What happens in your agency after the new business call ends?
For too many agencies, it goes something like this. Everyone is pleased with the call, how nice the prospect seems and leave hopeful for future possibilities. But, too many agency new business calls end without a clear idea of what was learned about the prospect or the company. What’s worse, often there’s no clear sense of the timeline, next steps or who’s responsible.
That’s why it makes sense to follow the same approach that legendary NFL coach Paul Brown did when he started reviewing game film to evaluate opponents and his team. Brown, who was the first to use film study, took the time to dig into each contest, understand what happened, and use the information to plan for the future.Your agency should do the same.
Poor follow-up is a chronic issue at many agencies. It creates stress, uncertainty, and disappointment for all involved. It’s an emotionally draining experience, whether you win the business or not. You know the firm could do better with a different approach.
Finding a Solution: The New Business Call Debrief
A post-call debrief is a structured conversation that revolves around the sharing and examining of information after a prospect new business call or meeting. The conversation enables a team to discuss what went well, identify opportunities for improvement, and define next steps.
It also brings a team together, strengthens relationships, and fosters team learning.
Coach Brown of the Cleveland Browns knew the importance of using information to strengthen his team. Brown climbed from high school coaching to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
His approach to film study created a blueprint for the modern NFL. He was the first coach to scout opponents through game films, leading to finesse and insight that led the Browns to three NFL championships and four AAFC titles.
Football coaches and players spend hours each week poring over film of a 60-minute game, yet in the business world, such a review of a much-shorter new business call is extremely rare. That’s unfortunate because studying the “game film” yields valuable insights.
In sales, the post-call debrief is an opportunity to “review the game film.” It helps us assess what we did well, what we did not so well and what areas we need to improve. Unfortunately, we are often so busy that we do not give the proper amount of time and attention to this debrief.
A football coach watches game film to gain insights on how the team can improve and how to prepare for the next game. As a salesperson, you should use the post-call debrief for the very same reason, gaining valuable insights into your improvement and preparation.
The Post-Call Debrief: Know What’s Been SAID
The post-call debrief is a four-step process – SAID – Schedule, Assess, Interpret, and Document. Each step is important and gets your team’s ideas and recommendations to the forefront.
Here’s a closer look.
With a formal debrief process, your team will treat the time and topic more seriously. Making the team aware of the post-call process will help them gather useful insights during the call and come prepared.
You need to schedule 15 or 30 minutes on everyone’s calendars immediately after the new business call. If not possible, it should be scheduled within a few days. The details of the call will be freshest, and you can begin to take action.
Eventually, the more you debrief, the more effective and efficient the process becomes.
This stage calls for a candid evaluation of the call. The expectation, set by the most senior leaders in the room, should be for people to learn and that one’s position on the org chart is not relevant. If those leaders make themselves vulnerable and admit to errors, it permits everyone else to do so too.
Leaders need to set guidelines for the assessment. There should be no pointing of fingers. The results, both good and bad, should be considered team results, recognizing that everyone had a hand in creating them.
The U.S. Army refers to this approach as “leaving your stripes at the door.”
Be prepared with the questions you and the team need to answer to understand the call. Here are some examples:
- Did we accomplish the goal we outlined in our pre-call plan?
- What did we do right?
- What could we have done better?
- What should we do next time?
The crux of the debrief is asking additional questions about each stage of the call and its outcomes. Ask all participants to come to the meeting with thoughts on the following two sets of questions:
- Does the prospect fit our ideal client profile?>/li>
- What are the compelling reasons for the prospect to make a change?
- What did we find out about our competition or the incumbent’s relationship with the prospect?
- What is the prospect’s sense of urgency to act?
- Do we understand their decision-making process?
- Is there truly an opportunity?
- What is the next step with this prospect?
- What assets do we need to create or provide?
- What is the timeline?
- Who will own the process?
It’s important to record the answers to those questions, especially any lessons learned, in a format that can be used for later reference and use. Using a template can be a helpful way to create uniformity across the agency and familiarity for employees.
Be sure to take notes and distribute them to all those present and other key stakeholders. Save those notes in your CRM.
It bears repeating that documentation needs to be done as soon as possible after the meeting or new business call. Memories fade fast! If the debrief is not happening immediately after the call, instruct each participant to scribble down or dictate their key impressions, thoughts, and answers to the questions above. It’ll save you hours of trying to remember details in the long run.
The biggest hurdle to debriefing is starting to do it, especially if you have a culture where this sort of open communication isn’t the norm. If you do so, your teams will be stronger, more confident and clear.
Using the SAID framework and a template for your post-call debriefs gives everyone a voice and has longer-term advantages, too. Analyzing the results of these calls gives your agency more data that can reveal patterns of behavior that can be changed. The “teachable moments” help everyone improve their approach to initial sales calls. Over time, everyone will get better and more new business will come your way.
Paul Brown made his teams champions by carefully analyzing what happened and using that information to play better. It’s a winning plan for agencies to adopt for their new business strategy.
Are you dissatisfied with how your last sales discovery call went? Do you often find yourself complaining that the prospect was unqualified or not ready to buy? Maybe you felt great rapport but hung up the phone with no clear next steps. Or maybe you sent follow-up materials and never heard anything back. Without pre-call planning, those outcomes are likely.
Stop blaming the prospect and take responsibility. Pre-call planning helps prevent failure on the call itself, which is often due to one of the following:
- Not enough preparation
- Lack of understanding about what makes an initial call successful
- Too much focus on the agency’s offerings, not the prospect’s business needs
In agency new business, your first call with a prospect is not a pitch or a presentation. It’s a way to establish two-way communication. Business isn’t won on the first call, but through multiple calls that build a relationship and lay a foundation. Each call needs its own objectives and outcomes aimed at moving the sale forward.
To be effective, each call requires pre-call planning that identifies objectives that advance the relationship. To accomplish this, you have to conduct research, share insights from your agency’s unique point of view, and strategically uncover the prospect’s needs by asking the right questions at the right times.
Getting Your Agency READY for the Pre-Call
Pre-call planning is the research process and alignment of stakeholders used in preparation for a sales call to optimize the call’s effectiveness. Agencies should follow the READY framework of pre-call planning to be more successful.
