I know I sound like a broken record but I can’t emphasize enough how vital it is to your agency that business development activity is a daily occurrence. You’ve got to plant seeds while the business is strong and the clients are happy. The day your biggest client hints that they might be leaving is not the day to start your new business program.

That’s how you stock your pipeline with prospects that can help you level up your agency.

There are very new experts in our field who spend more time thinking about agency new business than my podcast guest Dave Currie. Dave Currie is the CEO of List Partners Inc., the home of: Winmo, Localead, and Catapult and we are on the same page when it comes to the best practices surrounding new business development. I will keep repeating it until you all keep doing it!

Dave and I want to show you how to make a plan, use your resources, and then consistently implement that plan. Dig in and be proactive as you learn about:

  • How the List has evolved over the years and what they do today to help agencies grow through their three brands Winmo, Localead, and Catapult
  • The biggest mistake agencies make in their business development efforts: not having a plan
  • List’s CMO tenure study
  • How successful CMOs keep agency relationships longer than their less successful counterparts
  • Why agency-client relationships moving away from AOR engagements is a great opportunity for agencies
  • Separating marketing and sales and giving them their own plans
  • Building sales plans for both growing business with existing customers and bringing in new customers
  • How small agencies can win huge projects
  • Why being the one to implement shouldn’t be the goal of your first conversation with a marketer
  • Why you must keep your nano list — your list for sales — to 25-30

Dave Currie is the CEO of List Partners Inc., the home of: Winmo, Localead, and Catapult. He is a leading entrepreneur in sales intelligence and lead generation for the advertising, media and tech industry. Having joined List Partners Inc., in 2005 when he was 26, he has led the company and its brands on a rapid growth path, one recognized by their customers and the industry at large as one of the leading and fastest growing private companies in America.

Best known as the agency new business implementation go-to-guy, Dave has lead proactive and organic business development programs for regional, national and global agencies for the past 16 years. When you commit to growing your agency, Dave and his team are one of the very first ports of call.

Dave collaborates with agencies, their owners, leadership teams and new business directors, helping them calibrate their agency to market, and most importantly implementing effective new business programs that produce the desired sales results.

To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/dave-currie/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.

If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:

Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)

  1. How ‘The List’ Has Evolved Since its Early Days
  2. The Biggest New Business Mistakes Agencies are Making
  3. Interpreting the Results of the CMO Tenure Study
  4. How the Role of a CMO Has Shifted
  5. How Dave is Helping Agencies with their New Business Plans
  6. Why Your Agency New Business Plan Needs to Be Proactive
  7. How Agencies Can Grow and Work their Way Up the Food Chain
  8. Why You Need to Create a Smaller Prospect List and Focus Intensely on it
  9. The One Thing Great Agencies are Doing with their New Business Plans

Drew McLellan: Hey there, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency, and today the topic is biz development, so something that every agency owner has on their mind all of the time, and certainly as you know from some of my earlier podcasts, I believe should not only be on your mind but on your to do list every day, but today we’re going to specifically talk about all kinds of things, CMO tenure and how that impacts agencies, and some best practices around business development, and my guest today has a great depth of expertise in this.

Many of you are probably familiar with Dave Currie. He is the CEO of List Partners, Inc. If you’ve been in the business for a while, you probably remember The List, which was a database of national advertisers and their agencies, and that has gone through a great evolution which we’ll ask Dave about in a little bit, but let me tell you a little bit about Dave first.

Dave is a leading entrepreneur in sales intelligence and lead generation for the advertising, media and tech industry. He joined List Partners in ’05 when he was 26, and has since then led the company and its brands on a rapid growth path, one recognized by their customers and the industry at large as one of the leading and fastest growing private companies in America.

Dave is best known as the agency new business implementation go-to guy, and that’s a long title for a business card, but he has led many proactive and organic business development programs for regional, national and global agencies over the past 16 years. Dave and his team like to think of themselves as one of the first ports of call when you get serious about growing your agency. They collaborate with agencies, agency owners, leadership teams, new biz development directors, helping all of those folks calibrate their agency to market and implement effective new business programs that produce desired sales results. Dave, welcome to the podcast.

Dave Currie: Drew, thanks so much for having me this morning.


