Episode 16

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Bob Sanders is a powerhouse in the marketing industry. He has previously worked with Agency Management Group, a firm that specialized in the operations, finance, and technology consultations for multinational agencies around the world. Since then, he has become the leader of Sanders Consulting Group, a leading consulting firm specializing in helping agencies implement best practices faster and more effectively.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How agencies can manipulate chemistry to their advantage
  • The four quadrants people fall into and why this is an important thing to be able to assess when pitching new business
  • Why you should never stop generating new business
  • What agencies can do to get better at closing sales
  • Strategies that work with big and small accounts
  • Why spec creative isn’t something to be feared
  • How to play on the misperception that agencies live exciting lives
  • Why you need to alter your pitch based on who you’re pitching to
  • How to be persistent to the point where potential clients are always thinking about you
  • What your agency needs to do today to get on the right track in terms of new business

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Come up with how you solve a problem better than anyone else.” – @newbusinesshawk Click To Tweet

Click to tweet: Bob Sanders shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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Speaker 1:

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

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McClellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build a Better Agency. One of the topics that always comes up when I am hanging out with agency owners is the whole issue around new business and we have a great guest today and we’re going to really dig into that issue from all kinds of angles. Many of you have probably heard of Bob Sanders. Bob is with the Sanders Consulting Group. Before he joined Sanders Consulting Group though, he’s really lived his whole life in the agency business. He worked in account service position for several traditional full service agencies. Then he worked with Agency Management Group, a firm that specialized in the operations, finance and technology consulting for the big shops, the multinational agencies around the world and large independents here in the US.

Then he joined Sanders Consulting Group, which is a leading consulting firm, specializing in the marketing communications industry. They help agencies work around implementing best practices faster and more effectively, spend a lot of time in the new business space and have a really interesting take on the whole issue of chemistry, which we hear often about. In the research that we do at AMI, one of the things that we from CMOs and other decision makers is that often that’s the final decision point for them of what agency they hire and I think a lot of you feel like that’s a little out of your control and what Bob’s going to tell us is actually you can have more influence over that than you think. Bob, welcome to the show.

Bob Sanders:

Thank you. Glad to be here and hello to everyone out there in the wonderful world of podcasting.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a crazy new world we live in, isn’t it?

Bob Sanders:

It sure is and it’s a lot of fun.

Drew McLellan:

It is. Tell the folks, fill in the blanks for folks in terms of the introduction. What did I miss or what do you want to elaborate on? Anything?

Bob Sanders:

No, I think you pretty much covered it other than I did spend a few years traveling around the world, taking over small countries with the Marine Corps, so that’s always a highlight of one of the things that I like to bring up and that the military training I brought to the agency world is what drove me to help create the Agency Management Group because I just felt like they were so ineffective and so dysfunctional when it came to operations that I had to go out and use some of the training that I got from the Marine Corps to apply it to the agency business and it was quite successful for many years.

Drew McLellan:

Was saluting involved in that process? Was there a lot of that in there?

Bob Sanders:

No, I didn’t have the agency salute me, although a few of them wanted to, after we were done with them. We were able to turn some really big agencies around and save a couple of them from just totally disappearing, like so many of them did back in the ’90s.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you’re right. I’m sure agency owners bristle at words like discipline and systems. Nonetheless, we all know that they need to be in place. I’m sure that while it may have been painful on the front end, I’m sure they were very happy to have you there when they were successful in counting their money.

Bob Sanders:

Oh, well I think so. We made quite a few millionaires out there over the years and we do agree 100% that you need… War fighting 101, the big manual that came out when I was in the Marine Corps was all about that, discipline, chaos. Understanding it, managing it and driving it for you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah and that’s agency life. I’ve often said that really our job is to control… We live in a controlled chaos environment.

Bob Sanders:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I want to jump into the chemistry thing and I know you have all kinds of other thoughts about new business and I want to make sure we get all of those in. Talk to us a little bit about your take on chemistry because I think you guys have a pretty unique viewpoint on it.

