Episode 241

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Very few agency owners are giddy about the prospect of prospecting for new clients. It feels uncomfortable and unnatural. But what if it isn’t that they hate biz dev but that they just weren’t doing it in a way that aligns with their strengths? If sales felt comfortable and easy, wouldn’t you do more of it?

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, we are joined by biz dev expert Jody Sutter of The Sutter Company, a new business consultancy that advises small agencies on organizing and operationalizing their growth strategy. Her programs make it easier for small agencies to embrace and sustain a new business strategy because they take both the agency’s strengths and available resources into consideration. Jody walks us through the steps we can take to bolster our biz dev strategy as agencies and clients emerge from the storm.

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 | Biz dev for agencies in crisis

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Jody’s background and what she is doing to serve agencies
  • Common biz dev mistakes that agency owners make
  • How agency owners can overcome fear and rejection in business development
  • The four strength profiles of agency owners and the nuances of each one
  • How to identify your strength profile and build a strategy that caters to it
  • Jody’s “prescriptive approach to new business”
  • How to stay the course while you’re constantly changing your mind about your agency
  • How agency owners can move from inaction to action
  • How Jody is helping her clients redirect their sales efforts during the global pandemic

The Golden Nuggets:

“Biz dev tends to be neglected until it’s urgent. A lot of it has to do with fear and misalignment of strengths with the job at hand.” @jodysutter Click To Tweet “Biz dev is a process where you will be turned down more times than you will be told ‘yes.’ I work with agency owners to put the odds in their favor.” @jodysutter Click To Tweet “When opportunities come through, agency owners feel as though they can go back to doing something they’re good at. It’s easy to convince yourself to return to your comfort zone.” @jodysutter Click To Tweet “Agency owners mistakenly think that if they can find a clone of themselves to play the new business role, they’re gonna be fine.” @jodysutter Click To Tweet “A New business ecosystem is no different than a natural ecosystem—you choose things that align with your strengths so you can achieve your goals quickly.” @jodysutter Click To Tweet

Ways to Contact Jody Sutter:

Tools & Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ, we’ll show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable and if you want down the road sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.

Drew:

Hey, everybody Drew Mcclellan here from Agency Management Institute with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Welcome, I’m glad you’re with us. I feel the need lately to timestamp some of these podcasts because we’re recording them and the conversations are relevant because we are in the middle of the COVID 19 crisis here in the States and in many parts of the world. And so just for a frame of reference for you we recorded this on April 3rd. You’ll probably hear it a good month after we recorded it and I am sure that the situation is going to be different. And if you’re listening to this, not in real time, so it’s 2021 or 2022, then this is like a little time capsule for you of what we were facing in the spring of 2020 here in the States.

So it’s April 3rd and most of the U.S. is working from home and sheltering in place. Much of the world is working from home and sheltering in place, and it’s kind of shut down and here in the States, this is about week three or four for most of us and we’re still in what I would call that panic and shock stage. We’re still a little stunned that this has happened, we’re certainly stunned at the rapid rate of active cases and the growth of active cases and the number of deaths, unfortunately and so it’s an interesting time for us as business people because the reality is how much is happening for many agencies in terms of biz dev. So 20% of the agencies out there are actually busier than ever, their client base or what they do PR shops in particular are super busy right now. Another 20%, the opposite end of the spectrum is looking at a 50% or more loss of revenue. And then there’s the 60%, the rest of the agencies are somewhere in the middle.

And we did a little quick poll of about 125 agencies and I would say on average agencies were estimating that the virus was going to impact them in terms of their AGI for 2020, between 15 and 20%. So that gives you sort of a view of the landscape. But one of the places that it’s really impacted agencies is how we are selling. So one of the interesting things for me is that every single day, since the coronavirus got real for us here in the States, so three weeks ago, every single day I’ve heard from an agency owner, a client who has landed a new piece of business in some cases it was somebody who had been in the pipeline for a while or the agency had actually already pitched for the business, in other cases it literally was somebody visited an agency’s website, called them and later that day signed a project authorization.

So the interesting sort of common denominator is that the clients are driving that demand more than the agencies are creating the demand. And that’s one of the things that shifted because right now to be selling aggressively we would look super tone deaf if we were behaving that way. This is very much in the early stages of this cycle that we’re going to go through and most businesses aren’t listening for selling signals, they aren’t listening to find a new agency right now, right now they’re trying to figure out if they can afford not to lay people off, alternate delivery systems for their products and services, just dealing with how we work from home together. I do believe that’s going to change I think in a couple of weeks, clients are going to be ready to have sales conversations, and they’re going to be ready to start thinking about how do they engage with their audiences. They’re going to realize that this is not a couple of weeks activity, but we’re going to be doing this for probably another month at least, and that they can’t be dormant that long.

