In all the years that I’ve been an agency owner (almost 25) and worked alongside agency owners (15+) there is a common pain point — biz dev. We love getting to the table and talking with a potential client about how we can help them. However, getting to the table feels like a slog.
That’s why, if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t invest as much time and attention as we should to prospecting. The situation becomes a real Catch-22. Sooner or later, that bites every agency owner in the caboose and the bank account.
In episode #198, I talk with Dan Englander, who was on the show a while back (episode #76) and what I appreciate about Dan is that he’s been a student of this challenge. Not only has he analyzed the reasons why we avoid going after new business, but he has developed a process with tangible steps you can take to break the pattern. He’s the proverbial “man with a plan.”
We dig into what makes a good sales team, the right roles for the right people, and how to get and stay on the right biz dev tasks as owners and principals.
Dan founded Sales Schema in 2014 to help marketing service companies reach new heights by aggressively focusing on new business. Previously, he was the first employee business development lead at IdeaRocket. Before that, he was Account Coordinator at DXagency. He’s the author of Mastering Account Management and The B2B Sales Blueprint. In his spare time, Dan enjoys developing new and exciting aches and pains via Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
What You Will Learn in this Episode:
- How to set up a biz dev team for success
- How to create a 3-person sales pod
- The role of a B2B biz dev strategist in your shop
- Specific tasks that owners and sales leaders should be completing
- How to create a transparent process that leads good-fit clients to a buying decision
- How to find enough confidence in your pipeline to be choosy about clients
- Ways to back up an abundance mindset with solid strategies and tactics
- How to build momentum through your biz dev efforts
- How to avoid perfection paralysis in biz dev
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Ways to Contact Dan Englander:
- Website: https://www.salesschema.com/
- Book The B2B Sales Blueprint: https://amzn.to/2Y2oOtS
- Checklist: https://www.salesschema.com/drew
It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run: traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. That’s why Agency Management Institute started the Build a Better Agency podcast a few years ago. We help agencies just like yours, grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Whether you have been an agency owner or agency leader for a day or a decade, there is one topic that is always swirling around in your brain and always at the tip of your tongue and that topic is Biz Dev. How do we find the right potential clients? How do we get on their radar screen? How do we actually get a meeting or conversation with them? And ultimately, how do we convince them? How do we earn the right to show them that we are the right agency for them.
And in every interaction I have with an agency owner, and when I’m hanging out with the agency peer groups, without exception, someone will pull me off to the side, like we’re going to have like a secret conversation and what they’re always asking me is, what are the other agencies doing to get in front of the right prospects? What the question really is, what is the secret magic unicorn-like activity that some other agency has figured out that I have not that truncates this process? That makes this easy, that makes this instantaneous? And it breaks my heart to tell them every time that you know what? There isn’t such a beast. There is no such thing.
Biz Dev is hard work. Biz Dev is discipline. Biz Dev is consistency. I wish that was not the case. I wish there was a unicorn out there, because I would be a bazillionaire, but I don’t have that secret answer for you. And the best thing I can do is to bring you subject matter experts who can teach you how to do the hard work better. And that’s what this episode is going to be all about. Before I tell you a little bit more about our guest today and what we’re going to talk about, I want to remind you of the fact that we’re trying to give you a free workshop seat. I’m trying to get you into one of our workshops, retail value is around, depending on if you’re a member or not, 15, 16 to two grand and/or get you a seat in one of our on-demand workshops, whichever you prefer.
And all you have to do is go to wherever you download the podcast, iTunes, Stitcher, Google, wherever that is, and leave us a ratings and review. Grab a screenshot of it, because your username is often not your real name. If you are Biker Stud 92, I have no idea who that is. Honestly, I probably don’t want to know who that is. But send me the screenshot and help me connect your username and your review with your real name and your email address, so that when you are the lucky winner, we can actually get a hold of you and tell you that you’ve won. So, go ahead and do that for us, please. It’s good for us. It helps more people find us and hopefully find value in the content that we’re creating. And hopefully it will get you into one of our workshops soon, so that would be awesome.
All right, so let me get back to this week’s episode and topic. So, I was actually a guest pretty recently on Dan Englander’s podcast called the Digital Agency Growth podcast, which is a relatively new podcast. And in our conversation, Dan and I were talking during the interview and then post interview about how agencies struggle to figure out how to build their own new business team. How to build that internal team that will help them with all of the mechanics of actually running a biz dev program out of their shop. And so, I asked Dan to come on the show and talk to us about that.
So, Dan is the owner and creator of salesschema.com and he’s been a guest on the podcast before, many moons ago, but it just seemed like it was time to bring him back and specifically around this topic of, “If I want to do Biz Dev all on my own. I don’t want to hire an outside consultant. I don’t want to do anything else, I just want to do it. I want grassroots and I want to do it on my own. What do I need in terms of people and process and skill sets? If I’m going to hire a Biz Dev specialist or person, what does that person need to look like and behave like? And how can I set them up for success?”
