Episode 69

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Mark Duval is the founder of The Duval Partnership, helping agencies win new business through a variety of strategic services including prospecting and lead generation, sales training, and agency auditing and diagnostics. Mark formerly headed business development efforts for Univision & CBS. He brings over 25 years of client direct sales experience to his work.

The Duval Partnership’s average client tenure easily doubles their competitors. They are the only firm in their space that offers sales training & coaching, and they are also the only firm in their space that employs strategists.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Mark’s background and how he got into the business of helping agencies
  • Why you need a written new business plan
  • Why you need to work on your differentiation
  • Finding the right number of clients (and finding the right amount to bill them)
  • The danger of sounding desperate to clients
  • The importance of attitude and behavior
  • Questions any agency should ask their prospects
  • Why you need to serve up who you are and what you do on your website
  • Understanding what your prospects consume and figuring out how to position yourself as a thought leader in those spaces
  • Making introductions between prospects and the people you know that they need to know
  • Why you should set up Google alerts on prospects you really want to work with
  • Figuring out how to start your new business process program
  • Why you need salespeople to manage sales people

 

The Golden Nugget:

“Your last piece of business is going to get you your next piece of business.” – Mark Duval Click To Tweet

 

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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 McClellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there. Drew McClellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. There is the common expression in agency life that new business solves all business problems. And there is a certain truth to that, that when your pipeline is full, when the opportunities are plentiful, when everybody is busy, so that the projects are not expanding to fill the available time, but everybody’s got plenty on their plate, that’s when agencies really feel like they’re cooking. And it’s oftentimes finding that sweet spot when we are busy enough and we have lots of opportunity and we’re able to trade up to better clients. We’re having lots of good, exciting conversations with prospects. That’s when agency life is at its best. And for many of you the whole idea of biz dev and sales is a challenge. It’s probably not how you came up into the business. And for some of you, you’re natural at it and you love it and for others, it’s a little like going to the dentist every single day.

So my guest today is going to help us with all of that. Mark Duval is the founder of The Duval Partnership and he and his team help agencies win new business through a variety of strategic services, including prospecting, lead gen, sales training, and they also do some agency auditing and diagnostics. Mark has a huge sales background so he comes from a different field, but formerly headed up biz dev efforts for Univision and CBS, and he brings over 25 years of client direct sales experience to his work. So Mark, thanks for joining us on the show today.

Mark Duval:

Drew, thanks for having me. I’m really honored to be a part of the podcast. And you said something there, there’s nothing more beautiful to a new business person than a full pipeline. So I love the thoughts of that.

Drew McLellan:

A full pipeline of right fit prospects, right?

Mark Duval:

Of qualified prospects. Let’s add that.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s easy to get a lot of people to subscribe your email that does not necessarily mean they would be good clients.

Mark Duval:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

So Mark, with Univision and CBS, all of that work, what made you decide and when did you decide spending time with agencies was your heart’s desire?

Mark Duval:

Well, I started this business almost 10 years ago, working exclusively with agencies. I guess I was an entrepreneur at heart my whole career. And it’s interesting because the path that I took when at Univision and CBS, worked for Post Newsweek … Actually I cut my teeth in the industry selling for independent TV back when there were such things. Most of it was client direct business development. So there was a certain, for lack of a better term, lone wolf, if you will, nature that I have, I still possess. And that really spoke to me. And I think that was a bit of the entrepreneur bug in me. So I took that path. In that media industry there’s usually that triangle where you do the sales side and then you go to a local sales manager, national sales manager, then general sales manager.

So I took a little bit of a different path where I did run sales teams and set sales budgets, and compensation and strategy. I guess I took a left where everyone or most might have taken a right at that fork in the road. Ultimately I got to a point where I wanted to work for myself. I can’t say that I … I kind of backed into it versus I had this grand idea.

Drew McLellan:

Oh, that makes you just like most agency owners.

