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.
For years there has been an ongoing race to obtain the most recent and advanced technologies among the large agency holdings. However, as technology has become obsolete and less expensive, it is having increasing less of a differentiating impact.
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!
Live Webinar | Register Now
Hosted by Matt Chollet & Betsi Nelson
When it comes to agency new business knowing when key marketing decision-makers are rotating up or out of their roles is critical. We’ve found that incoming CMOs are most likely to shakeup their agency roster 3-18 months after they take their post, which should signal a bright flashing light of opportunity to agencies.
Leveraging Winmo’s recent CMO Tenure Analysis Report, our February 21st Webinar will empower agencies to strike while the iron is hot and drive more business with key advertisers throughout 2019.
During this 30-minute session, expect to walk away with:
- Key takeaways from the 2,400 tenures examined in the report and a deep examination of how gender also affects CMO Tenure
- How to prioritize CMO outreach across industries including CPG, Finance, Retail and more
- How to build an effective outreach cadence that will capture the attention of top CMOs at the perfect time
* A recording will also be sent to you via email
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.
The employment rate is currently sitting at 3.7%, the lowest it has been since the ’60s. At this point, the number of jobs available greatly surpasses the 19% of marketers actively searching for new jobs. As an agency executive, it’s time to step it up if you seek to hire, and more importantly, retain top talent because your employees can quite literally go anywhere else.
So, how do you get your agency in a position where all your employees are asking themselves, “why would I ever want to work somewhere else?” The answer- empower your staff to have satisfaction out of the work that they produce at work while also supporting their personal goals and ambitions.
If your agency wasn’t listed on this year’s Ad Age Best Places to Work 2019, there is always hope for next year, but you’ve got to start making changes now. Here is what the recipients of this award are doing differently:
1. Culture That Puts Employees First
Having ping-pong tables, beer taps and gaming consoles certainly won’t hinder your agency’s culture, but there is more to it than “free stuff.” When it comes to attracting talent, these awards prove that employees care more about benefits, fair pay, health insurance, and PTO.
For example, several of the agencies listed allow their employees to work remotely while also providing unlimited vacation days. Zach Morrison, president of Elite SEM, explains it perfectly as he quotes, “Most agencies are client-first. We believe in being people-first; they deliver for clients, which delivers the overall success of an organization.”
2. A Workplace That Stands for Something
Many of the agencies who made this list are incredibly passionate about something outside of their business. More importantly, they actually incorporate the importance of their beliefs deep into the roots of their culture.
The media agency, UM, is a perfect example as they passionately strive for diversity among their hallways. A personal goal of theirs is to have an employee diversity mix in 2020 that reflects what the US population is projected to look like in 2040. Whether that be gender-based, ethnicity-based, or LGBTQ-based, the goal for the organization is to have the company directly represent every diverse population in which they serve.
3. Leadership That Builds More Leaders
People want to feel important; it’s really as simple as that. It’s vital for your agencies leadership to let entry-level and mid-tier employees feel heard while also teaching them how to grow within the company.
Two agencies on the list do a really great job at achieving this. The digital agency, Again Interactive, has never had an employee leave within 26 months. “We always enjoyed being at places that weren’t these huge agencies where you lose your name, become a number,” said CEO, Glenn Whiting. He explains it all starts with how leadership trusts and empower their staff. When someone has a great idea, they should be encouraged to speak up.
Cogent Entertainment Marketing does a great job at this as every employee is set up with a mentor inside or outside of the company. The owner of the agency found that his employees care more about achieving success than receiving free gym-memberships and several lunches, things he refers to as “wasteful” perks.
So what can you learn as an agency executive from these awards?
According to Ad Age, six things that matter most to employees today are benefits, company culture, employee development, company environment, employee engagement, and employee perks. Having toys around the office and numerous perks will not solely win the loyalty of your employees. Instead focus on building a culture full of transparency, trust, and growth. Also, rising generations are more successful when they feel their employers care about their contributions both inside and outside of work. Invest the time to know what makes your team tick.
Building a better culture today will lead to a better agency tomorrow – and who knows, maybe you’ll see your agency’s name on this list next year. Good luck!
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.
New Business Directors have an ever-growing list of responsibilities and time continually serves as a limited resource. As a result, new business executives are always on the hunt for the best insights, tips and tricks that will make them more efficient and all around more successful at their jobs. And who better to provide the inside scoop than an agency search consultant?
Sitting in on every pitch their brand is presented and hearing all of the brand’s feedback from what they liked and what turned them off, search consultants see a side of this business no one else has access too. Today, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the author of @AARLisa: New Biz in 140 Characters (or Less) and renowned agency search consultant, Lisa Colantuono.
Through our conversation, Lisa shared her insiders perspective on how agencies can improve their new business with these 10 new business tips:
Relationships Will Always Win Against Tools
Lisa explains, “We are selling relationships and team extensions, not tools. Agencies think they can win the pitch by showing off the technologies they use, but the truth is, if the team can’t truly work together, those tools are inconsequential.” People want to work with people they like. Credibility + Trust + Relationship Building = New Business Success.