But today they’re not ready to have that conversation, in 7 days, 10 days, 14 days, I think they will be ready. Which is one of the reasons why this podcast about biz dev I think is super important because I want by the time this airs, which will probably be a month or so from when we recorded it, clients will be ready to talk about opportunities to connect with audiences, whether it’s internal or prospects or their current customers, they will have been dormant long enough, they will have come out of sort of the haze of the shock of all of this and they will realize that despite the fact that we’re working from home, despite the fact that people are being super cautious and not leaving their house much at all, that doesn’t mean for many businesses that they can’t still engage with important audiences and they can’t keep selling their products or their services, which will then allow us start to get back to sales, all right?

But before I tell you any more about our guest and introduce her and get started in the conversation, I do want to remind you of a couple of quick things. One, we have launched a Facebook group for the podcast. So just go to Facebook and search for Build a Better Agency Podcast, there are no other people there yet we’ve only been doing it for probably about a month and then of course we had a little pandemic happen and so it’s been a little slow as you might imagine getting folks to come in there, which means that it’s a great time to ask questions because you’re not going to get lost in the crowd. So we would love to have you there, we would love to have you help us build the community. So just search for Build a Better Agency Podcast on Facebook and then you have to answer three simple questions. Are you an agency owner or a leader? What’s the URL of your agency? What’s on your mind? What do you want to talk about in the group? And do you promise to be nice? That’s really it.

So I can’t let you in if you don’t answer the questions, so please don’t skip those. The other thing I wanted to remind you is as we think about biz dev in this episode, I am a firm believer and you’ve heard me say it over and over again, that there are good fit clients and then there are clients who are great clients they’re just not great clients for us. And knowing which clients and being able to recognize which clients are a sweet spot client for you, that they really fit the bill and you’re going to be able to delight them on a regular basis, I think is a vital sort of filter for us to be using as we screen prospects. So we’ve put together what we call as you might imagine, the Sweet Spot Client Filter and to grab that, to download that PDF and be able to walk through the exercises, which include creating sort of a checklist of criteria that you want your clients or prospects to match before you pursue them and make them a client. So go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/client-filter. So again, agencymanagementinstitute.com/client-filter, okay?

All right, so let me tell you a little bit about our guest, so Jody Sutter has spent a couple of decades working in biz dev teams and sort of driving biz dev for agencies large and small. And about six years ago she launched her own business called The Sutter Company with the intention of helping agencies do biz dev better because quite frankly, a lot of agencies can use some help in that arena and so Jody decided that she was going to do that. And she’s developed some very interesting view points and tools and insights around biz dev and she like I believe that the best sales person for most agencies, especially agencies under 50 people is the agency owner and certainly a team sport, no doubt about that, but that the agency owner should be out front and center. And that’s certainly what Stephen Woessner and I talk about in our book Sell with Authority and I know that a lot of what we believe in aligns with what Jody also preaches and teaches.

So I’m gonna jump right into the conversation because I know she has a lot to teach us and I don’t want to waste a second of her time, so let’s just get to it. Jody, welcome to the podcast. I should have done this a long time ago, I’m glad you’re finally on the show.

Jody:

I am too. You know, I was thinking about the number of years, it’s been a few years and so I’m thrilled to be back.

Drew:

Yeah, it’s great. Tell everybody who may not be familiar with you a little bit about your background and what you’re doing today to help and serve agencies.

Jody:

Sure. So my career has been pretty much dominated by business development for creatively oriented firms. A lot of ad agencies, but also design firms and digital agencies. So I’ve worked with a range of different types of firm, large and small, always on the business development side. And when I started my own firm about six years ago… I think that’s about right six years ago, initially I was a bit of as much of a generalist as I advise my clients not to be, and then I actually took my own advice and I did a bit of an ideal client exercise and what I realized is that I worked best with a smaller agencies and specifically with the CEO or founder or president of these small agencies. And what I found is that for an agency of a certain size, and I quantify it as being about 50 or less people, really that CEO is the best business development resource that agency has.

It’s not the only business development resource that agency has, but at that size no matter whether the agency wants to grow really big or stay that size, CEO has to be integrally involved and what I realized is that when I could put a prescriptive strategy in place that the CEO could embrace, then the agency tended to thrive when it came to winning new business. And when that didn’t happen, usually they don’t. So yeah, so that’s where I’ve focused now, smaller agencies, prescriptive approach to new business, getting the CEO to lead the charge and putting a strategy in place that helps him or her do that best.

Drew:

And prior to owning your own business, you came to have all of this insight and knowledge because you what?

Jody:

Well, I worked with a lot of different types of agency owners certainly. I think that’s where the experience where the breadth of type of business really comes in, so that this is going from small startups to mid-sized boutique design firms to running global departments for agencies of 1500 people.

Drew:

So you were inside agencies, you started on the inside.

Jody:

Exactly. Exactly.

