Episode 332:

Business development is a complicated and challenging aspect of agency life for many owners. The same rules that applied when the agency was new no longer apply once it starts to settle into its identity. But what is that identity, and how can it best be leveraged for business growth? And what if you want to shift that identity to better define how you want to be seen and known?

After five episodes talking about the various pieces of the Biz Dev puzzle, this final episode in the mini-series pulls it all together into an action plan. It’s not enough to want to do better; you have to do the work, identify the goals and put an accountability process into place.

Here, we’re going to explore specific, tangible steps for making Biz Dev at your agency a success.

For example — you might be considering hiring someone to manage your business development. We’ll look at the reality of that route.

We’ll also do a short recap of the topics covered in this series, and then we’ll dive into a game plan that starts with dividing the sales funnel into four sections, each with its specific approach.

And by the end of the discussion, you’ll be ready to take your biz dev plan to the next level.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Biz Dev Ideas Into Action

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Thoughts on hiring new business development managers
  • Recapping Episodes 1-5 of this biz dev series
  • Steps of a Biz Dev System
  • Identify sweet spot prospects
  • The need for accountability
  • A sales funnel exercise
“It’s dangerous for us to assume as agency owners that clients want or can afford to have a generalist.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Biz dev cannot be a casual sport. This is something you need to play every day. You need to work that muscle, and you need to play to win.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “If you’re not convinced yet that you are an expert, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re putting out helpful content, and the world thinks you’re an expert.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “When I think about my core audience, does what I’m about to give them help them do their job better? If the answer is yes, hit publish. If the answer is no, do not touch that button.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “You can’t possibly form a relationship with a thousand prospects, but you can form a relationship with 25.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “You need to create something for your existing clients that makes them feel special–like they’re part of an insider’s club.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “Being a connector is a really powerful tool when it comes to biz dev and for creating a position for yourself as being an authority.” @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Drew McLellan:

Tools & Resources:

About the Author: Drew McLellan

For 30+ years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. He started his career at Y&R, worked in boutique-sized agencies, and then started his own (which he still owns and runs) agency in 1995. Additionally, Drew owns and leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small to mid-sized agencies on how to grow their agency and its profitability through agency owner peer groups, consulting, coaching, workshops, and more.

  • Leading agency owner peer groups
  • Offering workshops for agency owners and their leadership teams
  • Offering AE Bootcamps
  • Conducting individual agency owner coaching
  • Doing on-site consulting
  • Offering online courses in agency new business and account service

Because he works with over 250+ agencies every year, Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written several books, including Sell With Authority (2020), and has been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”



Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to midsize agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market. We’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. We want to help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and if you want down the road, sellable. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McClellan.

Drew McCellan:

Hey, everybody Drew McClellan here from Agency Manage Institute. Happy to be with you again for another episode of Build a Better Agency. If you have been following along since the beginning of the year you know that this is my big wrap up to a six week podcast or mini series if you will. Normally we do four guests in a row and then I do a solo cast and then four guests in a row but I decided to shake things up this year. 2022 for me is about looking at all the things that are working and going well and asking myself, could they be better or could they be different or is there a twist that needs to happen? And so I was thinking about the podcast and I just decided that so many of you go dormant on the biz dev front from Thanksgiving or early December and so your pipeline has not heard from you and you haven’t really thought about biz dev in a really concentrated way for almost two months.

So I decided to try and kick you in the rear end and get you going on biz dev from a perspective of, okay, it’s January, we got to get back at this. And so that’s the reason for the series. So if you’ve been following along in real time, I told you that today’s was where we were going to get down into the nitty gritty of, okay, how do you do this? How do you create a position of authority? How do you claim that position? And then how do you leverage it so that pretty soon the right fit prospects are actually calling you and knocking on your door? And I’ll tell you a couple stories about that in a minute.

Just want to remind you before I dig into this, a couple things. Number one, we’ve got a great workshop coming up in mid-March called Running Your Agency for Growth and Profit. It’s for agency owners and agency leaders. We basically take all of the back of the house operations. So money, biz dev, HR, operations, process, systems. All of that. And we teach best practices for all of those things. And we’ll literally have agency owners who’ve been doing this for 20, 25 years come to the workshop and go, “I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that.” And reality is there’s not one central place to learn all of these things. And so most of us learned it by hook or crook as we were going through our agency, or we made it up as we went, which is how most of us did it. And I know when I found AMI before I bought it many, many moons ago it completely changed the way I ran my agency when I took workshops like this one because I knew things I had never heard before. And it just completely was a game changer for me.

So I hope it would be a game changer for you as well. Again, would love to see you March … I think it’s the 14th and 15th in Chicago. Also a couple months after that, we’ve got the Build a Better Agency Summit coming up May 24th and 25th. We’re about half sold out as of this recording, which is early January. So don’t wait. We have a cap at 300 people because I want to keep it small and intimate and let everybody be connected with one another. Killer speakers, great sponsors, great attendees. I had several people say, “I can’t believe it, but this is a conference I actually don’t want to leave. I just want to stay here and keep doing this.” And I promise we’re going to deliver that kind of experience again. I can promise that because it has nothing to do with me. It has to do with the people that gather together and how committed they are to connecting and helping each other and learning from one another. So it’s really a great couple days. You will leave energized and proud of the work that you do and proud to know the people you do. And we would love to have you there.