Mark Duval:

Exactly.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Mark Duval:

So I kind of backed into this and quite honestly I did one of those gut checks and looking in the mirror and I said, I don’t know if this will work, but what I will regret is if I don’t try. So here we are 10 years later or going on 10 years. It’s been an interesting ride and for the most part I enjoy doing what I do. And I enjoy actually working with a lot of the agencies. I was thinking the other day working with … As you know, most agencies are fewer than 50 people. And so we work with smaller agencies. We work with actually larger agencies as well and with multiple offices globally. But one thing that really connects and really I enjoy is it reminds me of my early days in my career when I was actually working with business owners and truly being able to affect change in their business. I didn’t realize I missed that until I actually started experiencing this again.

We all get bigger and better jobs and I think you get in our careers and we want those bigger and better jobs and you work for bigger companies and you get away from really that connection to that business owner and really what matters and it just becomes a matter of numbers. So I really enjoy-

Drew McLellan:

You get away from the people that you’re helping in some ways.

Mark Duval:

Exactly. Exactly. So it’s been a great experience. And as I said, 10 years and hoping for many, many more to come.

Drew McLellan:

I don’t know about you, but when I started my agency back 21 years ago, it wasn’t really until about the five year mark that I sort of went, you know what, I think this might work.

Mark Duval:

You know what, you’re right. I think up until five years what I told myself was, well, if this doesn’t work I’ll start something else. It was never about going back into the belly of the beast. I think at this point I’m unemployable. So I better figure something else out. So fortunately, I didn’t have to make that decision.

Drew McLellan:

I suspect most entrepreneurs … And I tell agency owners this all the time. I’m guessing that they weren’t … And I know this is true for me. I probably was not a great employee ever and now I would be abysmal so I’ve got to figure out to stay self-employed.

Mark Duval:

I often say that … And actually this is a lesson that I had to learn with starting my own business and really managing people. And it actually was challenge later in my career when I was working for those big companies managing people. Because for such a long time I was “that lone wolf”. But my mantra was always leave me alone. Don’t mess with my money and everything will be fine. Now, probably not the best approach to take when you’re managing people and certainly when you’re running a business.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. Perhaps. You’ve had to change your tune.

Mark Duval:

Yeah, I did. And you know what, it was a learning curve. Some of those lessons were hard lessons and I had to work hard. Because that’s not what comes naturally to me. What comes naturally to me, I think to some degree with a lot of practice is just that hunting and that selling.

Drew McLellan:

Well, that’s the perfect segue into the conversation because I think a lot of agency owners and agencies get to this size. So you’re right, the average agency in the US is eight to 10 people. So I think a lot of agencies when they’re smaller, they can kind of eat what they kill. So family, friends, referrals. And at a certain point in time the machine gets big enough or they aspire to be more profitable and all of a sudden the homegrown new business strategies, which was really waiting for somebody to email them or call or bump into somebody at a network meeting, all of a sudden that doesn’t work anymore. And so that lone wolf model of sales, which is sort of parallel to what you were describing, only works to a certain point for agencies and then agency owners need to get serious about biz dev. And for many of them, it’s not how they’re wired. It may very well be something that they hate doing. So let’s go back now and let’s look over the 10 years of you working with agencies. What is, do you believe, the biggest mistake agency owners make when it comes to their approach to business development?

Mark Duval:

That’s a loaded question. But I think what I see quite often is a lack of commitment, is very few actually have a written new business plan. There’s no structure to it. There’s no process. I’m a big believer in sales follow strategy. And when we work with agencies we’re big on strategy. We’re big on that. And that’s the foundation in which you’re going to kind of build your house on if you will. And if I had a nickel for every time I heard the cobbler’s kids have no shoes kind of thing.

Drew McLellan:

Oh my God, I hate that phrase.

Mark Duval:

I would’ve flown out to see you in person on my private helicopter or jet.

Drew McLellan:

I’m right there with you.