How ‘The List’ Has Evolved Since its Early Days

Drew McLellan: I’m an old school ad guy, been around for a long time, so I remember The List in its original format, but I know you guys have really reconfigured the company to serve today’s agencies better, and I know now you fly three brand flags, so tell us a little bit about how The List has evolved and what you guys are today in terms of dealing with agencies.

Dave Currie: Sure. I think you’ll remember, Drew, at the outset, The List was really set up as a company, a directory of advertisers and contacts at those advertisers, so a directory of who to call, who to email, who to send direct marketing messaging to. What we’ve evolved to over the last several years is evolved where the way the sales has evolved and technology’s enabled this, which is understanding more precisely when to reach out, why to reach out, what to say, and then, who do I call, who do I actually talk to about it?

Much more of the predictive signals based approach, helping our customers understand how to sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of targets when they arrive to work every morning. Who do I call first? How do I prioritize my day and my morning?

Winmo has allowed us to provide that information, that critical sales intelligence, and serve it up in a way that’s really easy to navigate, easy to digest and take action on. That’s one of the fundamental reasons we changed from The List to Winmo as the evolution of that brand. It’s more descriptive of what we’re serving up today than simply a list of companies and contacts.

Drew McLellan: Okay, and then you’ve got a couple other products that also serve agencies. Tell us about those.

Dave Currie: Yeah, so Winmo is a directory of those national advertisers and their agencies, the people within them and intelligence on how to sort through them and take action on those on a daily basis. Localead, which we launched in January, is a directory of every advertiser in North America, and one of the biggest changes here is, based on custom feedback from agencies that will no doubt be listening to this podcast, many times agencies, the smaller regional agencies, are looking for advertisers that are smaller than the national ones that we cover in Winmo.

Localead is a platform that’s been designed specifically for that with those agencies, media sellers and technology companies in mind, mapping company and contacts as well as media investment level at a local level.

One of the use cases there, Drew, might be, show me all of the healthcare systems in Georgia that have done outdoor advertising in the past year. Now show me all of those healthcare systems that match the same criteria but have not done outdoor advertising. It’s a really easy way to get to companies and contacts that you may not know even exist in your local market.

Drew McLellan: Cool.

Dave Currie: Then the third brand, so we’ve got Winmo, Localead, and Catapult. Catapult are the implementation team. Catapult serves agencies as a direct to market sales and marketing organization.

We would, for your agency, represent you and go and find you new business opportunities on a consistent basis. The implementer marketing program will use these technology tools within our stable, use the intelligence that we have within the house here as well, and go out and proactively look for those new business opportunities and serve them up on a platter to our agency partners.

Drew McLellan: Awesome, so it’s safe to say that you eat, breathe and sleep agency new business.

Dave Currie: Drew, what I love is helping agencies grow. I get such a kick out of being able to see the success that our agency partners have with implementing a new business program that works. I know it’s one of the most frustrating things for many agency owners, is to see investments in business development just hang out there with very little transparency and quite frankly, in a lot of cases, lackluster results. To be actually able to see that transformation, that turnaround occur, is so rewarding. I love being in this business and covering it from the spectrum of services that we do.


The Biggest New Business Mistakes Agencies are Making

Drew McLellan: Stepping away from your suite of products, as you look out over the landscape, and I know you talk to a lot of agencies every day like I do, what’s the biggest mistake agencies are making in their business development effort?

Dave Currie: It’s pretty simple. From what I see, it’s going forward without a plan, and a real plan, one that’s, let’s say, possible to implement on a consistent basis, that’s plausible. A lot of times there may be a revenue number that’s thrown out, but no real tactical components of how that’s going to be executed internally.

If there is an agency new business plan, rarely are the right resources put against that plan in a realistic timeframe. Then third, if they A, have a plan, B, actually invest in the resources, rarely do I see the implementation of that plan against those resources done consistently.

The 120 day cycle is like a gym membership. It’s about this time of year when everyone with the great intentions of going to the gym, their new year’s resolution, has pretty well failed by this point of the year. As sad as that is, it’s pretty well a direct reflection of how agency new business is handled by internal business development teams.