R eview the Research
It’s critical to invest time understanding the prospect’s business. Failing to invest time upfront will greatly affect your success. Research and review takes time, which is why many agencies skip this step.
Understanding the prospect’s business is the first opportunity to differentiate yourself from competitors. It empowers you to ask smart questions and align your services with their needs.
You can collect information from many sources, including:
- Analyst reports
- Annual reports
- Blog posts
- Company website
- Financial press
- Industry media
- Social media
- Speeches and conferences
Along with basic information on the company (employee count, revenue, fiscal close, year founded), you’ll also want information on the prospect (name, position description, past roles, education, volunteer roles). Finally, you need to understand the company’s agency relationships, media spend, media mix, planning and buying periods and creative work.
Prepare a meeting brief in advance for key stakeholders, including everyone who will be on the sales call, your subject matter experts, and senior leadership. The focus will be on reviewing the research, defining roles for call participants, and agreeing on the questions to ask.
E stablish Your Value Proposition
You want to set your agency apart by providing interesting and new insights that get the prospect thinking about new possibilities. You need to provide new perspectives that will address the most critical needs in a compelling and resonant way. This includes clearly and concisely articulating the value your agency brings to the prospect.
Today’s enterprise-level decision-makers are busy. They expect you to have an idea of the impact you can make and share that with them on the first call. At this level, they won’t take time to do a needs assessment.
Establishing your value proposition should be a focus of the pre-call planning. You’ll need an understanding of the following:
- What challenges is the company facing?
- How can your agency impact these challenges?
- How is your solution different than other agencies?
- How can you prove this?
To develop your value proposition use this formula:
Value Proposition = Business Driver + Movement + Proof
The pre-call work should shape what these value propositions are and how to present them effectively.
A ffirm the Desired Meeting Outcomes
Your team needs to be on the same page about the desired outcome of the call and make sure to plan for the call with that outcome in mind.
Here are a few examples of possible outcomes:
- Schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss an identified situation or problem
- Schedule a demo of your product or service
- Schedule a follow-up meeting to review a proposal, case study or work example
- Secure a referral to another person involved in the decision process
D etermine Your Questions
Asking the right questions of your prospect will get you the information you need to make informed and appropriate suggestions about solutions.
While you never want it to feel like you are reading from a script, you should prepare questions ahead of time that will advance the conversation. Use open-ended questions, and be prepared with follow-ups. But don’t be afraid to deviate from your list if the situation calls for it.
These questions should focus on gaining information about problems and gaps, the business impact of existing solutions and the payoff of making an agency change.
How many questions?
Gong, a conversation intelligence software solution for sales teams, analyzed conversations with executives at mid-sized and large companies. Surprisingly, their research shows that successful initial sales calls include only four questions on average. Unsuccessful calls have eight.
This means you need to be aware that after a few questions, your odds of success decrease with each additional query. That means asking the right questions is critical. Here are a few examples.
- What’s the central issue you’re hoping to tackle?
- How long has it been going on?
- What have you tried to do to solve it?
- What happens if you don’t solve this?
- How do your employees and customers see this affecting them?
- Compared to other things on your plate, how important is it to solve this issue right now? Why?
- What’s your timeframe for fixing this?
- Who would notice most if it didn’t get done?
- What baseline results are you looking for to determine if the work is worthwhile?
- What would it look like if we were wildly successful together?
- How would the results show up on your balance sheet?
- Who else needs to be involved?
- Who will get the most benefit from the solution we’ve discussed?
- Who will be the most vocal support and the loudest opponent?
Y our Speaking Roles
Once you’ve reviewed the information, it’s time to assign roles for the call. This step eliminates confusion about who is quarterbacking, who is asking questions, and who is taking notes.
Consider assigning a chairperson, who’s responsible for ensuring the meeting achieves its objectives and helps the group reaches decisions efficiently. The chairperson resolves issues and ensures everyone is clear on the will of the meeting, even if not everyone agrees with it.
The chairperson is responsible for making sure the research is reviewed and the value proposition is clear. This work should then inform who needs to attend the actual call and what part they will play according to the four stages of a successful sales call.
The chairperson should open the call, explain its purpose and gain the prospect’s agreement on outcomes. Others might ask questions or deliver the value proposition. The chairperson should close the call after agreeing on next steps that advance the sale forward.
The Value of Getting READY
Consider again that last frustrating and unsuccessful sales discovery call. Are you going to keep lying to yourself that the lead was unqualified, or are you going to take responsibility for the call’s failure?
Imagine how different it would have been for you and your team if the READY framework had been applied. READY provides your team with confidence and ensures you end every call with clarity.
If you’re ready to take to responsibility, implement the READY framework for your next five sales calls. After the fifth, evaluate their outcomes and compare to your other most recent calls. You will find your team conducting the calls more harmoniously, asking better questions, getting better answers, and advancing a greater percentage of calls toward new business wins.
Are your business development reps spending the right amount of time on the right targets for agency new business? At many agencies, those tasked with prospecting struggle with how much time to put into email personalization and which prospects are worth the effort. They may also struggle with where to go to get the best information about their prospects.
You need a clear process that focuses your time where it’s most likely to pay off. Sales reps need access to resources and data that will enable their personalization efforts to have the best chance of success.
What can you gain? By personalizing with relevant information and sharing valuable content, your outreach will receive higher open rates, more responses, and position your agency as an expert.
Here’s a closer look at the Three R’s to email personalization at scale.
Step 1: Rank Your Prospects
As seen in this recent piece, ranking your prospects is a crucial element to any agency new business strategy. Ranking lets you focus your efforts proportionally.
Ranking puts your prospects into tiers based on their fit and value to your agency. Each tier gets a different level of research and personalization. Here’s a common approach to tiers:
- Tier 1: Your top ten to twenty most ideal targets accounts for fit and value land here.
- Tier 2: You have a right to win these prospects, but their fit or value is not as strong as the Tier 1 group.
- Tier 3: These prospects generally fall at the edges of your ideal client profile.
Once your ranking work is completed, you have a much clearer perspective on what work needs to be done for which prospects. Your biz dev team will thrive with the clarity and context.
Step 2: Research Your Prospects
Knowing what to research can be challenging, but this can be broken into two components: Information and Resources.
