Agency new business development is at its peak of importance for several reasons. To start, clients understand the significance of marketing more than ever, and with there being over 77,500 agencies in the US alone, there is more competition today than there ever has been before.
To stand out among the heavy competition and get your agency in front of the brands you want to work with, old business development practices need to be put away, and new ones need to be implemented. Optimizing these efforts begin with five areas to focus on.
If you are ready to take the plunge towards a predictable and sustainable pipeline of new clients, read on:
Hire a New Business Director
It may sound obvious to say that you need someone concentrating on new business, but building demand for your agency is a full-time role. It’s not OK anymore to have five entry-level employees spending 10% of their time on new biz. At minimum, one person needs to spend 100% of their time owning the proactive outbound process and as the agency owner, you have to supply them with the tools they will need to be successful.
When searching for this person, there are three qualities you will want to seek in your new hire:
- High Energy– Your agency needs someone who can sustain a high touch point outreach plan. No one and done emails, but an intelligent multi-touch outreach program. This takes someone willing to put in the time and energy (and hear a couple “no’s” along the way).
- Strong Communicator– A strong communicator in any situation. This isn’t selling a subscription. There is no one size fits all for agency new business so you need someone who can change up the pitch at any given notice to fit the prospects needs and pain points.
- Process Driven– You want someone who will build a repeatable and scalable process over time that will allow your new business engine to be running, regardless of turnover.
Time is a leading agency growth challenge, so if taking the time to hire and onboard an additional employee is a problem for you, check out outsourced options that may be a better, more convenient fit for your agency’s needs.
Positioning Your Agency
With the increasing amount of competition, positioning your agency to be different than the competition has never been more critical. Simply saying you “can do it all” tells clients that you haven’t quite figured out your niche, and if you have, why hide it under a cloak of vagueness?
Many agencies fear that narrowing down their focus will make them seem small or may result in missed business opportunities. The reality is, highlighting the services you thrive in will position you as a leader in that space and lead you to more desirable, better fitting opportunities.
A few questions to ask yourself when building your agency’s positioning include:
- Why does your agency exist? (less about what and how)
- How are you different for every other firm?
- What are you an expert in?
- Why do you get hired?
- Which brands do you have an absolute right to win?
- What DON’T you do?
- What problems do you solve better than anyone else?
If you can’t answer these questions clearly, succinctly, and in an interesting way, then you aren’t quite ready to proactively reach out to new business prospects.
Know Your Audience
Regardless if you’re going to be driving new business in a vertical that you’ve been servicing for 10 years, or if this is your first foray into a new vertical…you need to know everything possible about the audience group you want to attract.
A couple of questions you may want to ask when researching your audiences include:
- What problems are keeping them up at night?
- How do you solve those problems for them?
- What’s happening within their industry?
- What’s your POV on their industry changes?
After answering these questions, you will want to segment your audience so that you can create messaging that appropriately fits each ideal customer’s needs. These three groups serve as a good starting point segmenting your lists:
- Right To Win
Your right to win clients are those that are a perfect fit for your services. To identify them, set parameters for what a perfect client for your agency looks like. What issues do they have? Where are they? What do they specialize in? If a prospect fits all your criteria, you need to be working with them. Keep in mind a “perfect” client is hard to come by – so this list most likely will be smaller than others.
- Great Fit
This will be a much larger list, probably the largest you have. These prospects have problems you can solve, but may not be a “perfect” fit. Maybe they are outside of your geographic region, have slightly lower revenue ranges, or they’re in an industry you have limited experience in. But if they reach 90-95% of your criteria and you can recognize/solve their problems, you should be highly considering approaching them.
These are those whale clients your team dreams of working with. While chasing them isn’t where you should spend the majority of your new business time, landing one could be a game changer for morale and/or revenue. Keep these prospects in your drip campaigns to get them warm and keep your agency top of mind, but put most of your focus on those potential clients that will build a stable base of revenue in the future.
Other ways to segment your audiences may be by industry vertical or even by job title. These are just some examples that will help you get started. Take the time to really think about who you want to work with, and more importantly, what your prospects care about. This will help you determine just how your agency should be dividing your prospecting lists.