Great proactive effort will be kicked off in January, but by April, things are starting to wane a little bit, if not have completely fallen off. I would say that it’s the plan, the resources, and then the consistency of implementation against the plan that’s probably the biggest area of opportunity for the listeners on this podcast.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, and what I hear is, I don’t have time in my day. I don’t have the, it’s not even the plan and the resources, although I agree with you oftentimes if not almost all the time those are missing as well. The one that worries me the most and the one that I harp on all the time is the consistency of the effort.  That this is an everyday and an every week activity, not a, you do this in a frantic scramble when you get the feeling that your biggest client is about to walk out the door.

Dave Currie: True, and the irony of that, completely agree. The irony is that, would that be the advice that an agency would give to one of its clients? Absolutely not, right?

Drew McLellan: Exactly. We are our own worst enemies in terms of self-diagnosis, right? Doctors do not take care of themselves, I guess.

Dave Currie: Yeah. This isn’t to be demeaning or anything else. When I hear I haven’t got time, it’s that I haven’t got the desire to prioritize this over everything else in my day.

Drew McLellan: Yeah. Well, what I talk about a lot is that agency owners run from fire to fire to fire all day. The minute they walk in the door they are presented with a fire or multiple fires and they literally are just running around all day putting out fires, and unfortunately, unless you’re about to have to let someone go because you don’t have the revenue coming in to keep them, new business often is not on fire.

It’s an easy one to skip over because there’s a client crisis or an employee crisis. I think the biggest failing of agencies in terms of new business is the agency owner is still too embedded in the day to day and doesn’t have the time on their calendar to do the things that they need to do.

Dave Currie: Yeah. That being said, Drew, I haven’t seen a successful agency out there where it hasn’t started at the top down, which is that the CEO has prioritized new business and the agency, above all its clients, is the most important client of all.

Drew McLellan: Absolutely.

Dave Currie: That is the first lens that every decision should be made on, is what are we doing to grow our business, and in doing so, help serve our clients in the best possible way, but it’s about growing our business. We are the priority. My team, the families, the people that work with us on a day to day basis. That’s the number one priority. Everything else comes second to that, and growing the agency quite frankly is a fundamental piece of that.


Interpreting the Results of the CMO Tenure Study

Drew McLellan: Yeah. I agree. I absolutely agree. I want to turn the conversation a little bit. You guys just completed a CMO tenure study which was really fascinating, so tell us a little bit about why you decided to do that study and then I’d like to dig into some of the results.

Dave Currie: Yeah, sure. We track thousands of chief marketing officers and key marketing decision makers in our Winmo platform on a daily basis. What we find is that there’s a great deal of information out there that can act as potential sales triggers for our customers. One of the biggest sales triggers out there that would indicate a probable shift of agency relationships, is when a CMO leaves or a new CMO is hired. It’s important to look at both sides of that equation. Where did the, where is the vacancy? Where did a CMO just arrive, and where did they create a wake behind them? Where did they just leave?

We look at this and we thought, we’ve got all of this data. We’ve got this invaluable set of data points on over 1,400 CMOs of national advertisers in North America. How could we compile this information to be actionable for our customers in a way that is, that perhaps even challenges the status quo of some of the industry norms that have been established out there by companies looking at a lower number of survey responses and a number of CMOs throughout the country? We see surveys and data release from research reports on, we’ve interviewed and researched 100 or 200 CMOs, and this is their average tenure across every industry.

That’s not good enough for our customers. The feedback that we’ve got is, “Look, Dave. We work in the finance space,” or, “We work in travel and hospitality, or beverage. We want to know what the CMO tenure is in that category.” Not only in that category, but of the top advertisers in that category, the leading brands.

What’s happening in their organizations? Is there a difference between the tenure of a CMO in a beverage company to an airline?

If so, what do we then do with that information? What’s the actionable piece of information that we can then take away and add that to our agency new business process?

We published this report last month. It’s been getting a heck of a lot of traction, and it’s really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that’s available, but enough from a marketing perspective to be able to be taken away and some new thinking starting with our customers, which is really what we’re aiming to do.


How the Role of a CMO Has Shifted

Drew McLellan: One of the things that I found, hang on. We will put a link to the report, everybody, in the show notes so you can find it (you can find it here as well). One of the things I thought was most interesting about the report was the whole idea of how the role of CMO has shifted. Can you talk a little bit about that, where they have influence today and where they don’t?

