for others it’s a little like going to the dentist every single day. My guest today is going to help us with all of that.

Mark Duval is the founder of the Duval partnership. He and his team help agencies win new business through a variety of strategic services including prospecting, lead gen, sales training, and they also do some agency auditing and diagnostics.

Mark has a huge sales background. He comes from a different field but formerly headed up biz dev efforts for Univision and CBS. He brings over 25 years of client direct sales experience to his work. Mark, thanks for joining us on the show today.

Mark Duval: Drew, thanks for having me. I’m really honored to be a part of the podcast. You said something, there’s nothing more beautiful to a new business person than a full pipeline. I love the thoughts of that.

Drew McLellan: A full pipeline of right fit prospects.

Mark Duval: Of qualified prospects, let’s add that.

Drew McLellan: It’s easy to get a lot of people to subscribe to your email that does not necessarily mean they would be good clients.

Mark Duval: Exactly.


How Mark Got into the Agency Side of Business

Drew McLellan: With Univision and CBS, all of the work, what made you decide and when did you decide spending time with the agencies was your heart’s desire?

Mark Duval: I started this business about almost 10 years ago working exclusively with agencies. I was … I guess I was an entrepreneur at heart my whole career. It’s interesting because the path that I took went at Univision and CBS, worked for post Newsweek and then, actually, I’d cut my teeth on the industry selling for independent TV back when there were such things.

Most of it was client direct business development. There was a certain, for lack of a better term, lone wolf, if you will, nature that I have, I still possess, and that really spoke to me. I think that was a bit of the entrepreneur bug in me.

I took that path. In the media industry, there’s usually that triangle where you do the sales side and then you go to a local sales manager, national sales manager then general sales manager. I took a little bit of a different path where I did run sales teams and set sales budgets and compensation and strategy. I guess I took a left where everyone or most might have taken a right at that fork in the road. I just wanted to … ultimately, I got to a point where I wanted to work for myself. This opportunity just … I can’t say that I … I backed into it versus I had this grand idea.

Drew McLellan: That makes you just like most agents.

Mark Duval: Exactly. I backed into this. Quite honestly, I did that one of those gut checks and looking in the mirror, and I said, if I … I don’t know if this will work but what I will regret is if I don’t try. Here we are, 10 years later or going on 10 years, it’s been an interesting ride and, for the most part, I really enjoyed doing what I do. I enjoy actually working with a lot of the agencies.

I was thinking the other day, working with … as you know, most agencies are fewer than 50 people. We work with smaller agencies, and we work with actually larger agencies as well and with multiple offices globally.

One thing that really connects and really I enjoy is it reminds me of my early days in my career when I was actually working with business owners, and truly being able to effect change in their business. I really … I didn’t realize I miss that until I actually and I started experiencing this again.

We all get bigger and better jobs. I think you get, in our careers and we want those bigger and better jobs and you work for bigger companies and you get away from really what that connection to that business owner and really what matters and it just becomes a matter of numbers. I really enjoy-

Drew McLellan: You get away from the people that you’re helping in some ways.

Mark Duval: Exactly. It’s been a great experience. As I said, 10 years and hoping for many, many more to come.

Drew McLellan: I don’t know about you but when I started my agency back 21 years ago, it wasn’t really until about the 5-year mark that I sort of what, “You know what? I think this might work”.

Mark Duval: You know what? You’re right. I think up until five years, what I told myself was, “Well, if this doesn’t work, I’ll start something else.” It was never about going back into the belly of the beast. I think that at this point I’m unemployable so I better figure something else out.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that decision.

Drew McLellan: I suspect most entrepreneurs, I tell agency owners this all the time, I’m guessing that they … and I know this is true for me, I probably was not a great employee ever and now I would be abysmal so I got to figure out a way to stay self-employed.

Mark Duval: I often say that … and actually, this is a lesson that I had to learn with starting my own business and really managing people. Actually, there’s a challenge later in my career when I was working for those big companies, managing people, because for that, for such a long time, I was “that lone wolf”.