So both of those things, the workshop and the summit, you can go to the agencymanagementinstitute.com website. The summit is the very first navigation on the left. BABA summit. And then the workshop you can find under the how we help tab and then you’ll see workshops and just scroll over and you’ll see Running Your Agency For Growth and Profit.

All right. Let’s get to this. So couple things. First of all, I had a couple people reach out to me after the first episode and they had some questions about if you’re going to hire a new business person, what does that look like? Basically it was, “Drew, I hear you. I know that as the agency owner I’m supposed to do biz dev but I don’t want to so I want to hire it out.” And I will say … I’m going to walk through the best way to do the hiring or the best way to build the compensation anyway. But first, what I want to say is understand that oftentimes a new business person is not successful. So it is a really challenging position to do if you’re not the agency owner or you haven’t been at the agency for a while. So just go into it with a grain of salt. So first of all, a lot of people ask me if they should pay finders fees to their employees if they make referrals and you absolutely can if the prospect meets your criteria for what a sweet spot client looks like.

And what that means is you actually have to have defined what your sweet spot clients look like. If you have not downloaded our sweet spot client filter yet, you can go to Agency Management Institute website and just search for sweet spot client filter and it’ll come up. We’ll include a link in the show notes. I just don’t remember what the URL is now.

But if you haven’t done that, then you need to do that first. So if you’re going to pay your employees for bringing prospects to you, you only want to pay them if they’re good prospects. So you want to make sure that you have defined for them what a good prospect look likes. And you can’t do that if you haven’t really gone through the exercise. And by the way, if you’re going to give them a cut or a finder’s fee, you want to make it a flat fee. So it’s either a flat, we’ll give you $500 if we get a meeting with someone or whatever. I’ve had some agencies where they offered a referral fee if we landed the client, and then they shared in the spoils of the agency’s new client. That did not work out well for them. It’s different when you have a new business person or when you’re doing it for just a regular employee. A flat fee for a meeting or a win is great, but don’t be promising a percentage of revenue or AGI or profits long term. That is not going to work out well for you. The math gets really ugly in a hurry.

But if you’re going to hire someone, now we’re not talking about just everybody on the team. But if you’re going to hire someone to do new business for you and this is their primary job function, then typically the way you want to pay them is you want to give them a small base and a good piece of the AGI. And a good salesperson will always take the small base and the higher percentage of AGI because they believe in their ability to sell. If you have a prospect for the job that wants a full on salary and doesn’t want any commission or whatever, you should worry about the confidence level of that person to actually do the job.

So anyway, so a small base, and then I like to recommend, and I think it’s a best practice for you to have a sliding scale based on targets. So for example, let’s say your ideal client is spending $200,000 a year or more with you. Then you might say, “Okay, so for any client that we land that spends from zero to 50K you get 1% of the AGI or from 50 to 150 you get 3% of the AGI. And from 150 on you get 5% of the AGI.” Or whatever it is. But I would have a slide scale that drives them to try and find for you the ideal client. So you don’t want a bunch of piddly little clients. You want clients that are big enough that they matter inside the agency ecosystem. And so I wouldn’t overpay for small clients. Yes, you have to pay something, but you don’t have to pay the same something as you would for a big client. So keep that in mind.

You can also say, “Look, there’s a kicker that goes in. So if you land a client from 50 to 150K of spend, you’re going to get 3% of that AGI. But if they’re in our niche, you’re going to get 4%.” Or whatever it may be. Or maybe you only get two if they’re not in our niche. So you can play with the payment schedule all you want but the point is build the payment schedule to drive the new business person to sell what you want them to sell.

And all of these payouts, all of the commissions and all that should be for one year only. Because after that, honestly, the team has earned … If the client sticks around it’s because of the team, not because of the new business person. Do not, do not, do not, do not pay out for more than a year. And be careful when you’re building this. I’ve had agencies promise 10% of gross revenue or some crazy ass number. And sometimes you’re paying out more than you’re actually earning as an agency. So being sure you do the math and be careful that you’re not creating such a sweet pot for the new business person that you’re screwing the agency. So if they do insist on a larger base and you just think they’re the cat’s meow and you need to hire them, then there’s normally a threshold that they have to hit.

So for example, yes, I will pay you $85,000 but until you sell $500,000 of new AGI, there’s no commission paid on top of that. Your salary is your commission in essence. I’ll tell you that maybe one out of 25, and I’m probably being generous, biz dev people ever pay for themselves. And you need to be ready to invest in them for 12 to 18 months before you can really count on them making some decent sales. So if you’re going to go down that route, be careful and be patient because it takes a while and they need a lot of your time and tutelage. Because they really just don’t understand our business and they certainly don’t know how to tell the stories of our agency and how we did things. So you’re going to have to sort of build all of that.