The information you’re looking for are the news, characteristics, or connections that allow you to demonstrate your relevance to the prospect. Here are a few examples of insights to consider in your research:
- Trigger Events– Look for recent happenings with the company or prospect that often bring about change. Examples include a decision-maker who’s on the move, a successful funding round, acquisition, new office opening or relocation, awards, new business win, industry recognition, or a promotion.
- Market Dynamics– These factors consider conditions and forces that are at play for the company, including size, growth, maturity, disruption, competitors.
- Company– Corporate fundamentals are important, so be sure to know the size, revenue, profitability, growth, market share, stock performance, outlook, history, and job postings.
- People– This category goes beyond leadership profiles, but also looks at the stability tenure, attitudes and preferences of those leaders, along with corporate culture and values.
- Strategy– What is the company’s business model? Look at strategic initiatives, priorities, successes, and failures.
- Agency Relationships– Which agencies, if any, does the company have relationships? What are the type, size, and locations of those agencies? Are they working with independent or networked agencies? How long have they had these relationships?
There’s another set of information that’s much more personal for the sales rep and the company:
- Connections– Know if there are any links from your company into theirs via past employment, association memberships or mutual LinkedIn connections.
- History– Understand the complete interaction history with the prospect, including emails, meetings, deals and outcomes.
- Door Openers– Look at personal connections such as university ties, shared hometowns, conference attendance. The connection may be a common one (fan of the same sports teams or bands) or an uncommon one that’s dug up.
This information, when used strategically, will help get the email read and lead to more responses. The question is where to get that information. Here are the resources to consider:
- Company website
- Annual reports
- SEC filings
- Analyst reports
- Investor relations
- Press releases
- Product and technical literature
- Speeches and conferences
- Blog posts
- Industry publications and websites
- Financial press
- Influencers and bloggers
- Social media
- WinmoEdge, which provides industry insights and news
Now that you have your information secured, it’s time to make the pitch.
Step 3: Write to Your Prospects
Armed with your information, the writing needs to be done for each tier. Here are some suggestions:
Tier 1: You need to approach this writing with the mindset that it’s your right to the prospect’s business and your job to figure out how to get it. The content should be highly personalized and creative so it grabs your prospect’s attention.
Meet with your team and create an account plan that examines their business, identifies ways you can impact their company and what content (case study, white paper, video, work examples) will be most relevant.
It’s interesting to note that Hubspot research confirms that email personalization leads to better response rates … to a point. After more than 50 percent of the template is changed, the impact on response rates is negligible. As such, group prospects around a shared attribute so templates can be created as starting points.
Tier 2: Personalization still matters in this tier, but you don’t need to do as much, generally spending about 5 minutes per account. Each of these prospects also receives personalization but not to the same degree as Tier 1 prospects. Less research is sufficient and should be embedded at the beginning and end of the email with the remainder of content templated.
A little can go a long way. A SalesLoft study of 6 million sales emails showed that personalizing just 20 percent of email content increased open rates by more than 40 percent and reply rates by 112 percent compared to those with no email personalization.
Tier 3: You will not provide the same level of personalization but use templated content that’s customized to the prospect’s industry, persona or problem/challenge the industry typically faces. Include basic email personalization such as name and company. This catch-all approach does not require or merit high touch and personalization.
Maximizing Agency New Business with Email Personalization
Whatever the level of personalization or customization, every touchpoint should add value back to the prospect. The content you share needs to be so valuable that a dream client should want to pay for it. It needs to play off of the challenges you identify and tie them to your agency’s unique point of view.
The Three R’s (Rank, Research, Write) help to optimize your prospecting by providing the appropriate levels of research, personalization, and scale. Your prospecting volume will be balanced, and your work focused proportionally. What’s more, your sales reps will feel empowered and be more successful.
The Three R’s are powerful for your agency not just in the business they’ll help you win. They also empower your business development reps to create compelling, relevant messages. By scaling your email personalization, your agency gets more meetings, more opportunities and more business won from your most sought-after clients.
Are you finding lead generation to be a frustrating part of your work as an agency principal? If so, you’re not alone. Many agencies are struggling to find enough leads to fill their pipelines. What’s more, many of those leads – especially from inbound marketing efforts – are unqualified. Agency new business is critical to success, yet without strategic approaches, your bottom line suffers.
For you and your business development team, the lack of leads and the poor quality of those leads can result in desperation and frustration. If there’s no consistent methodology and strategy in place for outbound sales leads, your agency will flounder.
However, agencies can take a cue from a time-honored activity to develop a new, balanced and strategic tack when it comes to outbound: fishing.
For centuries, fishermen have understood that you need different types of approaches to be successful. Each method has its advantages and challenges. There’s no one best method for landing a catch. In some cases, hand-to-hand spearfishing is the smart choice. At other times, trawling – casting a big net – will get you the best results.
To be a successful fisherman, you need to identify the types of fish, quantities of fish, and approaches that are going to secure the haul you’re seeking. You need to know which method works best and create a plan for the fish you want to bring in. The same is true in your approach to agency new business.
Using Account-Based Sales for Agency New Business
Your sales reps are likely struggling to find the balance between scale and personalization in their outbound approaches. Do they spend their time crafting highly personalized emails or should they rely on more general templated emails that can reach more prospects?
Account-Based Sales (ABS) takes a strategic approach to how your team spends their time. It’s a sophisticated, strategic approach to agency new business that uses a combination of outbound activities that include personalized, multi-channel, and multi-threaded messages.
ABS creates a layered approach to your fishing activities that results in reps spending their time on activities that are designed to target different types of accounts.
At its heart, ABS uses tiers that each have their own outreach strategy. Not all accounts are the same. Organizing them into tiers, based on how valuable and viable they are to your firm, helps determine how much research to do and how much personalization each account gets.
Build the Tiers that Drive Agency New Business Success
When fishing, you need to understand the type of catch you’re after, how long you’ll be out on the water and how much gear you have to get the job done. You’ll also need to base your decisions on how successful you’ve been in catching a particular kind of fish in the past and, finally, how much attention and commitment you have to the type of fishing you’ve decided to take on.