Content That Supports Your Positioning With Your Audiences
Many business development pros give a prospect a call, send one follow-up email and move on. Why doesn’t this work? Well, on average, it takes 7-12 touchpoints to generate the first meeting. Decision makers are busy people and if you aren’t sending content that is eye-catching or relevant to them, you’ll be lucky if they even skim your emails.
The content you are sending can come in a variety of forms including:
Your prospects are not looking for you when they visit your website, they are searching for themselves. If your website doesn’t immediately indicate that you understand their needs, they will find someone else who’s website does.
There are marketing emails and sales emails, and there is definitely a difference between the two. Marketing emails are about awareness while sales emails are about stirring up a conversation. Any content you create on your website should be able to be used as a call to action within your marketing or sales emails.
Blogs, again, are not supposed to highlight your agency and it’s culture. Your blog should show that you are an expert. Share your knowledge, experience, and expertise to be a teacher. Don’t hide your knowledge from competitors, but educate your prospects on how you solve those problems for them.
- Case Studies
Keep these simple. Make sure your case studies are easily digestible and that they show real results. Three main things to focus on in your case studies is the problem your client had, the solution you provided, and the results you drove for your client. If it is any more than one page, you will begin to lose people’s attention so be sure to keep it simple and to the point. Highlight the results, not the solution!
- White Papers
White papers are all about educating your prospects, showing that you understand their problems but remember, you are not writing a novel. It just needs to be interesting and add value to your prospects. This is an education tool, not a sales pitch- write them solely to provide extended insights and value to your audiences. On that note, write white papers for specific audiences so it really hits home with your readers. If you are writing a white paper for everyone, it will most likely resonate with no one.
Webinars are a great way to drive third-party advocacy to your audience. You are interacting with your audience in a very personalized way, that can eventually lead to a lot more word of mouth referrals, something we all want more of. They can be key to getting social credibility and are a fantastic way to educate your audience.
At the beginning of a sales strategy, your prospects are likely not familiar with your agency, and they don’t care about your awards or your culture- they care whether or not you can solve their problems. Your content should serve to effectively answer that question to assist your sales process.
Here are some key ways to position your content in a way that will provide your audiences value while also demonstrating what your agency brings to the table:
This is arguably the most important, as a trigger is defined as the problem that is keeping your prospect up at night. Your prospects are actively seeking solutions for these problems (triggers), so you better be speaking their language. These are great for capturing the interest of your prospects when they visit your website or even through a prospecting email.
The Wedge in your content is the proprietary solution to fix a prospect’s triggers. This content provides insights on how your prospect should go about solving their problems. The Wedge is the least important as it is about you and your agency, mention it in order to get to the proof!
- Proof Point
Exactly what it sounds like, proof points are content pieces that show how your agency has solved these problems before with dramatic results. This might be demonstrated through webinars, case studies or even white papers, but the point is that they are firm numbers and results that speak to your expertise and ability to solve your prospect’s problems.
It’s important to hold your team accountable for producing content that will be of interest to your prospects. A good way to do this to have a mix of both junior and senior level members of your team responsible for writing one blog per week. You can rotate the responsibility in order to prevent burn out on writing posts and also to ensure that fresh perspectives are bubbled to the top.
Invest In Technology
You are investing a lot of time and money in a new business person, strategy for the business, and content to back up that positioning…don’t forget to invest in your new business lead’s success by providing them the correct technology to actually get the job done in an efficient and effective way.
This means they will need a Sales Automation technology CRM, a research database, and possibly a marketing automation tool. Check out our webinar on top technology, but the point is, don’t send a hitter to the plate without a bat!
Setting up a sustainable and scalable new business development program takes strategy, dedication, and patience, but once it’s up and running, there is nothing keeping you from hitting those aggressive revenue goals you’ve set for the agency.
Growth is not optional. It’s essential to the survival of your agency. As the landscape continues to change and become more competitive for agencies of all sizes and stripes, the challenges to growth are increasing at a rapid pace.
With 15+ years of agency business development experience, I can safely say that most if not all of the challenges faced today are much the same as in years past. Whether your agency is struggling with where to focus your business development efforts, whether or not to do proactive outreach, or how to position your agency for accelerated growth, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are solutions you can implement to impact 2019 growth.