My mantra was always leave me alone, don’t mess with my money and everything will be fine. Probably not the best approach to take when you’re managing people and certainly, when you’re running a business.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, perhaps. You’ve had to change your tune.

Mark Duval: I did and it was a learning curve. Some of those lessons were hard lessons and I had to work hard because that’s not what comes naturally to me. What comes naturally to me I think to some degree with a lot of practice is just that hunting and that selling.


The Biggest Mistake Agencies Make When it Comes to New Business

Drew McLellan: That’s the perfect segue way into the conversation because I think a lot of agency owners and agencies get to the size so you’re right, the average agency in the US is eight to ten people. I think a lot of agencies, when they’re smaller, they can eat what they kill, family, friends, referrals.

At a certain point in time, the machine gets big enough or they aspire to be more profitable and all of a sudden, the home grown new business strategies which was really waiting for somebody to email them or call or bump into somebody in the network meeting.

All of a sudden, that doesn’t work anymore. That lone wolf model of sales which is parallel to what you are describing only works to a certain point for agencies, and that agency owner’s need to get serious about biz dev. For many of them, it’s not how they’re wired. It may very well be something that they hate doing.

Let’s go back now. Let’s look over the 10 years of you working with agencies. What is, do you believe, the biggest mistake agency owners make when it comes to their approach to business development?

Mark Duval: That’s a loaded question. I think what I see quite often is a lack of commitment. Very few actually have a written new business plan. There’s no structure to it. There is no process. I’m a big believer in sales follows strategy. When we work with agencies, we’re big on strategy. That’s the foundation into which you’re going to build your house on, if you will. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the cobbler’s kids having no shoes.

Drew McLellan: Oh my god, I hate that phrase.

Mark Duval: I would have flown out to see you in person in my private helicopter or jet.

Drew McLellan: I’m right there with you.

Mark Duval: Another thing that you’ll never hear me say is low hanging fruit. For me, in all my years in sales and starting this business, I didn’t experience a low-hanging fruit. It’s an incredibly competitive industry. Quite honestly, I hope I don’t insult anybody, there’s far too many agencies saying the same thing with no point of differentiation. Every piece of business is hard fought, and then you have to actually perform to keep it and grow it.

Drew McLellan: If it’s super easy to get, it’s either you sold it too cheap or they should have never been your client in the first place.

Mark Duval: Yeah. That’s a great point.


Why Your New Business Program Needs to Constantly be Moving

Drew McLellan: I do think there is a set process in most agencies and I call it the feast and famine process. What that is is you don’t do anything other than you get your monthly newsletter out three times a year. Everything’s fine as long as you’re fat and happy.

Then when your big client goes away, you go into panic mode and you start calling everyone you know, you start putting together great three-dimensional mailings, and then, you bring enough business to make you fat and happy again, and then you stop doing anything until one of those big clients goes away.

There is this all or nothing mentality which means that you have to take whatever limping animal is outside the door that you can kill because you need the business so badly, otherwise, you’re going to have to lay people off. The amount of what’s wrong with that scenario could take us four hours to discuss. That’s how most agencies do new business.

Mark Duval: Absolutely. I was having this conversation the other day. I likened it to someone who buys ocean front property and they don’t buy or you probably couldn’t get a mortgage without flood insurance. They see the storm clouds brewing on the horizon in there and then they decide to try to purchase some flood insurance.

Drew McLellan: As the rain is pattering on their roof.

Mark Duval: Exactly, and the waves are whipping up. It’s too late. We talked about a full pipeline earlier. There’s only one way to get that. That’s through a strategic and often sometimes, many times a painstaking process. We talk about … when there’s nothing in the pipeline or very few things in the pipeline, you start pushing and you start hearing things that are not based on reality. A client will say one thing and you hear it another way. We refer to that as hopium.

You start chasing bad business and something that I see quite often with agencies and something that we always, always try to drill in their heads is equal business stature. You belong in the room. The only way you’re going to have that is if you actually have opportunities within the pipeline.