Drew:

Yeah. So what are the mistakes that you see agency owners making around biz dev because I’m curious if they’re the same ones that I spot.

Jody:

Yeah, I know. Well, they probably are and of course I think about that question like, “Where do I start?” But some of the areas where I have been focusing most of my energy is around the mistakes that agencies make is around inaction. So I think there are a lot of reasons why new business tends to be neglected until it’s urgent. And I think a lot of it has to do with fear and misalignment of strengths to the job at hand.

Drew:

So tell me more about that.

Jody:

Yeah. So I think fear actually plays a big part it. Fear, doubt and I think that the fear plays out in certain ways. Number one, I think there’s just a fear of rejection. So especially if you’re talking about a small agency CEO who is not necessarily a business development expert, and their agency is really only going to thrive as long as they are really involved in it, so you have this real fear of rejection. I think most people, business development is one of these things where you’re probably going to be turned down more than you’re not, now a lot of times I always work to help put the odds in their favor so they’re turned down less and pursued more.

So there’s a fear of rejection, I think there’s also a really big fear around simply knowing where to start. There’s a fear that once they do start, whether they’re going to be able to sustain it for the longterm, and there’s a fear around knowing what’s really going to work. So I think that leads a lot of people to inaction and they sort of put their hands together and pray that while they’re trying to figure out a couple of big pitches, we’ll come over the transom and then they can forget about it for a while as they chase opportunistic dollars.

Drew:

Right. I call that the feast and famine pattern, right? So they don’t do much with biz dev and then all of a sudden, a big client leaves or they get the sign that they’re leaving and then they pull out all the stops. So they’re doing everything to everyone and then they land a client or two, and then they get so busy onboarding and nurturing that client that all of the efforts for biz dev go away and then it’s just this repeating cycle of going from zero to 60, zero to 60 and never sustaining any sort of an effort.

Jody:

Yes, absolutely. And so there’s that part and then the other part that I found is that I realized that I think one of the reasons why that happens too is that when those opportunities come in and either of those reactive opportunities or the agency gets busy again, then that agency leader can go back to doing something that she or he is good at, right? So there’s a sense of relief.

Drew:

Right.

Jody:

Like I don’t have to make all those cold calls because I’ve got existing clients I got to keep happy and that’s a legitimate reason not to do business development or seemingly so.

Drew:

It’s easy to convince yourself to go back to your comfort zone, right?

Jody:

Exactly.

Drew:

Yeah.

Jody:

Exactly what I say.

Drew:

Yeah. Yeah.

Jody:

So I’ve found I used to be in a position where I was trying to persuade and control and sometimes threaten my clients to embrace what I would call this holistic approach to business development, doing a little bit of everything. And so when it didn’t work enough times I thought, “Okay, I have to do my own analysis here and figure out why that is.” And what I realized is that we don’t tend to do things that don’t play to our strengths. So then I thought, “Well, what if I could re-engineer what I do to help these agencies’ CEOs do things that play to their strengths?” And that’s been a lot more successful and I’ve come up with this rubric for new business personalities that I think most agency owners personify and for each one there’s a slightly different strategy. So if I can make an agency owner feel comfortable that their strengths can be applied to business development, then they’re much more likely to sustain it over time.

Drew:

So walk us through because you have four sort of strength profiles, right?

Jody:

Exactly.

Drew:

Walk us through those and help us understand the nuance between each one, if you can.

Jody:

Yeah. And just a huge caveat, this is thoroughly unscientific although as you know, I started working in this fashion in the last couple of years, and I have actually been gathering real data on who I’m encountering and sort of brushing up these profiles. I will say it’s still pretty unscientific especially next to some other profiling stuff that’s out there.

Drew:

Right, but it’s based on your own experience and you’re seeing agencies thrive when you put them in sort of the right profile category. So it’s not that this is untested, you just couldn’t prove it in a court of law yet.

Jody:

Exactly.

Drew:

Yeah.

Jody:

Maybe the one day, give me a few years and I will for sure-

Drew:

Yeah, right.

Jody:

So here are the four strengths profiles that I see. First of all there’s the hunter, and the hunter is your natural born sales person. They are the type of person who thrives on the energy of one-on-one relationships. I described them as that kind of person who gets on the plane in New York’s JFK to go across the country and they get off the plane five hours later in Los Angeles and they’ve got a business card of the person they’re sitting next to and a potential opportunity for business, right? A lot of people are really good at that, a lot of people aren’t. They tend to be pretty good with details, they appreciate them although they may not be that great with them themselves.

And they tend to be hyper focused on customer service. Customer is always [inaudible 00:18:29] all about the relationship. So I have found hunters, but in general I find that they are a relatively rare breed.

Drew:

Yeah, I call them unicorns.

Jody:

Yeah.

Drew:

Because it is not the most common.

Jody:

No.