Here are the top 4 agency growth challenges with actionable solutions:
1. Lack of Bandwidth
Hubspot’s 2018 Agency Growth Report found that the number one barrier to agency growth was lack of time/money to spend on their own sales and marketing efforts. It’s a fact that as the agency space grows more and more competitive, sales and marketing are an essential element to standing out. And yet, most agencies are working on extremely thin margins and have their employees doing twice the amount of work they were doing a few years ago. This leaves agencies with very few resources to market or proactively sell the agency itself.
The report also indicated that agencies have limited time to focus on tasks such as staffing plans, new business investments and finding top talent. Without these resources, leadership is busy putting out internal fires and scrambling to find employees. The old adage of a disproportionate amount of time spent “working in the business vs. working on the business” rings true.
The solution? If time is the biggest challenge, invest in the right tools and hire the proper people to handle growth channels such as marketing and business development. If hiring is a problem, consider outsourcing the tasks to a qualified and trusted company. That way these areas aren’t getting pushed the backburner and you can begin creating an inbound and outbound strategy that will drive leads and eventually revenue into your pipeline.
If budget is the challenge, make the time (and consider an outside perspective) to develop a strong strategy that clearly identifies the optimal allocation of the budget you have to the tactics that will net the best return.
- A strong, differentiated positioning that will resonate with your prospective clients.
- An investment in technologies and/or training that will streamline effort and investment.
- A communications plan across multiple channels (ex: email, social media, cold calling, etc.) with clear KPI’s and budget allocation.
- A resource plan to execute on all of the above, whether internal assignments or external resources.
2. Challenges Maintaining Consistent Lead Generation
One of the keys to successful lead generation is a sustainable, repeatable and scalable effort over the course of many months, especially if you’re are using inbound marketing tactics. In Hubspot’s 2018 State of Inbound Global Report, 40% of respondents said getting a response from leads was more difficult today than it was just a few years ago. While outbound efforts should also be included in your business development program, inbound is crucial to staying top of mind at the beginning of the buyer journey as well as in the final stages of decision making, when prospects are looking for confirmation that they’re making the right decision.
And yet creating a consistent pipeline is difficult without a structured process. The solution that works best is when the agency aligns both marketing and sales tactics as core elements of the business development strategy. Marketing content attracts the prospects considering or ready to make a purchase. Sales tactics convert and nurture by providing more customized content to demonstrate your value.
As you build your strategy, create an account based marketing approach that builds campaigns around your right-to-win clients, or clients where your services best provide an answer to their problems. For example, if your agency has a portfolio that primarily consists of successful retail work, retail brands might be right-to-win clients for your agency.
Here are a few tips for attracting your right-to-win clients and fuel your pipeline with more leads:
- Create targeted landing pages around long tail keywords
- Offer content based on search intent (side banners on certain pages of your website, pop-ups, etc.)
- Update heavily visited web pages to increase search traffic
- Offer value through free tools and consultations to get prospects on the phone
- Automate your outbound efforts by building email and cold call templates and investing in technologies that will make research more efficient and identify prospects at scale.
3. Working With Clients That Don’t Excite The Team
Every agency has a “bucket list” of clients they dream of working with, and agency leaders know that winning these kinds of projects will energize their creative and account teams. But when agency leadership stops pushing to win those dream accounts and begins responding to any and every RFP, top talent tends to lose morale and walk away.
Most agencies have experienced this at some point or another. They take on clients for the sake of a check and soon realize that they aren’t a great fit for your agency. Maybe these clients constantly made changes, had roadblocking projects, or even poor communication. Either way, working with even one of these clients can make someone not want to go to work on any given day, so it’s crucial you try your best to keep your employees from dealing with these types of clients.
So how do you attract the kind of clients you actually want to work with?
1. Be clear about your culture and values
Only choose to work with clients whose values align with yours. As Buffer said, “Your values tell the world what you’re about. They give your employees a reason for what they do—and your customers a reason to cheer for you.”
2. Create personas that clearly identify your ideal clients.
Some questions to consider while creating these personas include:
- What type of business is my client in?
- How big is their business?