Bob Sanders:

Thank you. I think we do. I’m the only one that I know that does this for agencies. I’ll just say this, if you think about what is chemistry, it’s that squishy space between people and to many of us it just seems like it’s uncontrollable or random or just happens. The simple fact of the matter, it isn’t. We come in very basic patterns, everyone does and once when you understand how to look for and identify what those patterns are, you can present your information, your ideas, your pitch, whatever it is, in a way that most aligns with their mental model. If you understand that, then it becomes much more effective and you’re not just throwing things on the wall to see what sticks.

The idea of chemistry, just real quick, does go all the way back though. A lot of people don’t realize this, but the Egyptians, three to 5,000 years ago, were talking about the basic four types of people and that’s what we glomed onto. We took that, ran with it, applied the Myers Briggs, the disc and a bunch of other types of thinking around it and adapted it for the agency world.

Drew McLellan:

Can you give us a brief overview? I know we don’t have time to really dig deeply into it. Can you give us a brief overview of what those four quadrants look like and how you help agencies use those insights to walk into the new business process in a better position?

Bob Sanders:

Yeah, of course. I’d be happy to. It’s real simple. It takes two questions to figure out what type of person is, whether they’re more task driven and that’s what we call the top half of the circle or they’re more people driven. Task driven people are easy to identify. They’re the ones that you walk in and you say, good morning, how are you and they say fine. It’s asked and answered. Move on. Whereas people people are going to share, relate, emote, talk to you. I’m doing great. How about you? They’re the ones who are more open, more people focus. If you can just simply divide everyone you know into whether they’re more task driven or more people driven, that’s the first line.

Then the second line, the vertical line, to left or right, is whether they’re low assertive, they ask a lot of questions, they pause between comments, they follow a lot of information, they’re more interested in the insides and the working of different things or they’re more assertive. They’re direct, they’re forceful, they make statements and declarations, they don’t ask questions. It’s task versus people, low assertive versus high assertive and now you have four quadrants. The task driven, highly assertive person, just like the basic ad, print ad that we all know and love, that’s the headline. They’re the people who want results, want them now. The task driven low assertive person, the left side of the top quadrant, is body copying. They’re the detail, facts and figures. I don’t need a lot of people, I don’t need a lot of squishy relationships in my life, I just want to dig into the data, figure out what’s going on, follow a good process and get things done.

Now we’re down at the bottom half, left side. Low assertive person, very interested in people. They’re what we call the logo. The warm, smiling, happy people who brought you the ad. That’s the way to remember them. They’re the happy, go lucky, want to hold hands, sing Kumbaya and everyone get along. If we could just all get on the same page, we could all work so much more effectively. It’s those types of people that live in the logo world. Then you have, what’s left, is the illustration, the thing that draws your eye to the ad, that’s the very assertive, but people driven, dancing on the table at two o’clock in the morning, kind big ideas, lots of explanation points, lots of fun, very creative. Those are the illustrations in the world. They’re tough to work with, easy to sell to if you understand how to sell to them.

Drew McLellan:

Do you think agencies have a type of person that they work better with or do you think an agency can work with all four of these types of people, as long as they understand who they’re working with?

Bob Sanders:

I believe that what we call versatility, the ability for an agency to move, to adapt, to each one of these four types of people, is something that can be learned. However, most agencies I walk into, if you look at their client roster, many of their clients tend to end up being in one of these quadrants and it’s driven most often by the CEO. If the CEO is a hard charging task master kind of strong personality, very assertive, that’s a headline, they’re going to scare the logos and the illustrations away just because they’ll cut the ideas off and the illustrations hate that and because they’re going to be so assertive, the logos don’t want to work with them. Body copies will tolerate it. They’re okay with it, but generally if you look at those types of agencies, most of their clients tend to fall into that quadrant and they wonder why they lose the warm friendly kind of nice pitch people when they’re going into a pitch, when they’re coming in with guns a blazing.