All those kinds of questions and so, I am ready to dig into that with you and for you. And I know Dan is ready to share with us everything that he knows, which is quite substantial. So, settle in and be ready to maybe take some notes or think through how you’re structured today, and how you might want to do that differently. So with that, let’s jump into the conversation.
Dan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thanks for having me on, Drew. I appreciate it.
So, as I was saying in the introduction, if there is a universal topic for agencies, it is certainly sales and biz dev. And so, I know that what we’re going to talk about today is going to be of keen interest to everyone across the land, so I’m grateful that you’re here to share with us your expertise. Will you give everybody a little bit of an understanding of kind of your background in terms of how you came to have this depth of knowledge about the agency sales process?
Yeah, sure, and thanks again. My background originally was kind of as account coordination grunt, so I would be set up to do proposals and manage social media campaigns for bigger consumer brands. I worked on Monster Cable back when they used to manufacture Beats by Dre, which was crazy, Big Ten Network, Marc Ecko, and some of those, some other bigger consumer accounts. And then wanted to do something else kind of moved into an account management role for Creative Services Animation Shop that was selling into the bigger agencies and selling it to enterprise. And really got to kind of hone my craft there.
In the early days, I didn’t take any ownership over being in sales. I kind of didn’t realize that I was and thankfully, I had a good boss of that company that said, “Hey, guess what? You’re kind of in sales, man. Do you want to get trained, and actually figure out how to do this?” So, I got some sales training, got to get on thousands of calls. We had a lot. We were investing a lot in marketing, and sort of built up some skills there. And so, selling basically bigger video projects into the agencies and enterprise.
And eventually, wanted to do my own thing. Wrote, ended up writing a book about account management and sales called Mastering Account Management. Launched Sales Schema. And we started out kind of as a consulting company giving agencies different tactics and strategies for getting new business. And eventually, we moved on to becoming a “done for you” model, because what we were finding is we give people all these crazy strategies, they would get busy, and they wouldn’t apply them and then they’d be sort of be back at square one. So, eventually, we moved into being more of a fractional business team for generally boutique or independent agency selling to these marketed enterprise companies, which is where we are now.
So, when you and I were talking, and I think this was when I was a guest on your podcast, the Digital Agency Growth podcast, we were sort of talking about one of the things that you’ve learned over time is that agencies, whether it’s an agency of one or an agency of a thousand, need to have a new business focus in some frame of a new business team, whether it’s just the owner or it’s a bigger team than that.
And so, that’s what really led us to talking about having you back on the show and talking through sort of what you’ve observed in terms of how an agency can think about building an effective new business team internally. So, that’s really where I want to focus our conversation today because I think this is one of the places where agencies really struggle. As you know and as all of the listeners have heard me preach about in the past, most agencies do biz dev, because they have to. And so, it’s very much a feast or famine. We don’t do much of anything when things are going well and when we get the weird vibe that a big client is going away, or worse yet, we get the phone call that says they are going away, then all of a sudden, we scramble to try and chase after new business.
And one thing that certainly I think is true in the past couple of years is that clients are much more deliberate about pulling the trigger on working with an agency. So, this scramble when you need it model puts many agencies really behind the eight ball in terms of they can’t leverage fast enough and so they end up downsizing or worse, going deep into a line of credit or whatever it is just to survive. And so, I’m excited to talk about a better way.
And so, let’s talk a little bit about sort of your take. It’s interesting, that someone who serves as sort of an outsource partner to agencies is advocating for agencies to have an internal team. So, talk a little bit about what that internal team might look like and kind of what the roles would be in your recommendation.
Yeah, and just to be clear on that, I think it’s hard to build that internal team, and we can help agencies move a lot faster than they normally would and that’s our whole value prop. So, we’re not shy about selling that, for sure. But if you wanted to get started with your own team and maybe you’re not at the stage of hiring somebody like us, there’s a lot that you can do to set up that support base. So, that’s what I would like to help people with here.
I think the first thing to start with is why you should you get proactive. Most of the people we’ve worked with have survived for sometimes decades on referrals and that sort of thing on RFPs. And what we’re seeing more and more of now is this massive expansion of the freelance economy. So, there’s more and more marketing service providers than there ever has been. There’s more and more potential to bring things in-house than there has been in the past. So, what that has brought is higher premium on optionality and on brands bouncing around, which has meant fewer retainers, more project-based engagements, kind of downsizing of long-term retainers and more attrition.
So, we talked to a lot of people that say we get a lot of our business, because we will have a CMO that we’re friends with, he’ll bounce to a new company, and they’ll take us with him. The problem with that is, it’s a double-edged sword. It could just as easily work against you and you can get fired from a long-term account doing that sort of thing. So, it’s become more important to get proactive in the agencies that we really see doing well. The ones that we’re looking up to in terms of new business perspective have gotten this memo and are really hitting the ground running.
And frankly, that’s what the rest of the enterprise world has done for generations that maintains the sales process, they maintained the team, kept the pipeline full, and so on. And for whatever reason, agencies have been able to survive without doing that. So, that’s all stuff we’ve covered before.