- What is my client’s role there?
- Where is my client located?
- What are my client’s pain points and how do I solve those problems?
3. Get comfortable with the term “no”
Saying no the wrong clients is as important as saying yes to the right ones. Develop a robust onboarding process so that you and the client can get to know one another and determine whether the relationship is a good fit. Sort through the terms of any agreements so that you have a full understanding of what the client expects while outlining the scope of work.If they turn out not to be a good fit, advise them that it’s in their best interest to find an agency partner who can better fit their needs. And help them find that partner with introductions and referrals.
4. New Business Resources Continue To Be Overlooked & Limited
In 2016 Hubspot reported that only 66% of SMB agencies did not have a full-time new business executive. For many smaller agencies, the CEO takes on the responsibilities of driving new business. When C-level officers are asked, many admit they do not have enough time to properly be dedicated to new business efforts.
At Catapult, we can’t stress how important it is to set yourself up for new business success. We’ve seen it many times where an agency only relies on referrals and when their largest client leaves, they are desperate to quickly crank out a new business plan. Unfortunately, this is a one-way street to failure. Setting up your new business resources is a lot like trying to get in shape. It takes consistent work over the course of many months before you have the engine up and running.
Stay out of this cycle by setting up your new business process sooner rather than later. Start by hiring or promoting a dedicated new business person or an outside resource to help you set the correct strategy. And make sure you have the proper resources in place that will enable proactive business development to be successful.
Setting up a new business process is a journey that takes a great amount of time, resources and dedication. Your agency’s growth is dependent on it so it’s not really an issue of if, but rather when and how. Hopefully, the above tips are helpful.
My very first day at my very first job was as a holiday sales associate at Best Buy.
The 16-year-old me was nervous to say the least. It was my responsibility to persuade customers to buy a $2,000 computer. That seemed like a massive among of money to convince someone to spend. And if by some miracle, I succeeded, my job wasn’t over. Best Buy then wanted me to upsell them a $200 product insurance plan.
I felt unprepared and had no sales training. I dreaded people telling me no.
Even if a customer came in knowing the computer they wanted, I was still supposed to upsell them the insurance plan.
After hearing excuse after excuse — “No,” “I’m not interested,” or “I’ll think about”— I stopped trying to sell the insurance plans for fear of rejection.
When the season was over, Best Buy politely told me that they would not need me any longer. Rejected again.
We’ve all experienced rejection in relationships, school, and work. If you’re a sales professional, you think you experience rejection multiple times a day, every day.
But what many of us perceive as rejection is really an objection. And objection is not rejection.
Objections are familiar, tried-and-true phrases we hear frequently:
- I don’t have time right now
- We’re not interested
- We don’t have budget for that
Whereas some examples of rejection are:
- Take me off your list and don’t ever call me again!
- You and your agency suck
Objections are signs of concern, confusion, risk aversion, stalling or a fear of change. They are a natural part of the human condition and our decision-making process. In many cases, they are instinctive responses. But objections actually can be a sign of engagement.
Rejection is very different. It’s an outright refusal to accept an idea or request—a firm no. At times, it’s delivered with a harsh and deliberate tone. Sometimes it comes off as a personal insult.
While rejection and objection can and often do feel the same, it’s important to be able to tell the difference and know how to respond. If not, your sales work will suffer, and you’ll lose the opportunity to close more deals.
Successful sales people understand the reasons behind the kinds of responses to prospecting. Follow these 3 rules of overcoming objections and you’ll be adding more wins.
Rule #1 – Sales Objections Are Emotional
The human decision-making process is emotional first and then logical. The challenge is to not respond emotionally to your prospect’s rejection. Prospect objections are among the most difficult. That’s why so many salespeople avoid prospecting like the plague, fearing the rejection and the impact on their careers and income.
Average salespeople respond by either fighting back or giving up. The fight becomes an argument with prospects trying to persuade them that their concerns about change are unfounded. It’s an emotional response to those objections.
Remember: In a sales conversation, the person with greater emotional control has the highest likelihood of getting their desired outcome.
High-performing salespeople understand this fact, don’t take it personally and exert emotional control.