Mark Duval:

Another you’ll never hear me say is low hanging fruit. For me, in all my years in sales and then starting this business, I didn’t experience low hanging fruit. It’s an incredibly competitive industry. And quite honestly … I hope I don’t insult anybody. There’s far too many agencies and there’s far too many agencies saying the same thing with no point of differentiation.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Mark Duval:

So every piece of business is hard fought and then you have to actually perform to keep it and grow it.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and if it’s super easy to get it’s either you sold it too cheap, or they should have never been your client in the first place.

Mark Duval:

Yes. That’s a great point.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I do think there is a set process in most agencies and I call it the feast and famine process. And what that is is you don’t do anything other than you get your monthly newsletter out three times a year and everything’s fine as long as you’re fat and happy. And then when your big client goes away, you go into panic mode and you start calling everyone you know, you start putting together great three dimensional mailings, and then you bring in enough business to make you fat and happy again and then you stop doing anything until one of those big clients goes away. And there’s this all or nothing mentality, which means that you have to take whatever limping animal is outside the door that you can kill because you need the business so badly, otherwise you’re going to have to lay people off. And the amount of what’s wrong with that scenario could take us four hours to discuss. But that’s how most agencies do new business.

Mark Duval:

Absolutely. I was having this conversation the other day and I likened it to someone who buys oceanfront property and they don’t buy … Well, you probably couldn’t get a mortgage without flood insurance. But they see the storm clouds brewing on the horizon and then they decide to try to purchase some flood insurance.

Drew McLellan:

Right. As the rain is patterning on their roof.

Mark Duval:

Exactly. And the waves are whipping up. Yeah. It’s too late. We talked about a full pipeline earlier and there’s only one way to get that. And that’s through a strategic and often sometimes, many times a painstaking process. We talk about when there’s nothing in the pipeline or very few things in the pipeline you start pushing and you start hearing things that are not based in reality. So a client will say one thing and you kind of hear it another way. And we refer to that as hopium.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Mark Duval:

And so you start chasing bad business. And something that I see quite often with agencies and something that we always, always try to drill in their heads is equal business stature. You belong in the room. And the only way you’re going to have that is if you actually have opportunities within the pipeline. When you don’t a scenario that I see often is an agency rushes in and shows all of their … They do their capabilities presentation, which I hate. Or they show a sizzle reel. They start with a sizzle reel, which I hate. And then they just talk about themselves and they basically bleed all over the conference room table. And they walk out of there and everybody’s shaking their heads. It’s a great meeting. The client loved it. They’re going to get back in touch with us. And they’re high fiving on their way back to the agency.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and they walk out the door and all the client … The lingering smell of desperation is what’s left in the room.

Mark Duval:

Exactly. And what happens is you follow up or the agency follows up, they don’t hear. And then two days later they send the email, then the voicemail. “Hey, just checking in. I was out of the office so here’s my phone number. My cell phone.” And what I say is the client goes into the witness relocation program never to be found or heard from again. When I tell that story, all agencies are just smiling and shaking their heads and they say, yeah. And actually, one thing I say to agencies all the time too is you are not alone.

Drew McLellan:

Right. This is tough for everybody.

Mark Duval:

The problems and the issues that you are experiencing are not exclusive to you.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Mark Duval:

And actually I think there’s some comfort to be taken in that.

Drew McLellan:

And there is the insight that if you’re one of the few who do it well, there is competitive advantage to that because most people don’t do it well.

Mark Duval:

Correct. Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah and the other thing I remind agencies all the time is it’s not like you need 100 new clients. If you are always swinging at your weight or a little above your weight and you get a couple great clients that have ongoing needs, that’s a great year for you.

Mark Duval:

Absolutely. Absolutely. We look at agencies and we look at how many accounts they currently have, oftentimes there’s that whale of-

Drew McLellan:

45.