But to answer your question, I think what we see a lot is that the agency will get the memo that they need to get proactive and then they won’t set up their team for success. And the main way that that’s happening is they have a solo. They have either a high-level new business person or oftentimes it’s the owner, or sometimes even in agencies with hundreds of people, it’s still the owner doing all of the new business process, or they hire somebody, and then they send them off into the cold without any support.
Right. And by the way expect them to have an ROI within three months.
Right, right. And it takes a lot of time. So, really, what they’re doing is they’re thinking of sales as maybe one job or like one job that ascribes other people or enlists other people for support when needed, when really, it’s three, basically full-time jobs to get right. And that’s where we come in, because it’s hard to do that, but it is possible. You can start to experiment with it. I think there’s things you can do.
And those three jobs that basically, the three-person sales support pod is what we’d like to call it is it’s basically the three roles. Look like first, you need somebody who is developing and then fine-tuning the B2B strategy constantly, basically, every 30 days. So, they’re basically figuring out what are the right words to the right people. And the issue with that is sometimes the agency will hire somebody in-house that’s doing copy for their clients. And it’s often a different skill set, because the whole tone of going after a B2B CMO or a CMO in a large company is different than the tone that your copywriter is doing, packaging for a consumer brand, so there’s a knowledge gap there.
But even if that knowledge gap is filled and you have somebody that has experience going to B2B, it’s tough because you’re basically enlisting that person to do things in their spare time. So, they’re not going to have a lot of skin in the game. But if you can do that, that’s just kind of knowing what those rules are is important. So, that’s rule number one is that B2B strategist that has time to develop and optimize a strategy every day, and so on, that’s more creative.
The second role is basically a lower level salesperson or an account manager/enterprise assistant. Basically, somebody to convert a person that’s putting up their hand and saying, “Yes, I’m interested in talking with ACME agency,” to actually showing up to that appointment. And that’s something that’s often taken for granted. If you get somebody that’s interested in you, that doesn’t mean that they are ready to talk to you yet. They’re going to need nurturing and logistics and support to get them to actually show up. So, if a CMO takes time to speak with you, they’re going to be investing in marketing. They’re just too busy to have that conversation otherwise. Converting them to the calendar is a whole other effort. So, that’s rule number two.
And rule number three is the technical side of things. So, a lot of the times, we’ll work with agencies that have tried to do outreach, have done whatever, email, LinkedIn inbound. And they said, “Hey, it just doesn’t work for us. We’re just really special.” Whatever the reason is, and a lot of the times, it could be a messaging or a market problem, but I’d say most of the time, it’s a technical problem. The pigeons just aren’t landing. Nobody’s seeing the message. And it’s not just a one-time thing to get the technical boxes checked, it’s a pretty consistent effort to make sure the data is clean, to make sure deliverability is maintained, and so on so forth. So, that’s really the third rule.
And then the last rule, which is the end is basically the high level person to have that conversation, which is where that person is going to shine. When you hire a new salesperson, or you have an owner, that’s where their highest leverage activity is basically.
Okay, so I heard I need to have somebody who is mindful of the message, so what is the messaging about us and how are we demonstrating? How are we sort of scratching the itch of our prospects and who are the prospects, right? Which I think in most cases is probably an agency owner or a higher level person making that decision. Then you’ve got somebody who’s more administrative, making sure that we send what we say we’re going to send, we try and schedule appointments. If we’re doing a mailing series or something like that, that that’s staying on track.
And then the third person is sort of the technical person. We’re going to have a drip campaign, and we’re going to be pushing stuff out on whatever, Instagram or LinkedIn or whatever it is, and the methodology around either that email campaign or whatever it is. And then I heard a fourth person or is the fourth person because what I heard was, and then there’s a person that you basically send in. So, they’re the one who could have that high-level marketing conversation, which again, is probably typically the owner. So, is the first role and the last role typically the same person?
No, no. And to be clear, I probably made it confusing. It’s essentially four roles. The three that I mentioned are basically on the support side, and that’s what we’re doing at Sales Schema.
The fourth role is the agency owner or the high-level new business person.
Who can got out and have business conversations?
Exactly. And that role is very difficult to build something. It’s a real marathon to get that role right, whether you’re hiring it or honing your own skills, basically.
Yeah. So, I think one of the… so, as I’m listening to you sort of describing those roles, I think about a lot of agency owners I know that are trying to do this as sort of almost like a side hustle, right? They have their day job and then their side hustle is biz dev for the agency, which just to be very clear, I am not a fan of that model. But, so part of what I’m hearing you say is that if somebody is trying to do it on their own, what it means that they’re spending a lot of time on tasks that are, for lack of a better term, kind of below their pay grade, right?