When you don’t, a scenario that I see often is, they rush in, an agency rushes in and shows all of their, they do their capabilities presentations which I hate or they show a sizzle, or they start with a sizzle reel, which I hate, and then they’re just talking about themselves and they basically bleed all over the conference room table.

They walk out of there and everybody is shaking their heads, it’s a great meeting, the client loved it, they’re going to get back in touch with us, and they’re high-fiving on their way back to the agency.

Drew McLellan: They walk out the door and the client, the lingering smell of desperation is what’s left in the room.

Mark Duval: Exactly. What happens is you follow-up, or the agency follows up, they don’t hear. Then, two days later, they send an email, then the voicemail, “Hey, just checking In. I was out of the office so here’s my number, my cellphone. What I say is the client goes into the witness relocation program never to be found or heard from again.

When I tell that story, all agencies are just smiling and shaking their heads and they say … actually, one thing I say to agencies all the time too is you are not alone. This is-

Drew McLellan: Right. This is tough for everybody.

Mark Duval: This is not … the problems and the issues that you are experiencing are not exclusive to you. Actually, I think there’s some comfort to be taken in that.

Drew McLellan: There is the insight that if you are one of the few who do it well, there is competitive advantage to that because most people don’t do it well.

Mark Duval: Correct. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan: The other thing I remind agencies all the time is it’s not like you need a hundred new clients. If you are always swinging at your weight or little above your weight and you get a couple of great clients that have ongoing needs, that’s a great year for you.

Mark Duval: Absolutely. Absolutely. We look at agencies and we look at how many accounts they currently have. Oftentimes, there’s that whale of the-

Drew McLellan: Forty five.

Mark Duval: Or there’s this whale of an account that just represents. It’s such a massive amount of the business, I have no idea how they’re able to sleep at night. I think it goes back to really fundamentals and basics. How many accounts do you need at how much billing? You know what? Average attrition, what?

You’re going to lose 30% year-to-year, roughly? What does that represent? How much are you going to have to … how many new clients are you going to have to acquire within the upcoming year? You really, just to be even. I spoke to an agency the other day, the first six months of this year, they had five pitches, four of them were to retain the business.

Drew McLellan: That’s brutal.


How to Properly Communicate with New Prospects

Mark Duval: It’s brutal. It’s brutal. They’re just pitching just to tread water. We all know how much pitching is … it takes a lot of time, energy, effort, and money. When you don’t win and if you don’t have a full pipeline, and you’re pursuing bad business, you’re losing those pitches. It’s demoralizing to your staff.

Drew McLellan: The other thing you said that I want to get back to is that whole idea of, first, you could send the email, then you call. I ask agency owners to put that into, take the exact same language but pretend that you met someone at a bar and you got their phone number and this is what you’re doing.

Would you ever go out with you? “Hey! It was great meeting you at the bar. Sure hope I hear from you soon. Just checking in. Want to see if we could get together again. Think we had a great connection.” We just sound so yucky and so desperate.

Mark Duval: Desperate is exactly the word. The prospect, they realize that. They have a lot of people knocking at their door. That’s why I go back to saying act as if you belong there because you belong there and have and created an equal business stature. I’m not saying having this arrogance about you.

Drew McLellan: No, no, there’s a fine line.

Mark Duval: There’s a fine line. When agencies go into these meetings and they have that desperation, they quickly fall into the buyer’s pattern or game plan. Once you’re in that, you’re dead, you’re done because the buyer, and that could be the CMO, the SVP, EVP of Marketing, could be the Brand Manager, but they’re in control. When they’re in control, you lose. Something I also tell my agencies all the time, salespeople tend to speak 70% of the time.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, shut up.

Mark Duval: They have to reverse that. Some of the simple things that agencies can do and certainly, you can build on that but have a process. I often said, a bad process is better than no process. I’m not sure I completely agree with that but have a process. Part of that process is have a questioning strategy.

Drew McLellan: Absolutely.

Mark Duval: Back to that creating equal business stature is create those expectations up front, even as simple as confirming how long they have for the meeting. Quite often, I’ve seen is you’ll get in, you book a meeting for an hour, and it’s like, “Oh yeah, we only have a half an hour.”