Ranking your accounts is very similar. To determine how many accounts you want to target for each tier within your ABS strategy, you need to have a clear understanding of the following:
- Your expected deal sizes
- The length of the sales cycle
- Your available sales resources
- Your current level of engagement with significant prospects
- The intensiveness of your account-based strategy
Here is a closer look at the tiers you should be using for your agency business development.
Tier 1: Highly Personalized
Your most ideal target prospects belong in this tier. These are the accounts where the opportunity is greatest, and you have a strong right to win the business.
Think of tackling these accounts like spearfishing, which uses sophisticated diving equipment and is often favored for fishermen wanting to zero in on a particular species. Spearfishing is usually most effective in clear water that makes the targets easy to see and follow. It also takes patience, specialized training and equipment, and deep knowledge of the species you’re after.
In ABS, Tier 1 accounts are often considered a “market of one,” and require deep research and planning. With clear insights about the target’s business and needs, your interactions can be personalized and customized for the account and, ideally, the person being approached.
Tier 2: Personalized
While requiring a lighter approach to research than Tier 1 accounts, the goal is still to ensure that each outreach is personalized or customized. This is the tier where most of your prospects will fall, where you have a right to win the account.
With a Tier 2 approach, sales reps spend time researching ‘3 things in 3 minutes,’ where they find facts or insights about the industry, company, persona or contact. Sales reps then use those data points in a 10/80/10 approach to emails (10 percent personalization in opening, 80 percent templated content, and 10 percent closing personalization).
Rod-and-reel fishing, known as angling, uses the same approach. Sports fishermen try to find the hook that can be attached to a line and baited in an attempt to lure fish. All these tools are controlled by the fishing rod and reel (akin to the lightly personalized research and emails) that add more line as necessary. While you may not know what kind of fish you’ll catch, you’ll catch more of them than spearfishing with less personalization.
Tier 3: Customized
When fishermen want to cast the widest net, they call it trawling. Boats pull large nets (trawls) through the water. Dragging these nets lets a fishing vessel catch a large number of fish quickly. However, there’s not as much art as in rod-and-reel or spearfishing. You don’t know what you’re going to get and you’re likely to entangle some sea turtles and spare tires along the way.
In Tier 3, the messaging is templated and targeted to the industry or persona. It’s a catch-all approach to see what’s out there. These may be possible clients in the same or similar category as your ideal prospects, but you have less of a right to win the business.
Cast a wide net and see what gets caught. While this may unearth some potentially good clients, it is not typically where you will catch a prize fish and thus not an area where you want to spend much time.
The Impact of ABS on Agency New Business
ABS is all about optimization. You’ll be applying an appropriate level of personalization to the accounts that will have the most impact on your agency. Your sales reps will be able to spend the right time on the right accounts at an appropriate level of engagement.
Your fishing for new business requires the use of multiple techniques to find the right range of accounts, discover what works best, and make adjustments accordingly. Doing so will give you a healthy balance of the types and quality of new accounts.
ABS is a strategic approach that will lead to more clarity of the work that needs to be done, better systems and processes for approaching outbound work, and more confidence and success throughout the agency.
The next step is to plan for your next outbound round. Rank your target prospects and place them into the right tiers. That work will help guide what messages are personalized and customized for each potential account. Decide what fish you’re going for and use the right gear to haul ’em in.
Your agency’s new business program needs a repeatable, scalable, and importantly, personalized, prospecting process to keep the pipeline full of meetings with dream clients. Without the right sales tools, your outbound efforts will not reach their full potential.
One new sales tool to emerge over the last few years is the sales engagement platform. While SaaS companies have been early adopters of these platforms, agencies have been laggards. If your agency is serious about its business development, it will invest in this tool. I believe it is the third leg of the tech stack stool along with a CRM and list provider.
What is a sales engagement platform? Think of it as a marketing automation program built for sales, designed to reach prospects more efficiently, while gathering data that can be used to optimize outreach. It allows you to create workflows and sync with your CRM and email. When used correctly, it makes you faster and your cold emails more effective at making connections with prospects.
Missing with Mass Email
Sales engagement platforms replace the tired strategy of mass email, which is largely ineffective in reaching senior-level decision-makers.
Firewalls and spam blockers make it difficult to even get a mass email into the inbox of a prospect. The sheer volume of email that most senior leaders receive compounds the issue. Marketers can spot a mass marketing email in their inbox and often delete without even opening. To get their attention, you need highly personalized messages that are sent on a one-on-one basis to a targeted prospect list, not through a mass email provider.
Without a sales engagement platform, you’re apt to use multiple sales tools: email, a spreadsheet program, your CRM, calendar program and tracking plugins. There are complicated and error-prone data pulls and merges.
The process is cumbersome and difficult to scale, track and follow-up on leads. The lack of integration means that you have few insights, if any, including basics such as whether your prospect even opened your mail.
If you’re going to get more meetings with dream clients, you need a better solution.
Transformation through Integration and Data
At Catapult New Business, I was skeptical when the sales engagement platform was introduced. “Great. Another sales tool to learn,” I thought. “Is this really going to help me?’
I had been in a slump and was juggling multiple agency clients. I gave it a shot.
From Day One, I was a believer. I immediately saw my outreach volume increase. Email opens, clicks and replies skyrocketed and I had better insights into what was working and what wasn’t. The platform helped me develop good prospecting habits that led to consistent and predictable results.
Top Features for Sales Development Platforms
These are the top 7 features in a sales development platform that I find most useful and impactful.
- Create Multi-Touch / Multi-Channel Sales Cadences
The platform should allow you to orchestrate a strategic targeted sales correspondence plan, injected with personalization. The sales cadences can be deployed to create multichannel touch point models catered to your buyer personas. Plan in advance the number of emails and phone calls each prospect will receive and at what intervals. With these preset activities baked into the platform, you’ll never miss reaching out to your prospects. These communication sequences optimize opportunity to engage each prospect for that persona’s pain points and patterns.
- Real, Human Email from Any Platform
You’ll want integration with your agency’s email provider which ensures greater deliverability. Your emails will be sent from you, one to one, and carry your agency’s domain.
- Real-Time Alerts
Get real-time alerts on every prospect action, from email opens to clicks to replies (some even include website tracking). Look for IP geo-location features and browser type detection so you not only understand when they’re opening your message but where and how it’s being read. A live feed feature will let you monitor activity and respond faster.