Exactly, yeah. There’s a lot of tasks below the pay grade of the person that needs to be spending 99% of their time doing the things that only they can do. So, before getting into all the ways you can waste your time, the three main things I’d say are basically high-level strategy, so basically figuring out the steps that people need to go through in order to build enough trust to buy from you, which is going to vary depending on your market, your service, and so on. Conducting the actual sales meeting with prospects. People say the word qualified, and it’s one of these words that I hate because it just can mean a million different things depending on who’s selling what and what they mean. But basically, people that have the potential to afford what you do. The right sized company, the right people there that have agreed to take time out of their lives to have a business conversation with you, so that you can simplify to that level.
And then the last thing I’d say is influence and authority. Basically, selling the agency in a way that is going to produce long-term returns, so like we’re doing now, going on podcasts, going to events and conferences, basically building up that, that influence and authority. So, on a new business level, those are the three highest leverage things. And what we often see agency owners and new business people doing is a lot of scheduling tasks. So, that’s just the easiest thing to get off your plate. You get somebody that wants to talk to you and you have a little sword fight to get them actually on your calendar. You shouldn’t be doing that.
Building lists, so a lot of the technical aspects of messing with Excel or Google spreadsheets. Making sure people were the right fit. On a strategic level, we might have to do a little bit of that in the beginning, but overall, that’s not a good use of your time. Tech troubleshooting, something breaks, something goes wrong, not a good use of time. And then also reading lots of tactical articles. I think we’ve talked to lots of agency owners that, frankly, need to stop hanging out with digital marketers so much. They need to be talking to their market more and also higher level business people, bigger, kind of more strategic stuff, as opposed to little tactics chatbots. Whatever the hottest flavor of the moment is. So, those are just examples of what we see a lot.
Okay. So, I just want to capture that, so the three if I’m an agency owner, from your perspective, the three things that I should be investing 99% of my biz dev time are: The high level strategy of who we are, who’s the sweet spot customer for us, and helping sort of identify those people. Number two is being out in the marketplace and being findable and seen, so whether it’s appearing on podcasts or speaking, stepping up on a stage at a trade show of an industry that you want to penetrate in terms of biz dev opportunities, or whatever it is. But I’m making myself on authority of I’m holding up the agency as an authority around whatever our subject matter expertise is. And then what was the third one?
Basically, conducting those sales meetings. Being the one that’s out there on those calls. I think that even if you get that off your plate, even if you hire somebody and groom them to do that, sales keeps you sharp. That’s how you figure out what your market wants. It’s one thing to do researches. It’s another thing to ask somebody to buy and see what they say. So, I think even if you are 90, if you’ve gotten all that off your plate, you’ve hired somebody really good, you still want to pop and do a sales call maybe once a month or something and see what’s going on.
Yeah. And you know what? Here’s what I observe is and first, I will say that many agencies go down the road of hiring a new business specialist. And typically, they’re either somebody that has a strong agency background, so they could have the kind of strategic conversations that they need to have, but they’re not really salespeople or they’re great salespeople that have a limited understanding or expertise of the agency business. And I think there are some conversations with prospects, that only somebody, who has been in the space and at a senior level, so either they’re a department head, typically a director of account service or something like that, or the actual agency owner. I just think there’s a different level of conversation that they are qualified by their experience to have that it’s pretty tough for a salesperson who is coming in kind of cold to our industry to have at the same level.
Yeah, yeah, that’s true. And first to make sure you are setting them up for success, they need to be getting at bats. If you’re giving them nothing, then it’s going to be hard for anybody to do anything. But assuming you are and assuming you’re creating opportunity for them then by and large, then that persona can be tough to find. You want somebody that is the right level of experience, and also the right level of persistence.
And for my money, my favorite recent approach to this is the challenger sale, which was put out by Spicy B, I believe, a couple of different authors there. And basically, what that is teaching is the idea of there’s three things need to happen. You need to basically teach, tailor and take control of the sales process. And it’s become less of a situation of this long-term consultative sell where we ask you a million questions. And then we come up with a perfectly crafted custom solution for you. And we go from there. And that’s because, like we talked about earlier, there’s so many different options for brands, and so many different ways to go.
It’s more about, “We understand your market. Here’s what you need.” We’re going to ask some basic questions, so we can dig a little deeper. And then we’re going to present a solution once we make sure that it’s worth our time to take this further. And that’s what we’re seeing our better clients succeed with is that they’re just like, “Just team up and we’ll knock them out of the park.” And that’s kind of their approach to it.
So, are you saying that they have found a way to shorten the sales cycle?
Sometimes. I mean, the sales cycles are never going to be short when you’re talking about 5-, 6-, 7-figure agency engagements, especially if they’re going for AORs. But they’re finding ways to disqualify people faster, and to make sure that it’s worth their time to continue the process.
So, what you’re saying is they’re opting out faster. It’s not that the prospect is ghosting on them or opting out or making them get into a room with 10 other agencies to shoot it out. What you’re saying is some of your clients have gotten proficient at scoring or deciding that a prospect is not a good fit. So, they have a much better idea of who is a good fit and they’re able to lay this prospect against that matrix and go, “Nope, they don’t check enough of the boxes, so we have to get out.”
