What does growth even mean? We find most agencies think growth is about adding more and more new clients to their portfolio. Other agencies believe growth is about long-term marketing efforts to build stronger awareness with prospective clients, and driving inbound new business. From our 15 years of experience working with agencies of every size and kind, we see two core things that successful agencies do well under the banner of “growth”. First and foremost, they focus on building success for clients with quality work and measurable impact in order to drive retention and organic growth. Second, they have a clear plan to drive new business through these 4 essentials to sustainable agency growth:
1. Have a workable, proactive sales process in place.
Without a structured sales process, you may take on any opportunity thinking it’s essential for the financial health of your agency. However, the cost of the client can sometimes be more expensive than the revenue it brings in. Taking on any and every opportunity happens when your sales team doesn’t have appropriate guidelines to work with. If a proper sales process is designed to help them drive quality leads, you’ll save time and money, allowing them to work more strategically and more effectively.
We find every great sales process includes:
- Understanding the buyer’s journey and using it as your starting point to an approach based on the needs of your prospect.
- Clearly defining each stage of the journey and what activities are involved.
- Identifying the value for your agency in each phase of the process.
- Creating a strong connection between the marketing and sales team.
- Finding the pain points of potential clients and highlighting your solutions in solving them – this is what makes your agency hard to dismiss.
2. Define your ideal client.
Buyer personas are not a new concept, but in today’s competitive agency landscape, it’s more important than ever to understand who your ideal client is, what their needs are, and whether your agency has a “right to win” with them. An effective buyer persona answers the following:
- What industry do they work in?
- What is their company size?
- Who are the key decision makers (and influencers)?
- Where do they look for agency partners?
- What are their key pain points?
- Which services do they need?
- What kind of budget are they working with?
These questions will help focus your efforts and generate the opportunities you want.
3. Upsell and retain clients.
Many agencies are a bit passive when it comes to expanding scope with current clients. Account teams are not natural sales people, and are (rightly) focused on billable time and the business at hand. So how can your new business team help? Create a plan for each client that helps them understand other ways you can help their business. It’s an effective sales approach that benefits the client who has already experienced the quality of what you have to offer. And think about the energy and resources you’ll save as opposed to looking for new accounts. Focus on keeping current clients happy and identify new ways your expertise can bring even more value.
4. Hone your unique selling proposition.
To understand your current unique selling proposition, ask your existing clients where they look for a new partner and how they found you. Most importantly, why they chose your agency and the measurable impact you have on their business. Your USP should not be centered on a philosophy or theoretical outcome, but rather a quantifiable one focused on your particular expertise. This is critical to differentiating yourself to prospects, helping your agency evolve, and supporting your growth.
Creating, understanding, and working these 4 essentials to sustainable agency growth will create a sustainable pathway to revenue generating opportunities. We know it seems challenging to navigate the overcrowded, undifferentiated landscape at time. But by making these key areas a priority, your agency will be on the right track to repeatable, revenue generating opportunities.
As an agency owner, you’re overwhelmed. Just managing the everyday stuff – client emails, strategy sessions, vendor and freelancer partnerships, and even students who want an internship can be a challenge. We know you need help, too. Whether it’s advice from industry pros, access to more information, training, or industry news, a marketing and advertising association can be a good choice. Here are the top marketing and advertising associations to join right now.
These associations will give you access to people who have been there before. The people who understand the complexities and processes of running a marketing firm. Networking with other executives and having open conversations about the challenges you’re facing can not only help you gain insight into better managing your business, it can also tremendously impact the success of your growth in an ever-changing landscape.
Below, we’ve curated detailed information on the top marketing and advertising associations we think are worth your time to explore, along with their top recommended events.
The ANA arms members with the skills, tools, and resources to grow their careers. With best-in-class content, events, and training, the ANA helps members build stronger brands and provides leadership that advances marketing excellence and shapes the future of the industry. Founded in 1910, the ANA’s membership includes more than 680 companies with 10,000 brands that collectively spend over $250 billion in marketing and advertising.
The ANA also includes the Business Marketing Association (BMA) and the Brand Activation Association (BAA) which operate as divisions of the ANA, and the Advertising Educational Foundation which is an ANA subsidiary.
As one of the leading associations within the advertising and marketing industry, we highly recommend joining the ANA if you’re an agency executive. Their events are highly relevant to agencies and companies and most of the members are corporate marketing executives.
Save The Date
Event: 2019 ANA Masters of Marketing Week
Date(s): October 2-5
Location: Orlando, FL
Mirren works closely with CEOs and their management teams to support agencies through consulting and training regarding best practices in new business development. Their membership gives you access to their resource center of On-Demand Learning and Advanced Webinars. Although Mirren is technically not an association, we included them because they are a household name for agencies.
Save The Date
Event: Mirren CEO Summit
Date(s): November 7-8
Location: Chicago, IL
Founded in 1917, the 4A’s is the national trade association representing the advertising agency business in the United States. As a management-oriented association, the 4A’s offers members the broadest possible services, expertise and information regarding the advertising agency business. Its membership produces approximately 80 percent of the total advertising volume placed by agencies nationwide. Although virtually all of the large, multinational agencies are members of the 4A’s, more than 60 percent of our membership bills less than $10 million per year.