Mark Duval:

Yeah. Or there’s this whale of an account that just represents. It’s such a massive amount of the business. I have no idea how they’re able to sleep at night. But I think it goes back to really fundamentals and basics. How many accounts do you need at how much billing? And you know what, average attrition, what? You’re going to lose 30% year to year roughly? What does that represent? How many new clients are you going to have to acquire within the upcoming year really just to be even?

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Mark Duval:

I spoke to an agent the other day. The first six months of this year they had five pitches. Four of them were to retain the business.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. That’s brutal.

Mark Duval:

It’s brutal. It’s brutal. So they’re just pitching just to tread water. And we all know how much pitching is … It takes a lot of time, energy, effort, and money.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Mark Duval:

And then when you don’t win and if you don’t have a full pipeline and you’re pursuing bad business, you’re losing those pitches. And so it’s demoralizing to your staff.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. The other thing you said that I want to get back to is that whole idea of first you could send the email, then you call. And I ask agency owners to take the exact same language but pretend that you met someone at a bar and you got their phone number and this is what you’re doing. And would you ever go out with you? “Hey, it was great meeting you at the bar. Sure hope I hear from you soon. Just checking in. Want to see if we could get together again. Think we had a great connection.” We just sound so yucky. And so desperate.

Mark Duval:

Right, right. Desperate is exactly the word, isn’t it?

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Mark Duval:

And the prospects in the company, they realize that. They have a lot of people knocking on the door. That’s why I go back to saying act as if you belong there, because you do belong there. And create an equal business stature. And I’m not saying having this arrogance about you.

Drew McLellan:

No, no, no. There’s a fine line.

Mark Duval:

There’s a fine line. And so when agencies go into these meetings and they have that desperation they quickly buy they quickly fall into the buyers pattern or game plan. And once you’re in that you’re dead, you’re done. Because the buyer is … And that could be the CMO, the SVP, the EVP of marketing, could be the brand manager. But they’re in control. And when they’re in control, you lose. Something I also tell my agencies all the time. Salespeople tend to speak 70% of the time.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Shut up.

Mark Duval:

They have to reverse that. And so some of the simple things that agencies can do and certainly you can build on that but have a process. I often said a bad process is better than no process. I’m not sure if I completely agree with that, but have a process. And part of that process is have a questioning strategy.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely. Yep.

Mark Duval:

And back to that, creating an equal business stature is create those expectations upfront. Even as simple as confirming how long they have up for the meeting. Quite often I’ve seen is you’ll get in, you’ve booked a meeting for an hour and it’s like, “Oh yeah, we only have a half an hour.” Well, that should have been addressed by the agency with a very simple question upfront and understanding that. And to be honest with you, if what you have to show them is going to take or discuss with them is going to take an hour and they only have 20 minutes or half an hour, then you need to reschedule the meeting.

Drew McLellan:

Right. The word I use is swagger. I think a lot of agency owners, I think the recession really beat up agency owners. And if they’ve survived, the recession, odds are, they’re a pretty good shop. But there are a lot of good shops out there. But we got so used to begging for work and doing anything we could just to stay alive, that we’ve lost our swagger. And I think agencies need to go into these prospecting meetings with the message, whether it is overt or a little bit more subtle, that basically says, “Look, prospective client, I’m interviewing you to decide if we want to work with you. It’s to see if you’re a good fit for us as well.” Again, that’s that equal stature that you’re talking about, which is this has to be mutually beneficial. And we’re bringing a lot to the table and I need to know that you would really value it.

Mark Duval:

Absolutely. I think one of the best questions you can ask is very simple. Why? You get that call or an email from a prospect, it’s why. Why me? Why now? Tell me more because I don’t … I think your point is spot on. From my experience, an inbound lead is quite often not worth the effort or it’s certainly worth the effort to suss out and have a discovery call. But quite often it doesn’t lead to business. So I think if you have a few questions that you can ask, you can at least determine if this is something that we want continue to go down the road and pursue. I often say, no is the second best word in sales.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Mark Duval:

I would rather have a 10 minute conversation and get to no than the typical scenario that I talked about earlier, where you’re chasing that business and you’re putting together a proposal. That’s another thing. We did some training with a small design agency not too long ago and I literally was going to print out, get a pin made with that proposal with the circle and the line through it because you spends so much time writing proposals. Proposals are …. I just look at proposals as just kind of a recap of scope of work for the most part. Proposals, there shouldn’t be a big reveal. It’s really about the talking points that you’ve already had. Now, sometimes there’s a creative element and there may be some creative ideas or whatever. Sure.