- Automated Activity Logging
The best platforms will automatically capture activity, including email responses and successful or unsuccessful calls, and populate the activity in your CRM. Your reps will not have to undertake mundane manual entries. Instead, they can focus on personalization and increasing the volume of outreach. You want reps focused on selling, not data entry.
- Personalized Email Automation
Whether you’re sending 1, 10, or 100 emails, you want the capability to customize email templates to create hyper-personalized emails. Which templates are the best? Through the platforms built-in analytics, you’ll have the insights to better understand which get the highest open, click and reply rates.
- Email Scheduling
To be most effective, you need the ability to schedule emails for future delivery, based on the expected availability of your dream clients. Each prospect’s location is identified in the sales tool, providing the ability to schedule emails to be delivered at the time of your choosing based on the prospect’s time zone.
Your sales activity generates a remarkable amount of data. Your sales engagement platform should report on email, template and cadence analytics (open, click and reply rates). The built-in analytics should also help pinpoint the best days of the week and local times that are most effective for engagement. The platform should also have A/B testing capabilities to help you decide which templates perform best.
How to Get Started with the Sales Tool
SalesLoft, Outreach, and Inside Sales Box are among the top three sales engagement platforms on the market. Ask for a demo and experiment with each provider, being sure to zero in on each platform’s capabilities from the list above.
Making an Impact
Once you secure and implement a sales engagement platform, you’re apt to feel more control, which will lead to a more predictable pipeline. The sales tool will increase your outreach volume while making it more efficient and effective. Prospecting activity will be better organized and will generate more meetings with your dream clients, leading to more agency revenue
Content marketing and thought leadership continue to be hot buzzwords. But, the market is flooded with blogs, white papers and infographics. Is any of this leading to new business for agencies?
It’s impossible to keep up with all of the webinar invitations, trend reports and industry news. With so much content out there today, yours needs to do more than simply demonstrate that you’re “smart.”
Consider this maxim: Your thought leadership should be so valuable to your dream client, that they’d pay for it. If it’s not, it shouldn’t be out there.
The only difference between $1 and $100 is the message on the paper.
To capture and hold the attention of your dream clients, your content needs to share new insights from your agency’s unique point of view. Agencies with this content strategy are dramatically more likely to breakthrough, get meetings and win more new business.
Standing Out in a Content Crowd
The overuse of thought leadership as a marketing tool has created a real challenge for driving agency new business. Today, everyone is publishing and distributing content.
With such a strong belief in the need for content, agencies are falling into a trap. They’re regurgitating material that was already done … and often done well … by a competitor. What’s needed to stand out among thousands of agencies is to be a true thought leader, not a thought follower.
For agency new business, the challenge is figuring out how to stand out from among thousands of agencies.
Here is a scenario playing out among agency principals today:
We’re great at what we do, but we’re struggling to get that message in front of our dream clients.
Our emails and calls are going unanswered. Our website traffic hasn’t moved. We need more meetings, and we need them fast.
We’re producing thought leadership, but it’s not resulting in meetings or new business. We thought content marketing would lead to more inbound leads, but it’s merely been a few nibbles from unqualified prospects.
Why are we spending all this time and money on the creation and distribution of thought leadership if we’re not getting any results? It’s frustrating. It isn’t worth it unless we start getting a better return.
If we don’t start winning business, we might not make payroll, may need to downsize the staff or, even worse, close the agency. At a minimum, the outcome could be embarrassing. At worse, it could be a disaster.
Thought Leadership or Thought Follower?
Playing it safe does nothing to differentiate or create a meaningful competitive advantage.
The data backs it up. According to Forrester Research, 82 percent of buyers have viewed at least five pieces of content from a winning vendor. Among buyers, 74 percent select the sales rep that demonstrated insight and brought value.
Look at it from the buyer’s perspective. There’s lots of content written by experienced, smart and insightful experts. There’s a lot less time to consume it and react to it. Reading content that’s not truly insightful is underwhelming and feels like time wasted.
It’s no longer good enough to just have content. The successful agency’s thought leadership must provide new insight from a unique point of view.
That POV needs to be through a brand-driven lens through which all communications – particularly content – is delivered. The POV must reinforce the agency’s story in the marketplace and through its thought leadership. An agency’s content strategy has to align with its brand strategy. It needs to provide a roadmap for creating thought leadership that others are not providing.
Sharing new insights from your agency’s point of view is what differentiates between thought leadership and thought followship.
Avoiding the ‘Me Too’
New business is essential for economic viability of agencies. For professional services firms, thought leadership is one of the most powerful approaches to new business.
Yet content often fails to deliver. Why?
- A lack of understanding about the intended audience
- Failure to distribute content to the desired audience
- Content lacks value via new insight from a unique POV.
Content that reproduces from another thought leader means the agency is saying “me too” instead of “me first.” It hinders an agency’s ability to differentiate or be seen as an authority.
That said, there is a place for calculated re-purposing, but only if it offers new interpretations, better insights and stronger solutions.
A Case Study
While working at Catapult, a client believed it was doing everything right. Experts within the agency were writing industry-specific content regularly. The website was robust. There was a targeted list of prospects, a CRM, marketing automation and people, including me, picking up the phone and sending emails.
But the thought leadership was not moving the needle. The few responses often were, “Thanks for sharing, no questions,” “Not interested” or “Appreciate you sending, but we’re already doing much of this.”
It became clear the content wasn’t adding enough value to their dream clients. The thought leadership was not sharing new insights from the agency’s POV.
While the agency had experts and a unique POV, in the haste to produce quantity, the content lost quality and value.
After some soul searching the agency started producing less content, but going deeper and sharing new insights from a point of differentiation.
Almost immediately, the dynamics changed. Dream clients were eager to meet and new business was soon thereafter won.
Are You Really a Thought Leader?
Evaluate your content to decide whether it’s thought leadership. Does it meet the following?
Trait #1: It provides true insight.
Your content should add to what’s in the public domain. It needs to enrich an understanding and influence behavior. Does your content help people see things differently, provide new solutions, or find new opportunities?
Trait #2: It reframes.