It’s one of those things that I look for when I’m working with an agency, is what is the client profiles? Who most represents your group? If it follows into one of those four quadrants, then you’ve got a problem because you’re missing out on a lot of new business. You’re scaring a lot of prospects away.

Drew McLellan:

Just like we tell our clients, it starts with understanding yourself first and then figuring out how you relate to others, right?

Bob Sanders:

Absolutely. Know thy self. That’s kind of the first rule of new business, isn’t it? It’s to know who you are, what you stand for and who you work well with. It’s kind of one to one. We try to take it beyond that. What is the personality of your agency? How are you projecting it? Are you matching those four types somehow in most of your marketing materials? Golly, just go look at most agency websites. They scream one side or another. Either they’re very process driven or they’re flash and lots of big ideas or they’re nothing but results and tactics. With a little bit of work, they could layer in a couple other pieces and show some of their people, show that they have a warm sunny side or show that they are task driven and can get results if they’re all warm and friendly. That’s the type of thing that we’d like to try to introduce to the agency world.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think most agencies, as you know and I experience, most agencies are pretty hit or miss about new business. They take the feast or famine approach. They don’t have new business going on every day until the big client leaves and then all of a sudden, oh crap, you better get some new business. Beyond the chemistry thing, how do you, when you talk to agencies about new business and back to your military days of discipline and process, how do you talk to agencies about building a better machine around new business?

Bob Sanders:

Well, that’s a great word for it, is a machine and I’m a big believer in, you have to build a machine. You need a system. You need to have a regular, whether it’s content creation or outreach, I don’t care, but you need to have somebody in the agency whose sole job it is to drive the new business. To build, drive and create the machine that generates leads and that’s the one thing that I think most agencies don’t pay any attention to. I would go back and look. We’re towards the end of the year. Go back and do an analysis over the last 11 months and figure out exactly how many leads did you get per month. A good agency, if you’re doing new business right, you should have four to eight good leads a month and then you can just pass on most of them because a lot of them aren’t going to go anywhere, it’s going to be too much work or you’re going to have to go through a bunch of hoops, but if you have that many leads, you’re going to grow. That’s a guaranteed fact.

Every agency, instead, looks at their hit or miss when it comes to the pitch and by then it’s too late. You need to have won the account before you go into the pitch. Count the leads, look that up and build the machine. That means, if you’re an inbound agency and I just got done speaking to a giant conference with a bunch of inbound agencies, fine. Focus in on the inbound, dedicate 100% effort to it, but again, measure the leads. If you’re not getting the leads you want, then maybe you need to think about outbound. We train and teach a lot of agencies on how to go around and do outreach and it’s that regular nudge, regular contact, regular sending things of relevance and not me, me, me. Just stop with that, please. If you’re an agency, stop sending the, look at this great ad that we produced. Nobody cares except for you.

Drew McLellan:

Most agency newsletters just make me cry a little. It’s about them. It’s about their awards and about their, look we did this ad and here’s the YouTube link to this. It’s like, stop it, stop it, stop it.

Bob Sanders:

Here’s our picnic and oh, we had so much fun. Nobody cares. Great, thanks, but show me something I didn’t know.

Drew McLellan:

Help me be smarter, right?

Bob Sanders:

Yeah, exactly. Educate. That’s the way to think about it, is you need to think up a machine that educates prospects about how to better solve their problem. If you don’t know, go back and look at all the problems that you’ve solved for your clients over the last 12 months and identify, these are the ones we really do solve. These are the things that we help our clients the most do. If you can identify a few of those, then put that on the front page of your website, use it to create articles, white papers, positionings, heck, write a book. I don’t care, but come up with a point of view around it on how you solve that problem better than anyone else in your region, your market, your city, your world, whatever it is.

Drew McLellan:

I know one of the things that we were talking about before we started the recording is that agencies aren’t very good at closing. What are your thoughts around actually, now you’ve had the opportunity, how do you close the deal?