That should have been addressed by the agency with a very simple question up front and understanding that. To be honest with you, if what you have to show them is going to take or discuss with them is going to take an hour and they only have 20 minutes or half an hour, then you need to reschedule the meeting.


Why You Should Always “Interview” New Business Prospects First

Drew McLellan: The word I use is swagger. I think a lot framework agency owners, I think the recession really beat up agency owners. If they survive the recession, odds are, they’re a pretty good shop. There are a lot of good shops out there but we got so used to begging for work and doing anything we could just to stay alive that we’ve lost our swagger.

I think agencies need to go into these prospecting meetings with a message whether it is overt or a little bit more subtle that basically says, “Look prospective client, I’m interviewing you to decide if we want to work with you.” It’s to see if you’re a good fit for us as well. That, again, there’s that equal stature that you’re talking about which is, this has to be mutually beneficial and we’re bringing a lot to the table and I need to know that you would really value it.

Mark Duval: Absolutely. I think one of the best questions you can ask is very simple, why? You get that call or an email from a prospect, it’s why? Why me? Why now? Tell me more. I think your point is spot on. An inbound lead is, from my experience, an inbound lead is quite often not worth the effort. It’s certainly worth the effort to cess out and have the discovery call but quite often, it doesn’t lead to business.

I think if you have a few questions that you can ask, you can at least determine if this is something that we want to continue to go down the road and pursue. I often say no is the second best word in sales.

Drew McLellan: Absolutely.

Mark Duval: I would rather have a 10-minute conversation and get to know than the typical scenario that I talked about earlier where you’re chasing that business and you’re putting together a proposal. That’s another thing. We did some training with a small agency, design agency not too long ago. I literally was going to print out, get a pin made with that proposal with the circle and the line through it, used to spend so much time writing proposals.

I just look at proposals as just a recap of scope of work. For the most part, proposals, it shouldn’t be a big reveal. It’s really about the talking points that you’ve already had. Sometimes there’s a creative element and there may be some creative ideas or whatever, sure.

Drew McLellan: Or some strategy, right?

Mark Duval: Exactly. Exactly. So many agencies I see write so many proposals.

Drew McLellan: And give away that farm in the proposal.

Mark Duval: Absolutely. Absolutely. That scenario I painted where you get called in for that meeting, if you don’t have a effective questioning strategy, you don’t truly understand what the client is or why they called you in, or why they’re meeting with you.

If you don’t have an ability to assess some pain points, then if you do put together a proposal, then it’s more of a guesstimate, if you will. Also, I think that you end up spending so much time chasing so much bad business and getting away from what’s going to grow your agency.

Drew McLellan: I’ve got a lot of agencies that have, in essence, an intake form. Over that first phone call or that first meeting, they literally will go through those questions. If the client is not forthcoming with those answers, they simply say, “You know what? Without this information, we have no way of knowing whether or not we can be helpful to you.” In essence, they say it nicer than this but either you pony up the information, budgets, past relationships with agencies, why us, all of those things, otherwise, you call us when you’re ready to.

Mark Duval: That’s great. Good for you and good for them for having it. I most think of agencies, when you think of a doctor with an intake and you go to a doctor and you tell me you have this, they don’t automatically prescribe medication for what you tell, there’s got to be a conversation.

So many agencies practice sales malpractice with not doing the homework. I love that intake form story. That’s great that the agencies are doing that. They’re spending so much less time on chasing bad business I would imagine and truly understanding if it’s a viable opportunity.


Understanding What Process Means for Agencies

Drew McLellan: At the top of the hour, you said the biggest mistake agencies make is that there’s no consistency, they don’t really have any business process. They take what works in the door, they take a lot of things that they shouldn’t, hey scoop up a lot of me knows rather than fishing for the size of fish that they should be bringing.

Talk to us a little bit about when you’re working with a client, when you say process, what does that look like? What are the components of it so that an agency can begin thinking about how they could build their own.

