I totally get it. You’re busy putting out fires, delivering high-level strategy for your clients and trying to mentor and grow your team. Who has time for new business? This is one of those head versus heart things in agency ownership. You know you need to devote more time to new business but somehow something always pushes those best intentions aside. I’m here to tell you — you cannot afford to let your biz dev efforts ebb and flow. The only way it works is if you keep your foot on the pedal every day. MediaPost asked me to talk a little about this issue and how agency owners can overcome the lure of “I’ll do it tomorrow.” As always, I’d welcome your feedback. In January, we had one of the best live workshops we’ve ever had — and it was two days of talking about nothing but new business strategies with two agency search consultants who see agencies at their best and their worst. They were so generous with this knowledge and insights that everyone walked away raving about the content. In fact, it was so awesome that we’re doing it again next January. It’s going to sell out for sure — so if you want to do a deep dive on biz dev, check out the workshop and get your spot before they’re gone. However you fire yourself up and inspire yourself — let 2020 be the year that you finally embrace your role as Chief Prospect Hunter!
Business development is a challenge on many levels. If you don’t have every base covered...being good at all the other aspects may not be enough. Many agencies have not defined their sweet spot client — so they don’t bother chasing after prospects that aren’t a good fit Most agencies don’t have a consistent new business machine that is actively and regularly touching prospects and working a targeted list The lion’s share of agencies have a great win rate with smaller, less profitable clients but struggle to win with “stretch” prospects that could really change their agency and help them elevate their game About 50% of agencies do not have a retention program to actively and intentionally keep and grow their best clients A weakness in any of these areas can really compromise your efforts overall. As you begin to plan for 2020, having a holistic business development plan of attack (with action items, a calendar and most important — regular accountability meetings) may be one of the most important aspects of your vision for the next year. It’s not too early to start working on this. If you’re getting at-bats but not winning or if you’re not getting invited to the pitches/opportunities that you think you should be, we’ve got a great two-day workshop for you. AMI is partnering with the agency search firm Mercer Island Group to help you work all the bugs out of how you chase new business. These guys see proposals, RFP responses and live pitches from agencies big and small. They’re going to give you a sneak peek into the mistakes that you’re making, the missteps of agency positioning and so much more. This is a very hands-on, work ON [...]
I had a great conversation (podcast) with Andrew Dymski, the host of Inbound Agency Journey about how and where agency owners should be investing their time. We talked a little inbound but the lion’s share of the conversation would be relevant for any agency owner. Take a listen here. In the podcast, I talk about how a primary focus for any agency owner should be new business. In fact, about 50% of your time and attention should be devoted to it. How are you doing on that? To make that happen, you need to get out of the weeds of daily client work. You also need a plan of attack. Take a look at our online business course - AMI’s Agency New Business Blueprint. It just might be what you need to help you get out of the weeds. Like all AMI work, if you don’t like it, we’ll give you the money back. Check out the content here and hurry up before 2020 budgets and plans are created and you’re not part of the mix.
I spend a lot of time in various agency conference rooms, critiquing their new business pitches. The invitation to do that usually comes after a streak of “we loved you, buts” or worse — not even making it to the final face to face meeting stage. The truth is — you are pitching your agency every day, whether it’s a formal review where you put on a suit and stand up in front of a committee or you’re sitting across the table from a prospect talking over coffee. Whatever the circumstance — the biggest (and most common) mistake agencies make is that we’re so enamored with our fill in the blank (proprietary process, programmatic prowess, award-winning creative, etc.) that we forget that is not what the prospect needs. They need results. They need proof that their marketing dollars are working. They need leads and sales. Go grab your last three proposals/pitches (word docs, PPT — whatever the format) and give yourself a score. How often do you talk about your agency (our work, our results, our team, our process, etc.) versus the tangible results that the prospect can reasonably expect if they hire you? If you’re honest and your proposals look like most — you are not going to get a passing grade.
I have a brilliant idea that I know could net me billions (with a b) of dollars. I should recruit/hire and train new business people for agencies. I could charge a premium for these sales superstars who not only understand the agency business but can have a deep discussion around any business issue and can also sell an agency’s abilities with passion and conviction. Sadly, the only humans who possess those unique qualities are you — agency owners. Yes — every once in a while, an agency spots and recruits the rare unicorn who can sell as well as an agency owner but for every success story I hear, I hear 99 tales of woe. The folks at Agency Post asked me to explore the idea of the mythical, magical new business guy and what agency owners should do instead and if you really want to dig into building a sustainable new business program for your agency — check out our online, on-demand course, Agency New Business Blueprint.
No, thin-slicing isn't a phrase to describe the way you cut a loaf of bread; it's a term that denotes what we do upon first meeting people. According to Oregon State University professor Frank Bernieri, people make immediate judgments about others from observing only mere seconds -- aka a "thin slice of" -- their behavior. "From the evidence gleaned in not much more than a few glances, we decide whether we like another person, whether they're trying to flirt with us, whether they're friend or foe," Bernieri suggests in a Guardian article. Regardless of environment or circumstance, this very thin-slicing -- otherwise known as making a first impression -- can make or break your chances of coming across in a positive light, and it’s especially crucial when vetting new business. Case in point: Guard for the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry, opted against doing business with Nike in 2017 because during an in-person pitch, a Nike rep butchered Curry’s name. To make matters worse, the rep left a placeholder name -- Kevin Durant, Curry’s teammate -- in the published write-up. Because of this, the NBA player decided instead to partner with Under Armour. Say it with me: It’s all about first impressions. Screw it up once, and you’ve likely lost business for good. The scene is no different in the marketing industry. An owner prepares to nab a prospective client, but when it comes to awareness of his behavior and presence during the pitch, the owner can’t see the forest for the trees. Even if that’s not the case, the owner hesitates to identify areas of specialty for fear of leaving money on the table. The result? He comes across as he never intended: like a dime-a-dozen marketing sheep. While [...]
The only thing worse than losing a client is working with one who stalls. As an agency owner for 20 years, I have seen clients hesitate for every reason imaginable, and I've developed best practices to limit lost resources and keep projects moving. Understand How Project Delays Happen Every stalled situation starts the same way. The client is in panic mode. He needs this project now. You pull strings and work overtime to solve the crisis, but the next time you check in, the client says he needs to hold tight for a day or two. That day turns into a week, then two, and then into months, and all the while you’re waiting and bleeding resources that could be put to better use elsewhere. Delays cost money to maintain and money to start up again once the client is ready to get back at it. The longer you stay away from a project, the more factors change, and the longer you need to become reacquainted with the work and its objective. When you finally get to finish what you started, you have to shift work away from other projects because (again) this client needs it done immediately. You don’t want to fire the client -- but you can’t afford to let him dictate your workflow. You can’t send a bill for the time you spend nagging him, so what can you do to keep your stalling clients happy without sacrificing profits in the bargain? Change The Rules The fairest way to keep projects moving without angering clients is to change the wording in your contracts to account for periods of dormancy. Adding fees for reactivation of dormant projects sounds harsh, but in my experience, [...]
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 [...]
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 [...]
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, [...]