Rule #2 – Not All Objections Are the Same
Sales trainer Jeb Blount, in his book aptly titled, Objections, breaks down objections into three categories he calls RBOs:
R Reflex Responses
O True Objections
These are your prospect’s rote reactions. It’s not an intentional slight or attempt to deceive, but they are an automatic response to your pitch and probably those of any other salespeople.
Here are some examples:
- We’re not interested.
- I’m busy.
- We’re all set.
- We’re good.
The prospect is not responding. They are running on autopilot.
A brush-off is your prospect’s way of telling you to bug off nicely. It’s about avoiding conflict. Examples:
- Call me later.
- Why don’t you send me some information?
- Send me an email in a month.
Salespeople often misinterpret brush-offs as a sign of accomplishment. “She must be interested because she told me to call in a month,” the deluded salesperson thinks. “I’ll put that in my calendar right now.”
While the prospect might indeed be interested, they have not really given you any real indication of interest.
True objections on prospecting calls tend to be more transparent and logical. They typically come with a reason and seem genuine. Here are a few:
- We just signed a new contract with your competitor, so there’s no reason for us to meet right now.
- I can’t meet next week because I’m going to be at our industry’s tradeshow in Chicago.
Do you hear the difference between the reflex responses, brush-offs, and the true objections? Knowing the distinctions between the three leads to a better sense of where your prospect mindset and how to respond.
Rule #3 – Objections Follow the 80/20 Rule
When I ask salespeople to tell me how many types of objections they hear, the answer is usually the same: an infinite, never-ending number of objections.
Too many salespeople think each RBO is unique, special and one of a kind. They end up winging it when it comes to a response. In reality, each industry has a rather common set of RBOs. Usually, there are 3-5 RBOs that make up 80% or more of prospecting objections.
What are the most common RBOs you face in your agency?
- “We’re all set.”
- “Just send me some information.”
- “We handle that in-house.”
- “I’m not the right person.”
- “We have an agency.”
The key to overcoming objections is to identify what the most common objections are that you and your team hear. Create great answers that get prospects past the RBO. Then practice and refine your responses.
Here is what high-performing salespeople do:
- List common RBOs encountered in their prospecting and script answers to each, often working with sales colleagues to get the best possible answers drafted.
- Practice those scripts. Role-play the answers with a colleague and refine your answers. Memorize them until they become natural.
- Use the scripted answers on some prospects and continue to modify your answers.
Having scripts prepared in advance helps you stay in your logical brain, rise above disruptive reactionary emotions and regain control of the conversation.
Back to Best Buy
In the months after I was let go by Best Buy, I stopped looking at what happened as a rejection, but rather as an objection that could be overcome. The next summer I asked my former manager if they needed help. It turned out they were short-staffed.
I began to listen to customer objections in the computer department carefully and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was going to succeed no matter what.
The other sales associates and I began to compare the objections we heard and created responses that we role-played with each other. Here is one that I heard regularly and a reply that worked great.
Customer: I don’t think the computer will break. There’s no need for the insurance plan.
Me: Did you drive to the store today?
Me: Do you have a spare tire in the trunk?
Me: I drove to work today, and I don’t think I will get a flat tire on my way home. But, like you, I have a spare tire in my trunk just in case. It’s better to be safe than sorry. How about we take another look at that insurance plan?
It worked incredibly well.
I went on to lead not only our Best Buy store but the entire Midwest in insurance plan sales that year. At the next holiday season, I didn’t get fired. I got a raise.
As a sales professional, remember that objection is not rejection. Work with your colleagues to create a list of the most common objections you hear and categorize them as Rs, Bs or Os. Get to work on scripting and spend the next three months testing and refining your answers. You’ll retain better emotional control, learn more and find a dramatic uptick in your prospecting work.
Sometimes the odds of forecasting accurately is about as successful as flipping a coin. Aside from forecasting what your agency will generate in new business for the year, you also need to properly forecast what resources are required to support that growth.
While those resources might be slightly different from one agency to the next, it never hurts to follow or get started with a formula. To help, our team recently built an Agency Growth Calculator to help our clients get a more accurate view of how they can obtain success in the year ahead.