Bob Sanders:

Great question and one of those things that we spend a lot of our work on and that is, most agencies and I truly hate to say this, but too many agencies go in and try one or two different tactics when they’re visiting with a prospect for the first time. You’ve done all this hard work, all this effort to generate a lead and then you get a lead and they call you up and it might be an RFP, in which case then go for the meeting. We used to tell agencies and I still tell agencies, when I was in the agency side, we always said, we don’t do an RFP unless we can meet with you. Period. If you want us to respond to this, we have to have a meeting. It’s the only fair way for us to have evaluate whether there’s a real opportunity, blah, blah, blah, whatever, but get the meeting. If it just is a lead that came in randomly through a referral and they have a problem, then go and see them.

Most agencies fail miserably when they go to visit for the first time, what we call the first visit. They go in and they either talk too much about themselves or they jump right into, let me ask you about all these important questions and dig deep and try to uncover what the real problem is. Both of them scare prospects off. It’s better to have a system, with that first visit, to walk in, we call it agency baseball. To understand that you first have to get the first base, which is building trust. Once when you have trust, then you can stop talking about yourself, never solve the problem in the room, don’t worry about introducing all the great stuff and great ways that you can solve whatever the problems are, move on to second base, which is discovery.

Work hard to dig deeper and figure out what are their real needs. Every agency tends to get the first need, oh, I need a brochure, I need a new website, whatever and they run. They get it and they think they’ve got everything they need and they run away. We say you need four needs. Focus in on getting the four needs that they have. Work hard and ask a lot of good questions and don’t forget to ask questions about the timing, about who else is going to be involved, who’s going to have approval. All of those questions are part of what we call second base and then you need to get the heck out of there because if you start solving the problem in the room, that’s what we call discounting-

Drew McLellan:

You’re giving it away, right?

Bob Sanders:

You’re giving it away. We teach that agencies need do the opposite. It’s 180 degrees the opposite of what you do for good clients, for what you do for a good prospect. When a good client calls up and says, we need a new brochure, you go in and ease them and show them how you can do it and show them some examples and you make them feel better because you’re competent and capable, but when a prospect comes to you with a new brochure, you need to do the opposite. You need to make them feel the pain, otherwise they’re not going to make a decision. They’re not going to move off of the square. If you make it seem easy and simple, then they don’t have to worry about it and they’re going to go on to worry about the next big fire that comes up on their desk right after you leave.

When they bring up something, you need to really again and say, oh, brochures can be tough and you start asking pointed questions. I assume, then you have your brand all figured out? I assume that you have the target audience identified? The personas? I understand. You don’t have any of that and you want a brochure? Golly, I don’t know. That’s going to be hard to do. That’s the type of message. It’s the concerned doctor versus the French poodle bouncing up and down going, please, please, please, hire us.

Drew McLellan:

Right. All right. What’s third base?

Bob Sanders:

Third base is when you return and present ideas on how you can help them. If you’ve done your job and built on lot of urgency, a lot of need, a lot of fear in their mind, then you only have a 48 hours before you have to get back to them. Too many agencies just, they go off and then they’ll spend three weeks, four weeks writing the perfect proposal. Proposals are for losers. Stop writing proposals, please. Unless you have a yes, that’s the only time I would say, go ahead. If they’ve already agreed to work with you and they want to go ahead with whatever thing you’ve tossed up, then great, go back and write a proposal and you’re fine, but if you’re not sure and you’re squishy, then get back to them within 48 hours with a game plan and use it as a working opportunity to walk them through step by step how going to help them solve this big problem that they have.

Once when you’ve done that, then you have to understand how to build in urgency and that’s when you get to home and that’s when they make the decision right there in the room, in a perfect world. That’s what we call a fast close. 48 hours, you’ve won the account or won the project and you’ve got your foot in the door. You can’t get the whole thing, but you can get bits and pieces and that gets you in the door and that’s a win in my book.