Thought leadership gives the audience something to think about. It helps readers learn, seek information, and challenge accepted presumptions. It embraces new approaches. It shows your agency’s unique point of view.
Trait #3: It’s credible.
Thought leadership content needs validation. There needs to be evidence about how it was discovered, who discovered it and whether it’s been independently verified. Insights today can have short lifespans, so you need to confirm that the insights remain relevant.
Trait #4: It’s forward-looking.
Thought leadership must look forward. Good thought leadership does more than inform. It frames an idea, provides foresight and is bold. That notion can be risky because it means taking a stand and pronouncing that stand. But that’s the difference between leading and following.
What Happens Next
If your agency takes a bold approach to thought leadership, you’ll see results. You’ll feel back in control. Confident. It will lead to more meetings. And the dynamics of your meetings will change. Instead of selling, you’ll be teaching. You’ll be viewed as the expert that you are. You’ll close more business with your dream clients.
Does your marketing content pass the test? Before you publish your next thought leadership, honestly ask yourself, if you didn’t already have this information, would you have paid for it?
One overlooked business development skill is: leaving a voicemail. Without effective voicemails, you’re going to get fewer callbacks, fewer email responses, and fewer meetings.
Without a steady stream of meetings, your agency’s new business program will suffer. When the pipeline dries, it leads to less-predictable revenue and an increasing reliance on the unpredictable referral.
As an agency principal, this lack of predictability can cause other problems, as you find yourself on defense diagnosing problems rather than on offense winning new business from dream clients.
Exercise in Futility
At one point in my career, I was leaving hundreds of voicemails each week for CMOs, VPs, brand managers and marketing directors. The results? Zero callbacks.
I was discouraged. I even thought I would stop leaving voicemails altogether.
Then I got one. A terrible voicemail from a sales rep.
It was long. It felt impersonal and random. I had no idea who they were or why they wanted to talk to me. I thought to myself, “Why would I even think about calling this person back?”
I realized the voicemail I received was just like the babble I had been leaving my prospects.
A New Approach to Voicemail Leads to Better Results
What do you want your agency’s voicemails to do? There are three key takeaways—these are related to your positioning—prospects must walk away with after listening to your voicemail:
- Who you are
- Why you’re contacting them
- What value you bring
Research shows that the most effective voicemails are 30 seconds or less. How do you get all of this across in 30-seconds? By focusing only on critical information that’s delivered in a specific order and prompts your dream client to action.
That bad voicemail I received? I took it apart and reverse-engineered it.
Doing so led me to develop 5 essential elements you need in your voicemails to get callbacks and meetings.
- Event Trigger
Here’s a closer look at the five essential elements and how to use them to craft a great voicemail.
State the prospect’s first name, your name, your agency’s name and, critically, the type of agency you are. Be clear about this last point. Like it or not, the prospect will be putting you in a “box,” so you might as well make sure they put you in the right one.
The Trigger lets a prospect know why you’re contacting them, and why now. It gives the prospect context and relevant reason for your call.
Relevance is key here and is framed by the pre-call research you’ve done about the industry, company and prospect. Here is where you let the prospect know that you did your homework, by sharing relevant information that is salient to the prospect.
Timeliness is important. Consider tying in recent events, news or insights, such as their CEO’s statement during an earnings call, a quote by the prospect in a trade journal or a report by an industry analyst.
WIIFM answers the “what value you bring” question. It introduces the value and why that value might be of interest to the prospect.
How do you accomplish this? By stating how you can help a prospect by offering immediate and clear value.
For the prospect, it also answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”
Demonstrating this value can take several forms, including:
- Sharing proprietary insights that are relevant to the prospect
- Showing results your agency achieved with a similar client
- Offering a case study that shows how you’ve solved a challenge the prospect is facing
Let’s look a little closer at value. Remember, at this point, you are not selling agency services. You’re offering to provide value.
What will the prospect find valuable in a sea of generic cold-call voicemails? A partner who can have a thoughtful, helpful and solutions-focused conversation about a challenge.
Focus on the value you add to the prospect’s business. You want to express your expertise, insights and solutions for the prospect’s pain point. Show how you will make his or her life easier.
What you ask for in the call is important. This voicemail is not trying to close a deal; it’s trying to start one.
Here are tips for two types of calls to action you can seek in your voicemail. Keep in mind, your message should have only one intended action.
- A Callback. Don’t ask for a meeting, yet. Ask for a callback to discuss the value you have offered to provide.
- Drive to Email. Let the voicemail act as a humanizing touch point to an email you are sending. In a cluttered inbox, this voicemail will help your email stand out. The email can provide more details and ask for the call or a meeting.
Since birth, our names have been tied to our existences. We are our names. When people say our name, we feel recognized and noticed.
Throughout the voicemail, use the prospect’s name often, including at the beginning, the middle and here at the end. People pay attention when their name is mentioned. Remember, you want your voicemail to be personalized, and that means the prospect’s name, too.
Make sure to give your name and your agency’s name again. And if your action is a callback, leave your phone number – twice.
With a good voicemail that follows these five essentials, you’ll see better results. This is the format I follow on every voicemail I leave and it’s led to millions of dollars of new business wins over my sales career.
Be sure you do not include “salesy” language or agency buzzwords. Build in strategic silent pauses and vary the tempo of your delivery.
Make sure you have the right equipment and preparation. Be hydrated and have a clear throat before calling. Invest in a good headset. Be careful with your accent and phrasing.
Practice and speak with authority, knowing you have made a quick and powerful impact with valuable insights, structured in the right way, to land more business from dream clients.
Better voicemails will lead to more meetings and more closed new business. Your time will be spent in the right place—on offense—and revenue will be more predictable … and grow.
It’s OK to be different. When it comes to your agency’s new business program, differentiated positioning is the foundation.
Given the near-demise of the Agency of Record concept, differentiation has never been more critical. Today, clients work with a network of agencies they can draw on, assigning work on a project-by-project basis that plays to strengths. Singular relationships (and the retainers agencies long enjoyed) are practically extinct.
One of the first things I’m usually asked when I first speak with prospects is, “What makes you different from my current agencies?”
If you can’t articulate concisely and clearly what you do, for whom you do it and how, your agency new business program is dead in the water.
