Six actions you can take today to prospect and close business effectively in a chaotic economic climate without hurting your brand.

This is not meant to be a cheesy, ‘glass-half-full’ platitude, but I think it’s an important question to ask genuinely:

Is there a way in which this crisis could make your agency stronger?

Recently at Sales Schema, an agency-specialized new business consultancy, we centered a live workshop, with around 70 agency owners, on the above question.

We are not prophets, economists, or epidemiologists, but we’ve learned a lot in recent weeks, combined with many hard-won lessons from working with 50+ agencies, executing 7,000+ campaigns, and generating 3,000+ qualified brand meetings.  

Here are six actions your agency can take today to ensure you’re healthy and thriving in 90-180 days.

1.Deal in facts, not rumors.
We are hearing a lot about spending freezes, furloughs, and firings.  Sometimes the rumors are true, and the obvious cases are in-person-centric industries like restaurants, retail, and cruises. 

Just as often, we see agency owners making brash assumptions based on one or two data points, such as a single terse email response from a client or an ill-informed news article.  

For example, it’s easy to assume that interest in event marketing is fading, but we have a client in that space for whom we secured conversations with three ‘blue chip’ tech companies last week – after all, these brands are looking for leadership and ideas to move from in-person to digital, and they have more time than usual to talk to salespeople.

In another case, a web services and staff-augmentation client of ours is landing renewals with clients because this crisis revealed them to be the best, fastest, cheapest option in comparison to in-house employees and competing vendors.

The best way to get meaningful data is to actually get out to your market, not just by prospecting, but by learning, teaching, and banding together with partners…

2.Talk to your clients. 
Okay this one is cliche, but how you connect matters.

Keep in mind that your clients might be somewhat reserved or even cagey on a normal day – after all, as marketing leaders, there’s a lot on their shoulders.  In the midst of a crisis, that dynamic is amplified. 

So vulnerability matters.  Connect on-one-on, preferably via phone.  Share what’s going on in your agency before asking for information, and again, avoid assumptions. One of our agency clients made the keen observation that crisis reveals strong organizations from dysfunctional ones, and you may be surprised by what you find as you dig into their situation.  As quoted by Warren Buffet, circa 2008, “When the tide goes out you see who’s swimming naked.”

3.Band together. 
It’s easy to get stuck in your patch of the woods and forget the wider forest.  Keep in mind that there are lots of other people partnering and doing business with your ideal clients.  What can you learn from them about what’s actually happening?  How can you band together to help each other?

Could you host a workshop with your clients and the founder of a software company you rely on to fulfill your service?  Could you partner with, or even start, an awards panel for the industry you serve? (An idea executed to great effect by an agency in our network).

The most overlooked area of prospecting is re-engagement.  For ourselves and our clients, this is where the highest close rates live. 

Unfortunately, many agencies don’t re-engage: busy-ness, laziness, and poor CRM management gets in the way, and the relationships the agency worked hard to build flow away like tears in rain (I can never resist a Blade Runner simile). 

The good news is that consistency and simplicity is more important than perfection, and we’ve shaken deals lose by asking prospects a simple question like this one:

Hey Marc, we talked a few months ago about new business support.  If you don’t mind me asking, in what direction have you gone since then?

90% of the time, the answer is some version of, “we’ve done nothing at all.”

If you want to get fancier, could re-engage via content?  Or invite your prospect to be a panelist on a webinar?  Or ask them to attend a digital lunch and learn? 

Another re-engagement tactic that 3x’d our meeting rate: switching up senders and inviting prospects to learn from a particular specialist at the agency.  

5.Become a leader. 
Most agencies do little to tell their worlds what they know. 

Either they are silent publicly, out of fear of spilling the supposed ‘secret sauce’, or they deal in superlatives and vagaries, emphasizing how cool and creative they are, without offering very much meat on the bone. 

If there ever was a time, now is one to be useful and impart wisdom. 

There are lots of effective ways to do this, but in our experience, the highest leverage point, and the best starting point, is plugging yourself into existing audiences before or while you build out your own audience.

We do this for clients by securing them interviews and guest posts on targeted industry podcasts and publications.  When we can do this alongside brand-focused outreach, the effect is amplified: sending a CMO a link to an interview you took part in on an authority publication is a lot more powerful than attaching yet another dusty case study.  Here are a few effective angles for landing placements:

  • Controversial opinions. 
  •  Insider secrets ie. where brands waste money.
  •  “War stories”
  •  Personal stories of transformation and learning.
  •  Prophecy: where you think your industry is going.  

6. Build new relationships (tastefully). 
Prospecting is kind of like riding a bicycle up a steep hill: if you pause for too long, you lose momentum and you start rolling back down.  When prospecting stops the stagnation typically happens 90-180 later, and if the doldrums coincide with a down economy, the effect can be deadly.  

The good news: right now we are seeing as much if not more responsiveness from marketing leaders than usual.  Some hunches as to why: a need for new ideas and leadership, more time to talk with outsiders, curiosity… 

But even if responsiveness was down, which may happen, it would not change our mission – we’d still have to experiment to land on the right words to the right people to secure new relationships for our clients. 

Here’s what we are doing to be effective over the next few months: 

  • Increasing personalization.
    Crafting outreach messaging that shows we’ve done our homework. 
    This might mean incorporating custom fields, referencing news results and articles produced by the prospect’s company, and LinkedIn research.
    We still have to maintain a certain activity tempo – usually this means contacting 50-150 new prospects weekly (depending on the industry and other factors).
  • Avoiding assumptions.
    Back to the earlier point – we don’t know what we don’t know.   Generally speaking, as far as copy goes, “I hope…”, is stronger than, “You probably….”
  • Lower barriers to entry.
    This deserves its own article, but is there a way you can make it easier for people to get started with you, without kneejerk price reductions?  

Could that $50k audit, which leads to a longer-term retainer deal, become a $5k one-day workshop?  

If there ever was one, now is the time to fight paralysis and be proactive. 

The good news is that prospecting does not have to be daunting, scary, or otherwise uncomfortable – you can broad frame the mission by doing at least one of these three things each and everyday: 

  • Learn from your market. 
  • Teach them something new. 
  • Sell them something useful.

If you’d like to dig deeper into copy examples, our new business workflow, and specific tactics, I recommend our free live workshop recording here.  

Keep on keeping on.