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!)
- How Mark Got into the Agency Side of Business
- The Biggest Mistake Agencies Make When it Comes to New Business
- Why Your New Business Program Needs to Constantly be Moving
- How to Properly Communicate with New Prospects
- Why You Should Always “Interview” New Business Prospects First
- Understanding What Process Means for Agencies
- Can “Being a Thought Leader” Be Your Only New Business Strategy?
- The Questions You Need to Ask Prospects in Your First Meeting
- Other Ways Agencies Can Nurture Prospects
- 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 thing I think is really important, is looking at that target selection.
I also think that agencies need to invest in some sales tools. Sales tools being some CRM systems. I’m sure you’ve gone over multiple types of serum systems whether you’re agencies and sales tools. I think that’s really important. We’re beyond the Excel sheet because the CRM tools are also going to help you start creating some metrics. I think that’s important.
Then, I think … these are very, very simply things that can be done and certainly, when you have those done, then you’d sit down and start putting together a written new business plan, a pro-active sales plan. A lot of that goes back to your messaging and your position and your targeting. Looking at your activities, what are you going to do in order to engage and nurture those potential clients?
I often say there are multiple spokes within a new business wheel. We worked with an agency not too long ago. It was a small agency of 10 people. The CEO was heading up new business. The CEO was not going to send an email or send a phone call.
It was just that was not within his skill set. But what he did do is he actually wrote a very specific targeted blog. We’ve built a new business program around that. He does some speaking engagements so we put a little process and put a little strategy around that. We also helped him create a LinkedIn prospecting program.
Those are the three pillars of his new business plan for this year. It’s not about banging into phones and sending emails. Certainly, he needs the lair on other activities as he moves forward. But it’s about something that you can commit to and that it feels authentic.
Can “Being a Thought Leader” Be Your Only New Business Strategy?
Drew McLellan: There is some belief out there that inbound is enough, that if you are a big enough thought leader, if you speak at enough conferences, if you create enough content, that alone can be a new business strategy. Do you agree with that?
Mark Duval: This will be another four or five hour conversation. No, I don’t.
Drew McLellan: We’re going to need to refill our drinks.
Mark Duval: I don’t believe in that. I think inbound is one of those spokes within the new business wheel. I don’t know … I’ve worked with countless agencies over the past 10 years. I can count on one hand and I think I would have most fingers left, the agencies that actually have had a robust inbound program. Now, that is not a disparaging remarks against inbound.
I think it’s just, says something about the commitment that it takes and the time that it takes and being able to stick to a program. I personally do inbound, I create content. I look at it as more of a building credibility than I’m going to need another phone line from all of those inbound leads that I’m getting. I think it can be used to nurture a lead to … the word we use quite often is touch points.
How can we engage in a conversation or a relationship other than what we’re doing right now, phone or email or whatever it may be, sitting across the table. How do we continue to engage you?
I always take all of those percentages, three percent, five percent or whatever, I always take those with a grain of salt. But I did see an article recently that said, “Only three percent of companies are in need of your services at any point.” Let’s just say, even if, let’s just say it was 10%. That’s a lot of nurturing, that’s a lot of work that needs to be done in order to stay in front of those individuals and have a conversation.
I think that goes back to having an effective questioning strategy to truly understanding if there’s a viable opportunity here, truly getting below the surface and truly getting to pain and understanding that what you have to offer can actually help.
Even that, it’s a long process that may shorten the window. I mentioned working with agencies who have many spokes or many tools in their new business kit. That’s great if you have them so you could continue to nurture that lead and serve that up on a regular basis. Those who don’t, it’s hard.
Drew McLellan: Yeah, it’s daunting.
The Questions You Need to Ask Prospects in Your First Meeting
Mark Duval: It is very daunting. All the more important to truly, truly define how’s in need of your services and to have a very rock solid program or questioning strategy in the process.
Drew McLellan: When you talk about the questioning strategy, we’ve talked about it a few times, give us a handful of questions that … and more than the “what keeps you up night” question which I think has been done to death.