Standing Out in the Crowd
Today, you really need to stand out. According to Ibis World, there are more than 66,000 advertising agencies in the United States. Most of these agencies look and sound the same. Their pitches also look and sound the same:
- Full service
- Wide range of experience
- Committed to our clients
- Customize our services
- Results driven
- Our clients are our partners
If you see phrases like “wide range” or “full service” in a brand statement, it’s usually a sign the agency has been unable or unwilling to name what it stands for.
Economists would call the market for agencies “perfectly competitive,” with low barriers to entry and products and services that are all too easy to copy.
Too many agencies are fearful that a narrow focus feels small. Consequently, they are unwilling to plant a stake in the ground that says: “This is what we stand for” because they fear missing out on business.
Firms compensate by saying their work is better than that at other firms, and that that’s what makes them different.But simply being better isn’t different. Only different is different.
Positioning Creates Value for Potential Clients
Your firm exists to create value for clients. Positioning is how you articulate that value to clients. Brands sell themselves based on the perceived value, not the costs. But the ever-popular refrain, “We’re creative” is not a credible statement for value-creation.
Positioning is the way to approach prospecting strategy. That means focusing your firm not on a wide approach but on specific markets where you can create uncontested value. Think of this space as the “blue ocean” where no one else is sailing. With today’s multi-agency model, clients want best-of-breed agencies. Think of it this way. If your child was experiencing an irregular heartbeat, would you feel better taking them to a general practitioner or would you seek out a cardiac specialist?
Today’s most interesting and powerful brands are at the edges because they’re doing different things and doing them differently. It may feel like common sense to play in the middle, but it’s actually the least desirable place to be. Safe doesn’t cut it.
Placing the Value Proposition
Your value proposition for agency new business should sit at the crossroads of relevance and differentiation.
Your work needs to be highly relevant to your dream client to meet a need, whether it’s a certain audience, a platform, a style, a technology, or an approach. You can then establish your position within that nuanced space and show how your agency is different than all the others.
For your agency to be profitable, you need to position yourself not just for where the profits are, but for where the profits will be. Your value proposition will produce the most profit when you select a place on the value chain where the offerings are still scarce and underdeveloped.
For an agency used to being a generalist, this isn’t always easy. Positioning means deciding not only what business you’re in, but what business you’re not in.
If you’re still skeptical about the value of positioning, consider the impact it makes in three critical areas:
- Sales Advantage. By choosing when and where to compete, you gain a real advantage in those sectors. You’ll win more often.
- Price Premium. Positioned as a true expert in certain spaces means you can charge more for the privilege of working with you.
- Control. Positioning gives the agency more ability to guide the engagement. Clients are buying the expertise as much as if not more than the service.
Finding the Position
What differentiates an agency from the competition?
Not personality. Not process. Not price.
It is expertise and expertise alone that will set an agency apart in a meaningful way. Expertise allows the agency to interact with clients and prospects from a position of power and knowledge.
How do you determine that expertise? Begin by asking yourself these questions. The answers to these questions will help create a position statement that should concisely articulate the following:
What do we do?
- What are we selling?
- Where are we excellent?
- What are our outcomes?
- Where are we best in class?
Who do we it for?
- Audience types
- Who is our ideal client?
How do we do it?
- Philosophies or point of view
Why do we it?
- Purpose (Ask if your purpose transcends money.)
- What motivates us
It’s important at this stage to focus on substance first and style later. Don’t fall into the trap of worrying about “how to say it.”
Services that can command the absolute highest prices are those that the client could never duplicate, no matter how much time and money is thrown at the issue. That’s where differentiation is powerful.
With a clear strategy that makes it obvious that you stand for something, not everything, you’ll stop chasing business and start having business chase you.
You’ll find staff more energized with a more resonant articulation of what makes the agency unique. Their pitches and presentations will be more compelling, delivered with more confidence and conviction.
By playing to these strengths, you’ll see a stronger win ratio. This differentiation will also help align your sales and marketing in a unified approach to themes, messaging and consistency.
Where to Start
Before you begin taking the steps outlined here, it is wise to take step back … way back … and take a good hard look at your current positioning. Ask yourself the following:
- Does your value proposition feel authentic?
- Does it make your agency innately and intensely appealing?
- Does it have strong barriers to entry?
- Is it hard to find an exact substitute?
- Does it result in fewer competitors?
- Can you charge higher prices?
- Does it make your sales cycle shorter and less expensive?
- Have you created a new category?
If you answer yes to all those questions, congratulations. My bet is the answer to most is no. That’s the litmus test that a new approach to positioning that emphasizes differentiation is the right path to take. That differentiation will make all the difference. And it’s okay.
You’ve written a great introduction email and have prepared an inspiring cold-call pitch, but how do you actually get in touch with and make contact with the prospect? Calling the company’s switchboard or filling out their website “contact us” form are not efficient or effective ways to connect with senior marketing decision-makers for new business for your agency.
All too often, companies require sales reps to try to track down their prospect’s contact information on their own. If the contact data is ever even found, it is often inaccurate and incomplete. This process eats up the seller’s time and limits their sales potential. But there’s a better way.
Top agencies subscribe to database services that provide accurate, direct contact information on prospects. They build targeted lists and supplement this data with their own due diligence. This process results in richer information that is relevant, current and provides insights that can be used in prospecting email and call messaging.
Below are five important steps to build a scalable, repeatable and efficient prospecting process. Following each step of these steps on a consistent basis will result in thorough and targeted prospect lists:
1. Get A Good Database Provider
There are number of database providers available online, such as Winmo, that offer vetted and current prospect contact information for ad agencies, marketing firms and creative agencies. These sophisticated database and intelligence services often provide much more than contact information. They also can offer company financial data, agency relationships and recent news articles to help you better identify your best prospects.
When selecting a database provider, it is important to find one that employs teams of researchers to validate and refresh the data on a regular basis, at least every 3-6 months. It’s also important that the company specializes in advertising and marketing agencies so the prospects align with your target audience.
2. Focus On A Vertical
As a consultant and sales director at Catapult New Business, I pull prospect data lists on behalf of agencies multiple times each week. I typically begin by selecting a target business vertical, such as insurance companies. By being narrowly focused, the outbound messaging can be similar across all companies within the vertical, leading to more efficiency in your outreach program. Top sellers will focus on 1-3 verticals per quarter, depending on the final size of the prospect lists.