All right. So that answers the question that I was asked. So I want to go back and just quickly review what we’ve talked about for the last five weeks. Because I’m getting to the point where you have to have bought into some of this for what I’m about to tell you to be valuable. So I think we’ve agreed that it’s dangerous for us to as assume as agency owners that clients want or can afford to have a generalist. And I showed you the data points out of our research that talked about the lion’s share of clients are working with agencies that live more than 200 miles away from them and when we asked them why they said, “Because they have a subject matter, because they have an expertise that we need.” So they are willing to work with agencies far away. And if you remember that the smaller the budget … So it was under a quarter of a million, a quarter of a million to a million, a million to 10, and then 10 million to 20 million. The smaller the number of budget, the smaller the percentage of clients who were currently working with an agency more than 200 miles away.

But at the 10 million, it was 64%. At the one million to 10 million it was 63%. It doesn’t drop below 50% until you get to the under $250,000 of budget a year. So smaller clients are more likely to work with local agencies or agencies nearby. Bigger clients with bigger spends are very comfortable. 63, 64% of them said, “Yep. My agency is more than 200 miles away and I don’t care because I want their depth of expertise.” Again, I’m going to tell you that it’s tough to live as a generalist in our world today.

Another reason, which I don’t actually think we even talked about, but we’re doing a lot of succession planning at AMI and one of the things we’re doing is we’re grading what qualities about an agency might create a multiplier in terms of their value. And one of them is that the agency is a specialist or has a niche. So not only do clients value it more and are willing to pay more for it as our research shows, but if you ever want to sell your agency, you’ll sell it for more if you’re specialized, as opposed to a generalist. So there are just so many advantages to being a specialist and it’s … You know the industry already so honestly, part of the big advantage, which we haven’t talked about is it’s more profitable for you. The more industries you have to know and understand and the more people you have to have on staff that have expertise in those industries, the more expensive it is. But if you’re all on the same boat, rowing in the same direction, because you’re all serving the same kind of audience, you need fewer experts because your expertise spans out over the client base.

So you know the industry or the niche or the audience, whatever it is, you already have the specific skills and talents on your team. You can speak the language because it’s your language as well. You’re a part of that community. Which means that you can really focus on business problems because you get the business problems. And as I’ve said time and time again, clients have told us and have proven they’re willing to pay more for an expert than they are a generalist. All of that’s to say, if you’re on board with all of that, then let me tell you how to do it. Again, a reminder that the more narrow, the better, because what narrow does is it simplifies and magnifies your content. Like what you write about and what matters to your audience. It simplifies and magnifies what employees you need to go get and what skill sets they need to have.

It absolutely makes your biz dev strategy and targets and tactics easier. You know where to show up in terms of trade shows and it allows you to raise your prices. So narrow is the way to go. Another factor that we have to consider … And I mentioned this in one of the earlier podcasts about how the buyer’s journey for agencies has really changed over the years. And the good news is that that means you don’t have to live in what is considered an agency centric city like New York or LA or Chicago or Dallas to be found. That people are looking other places for agencies. And in fact, many clients don’t really care where you are. So thanks to the internet and all things digital prospects can search for an agency and they can find an agency and as long as the agency’s qualifications match and they have a conversation or however that plays out, geography is much less an issue.

I can remember we were doing work for a large brand based in Ohio and I had been there, I don’t know, three or four times. This was on the agency side of my world. And finally we were in the conference room and one of the guys said, “You’re from an I state, right? Like Idaho.” And I said, “Yes, but no. My agency is based in Iowa.” And he said, “Oh yeah, right.” Couldn’t care less. And it had been several meetings. Because we had met all the other criteria. So this buyer’s journey has changed for us and what it means is that we have to be findable, which I have been talking about for the last several weeks so I don’t want to beat that horse completely to death. But in some agency edge research that we did, 85% of the decision makers said that they found their agency, not the other way around. They went looking for their agency and found them.

And so again, that reminds us, that we have to be findable and we have to be accessible in the way that they would search for us. And when a prospect is looking for an agency, they just don’t put in advertising agency or marketing agency. Yes, they ask other people and yes, they pay attention to trade shows and where they might see you speaking. But oftentimes they’re going to Google and they are saying agency that specializes in, or healthcare agency or whatever it may be to try and narrow down the choices. I remember having a conversation with the folks at Mercer Island Group, the agency search firm. And they said a lot of times when they get hired by a brand to … And these are big brands, brands, big enough to afford a search firm.

And they say to the brands, “Okay, are there some agencies you want us to include when we send out the RFI?” In many cases the clients have no idea of a single name of agency. Or they might say, “Well, I’d like to talk to the agency that did that commercial or this commercial.” So they know the work, but they don’t know who did the work. And so again, we have to be findable. And all of that leads up to a couple things. Number one, biz dev cannot be a casual sport. This is something you need to play every day and you need to sort of work that muscle and you need to play to win. The good news is selling has changed. So there are very few agencies that successfully sell in the old way. And the old way was cold call a list or go to a trade show and slap some backs and buy some drinks.