Drew McLellan:

I think oftentimes agencies get paralyzed by the idea that everything that they do in the new business process, whether it’s creating content or as you said, the proposal, has to be the Mona Lisa of the species and they get paralyzed by perfection.

Bob Sanders:

Absolutely. When I say get back in 48 hours with some notes and a process, the biggest tool that I use in that and look, I’ve won the largest account in Canada, the largest account in Europe and one of the top 10 accounts, in the last couple of years with agencies, fast closing accounts. That means that they went in with flip chart paper, handwritten, 15 sheets and they just hang it on the wall and walk them right through how they’re going to solve the problem. Every agency I tell this to they’re like, oh no, no, no. Our prospects are too sophisticated.

Drew McLellan:

Sophisticated, right.

Bob Sanders:

Too professional to do that. Sorry, I hate to tell you, but it doesn’t matter how big or how small. Let me just share one quick example. I had a little agency up in New York call me up couple months ago and said, “Look, we just had a good meeting. We followed your rules and now they want to come back to the agency instead of having us go out there. We don’t have anything. We don’t have anything prepared. We don’t have a deck. They’re coming tomorrow morning. What do I do?” I said, “Well, did you get some good information in the interview with them?” They said, “Well, yeah. We got a lot of good information, but we haven’t had time to really think of anything.” I said, “Well, what is their problem?” They told me. We walked through a basic outline of how we could help them move the needle, solve the problem. Then I said, “Take those notes, write them up on 15 sheets, hang them on the wall. When they walk in, go sheet by sheet by sheet. Cover them up so that they can’t see what the sheet is. Just have the headline, so it’s background, objectives, phase one, phase two, strategy, creative, branding, whatever. Go down the list and then the final sheet is the old timing, next steps and budget. Once when you get there, just walk them through.”

This big brand walked into this little agency, walked through the 15 sheets and then leaned back and said what every client and every prospect says when we teach this, I can’t believe how much information you guys went through. This is great and you don’t know how many PowerPoint presentations I have to sit through. It was so refreshing to do it this way. I love it. Can I have the sheets? What do you think the answer is to that?

Drew McLellan:

No.

Bob Sanders:

Of course not. No. That’s our thinking. It’s our strategy. It’s what we do for a living. We get paid big bucks to do this. No. If you want to hire us, of course. Sign the last sheet, we’ll give them to you, we’ll get started.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think one of the things and you and I have been in the business for a while, sometimes I think the fact that we can do everything on the computer and that every spec ad and concept looks so finished, actually hurts us. I think the whole throwing paper up on the wall and using a Sharpie sometimes… I think we get so far down the process in a concept ad or whatever it is or a proposal, that we really hurt ourselves.

Bob Sanders:

I know you do. You’re right, 100% and that’s why I call it the magic marker because it is magic. If you understand how to use the magic marker and mark up sheets and then use word pictures to describe the creative. Instead of going to showing them outstanding creative, use word pictures. Talk about the strategy and the tactics on the bullet points on the handwritten sheets, but when you get to it, say we’re thinking about a direct mail campaign and it would be this bright yellow insert inside of a blue envelope. The question I always ask agencies when I’m going through this, is what size was the envelope? As soon as I said that, everyone in the room pictured an envelope. Some people pictured 11 by 7, some, a one side, whatever, but the point is that if I say it, everyone pictures the perfect answer, but if I show you an envelope that is legal size or something, half the people in the room are going to say, no, no, no, that’s not what I was thinking and they’re going to reject it.

Start with the word pictures. Use that as a way to describe your strategy, especially early on. Later on or if it’s a formal presentation, yes it’s different. The rules are different. Sometimes you have to go down that road, but if you’re in early and you have an opportunity to try and fast close, then don’t walk in with finished stuff. It just kills you.

Drew McLellan:

That leads me to the question I get asked all the time, what’s your stance on spec creative?

Bob Sanders:

Heck yeah. If you are in a formal review and they’re requesting spec creative, then yeah you know what, it’s the game that we have to play. Bite the bullet, go in and do it. Just understand, going back to the profili