What are questions that every agency should walk into that initial meeting armed to ask? We talked about the why.
Mark Duval: Yup, why is good. I think any question that gets the prospect talking is a good question. Simple things like, can you be more specific? Give me an example. I think I may have mentioned but asking them how long has this been a problem? How long has this been going on? Which is actually a good indicator.
If someone says, “Well, we’ve been dealing with this for three and a half years, and they haven’t done anything, most likely they’re not going to do anything. That’s a good indicator that they may not be a good prospect.
On the heels of that, what have you tried to do about that? If they say, “Well, we’ve been experiencing this and it’s been going for x, y, z time, you can follow up and say, what have you done to eliminate that? Then you can get further … I think there are simple questions like that, but then I think you can get further down and them, “Well, how much do you think this is costing you?” That can lead into a very-
Drew McLellan: How often is the CEO asking you about this?
Mark Duval: Exactly. Is this truly an issue felt company-wide. We had an interesting conversation with a client about that recently. They were talking about, which is a huge issue with every company but very few people actually want to invest in it, the Intranet, because it’s not sexy. It’s like putting a new plumbing or heating or air-conditioning on your house. It’s like nobody can see it from the outside. You put in landscaping every little while that’s really great.
The intranet and, I had an interesting story that the people, employees who lead within the first year often make that decisions within the first week of being hired. That’s all during the onboarding process, that’s during the intranet.
There is champions within the company, usually HR, internal comms, maybe CTO who really are fighting for it but where is going to come from? Certainly not going to come out of the marketing budget. CMO doesn’t want to hear about that. CFO, if you can, doesn’t want to spend that type of money.
Is it truly an issue internally too your point? Along the cost is how much is this issue costing you, costing the business? How is this truly affecting that individual? Because there’s business pain and there’s personal pain.
Years ago, when I was working for Univision, I did a lot of work with Kraft. Those guys, they lived, we’re always trying to break down the silos. You’ve got someone in the deplorables division, if you will, who dealt with nothing but mayonnaise and salad dressings. That’s … their whole world existed around that.
All it was was moving that needle because they were looking to move up within the organization. There was some real personal pain there. There was the business pain but there was that underlying, personal pain too. If I can move the needle, then I’m going to be able to advance my career. Whenever you can get to that personal pain, easier said than done but that is the grand slam.
Drew McLellan: Yeah, right. That’s the gold. I think you make a great point that agencies, and I’ve been preaching this for awhile, agencies need to broaden the way they look at businesses. They need to see themselves as business problem solvers,. If they get in through helping with an intranet or HR issue around recruiting or customer service issues or whatever, that’s okay. You don’t have to go in through the front door. There’s lots of windows and side doors to walk into a business and make a profitable client out of them.
Mark Duval: Absolutely. My experience is, is where, most of the agencies that we’ve worked have some needed help with new business. For the most part, they’ve been pretty at retaining and growing that business.
Once you’re in there, what are you going to use to pierce the armor? Maybe it is that one specific service offering. A problem that I see with so many agencies is they try to get through the door with everything that they have. That’s really hard, one to position well to prospective client, but also trying to figure, that prospective client trying to figure out, if they have to figure how they’re going to use you, they’re not going to use you.
I often tell agencies, your number one sales tool is your website. If a buyer goes on your website and they have to work and figure out who you are and what you do, you’re done. You have to serve it up.
Drew McLellan: Quickly and easily.
Mark Duval: Absolutely.
Drew McLellan: They shouldn’t dig through five pages to get to it.
Mark Duval: Right. One question I love too, is doing nothing an option?
Drew McLellan: Yeah it’s great question.
Mark Duval: Looking at them as you say that and just seeing the reaction. Most people will tell you, “Oh no! We’re going to do something.” Depending on how they’ve answered to some of the other questions, you already have the answer to that question. It’s a bit disarming and it’s interesting we’ve heard a lot of different answers to that question but it’s a good one.