The calculator was built with four primary parts of the new business funnel in mind:
Understand Your Growth Requirements
Here’s where it all starts! Every KPI your agency should be monitoring throughout the year starts with your overall growth requirements.
While I dare to say this should be a no brainer, some agencies do get caught up in the hustle and find themselves struggling to clearly identify what numbers they need to hit in the year ahead of them. Here are some essential questions that you should ask yourself before moving onto any
- What’s your overall revenue goal?
While there are many approaches for setting your revenue goal for the year, make sure it’s nailed down and clearly communicated prior to the new year so all parties can set operational KPIs off of that plan.
- How much have you historically grown organically?
This will give you a good idea of the outbound effort you will need after organic growth.
- What is your typical churn rate (loss of clients)?
You can only put so much on top of the funnel if you’re losing it all at the bottom. It’s important to clearly understand how much revenue is falling out each month.
- How big is this goal in comparison to new business amounts you’ve produced in years past?
Knowing how much you’re planning to grow new business Y/Y is important, particularly so you can understand the resources required to achieve that growth.
- What’s your overall pitch win percentage and what’s the win percentage when they are inbound warm leads vs. cold opportunities you have generated?
Be honest when answering this question; the higher pitch win percentage you have, the less outbound effort will be required. Keep in mind that warm opportunities close at a higher rate than cold opportunities.
- Have you ever generated a cold pitch opportunity before?
Many agencies rely on referrals for 100% of their pitch opportunities and while those are warm and close at a higher rate, they are not reliable or sustainable. Evaluating this can give you a better understanding for how long it can take to produce cold opportunities in the future.
Warm New Business Opportunities
Next, it’s important to understand the amount of warm new business opportunities your agency brings in.
Warm new business opportunities typically come in the form of referrals, networking, and word of mouth. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t absolutely love these types of leads? These are seen by most agency principals as the most attractive type of lead as it’s free business that came directly to you.
To help generate more of these we recommend activating your core 100 network. We define this as the core network of decision-makers with budget or marketing decision power that you have a 1st-degree relationship with. By connecting with this group at least once per month, whether a simple hello or providing them with relevant thought leadership, the likelihood of getting more referral leads increases significantly.
Lastly, while warm opportunities are nice it’s important to not solely rely on them, and here’s why:
- They are unpredictable and you never know when your next project will be coming in
- You have no control of how your portfolio expands
- Losing one major client could drastically hurt your agency’s revenue
The next section will discuss how to couple with cold prospecting for ultimate success!
Cold Prospecting For New Opportunities
Since you can’t solely rely on warm opportunities, you must find a way to incorporate cold prospecting into your mix. Often new business directors will wonder how much outreach is enough? How many phone calls and emails will result in a qualified meeting?
We recommend tracking your success rate at each touchpoint. This will allow you to know if you are consistently reaching out to enough prospects in your outreach cadence.
Proper measurements typically include:
- How many people typically reply to a cold email or call?
- Of those replies, how many of them turn into a meeting?
- How many people move from the first meeting to a pitch opportunity?
- How many cold pitches your agency typically wins (win percentage)?
If you’ve never kept track of these numbers before, don’t worry! Just understand that for someone starting out, these numbers are typically a bit lower and grow with time.
Keep in mind that many agencies underestimate how many prospects they actually need in their pool and keeping that pipeline full is a full-time job in itself. Make sure you have the resources and bandwidth necessary to fuel the fire.
Estimating Your Costs: Time and Money
If you’re an agency CEO who is responsible for driving new business in addition to running the entire agency, be aware of what that double duty is costing you.
If you’re juggling too many tasks it’s likely that things are getting completed, but most of it is probably not being done exceptionally well. As an agency head, your time is best served strategically looking at ways to grow the overall business, not just through the lens of new business. If you’re worried about the time and investment it would take to hire someone in-house, there are alternatives like Catapult who can manage this function for you. There is huge potential in having someone solely focused on bringing in both cold and warm opportunities for your agency.
Now that you have a better understanding of what goes into forecasting your new business goals, and the resources required to hit them…check out our Agency Growth Calculator to see how the numbers line up for your business!
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.
As the business development lead at your agency, you may already have a solid understanding that the CMO has more turnover than any other c-level position. What you may not know, however, is why and how it directly affects your prospecting efforts.
