Episode 376

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Business development will always be necessary for keeping your agency alive. Many agencies are great at marketing for clients but historically fall flat when it’s time to market themselves to prospects.

Peter Levitan knows this very well and has some tips to share to help us get creative about our agencies and prospecting for them. Whether aggressively pursuing a dream client or breaking into thought leadership, Peter knows the ins and outs of getting your agency’s name out there to just about anyone.

Tune into this episode to learn Peter’s business development expertise, hear his thoughts on thought leadership and writing, and see what’s on the horizon for agencies going into 2023.

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.

business development

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Peter’s strong background in business development and agency consulting
  • The top 3 ways to get more business and keep it
  • The importance of standing out from the crowd when marketing your agency
  • How to do direct marketing
  • Fresh and new topics that your agency can write about
  • Dabbling in thought leadership
  • What’s on the horizon in 2023?
  • Being aggressive and persistent with agency goals without overloading the team

“I think it's critical to have some message that will resonate, that stands out from the crowd.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “We all know about personal branding, but my point to agencies is, if you're similar to the guy down the street, the something that makes you different is who you are.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “The only thing an agency can do is put the pedal to the metal because some agencies will get nervous and not want to spend money or time on business development.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “Fill the gap would be my primary message. Get smart about business development and push it.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet “I think it's a mindset deal. Again, my advice is always to think of the agency as one of your clients.” @PeterLevitan Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Peter:

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 will 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 McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Super excited to be with you today and really excited to bring back a guest that was a part of one of the early episodes many, many years ago back when we first launched the podcast. So I’ll tell you a little bit more about him and we’ll get to that conversation in a quick second.

Just want to remind you that if you are looking for a way to spend some money in 2022 rather than give it to the tax man, the Build a Better Agency Summit tickets are up for sale. We have some amazing keynote speakers. So I just want to tell you about two of them today, both Michael and Amy Port. Many of you are familiar with Heroic Public Speaking. Michael’s been a guest on a podcast before. They run an amazing business and work with corporations, they teach classes. And if you can think of any sort of world class keynote speaker that you have seen at a conference, odds are they are a Heroic Public Speaking graduate. I mean, the laundry list of people that have run through their program and have improved their ability to present as a result is astronomical.

But many, many AMI agencies have gone to some of their courses and it’s not really about wanting to be a keynote speaker, although that’s certainly an option as well, but what Michael and Amy teach you is sort of how to own the room and how to present with power and conviction and influence. Whether you’re sitting across the table from someone and it’s a one-on-one conversation or it is you’re sitting on a stage in front of 6,000 people or anything in between. So for any of you that present, which is pretty much all of you, I think you would love to hear what both Amy and Michael are going to say. One of them is on Tuesday and the other one is on Wednesday. In terms of keynotes, they’re going to take very different avenues of attack on presentation skills and how to be powerful from the stage no matter what the stage is.

So not only will you love hearing their keynotes, but you’re just going to love them as human beings. They’re going to be with us for the entire time, so you’ll get to interact with them and ask them questions and they’re just lovely human beings, really lovely human beings and I’m really excited to have them as a part of the summit. So if you are so interested, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and the very first tab on the navigation up in the upper left is BABA Summit. Click on it and you can get squared away right away. Grab your tickets before they go up in price and give yourself an early holiday gift by getting those tickets now.

All right, so let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So Peter Levitan, most of you have probably heard of him or know of him and his writings. So Peter owned an agency for many, many years, worked in big agencies and then eventually owned his own agency and did that successfully for many years. And then he exited his agency and has been doing a lot of consulting work for the last several years, working with agencies just like you, particularly around BizDev. That was sort of his core skillset when he was at agencies and when he owned an agency. And so he has a lot to say about how agencies can and should sell their services. And so I had him on the show, he was one of the very first guests we ever had. I knew that I wanted him on the show early and I’m super excited that he is willing to come back and be on the show again. And so really where I want to focus in this conversation is on his tactics and tricks around BizDev. But I’m sure we will get off track once or twice, which will be part of the fun of the show.