Mark Duval: That’s a great question. To my point earlier, we work with agencies of all shapes and sizes and serve its offering. It’s always about looking at that agency and understanding those core competencies and some can do more. Some agencies we work with have a lot. They’re writing, they’ve got their thought leadership, they’re going and speaking at engage trade shows.

Others are just really have core competency at work and they can demonstrate category expertise. I think it’s about taking that … doing a little bit of navel gazing if you are of the agency, not too much. I think there’s too much naval gazing going on. Truly looking at the agency and realistically looking at who your agency is and what they have.

From that creating that process, things that we talked to agencies about work with them. Often is, we hear and I’m sure you hear when you help with your agencies is that that positioning and that messaging, that point of differentiation. That’s key. You’ve got to have that. That’s based on-

Drew McLellan: By the way, that is not … we are a full service integrated agency.

Mark Duval: No, no, it’s not.

Drew McLellan: When you’re 14 people.

Mark Duval: Right. Right. I often say, and this isn’t all that sexy but, our experience is that brands, companies, they want to know, one, have you worked in my industry? What problems have you sold? What solutions have you provided?

That doesn’t sound all that sexy, and yes, you probably even though you’ve done your core competency is automotive, you probably could do that CPG client. You probably could do great work for whomever, General Mills, but you’re never going to get the shot. Let’s take an honest look at who we are and then build a plan accordingly.

I think it really does and I still, I always shudder when I see yet one more thought leadership or piece of a blog or something around positioning and messaging. I get they continue to be written because it’s not being done nearly as often as it should be. It’s hard. We work with agencies and sometimes agencies do it themselves, which is hard.

I often say it’s difficult to read the label when you’re inside the jar. Agencies tend to stop a little bit before they truly get to those real nuggets of information and insights, if you will. Because it’s really hard to do and they have been eating their own cooking for so language that they stop and don’t really get to some real point of differentiation.

A little quickly, I think that’s must have. Obviously, I wanted to talk a little bit about that process. I just also want to mention, we often see consistency is really the number one killer or lack of consistency for a new business program. I think as importantly is attitudes and behavior.

It’s really important not only consistency but you’ve got to have the right attitude and the right behavior. Case in point, nobody ever picks up their phone on Friday afternoon or it’s a holiday, no one’s in their office. We tell ourselves these things.

Drew McLellan: And accept them.

Mark Duval: And accept them. Also, they were a convenient excuse not to do what we should be doing, prospecting. Nobody wants to prospect. The behaviors are just about creating those behavior that you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. I actually like to come back to that a little bit later but let me get into, a very quick process that we work with agencies. Again, some of them gets a little bit more complex than this but there are some simply things that can be done.

Let’s just assume that the positioning and the messaging, that box has been checked whether we’ve worked with them or not. I think you really need to, then look at target selection.

Really, that defined list of targets, we talked about if you’ve got 12, average 12 accounts and you’re going to lose 30% attrition. That’s what? Two or three, it counts whatever, just start doing some simple math. But then, look at those, that target selection. They believe when your last piece of business is going to get you your next piece of business.

Not that we want to pigeonhole the agency, but truly, realistically, it’s probably going to be somewhat similar to that piece of business that you got. It’s about target selection and it’s looking at … there are some filters that you can look at. Certainly, it could be revenue, it could be employee head count.

You have a certain sweet spot of these that you need to have so that certainly needs to match up with revenue. It could be geography. Smaller agencies are always looking to get national accounts. I think that you need to fish where the fish are. Quite often, there’s a lot of fish right in your backyard.

It certainly is, we’re living in a global world. Some verticals, financial, regional banks are most likely are going to stick with a regional agency versus having someone flying across the country to a certain size. There are businesses, there are companies, industries like that. I think you have to look at that and geography needs to come into play.

Also, look at, is it a growth industry? Are you going after an industry that really has just, as a whole, has seen very little if any growth over a three or five-year track. That’s going to be a difficult piece of business. You may be able to get it but you’re truly going to be able to grow it and increase your fees. That’s one t