In December 2018, our sister company, Winmo, released the annual CMO Lifecycle Tenure Analysis report and it’s full of new business opportunities that you can bank on. The report analyzed over 2,400 CMO tenures across a variety of industries and also by gender.
So before you kick off the new year by pounding the phone with cold calls and shooting out emails to every CMO in the US, here are a few items that will help you build a strategic plan and reach CMOs more efficiently:
Who’s Coming In, Who’s On Their Way Out
When a CEO hires a CMO, they expect a complete brand transformation…and fast. We’ve found that CMOs typically rotate up or out of their positions around the 43 month mark. Six to 18 months later is usually when the new CMO will shake up their AOR. What does this mean for you? Start paying attention to this ‘new biz sweetspot.’ Not only do you have a possible win with the incoming CMO, but potentially with the outgoing CMO…if you know where he/she lands.
Not Every Industry Is Created Equal
According to Winmo’s report, more traditional industries such as financial services, education, associations, and travel average longer tenures. Other sectors such as consumer goods, digital business providers, restaurants and retail, however, show higher turnover rates. When prospecting, prioritize those top turnover categories to fuel your prospecting lists with new potential opportunities.
Prioritize Your Right To Win Categories
After analyzing the tenure report take a look and see if there are particular industries in which you specialize. These right to win clients will be low hanging fruit for prospecting. If you are experts in retail and consumer goods, prioritize your prospecting and spend time crafting your messaging to appeal to the CMOs and decision makers in those spaces. Your credible portfolio in these spaces will make them much more inclined to have the initial conversation.
Unfortunately, no crystal ball can tell you exactly when to contact a CMO, but this Winmo report is pretty close! Keep an eye on those brands you’ve been hoping to work with and use this resource to your full advantage! If it’s creeping up on their 3 year anniversary, get your messaging ready. Tailor your outreach strategy by prioritizing your right to win categories. Now you’re ready to go out there and win over those dream clients! Happy prospecting!
With the rise of in-house agencies and management consultancies, your prospects have more options as an agency, and you have to work harder than ever to prove your value proposition. Without a process in place that is solely focused on developing new client relationships, how can you best forecast a positive revenue trajectory? Sure, you may get that occasional referral here and there, but other than that, you are just blending in with the crowd.
In 2019, your agency needs to get aggressive with winning the clients you were made to work with! So if you are ready to start going after those clients, the first thing you need to do, after you hire a dedicated person to manage the workload, is identify your agency’s right to win business.
What Is “Right To Win” Business?
Right-to-win business refers to prospects that should have been clients yesterday. They check every box in your list of an ideal client and your agency can confidently say “We are the best at solving your particular problem”. RTWB Is an extrapolation of the client successes that you’ve had within unique segments. These are segments that you can explicitly convey a measure of impact through the SOW and deliverable for your client.
If we can say that we have a “right to win” to your business, then we need to be able to prove it through case studies and past work that is directly applicable to those right to win prospects.
Naturally, there are challenges of accessing the information needed to develop a case study or show success metrics. But this is an essential part of the process and should be built into the program and agreed upon by all controllers of information before the assignment is started. Your ability to prove success is imperative to retaining the client you’re engaged with as well as proving to new prospects that you’re able to deliver.
How You Identify Your Agency’s RTWB
RTWB may be based on a specific industry, like adult beverages, or it could be tied to a niche audience, like moms. The important consideration is to be as specific as possible and thoroughly evaluate how and why your team has expertise and impact with your RTW target. At Catapult, we often concentrate on a specific problem that we solve for our clients better than anyone else, which in turn can be applied across verticals. Understanding your clients’ and prospects’ problems shows that you understand more about them than just what vertical they operate in.
Many agencies believe they know their key categories, but as they begin to do the work, they are unable to clearly convey how or why their smattering of clients fit the definition of RTWB. This is often due to the nature of network-related business or assignments that fall in their lap, dismissing the agency from establishing and investing in a specific expertise, like category.