So all right, let’s jump in and welcome Peter to the show. Peter, welcome back to the podcast. Thanks for coming back.

Peter Levitan:

My pleasure. It’s nice to see we’re both still around.

Drew McLellan:

It is. I think you were at guest number three, I think we discovered. So that was a way back.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, I’m going to say I was your training wheels.

Drew McLellan:

Yes. Well, actually what it was I was just starting out, I had no listeners so I needed to invite big names that would attract attention. So you were top on the list so I appreciate you coming back a year or two later to do this again so thank you.

Peter Levitan:

My pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

So tell everybody a little bit about your work today. I think people are familiar with sort of the body of your work, but the kind of work you’re doing today. And then I want to dig in because I have a lot of topics I want to cover with you.

Peter Levitan:

I work with generally smaller to mid-size agencies. They find me online, which is nice. I was sort of an early SEO kind of guy, so that works. I primarily help agencies with business development, but our relationships morph into agency management, importantly these days talent management which is increasingly an issue. And I haven’t gone here, although I’m starting to write about it, what I call boss burnout. We’re talking about staff burnout and how do you deal with remote workers. And I’m just realizing when I talk to a lot of the people that run agencies that they’re dealing with stress in their own life. And I know you just had a podcast talking about that. And it’s not like I’m a psychologist, but I think management of an agency these days really is in fact 360 degrees, much more so than before. So I cover a lot of territory.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s interesting, the way I describe agency owners today is that they’re weary, they’re just bone tired weary, I think, from everything that’s gone on for the last couple years. So you’re right, I think the burnout at the top level is a real issue.

Peter Levitan:

Well, people ask me, “Why did you sell your agency a few years ago?” And frankly, I’d been in the business a long time, but I was a little tired of the art of reinvention and I kind of ended up with a model that I thought would make sense, which certainly would make sense today, sort of hub and spoke model. But I just said, “Can I deal with this again?” And I said, “Nah, I got other things to do.” And the consulting popped up after I sold the agency so it’s a nice add-on to other things that I do in life.

Drew McLellan:

So let’s talk a little bit about, you said you focus with most agencies or the reason they knock on your door anyway is BizDev. So let’s talk a little bit about what you are seeing on the landscape of how agencies are successfully landing new clients these days. And when you’re coaching them in that arena, what kind of things are you guys talking about? What kind of strategies are you encouraging them to deploy?

Peter Levitan:

Well, by nature, the people that come to me have a problem. So they’re not coming to me because they’re successful or they think they’re successful. And the problem I would say in general is filling the pipeline. How do I get more business? And so I start out by saying the three things that agencies have to do. Number one is you have to be able to be found. And I’ll use an example, let’s say you’re an hospitality expert agency. If I’m Hilton and I’m looking for an agency, will I find you? So it’s insane if in fact I can’t find you when I’m looking for you. So that’s number one.

The second is, and we all know this, agency’s got a lot of business from referrals, sometimes unfortunately it’s the only way they get business because they’re not doing something else. So I try to instruct agencies a bit in having a referral strategy. Just don’t leave it to chance, have a strategy because people forget that you’re there, even your best friends. And then the third is-

Drew McLellan:

Or they think that you don’t need the help, that you’re super busy and it doesn’t occur to them to try and be helpful.

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. So for both of those I would say it’s generally consciousness. It’s just really being out there and making sure that those two things, can you be found and can you drive referrals, are happening. The third is interesting and it’s a function I think unfortunately of today’s economics is that agencies do not do a great job of retaining and growing clients.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, huge problem, agreed.

Peter Levitan:

Right? And I think a function of that unfortunately is that there is, I’m going to be cautious but I’ll say it, little to no training of client facing individuals at the agency.