Other Ways Agencies Can Nurture Prospects
Drew McLellan: Yeah, absolutely. Those are great suggestions. Thank you. Let’s assume that you’ve had a good meeting with somebody but they are not in the 10%, they’re not ready to hire someone right now but they fit your, what I call, sweet spot client profile. They would be an awesome client for you. You want to stay on their radar screen and you want to do that nurturing.
Other than calling every once in awhile to, “Hey, just checking to see how business is”, or that thing, what are some of the ways that you recommend to agencies nurture?
Let’s say that we know that this client is going to hire an agency 18 months from now. What should I be doing between now and when they put out the RFP in 16 months to make sure I’m on that list? What do I do between now and when their contract is up in 18 months. I know they’re already unhappy with who they’re working with.
How do I, in today’s age of the consumer having control of their inbox and their voice mailbox, how do I get them to actually, A) allow me to stay in touch with them and B) actually enjoy the interaction so that when they’re ready to make a change they are feeling favorable about me and my shop.
Mark Duval: It’s a great question. I think there’s many things that you can do. We’re in the age of social selling, so certainly understanding where they are socially, if they are active socially, following them serving up information through social channels. We talked about inbound, this is a great way to serve up information to them on a semi-regular basis.
An interesting thing that we did exactly along these lines is, it was in the CPG industry and an agency that had a good body of work within the CPG industry and we actually help them get some placement, get some … we’re not a PR agency, we’re not getting to places but we have created relationship with some industry trade journals and magazines. They wrote some thought leadership pieces within that.
If you’re a brand manager, you’re not starting your day with ad agent that week. You’re starting your day with most likely frozen foods and refrigeration digest or something like that.
Drew McLellan: Which is a fascinating read.
Mark Duval: Exactly. Right that stand but that’s where it goes back to the story I told about the brand manager at Kraft. We all want to be an ad agent ad week but does that truly, does that actually make the cash registers ring?
But if your, and I think it’s something that is often overlooked to do a little bit of research and do a little bit of studying and understanding what do these people consume and can you somehow put yourself in front of them as a thought leader and knows where they go to consume that information on a daily or weekly basis?
There’s also, we talked about conferences. Over the years, they’ve gotten a lot more selective and now they’re all pay to play.
Drew McLellan: Yup, absolutely.
Mark Duval: Can you possibly be, can you get an opportunity there? I think asking permission actually is way back when in that meeting where they said, “We really, this is great, we’re not in the market right now”, asking them permission to continue to stay in touch and maybe identify who you’re going to stay in touch. I’d like to add you to our quarterly newsletter or our weekly blog or whatever and get their permission.
You know what? Put them on it once they say yes, because most likely, they’re going to forget and they’re not going to sign up. There’s just a lot of-
Drew McLellan: But then you actually have to send out the newsletter or update the blog.
Mark Duval: I’m making a little exception here.
Drew McLellan: Okay, I’m just saying.
Mark Duval: That you’re right. I’m assuming that you are creating content on a semi-regular basis. There’s different ways. there’s also … it’s a fine line between really understanding where your prospects and what they do socially and stalking them. They may be a part of some organization, some social organization that may be something that you too may be involved in. Clients always asks us-
Drew McLellan: Or it would be beneficial for you to be a part of.
Mark Duval: Should be a part of.
Drew McLellan: Yeah, yeah.
Mark Duval: That’s absolutely, not just join it because you want to get their business but in fact this is actually a worthy cause that I should be a part of. We’re often asked, when we do prospecting or starting a prospect lead generation program with an agency, I’ll say, well who do you know? I said, “Well, it’s really, who we know is quite often is not relevant. It’s who do you know.
You look and you go on there at LinkedIn, and they’ve got all of these connections with prospects that they want you to open doors for them. It’s like, we need to look at this. Again, LinkedIn, some people are, well, only link in with folks who they truly know, some take a little bit of a liberal approach where we’re in the industry. You have to look at that. Often, agencies, at least the CEOs, they’re connected if they have somewhat of an active social or LinkedIn presence. They’re connected with a lot of people.
Drew McLellan: They want to be connected to other people. I think one of the ways to nurture that relationship over that long haul is to think about who you know that they need to know, not in a I wanted you to talk to Bob because he’ll tell you I’m a great agency.