Drew:

Is dev’s person or agency owner out there, absolutely.

Jody:

Yeah.

Drew:

Yeah.

Jody:

So the other second one is the communicator, and the communicator is the big idea person. They are exceedingly good at taking complex information and boiling it down to concepts that are easy to understand. They are the type of people who thrive in doing a Ted Talk or doing a big address to a lot of people. They potentially are the ones who are perennially on the pitch team, the people who always complain about how they have to do another presentation because they’re so good in front of an audience. They’re so good with boiling down information to its essential bits. They often are not that great on the details and because they are so good in front of a large audiences, they can also skew a little bit arrogant. So customer service is not always their best feature, but really good with a large audience.

And then I have the promoter. So the promoter is the type of person who has got something to say, and isn’t afraid to say it, so look out. Their business life bleeds into their personal life and vice versa. Gary Vaynerchuk is my poster child for the ultimate promoter. So the guy completely practices what he preaches and hopefully everyone out there knows Gary Vaynerchuk. I have actually been in agencies especially in other countries where I’ve gotten looks because people don’t know who he is, but Gary Vaynerchuk, the owner of VaynerMedia, the owner and founder of Intermedia started out running his family’s wine business, right? And then that grew it into one of the biggest digital agencies out there today. So the guy practices what he preaches, he’s always on, he’s always promoting himself. And whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that VaynerMedia has been shaped by him.

Now, unlike a communicator, I don’t think Gary Vaynerchuk for all his strengths is a terribly good speaker. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him speaking live, but he’s usually pretty disorganized and [inaudible 00:20:49].

Drew:

And I’m not sure his speech would have more than three words in it if you drop all the F-bombs out of it.

Jody:

That’s right. That’s right.

Drew:

Yeah.

Jody:

But I would also venture to guess that VaynerMedia still gets a lot of their new business leads because of the strength of his personality.

Drew:

Sure without a doubt. I’m sure he’s one of those things where people either run to him or run away from him, right?

Jody:

Absolutely. Then you have the thinkers. The fourth profile is a thinker, and the thinker is the introvert of the bunch, they tend to be the heads of research. A lot of times people have modeled the thinker on especially one head of research study I worked with a bunch of years ago. So what’s interesting about them though like any introvert, they get energy from more introverted intellectual pursuits. Like the communicator however, they tend to be quite good at taking complex ideas and boiling them down into easy things to understand. Also interestingly, they tend to have a lot more than you would think in common with a hunter because they can actually be pretty good on a one-on-one level, you just have to frame them in the right way or frame the situation up in the right way.

Drew:

They’re certainly going to be more comfortable in that than a big group setting.

Jody:

And what I’ve found is that there are a fair amount of thinkers out there. Agency owners, agency CEOs, agency leaders who are thinkers and if I can give them a strategy that makes them feel comfortable, they usually embrace it. And often that strategy will be around things like working on having the agency do an annual or a semi-annual original research or have them write a book and then support them in the way that they need to be supported for that. So being a thinker, it is possible to be a good and successful and effective business development person if you’re a thinker, but those are the four personalities hunter, communicator, promoter, and thinker.

Drew:

So go back and give us… Because what you’re talking about is basically you’re coaching them to do things that lean into their strengths. So for example, what would be some things that you would encourage a hunter to do that is sort of natural to them besides fly on planes and talk to perfect strangers?

Jody:

Well, they are the ones out of those four for whom it makes the most sense to do a fairly traditional outbound prospecting led new business strategy, but usually they need the support of someone who’s going to help them maintain the lists, who are going to help them stay on track, making sure they stick to their schedule of when they’re going to be doing their outreach, getting them out there and doing the networking and getting them to events. But they are the ones that are most likely to be successful and comfortable with this idea of walking up to a perfect stranger, whether it’s in a live setting or a virtual setting on a call or even an email.

Drew:

Okay. What about the communicator?

Jody:

So the communicator, not surprisingly would be more of a speaking strategy. So a lot of agencies always say, “We want to get up there. We want to get onto the keynote circuit and we want to start speaking, but they don’t always have a great idea.” Like there’s not something strong enough that would make an event organizer say, “Yeah, I want that person on my stage.”

Drew:

Right.

Jody:

Communicators usually have that, so that’s the other thing. I’m sort of digressing a little bit, but sometimes the key is to look at not only the CEO or the owner of the agency, but his or her team. So sometimes it’s smart if an agency is led by a thinker to look at her deputy and realize that she’s actually a really great communicator. So let’s do a business development strategy more around that. Anyway, so a communicator would be a speaker led strategy supported by publicity, and supported also by a lot of coordination to make sure you’re sort of gathering up the leads that are being generated when they’re going out to these events and speaking.

Drew:

Okay, and how about the promoter?

Jody:

The promoter in some ways can be similar to the communicator, but th