Drew McLellan:

It’s really interesting you say that. So we just wrapped up teaching Money Matters, which is we’re teaching agency owners all things money, and we talk about that 60 to 70% of their net new revenue should come from existing clients. Couple that with the fact that their AEs are not taught to think about looking for opportunities with clients, growing clients, they think that they’re order takers and they’re supposed to make the clients happy and they’re project managers, make sure everything gets done is a real problem for a lot of agencies, absolutely.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, it really does come down to training. I don’t think it has to. When I talk to agencies about training, I say, “You don’t need a three week training program.” 20 minutes a week of even a conversation about how do you present ideas to clients, how do you generate ideas, what do you think your clients need to hear? These are not difficult things.

Listening, I was lucky to have started in a huge agency where there was training and one of the things they taught us was the concept of active listening. Now, if you’re married or you have a relationship or you have kids, it’s sort of basically say to yourself, “Shut up and listen.” The best example I use is we go to a cocktail party and you meet somebody and they start talking and the only thing in your brain is, “Oh, I have my story to tell this other person,” right? So I used to tell my kids you know what you know but you don’t know what you don’t know and the only way to really understand the other person is to listen. And this sounds so simple, but I think it needs to be drummed into people.

Drew McLellan:

What do they say, the most interesting person at the cocktail party is the one that asks you all about you, right?

Peter Levitan:

Yes. Well, I use dating as a metaphor, right? We all know that worst date where one person sits there and all they do is talk about themselves. And of course that folds into, unfortunately for some agencies, the pitch process.

Drew McLellan:

For sure, yeah. Okay, so you help an agency be findable, you help them put together the referral, and then from there, do you help them do something more active, more outbound, more hunting?

Peter Levitan:

Yeah, I am a huge fan of account-based marketing. Let me start at the beginning. I think the base is, it’s important to be conscious of search engine optimization. And that kind of goes back to the can you be found part that I said earlier. And that’s a base. But as you know and I know, that is getting more and more difficult every year. There are more agencies, I mean, what is there left to write about? Although if we put an asterisk on that, I can come back to it. So I think that the inbound aspect is critically important.

On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of the concept of outbound marketing and I tell a story sometimes it’s kind of funny, I had a client in Dubai, really smart ex-Microsoft guy living in Dubai, and this is years ago, he said to me, “What do you think about account based marketing?” And I said to him, “I don’t know what that means. What is it?” And he describes it and I look at him, I go, “That’s direct marketing.” This is not a new invention. So my mantra is a little bit is one, learn how… Well, okay, have a positioning that sets you apart. I have to start some of the things I’m saying here by saying I think we all know the basics, where the rubber hits the road is in the execution.

Drew McLellan:

Right, knowing the basics and applying the basics are two different things.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. And as we both know, it’s fascinating, agencies are very smart at dealing with their clients, sometimes not with themselves. So number one is have a positioning. And you can have, I believe, multiple positionings, I mean, you can be a hospitality expert and an SEO expert at the same time. So I think it’s critical to have some message that will resonate, that stands out from the crowd. And then figure out who your prospects are. And again, you could think this is easy, but really think hard. And again, the art of that science is really understanding who these people are, finding them, understanding their psychographics, understanding their motivations. Obviously there are top level motivations for, let’s do a mid-size company, for CMOs, but as individuals, and this is where personalization comes in, they each have the thing that they need to hear. And I’ll get into the weeds in a second.

One of the things that things I discovered a long time ago was if you go on LinkedIn and you look at a person and you look at their profile, they will tell you what they want you to think. And then something we don’t often do is you go down and look at the, I don’t know if they’re called referrals or whatever, where people-

Drew McLellan:

The recommendations?

Peter Levitan:

Recommendations, read the recommendations because what Tom says about Sally is different than what Sally’s saying about herself. And we could make the case that this is a lot of hard work, but I’m not sure there are any other areas in terms of business development that are more important than once you have a position that resonates, understanding the message to that individual in that company or individuals in the company. I also believe that while you might hit up one guy, you can also broadcast to the other people in the marketing group, even these days the CFO.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, interesting. Yeah, they’re certainly playing a bigger and bigger role.