That’s not working for most agencies anymore. What is working for agencies is what we’ve been talking all along, which is declare to the world who you are, who you’re for, what you’re about, who you serve, and then prove it over and over and over again by being a subject matter expert.

And so I now want to walk you through a very simple biz dev system or program that is not going to require an arm and a leg to pull off but will absolutely within 12 to 24 months … If you really do this and you do it well and you do it right within 12 to 24 months it will have people knocking on your door. Right fit, perfect fit clients, knocking on your door, asking if they can hire you. Not asking for a proposal. Not asking to meet with you. Just ready to hire you because they feel like they already know you. They’ve consumed your content. You’ve been helpful. You’ve helped them do their job better. And now they’re ready to hire you.

Because as I think I said in the very first of this series, we don’t get to choose the timing, the client does. So when they’re ready to hire an agency, they’re going to hire an agency. And there’s nothing we can do to accelerate that. All we can do is stay interesting for as long as it takes for them to be interested.

So this biz dev system doesn’t replace referrals, networking, going to trade shows, meeting people, walk-ins. It doesn’t negate any of that sort of walk-in business. But the walk-in business is you casting out a net. And like I’ve said many times, sometimes you catch a salmon and sometimes you catch a boot. And when you’re trying to make payroll and you’re trying to keep your head above water and you’re trying to keep cash flow sometimes you eat the salmon and sometimes eat the boot because you just have to.

So is there anything wrong with it? No. But is it always the nourishing kinds of clients that are going to pay off for you in the long run? No. So what I want you to do instead is I want you to know who those sweet spot clients are. I want you to know exactly who the right fit clients are for you. And I want you to put out the right bait and I want you to spear fish. I want you to go looking for them and I want them to come looking for you in a consistent, planned and methodical way. This is spear fishing. This is knowing exactly what you want and going out and getting it.

So I think there’s three or four things you have to do to build this biz dev system. The first one is you need to know who you’re fishing for. You need to be able to identify those sweet spot prospects and you need to be able to describe them. If you walked into a room of a hundred people, you need to pick out your three or four. So if you walk through that sweet spot client exercise that I talked about you’re going to identify some qualitative and some quantitative things that are the right fit clients for you. And they’re going to be different for every one of you.

So A, know who you’re going after and understand what matters to them and how you can help them and how you can help them in a free content sharing sort of way long before maybe they know that you’re out there, but for sure before you know they’re out there. Then you need to have some sort of accountability. Biz dev is one of those things that it’s really important but it’s not all that urgent until your big client walks out the door. Then it’s urgent and you go into that feast or famine mode that I’ve talked about. But on a day to day basis, it’s not on fire. Which means that all the fires that crop up in agencies every single day can easily take all of your attention if you’re not being held accountable.

So whether you put together a biz dev committee or you have one other person hold you accountable, you have to hold yourself accountable. And believe me, when I say, hold yourself accountable I mean assign someone to hold you accountable that you’re going to do the things that you say you’re going to do. And we’re going to get into what those things are in a minute. And you need to keep track of the people that you talk to. So you can use Salesforce, you can use an Excel spreadsheet. You can use anything in between. But you need to track this stuff. Because again, you want to be able to report your accountability partner or committee what you’re doing and what the results are.

So now what I want you to do is I want you to picture a sales funnel. All the drawings of sales funnels look the same. It’s bigger on the top than it is on the bottom. And I want you to mentally divide that sales funnel into four categories. So the top category at the very top of the funnel is what we call the macro section of the funnel. And right below it is the micro section. Then I want you to draw a dotted line between the micro section and the third section, which we call the nano section. And then the last section is called existing. So macro, micro, nano, and existing. So from the top of the funnel, all the way down to the bottom, that’s the order that they go in. So at the macro level, at the top of the sales funnel, people who fall into this phase of your sales funnel don’t really know who you are, don’t know you exist and we don’t know who they are. They’re not on our radar screen.

So basically they are accidentally stumbling upon in some way. And that’s where cornerstone content really pays off because not only is it good for our own internal audience, the audience we’ve already built, but it’s a great attractor of people who are like the people we’ve already attracted. Because the content is so specific and built for a specific audience they are drawn to it or it gets shared amongst them because fish swim together. Certain kind of fish swim together. And so it gets shared from a trade group or in a Facebook group or something like that.

So cornerstone thought leadership or cornerstone pieces in essence answer questions that your prospects may or may not even know that they’re secretly they asking. Not only do they answer questions or solve problems that they’re trying to work on inside their business, but what they don’t know that they’re thinking in the back of their head is, “Gosh, I wish I could find an agency that actually knew a lot about … ” Fill in the blank. Whatever they’re fill the blank is. “I wish I knew an agency that could solve these problems for me. That understood my industry or my audience or the deliverables that I care about. I wish I could find that.” And then they stumble upon you in some way, shape or form. Find your podcast, read your book, get referred a blog post, whatever it may be. And all of a sudden the light flips on for them and they’re starting to pay attention to you.

