new business

Why Agencies are Notoriously Bad at Wooing New Business

New business isn’t something most agencies worry about — until it’s too late. Unfortunately, “too late” is often the moment after you’ve lost your biggest client. Every agency owner dreads this moment. After receiving the call, he rallies the leadership team to bring in some money, and the creatives get to work sending out some direct-mail pieces. Meanwhile, the agency owner pours himself a drink and sits down to put together a list of who will be laid off if the agency can’t drum up some revenue. It’s a bleak cycle that only ends after the agency either lands a new account or suffers a round of layoffs. One reason many agencies struggle with new business is that the process often depends on just one person. If that person gets busy or distracted, new business efforts come to a grinding halt. Other times, it fails because the agency owner doesn’t enjoy the process or he’s too caught up in his day-to-day responsibilities. But most of the time, it’s because it’s inefficient and takes too long to engage in every day. When it’s not a priority, it only happens when work is slow or when a big client suddenly ends a relationship. And when the worst does happen, it triggers a temporary flurry of new business activity. As writer Rae Ann Fera put it, “Long lead times, long pitch lists, layers of consensus needed to select a partner, layers of meaningless paperwork for RFPs, requests for spec work, lack of access to decision makers…when it’s bad, it’s pretty terrible.” If and when the agency manages to replenish its roster, it gets busy very quickly, and new business falls by the wayside once again. Instead of a last-minute [...]

Why You Can’t Wait for That Magical New Business Person to Arrive

I’m not afraid to admit that during tumultuous times, I harbored a secret fantasy. Like many stressed-out agency owners, I dreamed of a magical “new business person” who would join my team and, with barely a trace of oversight, begin to sell the agency night and day, acquiring profitable new clients. But that mythical new business specialist is just that: a myth. Unfortunately for those of us wanting to stay in dreamland, this fantasy will only hurt a business. Not the Merlin You’re Hoping For The vast majority of new business specialists never pan out. Most agencies aren’t set up for that person to succeed, so he actually ends up costing an agency money. The reality is, agency owners want that magical new business guy because they don’t want to do new business themselves. They think there’s some kind of secret to it that someone else possesses. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but the best person in your agency to drive new business is the owner. Prospects want to talk to a business owner about business problems. You probably know that you have different conversations with them than anyone else on your staff. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you should do new business entirely by yourself, but you shouldn’t abdicate that control to someone else and walk away. Fulfill Your Own Fantasy The key to confidently stepping into the role of “new business guy” is simply improving those skills. Just like joining a gym for the first time, you may feel like an idiot at first. But as you develop your skills, you’ll grow more comfortable and successful. These three tactics will help you improve your skills and ensure that [...]

How to End the ‘Feast or Famine’ New Business Cycle

Making mistakes is completely normal and expected. However, the issue becomes more serious when the source of those mistakes is the agency's overarching strategy. If this is flawed, then the business is at risk. One of these common issues is what I call the “feast or famine” mentality. It happens when you hunt down as much new business as you can find, then get so busy servicing clients that you stop seeking new business. All resources go to urgent matters like hitting deadlines, and meanwhile, blog posts don't get written and your monthly newsletter becomes a quarterly one. As new business activity peters out, you start to realize that some clients aren’t happy or have left you completely. So you get the blog back on track, produce webinars, prioritize conferences, and go back the other way -- to the extreme. This back and forth between extremes simply isn’t stable for three reasons: Desperation leads to bad choices. When you’re in famine mode, you have to take whatever business you can get. You need money, so you take any client willing to work with you. Working with someone when it’s a bad fit never ends well. Bad experiences hurt your long game. When you try to make it work with clients who don’t naturally fit, they leave with a bad taste in their mouths. Too many bad encounters with your agency will scare clients away who may have been good fits. It makes your team miserable. Dramatic ebbs and flows in business are stressful on your staff. Not only does working with bad clients drag down morale, but the frequent famine times also make your company a risky place to work. If people think their jobs will be more secure elsewhere, [...]

Embrace the 50-20-30 Rule

What would happen to your agency if you were abducted by aliens? It seems like a silly question, but bear with me. If you were captive on another planet with no way to reach your team, would your company survive? If the answer is no, then I've got bad news for you. You built a company so you could give yourself a job. When you're caught up in the day-to-day operations of running an agency, it's hard to step back and imagine that the company could ever run without you. But if your absence would cause the agency's AGI to drop massively, you're doing something wrong. Agency owners who stay involved in client work long after they have a strong staff to manage those relationships end up working in their businesses indefinitely. Instead of lifting their heads up to focus on long-term strategies and expansion, they fill their days with client calls and customer service. Maybe you think working on client accounts demonstrates how committed you are to their needs. But what kind of example does this set for employees? You can't grow your company when you're micromanaging client accounts. You're just signaling that you don't trust your team. The more involved you are in client work, the less likely you are to build an agency that someone will want to buy. As the organization stagnates, staff members will leave for agencies where they see growth potential. As an agency owner, you must focus on cultivating big-picture opportunities. You do that by organizing your time around the business's top priorities. The 50-20-30 rule Agency owners should apply the 50-20-30 rule to how they spend their time. Start by allotting 50 percent of your time to [...]