Have a Position and Stick To It
When it comes to your agency’s new business program, differentiated positioning is the foundation. Brands are coming to your agency for expertise in which they do not have in-house. That means your agency needs to be an expert in something. H Lisa explains “Being an expert in something trumps being a jack of all trades; it’s much richer. Client’s don’t need an agency that follows a one size fits all policy.” Of course, standing out can be difficult when you have 66K+ competitors in the US market alone. It’s critical that your agency identifies where you stand out and focuses on those specific markets in which your expertise will deliver uncontested value.
Pitch With Passion
We all want more clients and more revenue, but you’ve got to stop chasing anything and everything. Be truly focused on the brands you want to work with and more importantly, have the expertise to help (your “right to win” business.) It makes all the difference to a client when you’re truly interested in building their brand for authentic reasons starting with sheer passion. “When you really love something, it shines through and it’s contagious. Truly be interested in that prospective client’s brand and the rest will happen more naturally.”
Protect Your Intellectual Property
“Do not do full-blown creative spec work for nothing,” Lisa says. Of course, clients need to get a sense of your creative expertise. And you can give them a taste through creative explorations but do not fall into the trap of producing creative spec work as part of the pitch process. These brands are paying you for your expertise for a reason, so don’t hand over your knowledge and hard work for free.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
Stay ahead of the curve. So many agencies are still trying to sell instead of offering value. You want to teach, not sell. By teaching, you are being proactive. In our interview, Lisa claims, “This works for both new business and stewardship. You want to make sure that you know what’s going on in the industry, what’s news, and what’s new. Then bring that info to your prospects and current clients.” It’s crucial that you are sharing information that they can think about and possibly integrate for their brands. Whatever you do, don’t make them come to you and ask about some new trend they found on their own. You are so much more than a salesman; you are an educator.
Know When To Say No
Growing your skills and portfolio are always a plus, but your agency isn’t going to be a great fit for every brand, and that’s okay. The worst thing you can do is take on a client in which you don’t have the proper expertise. As Lisa explains, “Don’t chase new business that you end up saying yes to anything and everything. No is a very powerful word and it should be used appropriately and strategically to be fair and benefit both parties.” In fact, use these opportunities to recommend other agencies and build those strong referral relationships that are sure to lead to better fitting opportunities in the future.
Use The Element of Surprise
There is a time and place for pitch theater, but you definitely don’t want to overwhelm or overpower your knowledge, insights or expertise with glitz and glam. As Lisa puts it, “Why are fireworks so engaging? It’s the element of surprise.” The element of surprise is very powerful because it helps people to stay engaged and remember. Don’t confuse it with pitch theater, which the glitz and glam can overpower the actually content, that is much more important.
Don’t Text and Talk
It might seem like a no brainer to not text while meeting with a potential client, but apparently, this happens way more often then it should. Give your undivided attention to your prospects and clients when meeting with them. Put all interruptive devices away. Lisa said, “ I have seen new business professionals lose the pitch for something as simple as texting their assistant to bring more coffee into the meeting.” The prospect or client doesn’t know who you are texting or what it’s about. All they know is that you feel that text is more important than listening to what they are saying. Word to the wise, put down the phone.
Use Public Relations to Your Full Advantage
This is an ongoing effort, but start by building relationships with the media. Pitching to journalists is no easy task without having first established some kind of relationship with them. PR will benefit your agency by putting a magnifying glass on your story. It will help project your knowledge and expertise. Lisa adds, “The best way to pitch media a compelling story is to stand for something or stand against something. Let your opinion be heard.”
There are many agencies who do a great job but one agency who stands out is The Richards Group. They have a news section on their website full of published press releases about company updates and news, client awards, the agencies awards, and campaigns on which the agency is working.
Listen more than you speak
Your clients have a lot to stress about. Losing talent is something they worry about, they need agility, they require quick thinking, and they do expect different innovative creative solutions. On top of all of that, they want bold thinking, but none of that happens without listening first. Lisa quotes, ”Clients get agitated when agencies think they know more about their brand then they do especially during the pitch process.” By being a proactive listener, you are listen “between the lines” and truly analyze what keeps the marketer up at night, what’s pressuring them from the top, and what they actually need to accomplish. Some of the best relationships and outcomes are based on truly listening to understand, not merely respond.
Become friends with the client team! As Lisa mentioned, “Friends care about each other and do things to help each other without thinking ‘what’s in it for me.’ When you do things that are selfless, everybody benefits from that.”
Overall, Lisa’s advice is to focus on building relationships in all aspects of your profession. Building relationships require you to care, be honest and establish trust. The truth of the matter is, people do business with people they like (it’s worth mentioning again). And if you can make a prospect like you before they do business with you, you’ve already won!