And what’s happening in that is because you’re putting out real cornerstone content now they can keep consuming it. So it’s a podcast series. It’s the primary research. It’s writing the book. Might be doing the video series or a webinar series or again, a lot of blog posts or white papers. Or you create a product or a tool that draws them to you. But somehow you’re creating something meaty and important and valuable that they are drawn to. And so they start consuming that content. Or what happens is because you’re creating great content and because you are being so helpful to this specific audience, what happens is other people who also talk to that audience want to share your content.

And so you get invited to do things that also put you in the spotlight. But now you’re being exposed to other people’s audiences. So you get invited to speak at conferences or be a guest on a podcast or write an article for a publication. Or you start showing up on Google or people start linking to you or commenting or pointing to you on LinkedIn. You might get invited to sit on a panel of experts at a trade show or serve on a board or even write a regular column. You might actually get invited to teach a class either to adults, to a continuing ed credit kind of class or at a college level. You’ll get invited to be a part of webinar series and be interviewed by the media. All these things come to you because you’re creating cornerstone content and you’re beginning to establish yourself as an expert. And every time one of these things happens to you, you the expert are exposed to another audience, a new audience, a bigger audience. And so it just exponentially grows.

And so the other thing you do is you look at that your cornerstone content and you say, “All right, I’m going to slice and dice this because I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel.” I talked about this in the last episode. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I just want to take this content and turn it into more content. So I can take a 60 minute podcast and I can make it … Obviously I have a podcast episode. I can write an article about the podcast topic and the guest and submit it to publications. I can do a couple videos about the podcast. Write a blog post or two. You could have 10 tweets quoting your guest. A few Facebook posts, some Instagram quote graphics. You could put some things on Pinterest. You could easily write about it on LinkedIn. You could do a webinar on the topic. You could create a lead magnet or some sort of tool or checklist from the interview. So that’s like 30 different pieces of content you can create from one podcast.

So if you’re creating a podcast a week, you don’t need 30 pieces of content, but maybe you need 10 of those. Now all of a sudden you’re pushing from the hub out to the spokes, right? So now you’re sharing bits and pieces of that content on your spokes. And our research project, same thing. You can create podcast episodes about it. You can do webinars about it. You can write articles, video clips. So the same thing. So you can take one piece of cornerstone content … A lot of AMI agencies will take one piece of research that they’ll do and they will slice and dice that for an entire year. So they will create content for an entire year around one piece of research.

So again, part of my message to you is this does not have to be as labor intensive as you think it is. And at the macro level, there’s a lot of imposter syndrome that happens at the macro level. You think, “Well, I don’t know anything anybody else doesn’t know. What I’m going to share or write isn’t that important. No one’s going to be excited about it.” Fill in the blank, fill in the blank. It doesn’t matter if you yet don’t believe. You will eventually. But if you are not convinced yet that you’re an expert, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you are putting content out and the world actually thinks you are an expert. That’s what matters. And that all happens at the macro level.

So the level directly underneath the macro level is the micro level. So now this is a group of prospects who are still pretty cold prospects. But they’ve been caught by us in some way. They have started consuming our content. They downloaded the executive summary to our research or they started listening to the podcast or maybe they heard us interviewed on another show and they started following us on social. But somehow we’ve captured their attention. Now the trick is we have to keep it. So this is where the being interesting rather than interested plays into the game. Because they can stay in this phase for a day or a decade. And we have to be ready for both. We have to stay interesting for as long as it takes and we have to keep their interest until they’re ready to move into the next phase of the funnel, which they may not do forever. Some of them will never move into it. Some of them will take a decade and some of them be ready to hire you tomorrow. This is one of the biggest mistakes agencies make.

They’re like, “Well, we have three case studies and 10 blog posts on the website so we’re good.” Well, if somebody’s already looked at all those case studies and they’ve read all the blog posts and they keep coming back looking for more and you don’t give them more, pretty soon you’re not interesting anymore. Now you’re boring. I’ve already seen it all. And so they go away. So you have to stay interesting. You have to keep producing content. So the trick is at this phase, you have to stay interesting for as long as they stay in this phase. You have to keep creating new content. And not only are you creating new content that’s helpful and useful to them, but you also want to do it in a way that begins to forge a relationship or create a sense of a relationship that they start to feel like they know you. They start to feel connected to you, even though you’re not talking to them directly or personally.

And so this is about showing up as your authentic self. This is about being honest about who you are, where you’re at. It’s about injecting your personality into the content. So it’s not about faking anything. It’s not about being false. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s about being genuinely who you are because sooner or later when they meet you, you want to make sure that you match their expectation of who you’re going to be. And so this is about putting yourself out there a little bit along with the great content. We also at the micro level want a way to stay in touch with them and we want a way to sort of track them if you will. So a lot of micro content is things that people are willing to trade their email address for.