Yeah, or they don’t check enough for the boxes right now. And to be clear, our better clients they’re not just saying, “There’s the door.” They’re investing a lot of their time and nurturing people and getting them to that place. But what they’re not doing is just creating a proposal for everybody. It’s more like, “This is our process. Here’s what we need to go through. Here’s what you need to have.” It’s very transparent. Are you guys ready to go through this process with us, to go through our process? And then it will be either a yes or a no. And if it is a yes then it’s like, “I’m going to ask you for a decision at the end of this. We need a green light or a red light.” And that’s what they’re doing to make it work basically.
So, they’re sort of forcing a decision, at least a decision for now.
Right, right, exactly.
Yeah, yeah. And well, what’s interesting about that is, what I love about that is that that is not a scarcity mindset. That is, as you said, take control. “I’m in charge of who we do work with and because our pipeline is robust enough, we can be choosy.” And I think I was talking to an agency owner the other day and they were really struggling. They had done several pitches and weren’t winning. And this agency owner, his back is really against the wall. He needs new business.
And I said, “My fear is that they smell that on you. They smell that desperation.” And I don’t think clients want to work with an agency that’s desperate to get any client that they can. And so, I said, “You’ve got to fake confidence or a swagger that they would be lucky if you choose to work with them because you don’t work with everybody.” So, what you’re talking about is, is that. It is, “We are confident enough in our pipeline, and we are standing on stable enough ground,” which I know, from the listener’s perspective, some days you feel that and some days, the ground is very squishy underneath you.
“But we’re standing on stable enough ground that we can be choosy. And if you’re not the right fit, then we know we’re smart enough to know that even though you have a big bag of money on the table, I’m going to lose more than I’m going to gain if I take that bag of money.”
Right, right, exactly. And I think one thing that’s important to remember, if you’re in a rough spot and you’re on a downswing. And your lack in that confidence, it happens to all of us, it happens to our company, is that you have to look back at your historic wins and your historic data. If you’re talking about like the Facebook algorithm, it’s a robot. And there’s going to be ups and downs and it’s going to react to that rationally, but you were not rational.
But in the sales process, you kind of want to try to make yourself not into a complete robot, but as much towards that approach as you can because otherwise, you’re going to have like a bad call with somebody who’s not probably never going to buy from you anyway. And you’ll go down, and you have a downswing. And you have to kind of look back at everything that’s happened, and know that there is a predictable amount of business you can get if you’re creating that abundance by continuing to prospect and invest in sales, marketing and so on.
Yeah, right. It’s a numbers game, like anything. If you get in front of X number of people, a certain percentage of them who will be right people, and you will get a smaller percentage of them will be ready to buy. And so, it really is a volume game. Which again, is why doing new business haphazardly or sort of in the feast and famine model really doesn’t serve agencies well in the long run.
Right, exactly. And to think, you may think it can help for sure, but it’s sort of as diminishing returns. And I think the thing to do is to go back and remind yourself that unless you’re just starting out, in which case, that’s another animal. You’ve been in business for a while, you have a lot of good case studies, you can help a lot of people in very specific ways. And you just have to get yourself back in touch with that again.
Because there’s all sorts of agencies that we talk to that have incredible stories, have incredible case studies, but they feel like they still don’t have permission to go out to their market and get those relationships without doing a million things or jumping through hoops. So it’s just fear, it’s just something to get over, basically.
Yeah. And I don’t think there’s an easy solution to that other than just, you just have to step out and do it. There are very few agency owners, most agency owners, I know, love the sitting down with the prospect and having that conversation, but all of the activity prior to that, they don’t love. And so that’s the part that they don’t do on a consistent regular basis, which allows them to earn the opportunity to sit in front of a prospect on a regular basis.
Right, right, exactly. And that’s really where you learn, where you keep optimizing the system, and so on and that’s really high value.
Yeah. All right, I want to talk to you a little bit about some of the things that killed momentum, caused distractions, all of that. But first, let’s take a quick break, and then we’ll come back.
Thanks for checking out this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. I want to interrupt very quickly and just remind you that one of the services that AMI offers is our coaching packages. And it comes in a couple different options, so you can do a remote coaching package where we would communicate with you over the phone or over a Zoom call or we also do on-site consulting, where we would actually come to your agency and work with you for a day or a period of days to solve a specific problem, typically that you’ve pre-identified and we’ve talked about on the phone.
So, if you’re interested in either of those, you might go over to the AMI website and under the consulting tab, you will find more information about both our remote coaching and our on-site consulting. Let’s get back to the episode.
All right, we are back with Dan Englander and we’re talking about biz dev. And right before the break, I had said to Dan, that I wanted, I think one of the challenges for all of you around business development is that there are constant distractions. And one of the things that I often say is that one of the problems with biz dev is that we are so wired as agency people to be a firefighter. So, we walk in the office, we assess what’s happening in the office, and we see fires all around us. Client fires, employee fires, whatever and we very quickly triage where the biggest fire is. We run to that fire, we put out the fire, and then we run to the next fire.