Yes, there are exceptions, but the majority of marketers want to understand and see evidence of your ability to “be successful” in their category. For a CMO, whose job is on the line based on the partners they select, they need to feel fully confident that you can understand and deliver on their objectives. However, success is a very subjective idea, and you need to make sure it is clearly defined by your prospect, so you and your team can understand and appropriately set expectations.
Need Help Getting Started?
As you begin identifying your RTWB, find answers to these three questions:
- Who have I had the most success with in the past?
- Who do I want to work within the future?
- Where can I honestly say that our agency is superior to other agencies?
If you need a second set of eyes on your agency to help establish your right to win business, contact Catapult. Identifying RTWB for our clients has helped our firm generate over $1B in new business opportunities. We would happy to provide you with any additional value that will make your agency more successful.
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.
As a new business professional, success lies in taking action, doing more than presiding, and empowering others around you to work as effective teams. Each week is an opportunity to make progress and build lasting relationships with prospects, clients, and partners while finding transformative business opportunities for your clients.
This insightful webinar lead by the Managing Director of Huge, Matt Weiss, explains the journey to success within the new business space is not one that comes free of many challenges both professionally and mentally. There is a reason that only 21% of New Business Directors last with a company for three or more years.
After watching the webinar, I have learned that if you seek to pursue a long, impactful and successful career in agency new business, you should direct your focus towards these four tactics:
- Find the center of the organization- Within any large organization, there are all kinds of people at all different levels, and each of them has a different agenda. Your job in business development is to find the center of your prospects organizations. Why? Because the center is what drives direction.There are two types of centers to identify, one being the leadership center and the other being the cultural center. At the center of leadership, you will be able to clearly identify the organization’s vision and overall mission. At the center of culture, you will be able to understand the atmosphere and the people who make up the organization as a whole.If you find these two elements before pitching to a company, you will be able to appeal to the decision makers and their agendas, in which they are actually trying to accomplish, whether they verbally mentioned it to you or not.
- Develop true grit- New business is one of the most difficult and grueling positions to hold within the agency sphere. Typically, the teams aren’t large, and they are a cost center for the company. The expectations are high, and the pressure is on at all times. You will have many moments in which you feel you can’t get the job done.In those moments, you must think of people like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in just about every movie they’ve ever been in. No matter who they were playing, they demonstrated the ability to get the job done, regardless of the odds. In those moments where you feel overwhelmed, remember to breath, prioritize and know confidently that you will get through the day.Also keep in mind that new business is a long-distance race, not a sprint. Those who try to sprint through it will burn out in a few months, and those who treat it like a long distance race see substantial success and build stamina along the way.
- Stop selling, start helping- The first deadly sin of new business is selling. Your instincts naturally compel you to sell your agency’s services because, well, it’s your job! But the truth is everyone HATES sales. Think about the last time you visited a car dealership. If your experiences have been anything like mine, you were immediately swarmed by salespeople, and the one you landed with was extra pushy. So pushy that you left because you were incredibly uncomfortable.Your sales tactics shouldn’t repel your prospects, but rather, attract them and add tremendous value to them. So change your mindset from selling to helping. Change your pitch to show how your agency will help the company grow, transform their offerings, master a skill set they don’t have, solve a problem, or even beat the competition. How does working with you solve their problems? Agencies who can answer this question, without selling the answer, win.
- Make the pitch process fun- The decision makers you are meeting with at the pitch have day jobs, and they are attending the pitch as their night job. To them, while the pitch is necessary, it’s also taking time from other, more pressing matters. What they are not expecting from you is a fun experience. So make one. Keep it light, make everyone in the room feel good about themselves, bring your culture with you, and most importantly, add value. At the end of the day, people work with those who they want to be around.New business is a tough business. Our job is to be coaches and help our teams and clients be as good as they can possibly be. There is no way to avoid the blood, sweat, and tears that come with the profession. However, if you start each of your prospecting efforts by identifying both the of the organization’s leadership and cultural centers, have grit, offer continuous value, and make the pitch process fun for your audiences, you will have a long and fulfilling existence career-wise.
If your agency lacks the bandwidth, resources, or knowledge that is required for a sustainable new business process, Catapult can help. Having generated over $1 billion in new business opportunities for our clients, we provide you with the proper training, tools, and resources that deliver revenue growth. Give us a call today for more information.