Dave Currie: Yeah. They’ve certainly got much more influence, well, let me back up there a second. Successful CMOs who outstay their tenure of their peers have a greater depth of digital fluency than ever before. Their understanding of the impact that digital has had in transforming their business and the ability to disrupt the competitive landscape means that these types of individuals, these CMOs who are months ahead of the average and the median of their peers, not only have a greater level of digital fluency but also keep their agency relationships for a longer period of time.

They’re less likely to be promiscuous in their agency relationships. Those are the types of relationships that our customers are really looking for, those long term CMO loyal relationships where digital’s at the top of their box. They’re willing to be, to challenge the status quo, and I think that you’re seeing a new breed of those CMOs also come through with the age bracket, something we didn’t publish in the report, but the age bracket of these CMOs dropping quite significantly. We’re seeing that next level of Millennials now starting to go up through from manager to director, VP, and now into chief marketing officer roles.

Drew McLellan: Given that you are tracking and talking to those folks all of the time, how has their expectation around agencies and, agency partnerships, how has that shifted, do you think?

Dave Currie: I think you’ve got, in many cases you’ve still got traditional agency relationship roster type CMOs. What we’re seeing at the top end of the spectrum is that it’s much more project based if not exclusively project based, and long term project agencies of all descriptions, whether it’s digital, brand, direct, you name it, there’s much fewer engaged partners and a traditional AOR type status, and I think that’s nothing new as a data point for listeners, but it’s certainly something we see at the top range of the advertisers that we track. They don’t have AORs anymore. That’s gone.

Drew McLellan: Yeah, I think that’s true across the entire spectrum. Even the smaller agencies are finding that even local and regional clients are very, they just aren’t interested in making that kind of a commitment.

Dave Currie: Drew, what I see there is that this is a huge opportunity for anyone in agency new business. Anyone listening to this podcast should be seeing that as a great opportunity. Not only are there more opportunities out there to do project based engagements, but marketers are constantly looking for something new. They’re looking for something. They’re proactively looking. They’re not waiting for you to come to them and suggest an idea. They’re out there thinking about how to transform the business, how to disrupt the industry. They’re looking proactively for smart, talented agencies to come up with a best practice solution.


How Dave is Helping Agencies with their New Business Plans

Drew McLellan: Yep. I agree. As you work with agencies, particularly agencies that are more regional in focus, and I know that’s why you developed Localead, what are you, how are you helping them, let’s talk a little bit about the plan.

How are you helping them or what do you, what plans have you seen that you say, you know what, that is something that an agency could consistently do? That is something that an agency could honor even if they’re super busy.

That makes sense, that’s not, what I find is when I look at an agency new business plan, when agencies put it together, there’s no way they have the bandwidth to maintain all of those activities all of the time. It’s, they throw everything and the kitchen sink into the plan. As you’re working with agencies, what are you seeing are some tactics that seem to really be breaking through and getting some attention from prospective clients?

Dave Currie: There’s two things, Drew. The first piece is to separate the function of sales and marketing. It is not the same set of capabilities, and it’s rare to find the discipline in a business development manager or team to consistently do one very well, at least at the standard that it’s going to be deemed successful in terms of driving new revenue. My first advice is to separate sales and marketing into their distinct disciplines. Know which one you’re investing the tools and resources and time against and what the objectives of each one of those plans are.

We’re talking about a marketing plan. The marketing plan’s job is to drive inbound inquiry, and your website should be a conversion location, a conversion tool for that. That’s its primary purpose. If we’re talking about a sales plan, the primary job of the sales plan is to drive incremental revenue. I think too often, Drew, those things are mashed together as, well, that’s just business development. I challenge that. The most successful plans that I’ve seen out there have a very distinct marketing and a very distinct sales plan. If we’re to go down the sales plan and drive specific-

Drew McLellan: Which, by the way, is the part of the plan most agencies don’t have. They’re all great at the, well, I’ll take that back. They all at least have some attempt at the marketing side of it because that’s the side that, that’s so comfortable and natural for them, but the sales side is the side that they typically don’t have a plan at all.

Dave Currie: It’s not by default, but agencies aren’t set up as sales organizations, like a media company, for instance.