Peter Levitan:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I don’t want to talk about something really unfortunate, but we also, this Keurig-Dr. Pepper thing run by this week where they’re telling agencies ,”We’re not going to pay you for a year.” So the CFO and procurement are obviously important and I wouldn’t leave them out of the mix.

Drew McLellan:

All right, so I have a positioning that matters, I identify prospects. And then do you have a recommended sort of methodology or way that agencies should do the direct marketing, the account-based marketing? Is there something that you’ve seen that’s really working for agencies in terms of getting on a prospect’s radar screen or getting them to return a phone call or whatever that may be?

Peter Levitan:

Well, I’ll lead with a little story. Years ago when I became the business development director of Saatchi & Saatchi, I called up another agency in New York and I said, “What works for you?” And he said, and so this is pre-data, pre-data land, he said, “I don’t know really what works so we do everything.” All right? So I don’t necessarily suggest that you do everything, but my map is that you start with some information or an insight that will help the prospect that you are reaching out to, that will make their life better. And that could be a current tactic or it could be talking about the future. And of course today, smart agencies are talking about artificial intelligence and figuring out that spin, right? So it’s really figuring out what works and then reaching out.

And so how do you reach out? You can reach out with LinkedIn message, which works some of the time, sometimes doesn’t. I’m a huge fan still of email, smart. Not the silly, stupid stuff that we get every day where you can tell, you probably get the same thing. I get a message from people saying, “Hi Peter, you have an advertising agency, so I want to do something or other for your agency.”

Drew McLellan:

Every day.

Peter Levitan:

And I’m like, well, in about 10 seconds you can figure out I’m not an advertising agency by looking at my LinkedIn profile.

Drew McLellan:

At anything, right?

Peter Levitan:

Right. Now I’m going to say that agencies do that as well. Maybe a little not as poorly, but they do it. So okay, have the positioning, have a prospect list, have the insights that they will pay attention to. One thing I say to agencies, it’s a little pearls before swine, if you have a study about hospitality that a hospitality CMO would want to read, and when I say study, one or two pages max, let’s not get too crazy. The client you want will read it, the client that you don’t want won’t read it. So it’s almost self-selecting. Or they might not want to read it today, but…

Okay, this is another point. I’m a little going to be all over here because it is a complex subject, reach out to them, but continue to reach out with them. This is not a one shot deal. And there are hundreds of pundits on the internet telling you how to reach out, how many touches to make, how to talk to people and so forth. So that’s something I also get into with people. One of the things we do know, unfortunately we’re human, is sometimes we in fact respond to the fifth touch.

Drew McLellan:

Right, that’s right.

Peter Levitan:

You finally go, “Oh, okay, I’ll talk to you,” or, “I’ll pay attention.”

Drew McLellan:

Or, “I didn’t even notice the first four, but today you caught my attention and so here we go,” right?

Peter Levitan:

Exactly. And so email works, LinkedIn works to a certain extent. Again, we don’t know what works. So we do a little bit of everything and of course the data will tell us what works. I am a very big fan of direct mail, as in paper.

Drew McLellan:

Old school, right?

Peter Levitan:

Old school. I get a letter now, I get a letter in July, it’s like getting a Christmas card, right? So those are some of the tools. Another, which I think is highly underutilized, is advertising.

Drew McLellan:

I always think it’s so funny when agencies go, “I should what? I should spend money?” What do you tell your clients every single day?

Peter Levitan:

Oh no, it’s crazy. So I’ll say two things. One, I have an old Saatchi friend from London who has an agency, believe it or not, named London Advertising. And I’ve written about them on my blog about how they use advertising to drive their business. It’s quite fascinating. I mean, I’m not going to say the English are smarter than us, but the London advertising group are really smart. And they actually have done outdoor advertising in London to reach clients and have one business. Now, it also does something else for them, Michael who runs the agency, M