So it’s an ebook or an infographic, or it’s an assessment or a quiz or an online … Excuse me. Or an online calculator or a checklist, a tip list, a template, a tool, an invitation to a webinar or a live Q&A. Maybe it’s a live event at your agency. But you’re putting out into the world through social and other things that people can either download this stuff or sign up to participate in these things. What you’re trying to do is create a relationship that is valuable enough to them, that they will give you their email address or their name or whatever information you’re asking for.

And the trick at this level is consistency. So if you say you’re going to do a weekly newsletter, then it’s got to go out every week. If you’re going to do a weekly podcast, it has to do that. If you’re going to do research once a quarter, you need to do that. Because again, you have to hold their interest. And part of holding their interest is you honoring your promise, which is I’m going to do this every week or every month or every quarter or whatever it is. So consistency and delivery and value. So not only am I consistent in my delivery, but what I put out there is always valuable. And remember, the key to that is to ask yourself, is this thing that I’m about to push out into the world … When I think about my core audience, does what I’m about to give them help them do their job better? And if the answer is yes, hit publish. If the answer is no, do not touch that button. Because consistency and delivery and value either win and deepen their trust and attention, or we lose their attention.

And then, like I said, the holy grail of this phase is when they say to you when they meet you in person or they talk to you on Zoom or however that happens, “My gosh, you are just like I expected you to be.” Now you know that you have created a relationship with them even from afar. Because they have a sense of who you are and they have a sense of what you’re about. And then when they met you or they talked to you on Zoom, you matched that expectation. That’s the holy grail. Because now they know that you’re being authentic and true to who you are, which means they can trust you. And remember, we’re trying to get to know, like, trust.

The other thing you want them thinking about or saying is, “Every time I turn around, you’re here and you’re helpful.” And this gets back to that thing about you feeling like you have to be omnipresent. If you’re present in your hub and a few spokes it’ll feel to your audience like you’re everywhere. So you don’t actually have to be everywhere, but you do want them to have this sense of, “My gosh, every time I turn around I’m seeing your name or someone’s telling me about you or someone’s forwarding me something you’ve written. And every time that happens, you’re here and you’re helpful.” That’s the micro stage. And again, that’s the stage where people can stay for that day or a decade and you’ve got to be prepared.

So remember when I had you mentally draw the funnel and I had the macro and the micro and then I had you put a dotted line before we did nano and existing. The reason for that is that macro and micro are marketing. And that dotted line divides the marketing from the sales. Nano and existing are much more about the sales but they’re soft sales. Different than the old school sales. But they are still more sales focused than marketing focused. So one of the reasons why agencies are great typically at the macro level of content creation, whether it’s on target or not, you are producing content, is because that’s what we do for clients all day, every day. So that part’s easy for us. But when we get to the nano and the existing, now it gets more challenging. This is also where we can muck things up because this is where we can run at the deer before the deer’s ready for us to approach.

So at the macro and micro, we’re being much more passive. We’re just putting content out there. And at the nano and existing, we’re being a little more assertive and we are pursuing a little more than just waiting to be pursued. All right. So at the nano level, now what we’re talking about … So we’re producing content, we’re producing cornerstone content, we’re making cobblestone out of it. We’re putting our cornerstone in the hub. We are pushing the cobblestones, the smaller pieces of atomized content out through the spokes. But all of that is we are just doing all of that like beacons to attract the right fit prospects and for people to sort of self-select in and out. Now at the nano level, we’re going to start selecting.

So at the nano level, you are going to create a list of what we call your 25 sweet spot prospects. And what I mean by that are, I want you to make a list of the 25 prospects that best fit what you describe who your ideal client is. Size and the work they do and what they work, they want you to do and all of those things. And you go through that sweet spot client filter. What are the 25 companies that best exhibit that? That are the closest to that description. So you’re going to make a list of those and we’re going to have a separate marketing plan for them. Some of which is going to build off of the macro and the micro and others are going to be a little deeper than that.

So you have 25 prospects. Why 25? Why not 50? Why not 300? Why not a thousand? Because you can’t possibly form a relationship with a thousand prospects. But you can form a relationship with 25 people. And so you’ve put together your list and you’ve got these 25 clients and then … Or prospects rather. And then our goal is to touch those people eight to 10 times a year. So we are going to send them something every six to seven weeks and we want them to get used to hearing from us. And we want them to see that every time we send them something it’s valuable. So we want it to look personalized. We want it to be super helpful. We want it to absolutely spotlight our expertise and how we’re different from all the other agencies out there. It cannot all be digital. So we have to at least … We have to mail them. If it’s eight to 10 times a year, we have to mail them four to five things in the mail. Old school mail. Or drop them off at the office or whatever. But we have to give them tangible things for at least half of these tactics.