Drew McLellan: Right.

Dave Currie: What I recommend is that on the sales side of things, set a revenue number and only talk in terms of dollars. The further you move away from dollars, the fuzzier your sales plan gets.

The first thing that I recommend for your agency new business plan is have a sales plan that has two components. One, a proactive business development sales plan, and an organic sales plan, so a proactive sales plan, organic sales plan. The easiest one, the path of least resistance, is looking at your current agency roster of clients, both projects and AOR, and coming up with a sales plan, a tactical sales plan specifically set to increase the spend with the agency over a given period of time. To be clear, that’s 12 months.

I’m not talking about throwing out a, let’s throw a random percentage out there, like 20% organic growth over 2016. I’m talking about looking and reviewing every current client’s spend with the agency, and then sitting down on a regular basis, at least quarterly, and looking at, what is the plan to help our customers solve problems that either we’ve identified or that they’ve identified but may not be thinking about solving right now? How we prioritize those? How do we pitch those to our current clients? That is the path of least resistance. That’s where we see agencies making the greatest strides as they kick off a new sales plan, is to go to their existing customers first and really have a plan about growing incremental revenue from those customers.


Why Your Agency New Business Plan Needs to Be Proactive

Drew McLellan: Yeah, and one of the things that we talk about with AMI agencies, A, oftentimes that’s the part of the agency new business plan that is forgotten or ignored, is your existing clients, but the truth is that around 70% of an agency’s new revenue every year should come out of existing clients. This is a critical piece of the new business puzzle.

Dave Currie: Let me strike some fear into the hearts of everyone listening.

Drew McLellan: They’ll love that.

Dave Currie: Do this, because we’ve got thousands of customers that are doing it to your customers today.

Drew McLellan: Absolutely. That’s right. Everybody is courting them.

Dave Currie: If you don’t do this, someone else will do it and they’ll do it better, faster, and cheaper. Maintain the relationship, be the best in class service provider and the best in class solutions provider, but be proactive about it.

Drew McLellan: Yeah. Absolutely.

Dave Currie: You’re not competing with other agencies anymore, guys. You’re competing with every single provider that, every solutions provider in the marketing, advertising and media space. You’re competing for every single dollar there, more so than ever before.

Drew McLellan: Yep.

Dave Currie: It’s not just other agencies you’re competing with. It’s ad tech, mar tech, media companies, self-serve media platforms like Facebook and so on.

Drew McLellan: Consultancies.

Dave Currie: Consultancies.

Drew McLellan: Yep, absolutely.

Dave Currie: The Accentures of the world. Get out there and be proactive and talk to your current customers. They’re very open to providing feedback as well, so you’re not going to be, you’re not going out so far on a limb. That may sound counter-

Drew McLellan: I was going to say, so after they’ve got that in place, then what about true prospects?

Dave Currie: Yeah, so that may sound counterintuitive to someone who sells information on doing proactive new sales or proactive agency new business, but a lot of our customers are also using Winmo to keep tabs on their current customers because their account team, it’s not their primary focus.

If one of your existing clients ends up on our vulnerable account index, you want to know about it and you want to know why. If there’s a scoop or a rumor that we hear in the industry about your customer, you want to know about it. That’s one of the fundamental shifts that we’ve seen our agency partners use our platforms for on the organic business development side.

Then on the proactive side, start small. Take the learnings from the organic plan. Think about the solutions that resonated with your existing customers. Take that solution and look at, is that problem one that is prevalent through other types of companies in the same category, potentially a non-conflict, or is that problems something that’s portable over into an adjacent industry or industry vertical?

Start really small with who you’re able to identify in that marketplace that meets the criteria that would be relevant for your agency, so it may be geography, it may be media spend. It could be, whatever the case may be, there’s 1,000-

Drew McLellan: Industry specialty.

Dave Currie: Exactly.

Drew McLellan: Yep.

Dave Currie: What I recommend from there is looking at, get that list of companies and be really critical about, do we have a right to win, and backing up from that, a right to a conversation with this company based on this solution that we have? Is this solution rock solid enough that it deserves attention from this brand? I think that that lends a, everyone wants a beer and airline and some other category that’s sexy on the business cards, to talk about at cocktail parties, but there’s a process to get there.