But in a you know what, you mentioned in our conversation that you’re having this issue and I know this business over here who has solved this issue or can help you with that issue. I just like to make an introduction and then step out. It’s completely … it is absolutely not self-serving but it is you demonstrating that you are going to bring solutions to their issues.
Mark Duval: Absolutely. Absolutely. In that same line, certainly if you’re creating those work for a current client or something, you can serve up. If you’ve got permission to stay in touch, you could serve up that information on a semi-regular basis. Again, depending on the size of the agency, it’s not like they have new work breaking every month.
It’s really looking at, and I think it’s nurturing and following with a prospect, it’s like creating a new business program, looking at it and creating a strategy around that and what can we do. There’s all sorts of tools too. You could Google Alerts, certainly, they should be on your radar screen. It could be, depending on the company, a stock change could be some big news.
Anybody you’re going after, you should have some trigger mechanism that is going to give you an indicator that there’s been some major leadership changes or things going on. It could be expansion, it could be opening new, if it’s a brick and mortar type, opening new stores or expanding or acquisition. There’s a lot of different things that you can do to stay in touch.
You also have to give yourself a bit of a gut check. When you’re about to send that email or leave that voice mail or whatever, it’s like, is this truly relevant or is this just me trying to have or is this just a meaningless touch point?
The First Thing You Need to Do in Your New Business Program
Drew McLellan: Are they going to feel good about getting this? Is this going to be valuable to them in some way? Might agree. If folks have been listening to us for the last hour and they’re like, “Okay, I am no more feast and famine, no more inconsistency. I am on this. I get it. I get that I have to do something.”
What is the first thing an agency owner should do? Let’s assume that they have differentiating themselves, that they have a pretty good idea of who they are and who they can really delight on a regular basis. Once they’ve done that, what is the first thing somebody should do to plant a flag in the ground and being to actually have a new business process of program inside their shop?
Mark Duval: I think the first thing you have to understand is it is a process. This is a especially creating a business from the ground up, it’s a long term endeavor. You have to be realistic about how long it’s going to take.
I also think that, who is going to do this? Are you going to have someone? Do you have someone on staff? Do you currently have a new business director? If so, what do we need to do, what do we need to change in order to have the success that we want? Who is going to do this? If you’re going to hire someone, what are some of the things, what are you looking for?
For me being a sales guy, in my whole sales career, I’m constantly interviewing. I think agencies especially around new business, and really pretty for every job title, there should be a continuous interview and flow of resumes, if you will.
Drew McLellan: Especially in today’s job market.
Mark Duval: Absolutely. I’m constantly interviewing. I pretty much have a help wanted ad out there at all times. What I do is when I’m looking to add to staff in sales is when I get the resume, I look at it, if it’s something of interest, then I send them an online sales assessment.
One, if they don’t want to fill it out, then they’re immediately disqualified, which is fine. Depending on what comes back to me, and it’s pretty robust, depending on the scores on the certain areas that I look at, then I’ll have a conversation and we’ll start that process.
Again, using technology, if you will, to save time, and get the best possible candidates. There is so much around this question talking to some agencies and working with some agencies who are bringing on and want to hire new business directors is, it’s not just a matter of hiring because, again, I hire sales people all the time, there’s a lot of great interviewers out there but when you put in-
Drew McLellan: Right chair.
Mark Duval: That’s a completely different but completely different situation but what I would … and it doesn’t end there.
Drew McLellan: I call that the myth of the magical, mythical new business sales person that once you add them on staff, all of your new business problems are solved.
Mark Duval: It’s right in line with the magic that rock which to some degree nothing negative about inbound marketing but many people look at inbound marketing, content creation as that magical pet rock. Those with those magic Rolodexes who are just going to start bringing in clients immediately because they have this history of individuals that they’ve worked with.
I think half the battle is getting someone in the door and unless you say you’ve found that right person. Who’s going to manage that person? A real problem that I see is you have non-sales people managing sales people. That’s a real issue.