And unless you’ve just been fired, no pun intended, unless you’ve just been released by big clients, oftentimes, biz dev is not on fire. And so, I think it’s easy to get distracted and to lose your focus and momentum. So, Dan, I just wanted to ask you, what are some of the things, yeah, there’s always a new tool, there’s always a new technique, there’s always a new book about sales. So, A, what distracts us and B, how do we mitigate those distractions?
Yeah. And to go back and broad frame it a little bit and to give people a lot harder of an answer than I wish I could give. I wish there was another time tracking productivity tool or system to set up your team that will make everything easier. But I think the thing that really reduces the fires is making hard decisions about who you want to work with. And this is something that you’re really great about, giving people insight into you, Drew, which is the idea of specializing, having a few different markets you work with that might have connective tissue.
And eventually, that means that instead of reinventing the wheel, which is what causes the fires, running around putting them out all the time, you have a lot more consistency. And that’s not going to happen overnight, but that’s the big decision that has to be made and that’s kind of starting at the ground level.
So, that’s the big stuff. But beyond that, I think the common things that we see that kill a lot of momentum is basically getting all the ducks in a row, getting everything right. There’s the great sketch that is kind of obscured with Phil Hartman on SNL, and he’s the anal retentive carpenter and he starts to build. He builds a birdhouse and he has to put all the dust away and it never gets done. It’s a great sketch.
We see that a lot, so it’s, there’s a lot of tech companies that have a lot of investor money that are selling quick solutions to things. And it’s really easy to sort of get into your CRM and spend hours trying to organize it the perfect way as opposed to just picking up the phone and simplifying it. We have agencies that work out of the spreadsheet, like one spreadsheet for other prospects. It could be better.
There’s better ways to do it. We’re not against technology, but I’d rather have somebody that is proactive and excited to be getting on calls and has the right mindset with a pad of paper than the fanciest technology under the sun. And that becomes a huge way to lean towards or rather, away from resistance is the tech stack, the tech stuff.
Yeah. I think there’s a perfection paralysis that happens that, “I have to tweak it a little more. It’s not quite right. I just want to enhance this. I want to double.” And so in my coaching calls with agency owners, I hear and one of our main goals is to really rev up their biz dev efforts. It’s astonishing, the distractions and the excuses that we can come up with to avoid doing something that, at the barest of bones, we’re kind of afraid to do.
Right, right, exactly. And with that in mind, another thing and I’ve run into this before. I was on a mastermind call the other week. And I said, I was talking to my buddy Nate, who has a similar business. And I was like, “Hey, we have all this great video content from interviews we’ve done. I want to find a way to use it. We got to find a way to get it out there and so on.” He’s like, “Well, why? Just because you have this material doesn’t mean you have to use it. You’d have the strategy first, and then work back from there.”
So, that happens a lot is people say, “Hey, we have this resource. We have this person with spare time, let’s go find something for them to do.” As opposed to working backwards from, “Who do we talk to and what do we need to say basically?”
Yeah, yeah. Again, I think it’s interesting. And we recognize it in ourselves and yet we sort of can’t help it. But all of us, who own agencies are constantly pushing on clients to plan and to have a strategy and then to execute on this strategy. And that in today’s world, it’s never going to be perfect, it’s always going to be iterative of “We are constantly going to be tweaking it as we go.” And I’ve seen a million agencies’ models or drawings of their process and it’s always, the last thing in the process is we evaluate how it’s working, and then we tweak it, and we come around back to the front of the process and start all over again.
So, I think it’s interesting that even though we give that speech every single day to a client, that we don’t recognize that we have fallen into the same trap. And that really just getting up and doing something. And again, having a plan around it, but recognizing that you’re going to keep modifying the plan as you go is the reality of biz dev for agencies and agency owners.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. And those are always the two opposing forces, I think, to get, to kind of conceptualize as you have. The idea of first principles of blowing up everything and reinventing it based on the way no one’s thinking before. That’s Tesla, that’s Elon Musk, that’s all that stuff. Then you have Via Negativa, which is the idea of you have a lump of clay, and you just keep chipping away at it until you have a beautiful statue. And I think for 99% of agencies and for biz dev, it’s more of Via Negativa thing. It’s more cutting things out, making little tweaks optimizing, and so on.
Yeah, I think so, too. So, despite my counsel and other counsel that an agency owner has to be deeply involved in the business development process, there are many agencies out there and many agency owners who just want biz dev to go away. And so, their solution for that is to hire someone to come inside and be an inside salesperson. And so, I know, you’ve seen a lot of agency sales people. And you referenced early on in the conversation that oftentimes agencies accidentally set them up to fail. And I’ve seen that over and over again where basically, they hire a salesperson. And they say, “Okay, go.” And the salesperson has no materials, no background, no access to the owner, nothing. They’re just, they are literally thrown out into the cold and said, “Go sell.”