Drew McLellan:

Or some strategy right?

Mark Duval:

Exactly. Exactly. But so many agencies I see write so many proposals and-

Drew McLellan:

And give away the farm in the proposal.

Mark Duval:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Because that scenario I painted where you get called in for that meeting, if you don’t have an effective questioning strategy, one, you don’t truly understand what the client is, why they called you in, or why they’re meeting with you. And if you don’t have an ability to suss out some pain points, then if you do put together a proposal, then it’s more of a guesstimate if you will. And also I think that you end up spending so much time chasing so much bad business and getting away from what’s going to grow your agency.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I’ve got a lot of agencies that have in essence an intake form. And over that first phone call or that first meeting they literally will go through those questions. And if the client is not forthcoming with those answers, they simply say, “You know what? Without this information we have no way of knowing whether or not we can be helpful to you.” In essence, they say it nicer this, but either you pony up the information, budgets, past relationships with agencies, why us, all of those things, otherwise you call us when you’re ready to.

Mark Duval:

That’s great. Good for you and good for them for having it. I almost think of agencies … You think of a doctor with an intake and you go to a doctor and you tell them you have this. They don’t automatically prescribe a medication for what you … There’s got to be a conversation. And so many agencies practice or sales malpractice with not doing the homework and I love that intake form story. That’s great that the agencies are doing that. And they’re spending so much less time on chasing bad business I would imagine and truly understanding if it’s a viable opportunity.

Drew McLellan:

Yep. So at the top of the hour you said the biggest mistake agencies make is that really there’s no consistency. They don’t really have a new business process. They take what walks in the door. They take a lot of things that they shouldn’t. They scoop up a lot of minnows rather than fishing for the size of fish that they should be bringing in. So talk to us a little bit about when you’re working with a client. When you say process, what does that look like? What are the components of it? So that an agency owner can begin thinking about how they could build their own.

Mark Duval:

Yeah, that’s a great question. And to my point earlier is we work with agencies of all shapes and sizes and service offerings. So it’s always about looking at that agency and understanding those core competencies. And some can do more. Some agencies we work with have a lot. They’re writing. They’ve got their thought leadership. They’re going and speaking at trade shows. And others are just really have … They have a core competency of work and they can demonstrate category expertise. I think it’s about doing a little bit of navel gazing if you are of the agency. Not too much. I think there’s too much navel gazing going on. But truly looking at the agency and realistically looking at who your agency is and what they have. And from that, creating that process.

Things that we talk to agencies about and work with them often is … We hear and I’m sure you hear and you help with your agencies is that positioning and that messaging. That point of differentiation. I mean that’s key. You’ve got to have that. That’s based on-

Drew McLellan:

Oh, and by the way, that is not, we are a full service integrated agency.

Mark Duval:

No. No, it’s not.

Drew McLellan:

When you’re 14 people.

Mark Duval:

Right. Right. Look, I often say, and this isn’t all that sexy, but our experience is that brands, companies, they want to know one, have you worked in my industry? What problems have you solved? What solutions have you provided? That doesn’t sound all that sexy. And yes, even though your core competency is automotive, you probably could do that CPG client. You probably could do great work for whomever. General Mills. But you’re never going to get the shot. So let’s take an honest look at who we are and then build a plan accordingly.

I think it really does. I always kind of shutter when I see yet one more thought leadership or piece of a blog or something around positioning and messaging. And I guess they continue to be written because it’s not being do