You’re relying on this individual to set up a structure and set up back to behaviors and what they’re going to do on a weekly, monthly basis. That quite often does not get you to the promised land. That’s a real problem that I’ve seen is you have non-sales people hiring and managing sales people.
I think the one thing that agency owners can do, need to do is one, make the commitment, take a true look at your agency, who you are, what you do, where you excel and then just start taking very simple steps around identifying and engaging those prospective clients. That may be depending on the size of the agency that may fall upon the agency CEO. Personally, I think there’s no better salesperson in the agency than the CEO.
Drew McLellan: No doubt about it. Absolutely.
Mark Duval: As that 8 to 10 person agency grows to 20 to 30 to 40 people, they no longer have the time to invest in that. We often say sales is not a punctuated event. This is not about, “Oh, I’m going to carve out three hours Tuesday afternoon and then I can do my follow ups Thursday morning.”
We both know, you hit that, your office door Thursday morning and you’ve got, your phone is literally up and you’ve got 15 emails that need to be addressed immediately. You have to identify who is going to do the work, and then you have to empower them and then you have to have a plan in place in order to monitor their efforts.
I have a relationship with a good friend who is from Sandler Training, some of the things that I have said today are from Sandler Training. I don’t claim to own them. It’s one of the best practices. I’m not sitting here, this is not an endorsement for them. Personally, I’ve had a good experience.
I think so many individuals within an agency who are responsible for sales have never gotten any formalized sales training. Even those great athletes that we see on TV who are these natural, these, “Oh they’re natural athletes”, they put in a lot of time and energy and effort to be at that level where they are. They didn’t just pick up a ball.
Drew McLellan: No matter how their natural gift was.
Mark Duval: No matter how natural … I always say salespeople are made, they’re not born.
Drew McLellan: Thank goodness, right? It means anyone can learn how to do it.
Mark Duval: Yeah, for the most part.
Drew McLellan: Right. There are some given exceptions.
Mark Duval: That’s funny but we’ve actually have … because we do some training and we have worked with a few after getting an assessment back and coming to the conclusion that these people are fairly untrainable. That’s okay.
Drew McLellan: This is never going to be your gift.
Mark Duval: Exactly. I don’t know if there’s one … I guess the one thing is make the commitment, make the commitment. It’s like get off the couch, put away the potato chips and go to the gym. That’s where it starts. It’s a process.
Have a process, have a simple … define your targets, get some sales tools if you can and then implement a sales plan. I will say this about bringing on a sales person or director of business development, whatever we want to call them. Have them a part of the sales plan. Have them have some skin in the game, if you will.
Drew McLellan: Absolutely, absolutely.
Mark Duval: What I see so often is a sales plan is, if there is one, slid across the desk to the new hire.
Drew McLellan: You can’t do that.
Mark Duval: They have no skin in the game. If they’ve helped to create it, then you’ve got buy in. You eliminate, for the most part, back to those things that I talked about earlier, those attitudes and behaviors. If you don’t have skin in the game, then that attitude about, “oh this doesn’t …” all of those things that we tell ourselves in order for us not to do what we need to do, those come into play.
Drew McLellan: Absolutely. That is great note to wrap this up on. Mark, thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your insights and your experiences. I know that this is a podcast that people will come back to time and time again and use as a tutorial for improving their new business process. Thank you very much for sharing what you know.
Mark Duval: Thanks so much Drew, I appreciate the opportunity.
Drew McLellan: How do people get a hold of you if they want to learn more about the Duval Partnership and working with you or your thought leadership pieces, how do they find you?
Drew McLellan: Okay, we’ll put both of those in the show notes. Okay, thanks for joining us, thanks for being with us for another episode. If you have not subscribed, please make sure you do so that you get all of the good content that people like Mark share every week with us. I really, really want you to hear what these people have to say because it makes all the difference in the world.
This is your ongoing education around making your agency incrementally better. I know it’s good but I know it can be a little bit better and that’s my goal. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss anything. I will be back next week with another great guest. Until then, keep doing the good work. Talk to you soon.
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