Do You Know Your Prospect’s Secret Process for Choosing an Agency?

All prospects have a unique approach when selecting an agency -- a “secret sauce” he or she uses to evaluate potential partners. Surprised by this? So were we. We just completed a study in which we talked to 500 CMOs and business owners about their decision-making processes when hiring and firing agencies. Not only did we learn more about what a secret sauce for agency selection is, but we also learned the personal recipes of 92% of respondents. And what we learned will dramatically change the way your agency pitches new clients. Why You Need to Know the Secret Sauce If you don’t know your prospect’s secret sauce, you put yourself at a disadvantage from the start. You don’t know what’s important to your prospect or what the client's hot buttons are, so you never know which wrong step will set off a land mine. Why invest time and effort into a pitch you have no chance of winning? It’s better to know a prospect’s secret sauce and decline the interview than to not know, spend weeks perfecting a pitch, and find out that you wasted valuable business hours. Knowing your prospect’s secret sauce allows you to tailor your message to her needs and avoid the strategies or subjects that will strike you off the list. You’re competing with several other agencies that can provide similar services, and to your prospect, you all look more or less the same. Understanding the secret sauce helps you differentiate your business through a deeper connection with your prospect and, in some cases, through preparation for an unusual vetting process. Discovering the Recipe Some prospects scour LinkedIn and other social networks for agency employees and examine their behavior. Some hunt down former clients [...]

Why New Business Development Should Never Leave The Top Of Your List

Raise your hand if you’ve used one of these excuses for why you haven’t gotten around to putting a strategy in place for business development: “We grow based on referrals.” “We’re going to hire somebody.” “We’re too busy with our current clients.” You wouldn’t be alone — many agencies make the same gigantic mistake of putting off planning for the future. They run from fire to fire, putting one out just as another is starting. It’s all too easy to delay the agency’s vision for moving forward until another less hectic day. Those excuses might seem justifiable in the moment, but if your agency is going to thrive — not merely survive — you’ve got to prioritize getting a plan in place. It’s a difficult task, but the ROI is huge. Don’t Wait for Disaster. An unavoidable reality of agency life is that it ebbs and flows. New clients sign on, old ones move on, and business continues as usual. But when you have a plan in place to consistently uncover new business opportunities, the ebbs won’t hit as hard. Too many agencies only consider a new business plan when their big, gorilla clients are unhappy or threaten to leave. By that point, it may be too late. It just takes one call from that valuable client to send an agency into a tailspin. You’re left scrambling to find a major replacement for the lost revenue. This is an especially dangerous tactic in the modern business world. It’s getting tougher to find great client prospects and get them signed quickly. The time period from the initial meeting to the moment the client signs the dotted line has stretched out considerably. That process cannot begin after [...]

Why Getting New Business Doesn’t Have to be a Mystery with Peter Levitan

I don’t care how big or old your agency is — you want to win more new business. If I could bottle business development success — I’d be a billionaire. Honestly – getting new business for your agency is not as mysterious as we make it out to be.   There is a methodology that works. But it requires work. That’s why agencies struggle. They wrestle with being disciplined enough to do the work consistently. That’s why I knew I needed to get Peter Levitan on the Build a Better Agency podcast. Peter’s book, Buy This Book, Win More Pitches, is a brilliant read on how to get your agency noticed and pursued by clients you’d love to work with. Peter has spent his career building successful brands, digital technologies, publishing and advertising environments, and highly effective marketing programs for Fortune 500 companies. He has 30 years of experience running Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, his own Portland Agency, and as the CEO of two Internet start-ups. On the podcast, Peter and I talk about truly differentiating your agency, how successful agencies prospect and what you need to do right now to get your new business program in high gear. We also delve into personas and how inbound has changed the agency new business model. You’ll probably listen to this one more than once when working on getting new business. Peter’s straight to the point style and 30 years of success in the field success make for an incredible interview. To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/peter-levitan/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web. If you’d rather just read the [...]

Agency owners: Isn’t it time to get a real agency new business program?

Most agencies believe they don’t have an agency new business program. They say that they their business development strategy just relies on referrals and growing their current clients. And it’s working great. But they’re wrong. They do have one. Here’s how it works. Big client either fires them or notifies them that the account is going up for review. Agency owner wets himself and goes into either a full-blown panic attack or into a catatonic stupor. There’s usually a drink or three consumed. The next day the owner pulls together the leadership team and there’s a flurry of activity to drum up some money. The owner sits in her dark office, putting together “the list” of who will be laid off if the revenue can’t be replaced. The creatives come up with a direct mail campaign and the account service team is tasked with creating or updating the cobweb covered prospect list of about 300 companies. The agency does the new business mad scramble until they either have to lay off some people or score a new account. All of a sudden, they get so busy servicing the clients they have that they don’t have time to keep up whatever new business activity they’d been pursuing. And so the cycle begins again. Want to finally break the chain reaction? Want a business development strategy that you can actually deploy and implement no matter how busy your agency is? You need to create a macro – micro – nano agency new business program. Macro: The macro portion of your agency new business program is aimed at people who have never heard of you or your agency before. There are multiple research studies done with decision makers that hire [...]