And now the tactics, it could be a thing. It could be an invitation to something special. It could be a tool or an insight. So in a lot of cases, agencies will start this by picking out a book that they think is super valuable and they’re going to buy 25 copies. And then they’re going to get post-it notes with their agency logo on it. And they’re going to write on that. They’re going to put a post-it note on the outside of the book and they’re going to write, “Dear Drew, I know that your company … Why? Because I’ve built a dossier on you. I know that your company is looking to expand quite a bit in 2022 so I thought you would find this book fascinating. In particular checkout chapter 12, which is about scaling without breaking. Love Drew.” Whatever it is.

So it feels super personal, but you know enough about these prospects. Why? Because there’s only 25 and because you built a dossier on them. That you are able to talk to them individually to make it seem very customized, but really everybody’s getting the same book and you probably have three or four messages that you’re rotating depending on what you know about the companies. You might invite them to a private webinar that you’re doing. You might invite them … One of my favorites is when you hold an event for your clients, invite these 25 prospects as well. Why? Because you want them mixing and mingling with people who love you. And the only thing they have in common is you so guess what they’re going to talk about? You and how good you are. So anyway, eight to 10 touches and half digital, half tangible, like a real thing. And they should be the things like … For example, let’s say you got written up and you wrote an article for Fast Company. Print that off on really nice paper and mail it to them in a nine by 12 envelope or an eight a half by 11 envelope, whatever. But mail it to them in a way that they’re going to open it. That is going to get past the gatekeeper.

I love lumpy mail. Gatekeepers do not open lumpy mail. So however it is, you just know. And what you need to do is you need to plan out this whole year of what you’re going to mail somebody or what you’re going to send to them or get in front of them in advance. And then you need to gather up that stuff in advance. Why? Because otherwise what happens is you get to the six weeks and then you’re like, “Oh shoot, I’m supposed to send something to the nano list. What should I send them?” And you spend two weeks deciding that. And then you decide you’re so off track on your schedule that you’re just not going to do it. You’ll get it next time. And then you know where this goes, right?

So the key to this is you have to be 110% consistent. And the other key to this, and this is the hard part for us, is you cannot sell. Do not run at the deer. So after you’ve sent them a book or you’ve sent them an article or whatever, you cannot call them and say, “Hey, this is Babat from blah, blah, blah agency. And I’m just wondering if you have any projects. I sent you the book and I sent you the tennis shoe.” Or whatever you sent them. “I’m just wondering if we can possibly … Can I come so I can talk about the work that we want to do for you or whatever?” No, no, no, no, no. You just want to be helpful. You just want to create a relationship. And this is hard.

This is where a lot of us make a mistake. Sooner or later we rush at the deer and the deer run back into the forest. So we cannot do that with this group. And the deal with this group is these people stay on your nano list for as long as it takes. So if they don’t respond to you in five years, they stay on the nano list. They hire you in a month, then great. Then they go off the list and you add somebody else to the list. Always working 25.

But there are a couple rules about somebody getting on the nano list. So they should be at verified potential to be at least five to 10% of your current AGI. Because remember that’s our target. And also remember you only need two or three wins a year at that size to double your agency in size every three years. So you are going to work this list and you’re going to work it until they hire you or they get a restraining order. That’s it.

Now granted, if somebody calls you and says, “Hey, look, my brother-in-law owns an agency. There’s no way I can change agencies. I’d have to get a divorce.”, okay, fine. Take them off the list. But for the most part, they stay on that list until they hire you or they get a restraining order. And honest to Pete, I’m telling you if you do this well and consistently you will get hired. I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again.

All right. So the last in the sales funnel, we have the macro, we have the micro, we have the nano and the last one is existing. And the reason why this is important is because as you’re kicking up this activity level and you’re sharing all of this knowledge and you’re helping everybody be better at their job, your clients get a little jealous and they’re like, “Hey, hey, hey, I actually give you money and you’re giving away all this stuff for free.” So you need to create something for your existing clients that makes them feel special. Like they’re part of an insider’s club. Because remember 60 to 70% of your net new revenue should come from these people. And it’s easier to sell something new to somebody who’s already opened up their wallet and given you money. So as they see you being more generous with their community, because odds are, they live in the same community. As they see that they feel less and less important. So we need to make them feel very important and like they are somebody that we treat with great care and love because they’re part of our inner circle.

So I want you to create an insider’s club of sorts. So this should be a perk of belonging to your tribe, of paying you money, of being a client. So some of the things you can do … And you only have to do a couple of these. But you could have a client only event where maybe you bring in a speaker or you do something special just for clients. A lot of agencies do a really great thing, which I love called a … They don’t call it this, but it’s basically a client insider email. So the email comes directly from the agency president. Doesn’t come out through a email software or anything like that. It comes out of your email and you’re going to blind copy all your clients. And the is going to look like just a plain text email. Don’t make it pretty. Don’t make graphics in it. You’re just saying to them, “Hey, on behalf of everybody at the team, just want to thank you so much for being a client. We value you and your business. And we also want to let you know about some of the things that we’re thinking about or paying attention to. Please don’t share this email with anybody else because we’re only sharing it with clients, but wanted to give you a heads up on some things that we’re thinking about.”