3. Identify the Best-Fit Companies
Once the vertical is selected, the company list can be narrowed by such criteria as revenue, media spend and location. By targeting only the companies that fit your buyer persona, you’re able to laser-focus sales efforts to the best-suited companies. Although the database provider I use has extensive lists of companies, I also review top business rankings lists within that vertical to ensure that I have all relevant companies included on my list.
When researching each company to determine if it fits our buyer persona, I take notes on the challenges the company is facing. These insights are later converted into talking points for email and phone outreach. If I am unable to identify challenges that we can realistically solve, I believe I have no valid reason to reach out to the prospect and remove them from the company list.
4. Identify the Best-Fit Contacts
Once I have narrowed the list down to the top 10-20 companies, I use the database to find the most relevant contacts within the companies, based on job function and rank.
Who the right contacts are will vary depending on your agency’s services. For example, a social media agency surely will want to connect with a social media director. However a branding agency likely would not.
I like to focus on C-suite, VP and director-level marketing professionals, but depending on your agency, you may also target manager-level contacts. What’s important is that you’re only targeting decision-makers or influencers. I focus on finding about 10 contacts per company, depending on the size of the prospect company and your agency’s specialty.
At this point, I download the information from the database provider into an Excel or CSV file to upload to a CRM program such as Salesforce.
But the work is not over.
5. Uncover Even More Best-Fit Contacts
Unearthing information on LinkedIn is a powerful way to gain even more contacts. By reviewing the LinkedIn profile of each contact, you can confirm that the employee is still with the company and remains in the appropriate role.
LinkedIn is also useful for mining additional contacts in the company. By reviewing the “People Also Viewed” box on a contact’s LinkedIn profile, you may find additional relevant prospects you have not found previously.
During this process I also make notes of mutual contacts, past employers, links to presentations, schools attended or other points of connection that I will use in my outreach to that contact.
You will need the email address information for these contacts found outside of the database. You can solve this by looking at the email naming conventions of the other contacts in the company; 90 percent of the time the naming convention will hold for the missing prospects. If all else fails, there are a number of online tools available to help find alternative email suggestions.
Lastly I will scour Google reading financial statements, press releases and trade articles for mentions of other relevant contacts at the companies.
Your prospect data list is the most important part in agency new business outreach. If you do not have a relevant and accurate list of prospects and an efficient way to get this data, even the best messaging will fail. If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, did it really fall? Using a database platform makes this scalable so business development reps can spend more time on outreach and less time trying to track down contact information. Following each step on a consistent basis will lay the critical foundation for an effective outreach program.
Christian Banach is an advertising agency new business consultant and sales director at Catapult New Business. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.
You’ve targeted your ideal prospect and written a personalized and compelling email – but to win new business from senior marketing decision makers you need the prospect to open and reply to your message.
The day and time your email is sent has a major impact on your success. Several studies confirm the best days and times to send emails, but these have primarily focused on B2C emails and have used only open rates to make their recommendations.
This 2014 Yesware study of 500,000 emails, on the other hand, explicitly measures B2B sales emails and bases day and time recommendations on response rates.
Best Day to Send a Cold Email
Many people believe that Mondays are better days to send sales emails since prospects are back in the office. Fridays are believed to be poor, since many decision makers are thought to be on the golf course or at their beach house.
Yesware’s research says otherwise and found replies to be equal across each weekday. This is great news for sales reps that have been cramming their outreach into four weekdays.
As a consultant and sales director at Catapult New Business, I set up sales cadences with six email touch points. The first four messages and the sixth (and final message) are sent on weekdays.
But, I experiment with the fifth message and send it on a weekend. Absurd? This same Yesware study found that weekend emails are 10% more likely to be opened over weekday emails, likely because 80% fewer marketing emails are sent on weekends.
Best Time of Day to Send a Cold Email
Does time of day matter when sending out cold sales emails? Absolutely. The aforementioned Yesware study found that the best times to send cold emails were:
• early mornings (between 6 and 7 a.m.)
• evenings (around 8 p.m.)
Reply rates during these times were around 45%.
I have a two-pronged outreach approach that includes both emails and phone calls. Many people wait to check their voicemails until right before heading home from the office. So I send the voicemail follow up email around 8 p.m., giving the prospect more time to check and hear the voice message I left. When it comes to introduction emails, (ones not following up a voicemail) I send in the early morning.
Keep in mind that each situation is different; if you’re not receiving responses from morning and evening emails, try after-lunch and even later evening emails. Because many senior decision makers tend to work very early or very late, it’s not uncommon for them to respond outside of “regular” hours.
Useful Tools for Scheduling Emails
Good news: Sending emails at specific times does not mean getting up super early or staying up late. Today’s sales development platforms and tools allow you to schedule your emails in advance.
SalesLoft is an excellent example of a program that gives you the ability to set up a multi-touch sales cadence and schedule your emails to go out at specifically designated times.
The added benefit of using such a platform is that you can send your emails at optimal times based on your prospect’s time zone.
Measuring Your Success
An email campaign, like any other campaign, demands careful measurement of results to determine what’s working and what’s not. When looking at results, however, do so in terms of your reply rate—not the number of people whom simply open your emails.
Unfortunately, open rates can be quite misleading. Your tracking tool might record an open when your prospect hasn’t actually opened the message and vice versa.
A better way to measure your outreach success is to use your replies as the metric. To calculate, take the total number of positive replies and divide by the total number of messages sent. Keep in mind; a 50% open rate with a 1% reply rate will lead to fewer opportunities than a 5% open rate with a 10% reply rate.
As you can see, there’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to writing a sales email and deciding when to send it for the best chances of receiving a response. But you can increase your chances for success by:
• Experimenting with “off hour” weekday and weekend emails
• Using tools like SalesLoft to set up a sales cadence and schedule your emails; and
• Measuring success by tracking replies – not opens
These three tactics will help determine areas for improvement and change your sales email strategy as needed. After all, no two prospects are going to be exactly the same.
Christian Banach is an advertising agency new business consultant and sales director at Catapult New Business. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.