You don’t just jump from one category into the top of another category. You start with projects that are, that are maybe stepping stones up those large national brands in most cases. I’m not saying don’t reach for the stars. Absolutely, but just be clear on how you want to approach that, and do you have a right to win?


How Agencies Can Grow and Work their Way Up the Food Chain

Drew McLellan: Well, I think a lot of the listeners of this podcast are probably small to mid-sized agencies, so they probably are never going to have a beer or an airline or somebody like that as a client.

In many cases they sit on the B2B side or they have a special niche inside an industry or two, but your point is that, equally valid, which is you don’t go from learning how to crawl to running a marathon. You need to work your way up the food chain of whatever kind of business you like to serve.

Dave Currie: Traditionally, yes. There are, like every methodology or rule, there’s always exceptions to it. I would say that today, more so than ever, Drew, small, medium, regional, local agencies have, because of the proliferation of technology, we’re seeing some huge account wins, huge project wins by tiny agencies who just have a unique solution. I think, as I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, you’ve got a greater appetite from senior level marketers at national brands to listen to those types of solutions because they’re being incentivized.

Their compensation, their success is determined by the ability to disrupt the category, to make a game changing move against their competitors. They’re looking under every rock as to not be disrupted by a startup of five or six people in a WeWork building in New York or anywhere else in the country or the world that’s going to come and disrupt their turf.

Now more than ever, if you’ve got something that’s truly unique, take that proactively, not only to the companies where you deserve a conversation, but it’s great to be able to reach.

As a first step, I’d say just start with the network that you’ve already established. Referrals still work, but have a plan against working that referral network, that consists of an artificial sense of urgency as well. We do a lot of work around that network leverage process in the first few steps of a proactive sales plan.

Drew McLellan: I want to dig into the idea of the small guys being able to get it on the attention of a larger company than perhaps swinging above their weight class, but let’s take a quick break. Then we’ll come right back to that.

Dave Currie: Yep. Got it. Thanks, Drew.

Drew McLellan: All right, we are back with Dave Currie, and we are talking about agency new business plans and biz dev. Dave, before the break, you were talking about that you’re seeing some opportunities where smaller agencies who have something unique to offer are able to swing above their weight class and get a project or an assignment from a much larger client than perhaps they’re used to winning.

Are there some commonalities amongst what they offer? Is it always a technology based solution? From what you’re seeing, what is unique enough that an agency could really swing above their weight class?

Dave Currie: It can be the technology. In many cases, it has been in the examples that I’ve seen over the last several months, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as an idea. I think that too often, agencies and quite frankly anyone in a sales position gets tangled up around the wheel thinking about, well, we need to invest in this technology, either building it or buying it and licensing it. It’s not always the case. A great idea presented and articulated correctly has equal if not more power than a technology which is, in many cases, replaceable.

Think about the idea of being able to disrupt the hotel industry. Not necessarily technology behind it. VRBO had the technology for years, but AirBnB just changed the idea just ever so slightly, and up went a business. Trivago as a model. Slight pivot on an existing OTA service. Uber’s the obvious one, certainly, but there’s infinite ideas out there that have more weight than a technology, and some of the ones that are coming up you see executed by startups.

It’s taking some of those, potentially some of those ideas that have maybe tried and failed in the past where technology wasn’t able to move as fast as the idea. We’re seeing agency, a certain agency, a B2B agency the other day start to work with a national oil change and car service company, offering a subscription model and monthly recurring revenue model for an oil change business.

Drew McLellan: What’s interesting about all of the ideas that you listed, and I think it’s a really critical point, is they weren’t marketing ideas. They were business ideas, and I think one of the things that agency owners and biz dev people inside agencies need to get their head wrapped around is the idea that you don’t knock on the door necessarily with a marketing idea.

You knock on the door with a business idea that you can help them implement with some marketing, whatever that may be. They really, one of the things that we’re hearing when we do our research talking to CMOs is they don’t want to talk about marketing. They want to talk about the results of more sales, more leads, business problems being solved, not necessarily marketing tactics.

Dave Currie: Yeah. One of the biggest evolutions of the CMO role is into the chief growth officer role. At the top three percent of the migrations of CMOs, they’re moving into growth officer roles, which is a relative