And then you tell them two or three things that you’re tracking. Maybe something with AI or a new trend or something else. But you’re basically sort of whispering in their ear about things that is sort of your own skunk works if you will and you’re sharing it with them. And you sharing it with them because they are the ones that you love the most.

Another thing you for sure should do is owner love meetings with clients. So that’s you the agency owner or leader taking clients out for drinks or dinner or breakfast or golf or a theater or whatever their thing is and just saying to them, “I just want to hang out and I just want to hear how doing, and I just thought there’s a lot of stuff about business that maybe we could talk about. So this is not a sales pitch. I’m not asking for anything. I just want to spend a little time with you.” And spending that time with them and starting off with a, “You know what, I think my team’s been working really hard for you, but I’m curious, how are you feeling? Are we delighting you every day? Are you and your team super happy? Is there anything we could be doing that we’re not doing? Or is there anything we should stop doing that we are doing?” And then talk to them about their business, just like another business owner can do. And just be a sounding board and be somebody that they can trust and somebody they can confide in.

Eight times out of 10, you’re going to walk away with other work. They’re going to go, “You know, what, actually, there is something you could help us with.” Blah, blah, blah. Not your goal. And don’t ask for it. If it happens, great. But if it doesn’t happen, don’t sweat it, because it’s not why you’re doing this meeting. You’re doing this meeting to make them feel important and to demonstrate to them that you care and you want to have a relationship with them.

Client satisfaction surveys are another great way that the insider’s club can participate in helping you get better. And one of the things I think we don’t think about doing as often as we could is we know so many people and we know a lot of people who should know other people we know. So one of the great things you can do for your insiders club, for your clients is say, “You know what, I met a guy at a trade show or I’ve known somebody since college that you should really meet.” And just make introductions. Being a connector is a really powerful tool when it comes to biz dev and creating a value of yourself and creating a position for yourself of being an authority. That’s it. It’s macro, micro, nano, existing. And I promise you that if you create the cornerstone content and it’s meaty enough, that you can slice and dice it and get 10 or 15 things out of it that you can share that month and you do that on a consistent basis. And you really are very clear about who you serve and why you serve them. And you stay very focused on that very narrow audience, whatever it is. And you really develop that sweet spot client filter. You know who is the right fit for you.

And I’ll tell you that, what I love about that exercise is it’s not just the tangible things like, oh, they’re a certain size or they are located in a geography. It’s things like, we want to be their first agency. We love being the first agency or oh, for the love of Pete, we do not want to be their first agency. So it’s qualitative things. It’s quantitative things. It’s things that are subjective and objective. It’s things you can measure and not measure. And the mix of those things is the concoction that is your best fit client.

So when you’ve defined that, you know who your audience is, you know exactly who you’re talking to, you know how to help them and you help them consistently every time and then you build out the content around the macro, micro, nano and existing. I’m telling you if you work that system, you’re going to be very happy. And biz dev becomes fun and easy because all you’re doing is helping people. You’re what you know and you’re helping people and you’re creating a relationship which for most agency owners and leaders is right up our alley.

That’s it. I hope this series has been super helpful for you. If you want to know more about some of these tactics we have workshops around some of them, but I’ve given you plenty. You don’t need one more thing than what I’ve given you to make this successful. If you want to come learn more, happy to talk to you about that, but I’m telling you, you’ve got everything you need. You just need to follow the recipe. And I’ve outlined it so I think you’re in great shape.

I hope that you take this to heart. I hope that you put this into practice. I hope that you embrace this new idea of helping is selling because honestly, for most of us, it’s a much easier way to sell and it’s a much more successful, productive way to sell. And it’s absolutely a more profitable way to sell. I’ve seen so many agencies execute on this plan and what happens for them is exponential goodness. And I want that exponential goodness for all of you. So I’m hoping that you can knit together from these last six episodes a really good plan for yourself. And I hope you get into practice soon. Don’t wait.

Thanks so much for listening. Huge shout out as always to our friends at White Label IQ for being the presenting sponsor of the podcast. They do white label, PPC dev and design. They’re great partners to many AMI agencies. Really good people. So check out whitelabeliq.com/ami and you can get some free hours on your first project. I hope you know, and I hope this series demonstrated to you I’m committed to your success. I want you to be successful and I am so grateful that you’ve chosen to be a part of the AMI community and that you come and you listen to these podcasts every week. I am super grateful for your continuing to find me interesting and to let us be helpful to you. So thank you for that.

I promise I’ll be back next week with a guest this time. So we’ll go back to our normal routine for a while, but I promise I’m going to keep shaking things up in 2022 and I hope that you are along for the ride and let me know what you think. All right. Talk to you soon. Thanks for listening.

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Be sure to visit agencymanageinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses and other ways we serve small to midsize agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today so you don’t an episode.