So, when you’ve seen an agency be successful in recruiting and developing a sort of higher level salesperson, what are they doing differently that allows that person to be successful? First, I have two questions. One, what does that person look like? What are their skills or their experience? And then two, what is the agency doing to set them up for success?
Yeah, it’s a good question. First, I think it’s important to talk about what doesn’t work, because the way that it works is going to play out differently in different situations. And there’s not one archetype for the perfect salesperson. Everyone’s going to bring their own unique approach to it, but I think what we see not working a lot is bringing in somebody that is touting a Rolodex. “Oh, I’ve been in the industry for so long and I’m going to get you in with all my people. And we’re going to have much schmoozy warm intros.” And maybe they’re going to deliver those intros, but then what? That’s different than actually being able to close and then and go on from there. So, that’s the first thing.
And another thing we see, which is probably more of a problem for smaller agencies is not putting enough skin in the game. Basically, giving people commission only or something close to that. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get somebody good and they’ll jump ship. And if you’re not, then the person is just not going to have enough to eat, they’re not going to give you their best hours, basically, which you need. And so, that’s the second thing.
From there, the way that we’ve seen it work the best is plugging them into an existing process. “Here’s who we’re selling to, here’s what we’re doing to get them on the phone. Here’s what basically what you say, maybe not completely scripted, but here’s what you need to take them through. And here’s a process.” So, basically plugging them into a process, it’s a process that you’ve battled tested, and you’ve known to work. And from there saying, “I don’t want you reading any sales books, so I’m not going to give you materials to read. This is our process, this is what you do.” And even if you’re not 100% on it, if you’re pretty close to knowing it’s going to work, then that’s what needs to be in place before you hire a salesperson.
From there, I’d say that there are different archetypes to look for in salespeople. Overall, from the data, from people that have done a lot more research on this than me, there’s a great book called To Sell is Human, by Dan Pink, I believe.
Right, yeah. It’s a great book.
Yeah, great book. And his approach is, “Okay, you want somebody that is reasonably extroverted, but not to the far end of the spectrum.” So, then you need somebody that can listen, that can be empathetic and so on from there, that’s really important. And again, not getting too hung up on the Rolodex, kind of thinking about who’s passionate about what you’re doing, who actually is interested in what you’re doing. You have to sell the position just like anything else. I think that’s really important.
Another book that I like a lot on this is Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge, and he was the CRO, which is Chief Revenue Officer at HubSpot, so he helped them grow really fast and helped bring in and build their sales team. So, there’s a lot that you can do to basically enlist from your personnel network, to go after people that are already in a new business role, and that are interested in frankly, moving on to a more creative position. I think that’s the advantage that a lot of agencies have is that it’s what they’re doing is pretty compelling, and is interesting to people to sell.
And in your experience, in your observations, how long does it take for… well, first of all, I’m going to say very few agencies have a robust process in place before they hire someone, so even if they do… well, I guess let’s look at two halves of that hole. If I’m an agency that does not have a process in place, a battle-tested process, as you said, and I’m hiring a new business person, and part of what I want them to help me do is develop that. And two, that on the other side, somebody has a process, what’s a reasonable period of time for me to invest in this person before they start landing good sales?
Yeah, it’s a good question. And the answer is two sales cycles, that’s what you should look for. If you don’t know your sales cycle, go back and look at all of the clients you’ve won in the past, however much time you need to get statistically significant data, maybe a year, maybe a couple of years. Figure out when you have that first touch point, figure out where they closed. Get that average down, and then double it and that’s the amount of time that you want to be paying that salesperson to get it right. There could be variants there. I hate being that specific. Maybe you want to give them a little more time, maybe you’ve made changes to your offer, and you think the sales cycle is going to go down a lot. You can just meddle with that a little.
But that would be my wreck is kind of thinking and being very transparent with them saying like, “Look, if we’re getting towards this place, and you haven’t closed anything, or you haven’t hit the KPIs we have set for you, then we’re going to have to move on.” And it’s really, you really have to stick to that. I’ve hired and fired many salespeople at this point. It’s hard in the beginning, but you’re going to have to kiss some frogs. And you’re going to have to also live with the fact that it could be partially on you and you can admit that. I’ve had to admit that in my business that, “Hey, we’re still optimizing things, some of this is on us, but based on what I know and the data I have, I can’t conscionably keep this relationship going, basically.”
Yeah, I think that’s one of the reminders for agency owners is even if you do put someone else in this role, this does not mean you’re out of the biz dev game. It just means that you are a tool for this person to use, so not only are you a sounding board and maybe you’re their thinking partner when they’re putting together proposals.
But oftentimes, I think, and I have watched this play out in many agencies that have a business person, that you’re their prize that they trot out, like “At the next meeting, I’m going to bring the agency owner, the agency president in because we really want to sort of move down the path with this. And I really want you to leave him or her.” And so kind of the crown jewel that they bring in at the end, but you are not out of the game, and you are not somebody who is irrelevant in the biz dev process now.
Right, exactly. And that’s a mistake I’ve made is saying like, “Okay, cool, we got somebody good. I’m going to give them all the opportunities.” And then go on from there and in the early days of training, you definitely want to hold on a good number of that, so making sure you’re giving your person enough to learn and to eat, basically.
And I think what you mentioned is really important. It really does build up your status in the agency and frankly, it’s more than just a perception or a marketing thing. I mean, that’s the highest use of your time is talking to people that have gone through enough of your process, and frankly, have put enough skin in the game to get everybody on their side that’s involved in the decision on board before you start investing your time. But it takes hiring and training and work to get to that point, but it’s really worth it.
Yeah, I think that’s a great point that it does allow you to elevate the agency owner or the president to an appropriate position of it’s a big deal that they’re coming to this meeting and that they care about your account and all of that sort of thing. I think that’s doable when you’ve got a biz dev person. I think it’s doable when you doubt, but I think it feels different when someone is announcing that in essence that king or queen is coming to the next meeting. It has sort of a power to it.
Right. And it has a power that frankly, it ensures that you have everything you need to get a deal closed. You have everybody that has decision making power on their end, you’re going to show up.
Yeah, yeah. So, what’s the biggest mistake that you see agencies make when it comes to Biz Dev? What the one thing if they’re listening that if they should or could fix, it would give them the greatest opportunity for a better result?
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think the biggest mistake is lack of human capital. It’s more about the who, as opposed to what. And that comes from not prioritizing it. And the reasons that the agency is not prioritizing it I think is out of fear a lot. It’s because it’s hard. It’s hard work. But it’s what’s creating the oxygen that sustains the rest of the business, so it has to be the number one priority.
And when you’re thinking about the who if you’re not ready to hire a new business person yet, then you need to find a way to get motivated and to carve out the time. And then everything else will flow from that, the tactics, the process. All the little pieces we’ve talked about so far, will flow from the human capital, basically.
Yeah. You’re right, it is the oxygen. There are very few agency woes that are not fixed by new business. Cash flow, morale, attracting better talent, agency owner satisfaction, reducing the control that a gorilla client has inside your agency. All of those get fixed when you start bringing good new clients into the fold.
Right. And I’m not saying that operations and fulfilling isn’t important. It’s obviously really important to get right, but buying fulfillment has become easier than it’s ever been. Getting sales right has become harder than it’s ever been and more necessary. So, it’s a bigger argument than ever to prioritize it.
Yeah, that’s so true. That is a great spot. That is a great statement to end our conversation on. It is more important than ever, and it should be more of a priority than ever. So, Dan, thanks so much for sharing your expertise and giving us kind of, it was awesome to sort of see agencies through your lens, so I’m super grateful you made the time to share with us today. Thank you.
Yeah, thank you, Drew. And likewise, I really appreciate your insight as well.
If folks want to learn more about the company, if they want to learn more about your podcasts, if they want to follow what you’re up to, what’s the best way for them to track you down?
Yes, so the best place to go is salesschema.com/drew, that sales as in sales, schema as in schematic.com/drew. And we’ve prepared a checklist. It’s basically our agency new business checklist, so everything we’ve talked about in the episode. All the little blocks to get into place, all the boxes to check to make that really easy if you’re starting to build this in-house, so you want to start heading this direction. That’s the best place to go to download that.
Yeah, that will be awesome. So, we will for sure put that in the show notes, everybody. And you will be able to grab it there as well. Dan, thanks again. I appreciate it very much.
Thank you, Drew. Appreciate it.
You bet. All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Just a couple of quick reminders. We’ve got some great workshops coming up this fall, so head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and check that out. And remember, people have been asking me about the membership levels. So, as you know we have membership levels that are tied to our peer groups, both the virtual and the live, where agency owners physically get together or virtually get together to share best practices.
But we also have associate level memberships and that is, “I don’t want to go to any meetings, Drew. I don’t want to hang out with agency owners, but I want discounts on workshops, or coaching, or I want access to the AMI Association health insurance plan,” or those sorts of things. So, head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and under memberships, you can find all kinds of information about that. And I’m always happy to answer your question.
I will be back next week with another guest, who’s going to get you thinking a little differently about your agency, who hopefully will challenge you, will inspire you and will encourage you to keep evolving your agency to be even better than it is today. In the meantime, as always, you can track me down at [email protected]
And last but not least, do not forget two things: One, go do that assessment that I’ve been telling you about. So, that’s agencymanagementinstitute.com/assessment, and that will help you grade your agency in a series of categories everything from account service to biz dev to owner happiness, so take advantage of that. And also remember that we give workshop away every month for someone who has left us ratings and reviews, so go do that. Take a screenshot, send it to me so you can get in the drawing. All right? I will catch you next week. Talk to you soon.
That’s a wrap for this week’s episode of Build a Better Agency. Visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to check out our workshops, coaching packages, and all the other ways we serve agencies just like yours. Thanks for listening.