The 4A’s is the ultimate organization for agencies of all types and sizes. They offer valuable training, conferences, and best practices in how to drive agency sales, profits and develop new business.
Save The Date
Event: 4A’s Mothers@Agencies
Date(s): August 28 – December 4
Location: Online Program
Event: Launch for Leaders
Date(s): September 18-19
Location: New York, NY
Event: 4A’s Stratfest 2019
Date(s): October 15-17
Location: New York, NY
The Insights Association is a founding member of Privacy for America, a coalition working with Congress to modernize data privacy protection via a bold new national paradigm. Their members are the world’s leading producers of intelligence, analytics and insights defining the needs, attitudes, and behaviors of consumers, organizations and their employees.
IA more wide-reaching content designed for easy consumption. You’ll find videos and case studies on particular trends, as well as frequent editorials on the latest marketing news. Membership is divided into multiple levels, but the focus is primarily on research and data as opposed to more social aspects of marketing.
Save The Date
Event: CEO Summit Europe
Date(s): September 11-13
Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Event: CRC 2019
Date(s): October 22-24
Location: Orlando, FL
Date(s): December 10-11
Location: Los Angeles, CA
The IAB empowers the media and marketing industries to thrive in the digital economy. Its membership is comprised of more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and technology firms responsible for selling, delivering, and optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns. The trade group fields critical research on interactive advertising, while also educating brands, agencies, and the wider business community on the importance of digital marketing. In affiliation with the IAB Tech Lab, IAB develops technical standards and solutions.
The IAB has many tools and classes for free without requiring membership or certification which is always a plus. This includes fee calculators and ad view-ability guides. Certification is divided into several different specialties and levels of expertise, allowing you to customize your training based on your position and goals.
Save The Date
Event: 2019 NewFront West
Date(s): September 11-12
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Event: Direct Brand Summit
Date(s): November 20-21
Location: New York, NY
Founded in 1995, AMI provides training, consulting, and original survey data on salaries and benefits for small- to mid-size agencies. But the core focus is the owner peer networks, where members meet for two days twice a year to discuss financials, business development, marketing, and staffing.
AMI wants to help agencies “increase their AGI by at least 25%, attract better clients and employees, and best of all — exceed the agency owner’s life/financial goals.”
Save The Date
Event: Build a Better Agency Summit
Date(s): May 18-20, 2020
Location: Chicago, IL
You hear it all the time – brands are moving more advertising and marketing functions in-house. From media buying to SEO to full service offerings, every day brings news of another brand deciding it’s better, and cheaper, to do it themselves. Brand experience is the same. As brands embrace experience-led thinking, they tend to hire internal experts who understand creative through the traditional experience lenses of activations, pop-ups and live events.
This leaves your agency with two options – either expand your offerings and cast a wider net for more opportunities or waste time going against the current. But moving out of your niche causes your agency to be spread too thin. As a result, you’ll find yourself relying on freelancers to fill in the gaps and run the risk of damaging relationships and reputations by underdelivering. We’ve also seen agencies start to create friction with clients’ internal agencies who are trying to protect their shrinking piece of the pie. Both approaches can create barriers to sustainable agency growth.
We suggest a third option for success.
Focus. It’s not a dirty word. Go narrow, clearly identify where you excel, and make it your mission to be absolutely best in class in that area. All too often we see agencies who have a fear of focusing and differentiating themselves because they are afraid of leaving money on the table.
Brand marketers continue to turn to those who know a subject area, a target audience, a technology or tool, or a sub-discipline of marketing and advertising. They want genuine expertise over generalization. This should resonate with you more than anything. Whether you are partnering with in-house teams or part of a multi-agent effort, in order to adapt to today’s landscape, narrowing your focus should become your new normal. While it may mean closing off certain revenue streams (in the short term), it ultimately future-proofs your agency by making you an ideal partner with valuable expertise.
But how do you narrow your agency focus? To get started, here are two things to consider.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
This one is trickier than most think. If may seem risky to lower the number of revenue generating avenues in front of you, especially when times get tough, but the truth is, expertise will always be valued. It is critical to assess what your agency does well, and strengthen in these areas. At the same time, be intentional about removing offerings that aren’t at the core of your business, or within the capabilities of your own team. Expertise will ultimately lead to increased trust and more honest, profitable relationships.
Build relationships with trusted partners.
“It’s only by saying “no” that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.”
We know you don’t want to say no to a prospect or client, but it doesn’t mean you should be quick to say yes. As you eliminate your non-essential offerings, reach out to partners that are experts in that field, and cultivate new relationships with them.
If clients ask you to take on something outside your narrow focus of expertise, suggest sharing the load with a trusted partner. The benefit of this is you keep your trusted relationship with the client while also building a strong relationship with partner agencies. As a result of this, there could be reverse opportunities as those partners begin recommending your team when in similar situations. It can feel risky to ask for help, but if you’ve laid a solid foundation, you should be able to avoid a situation where you underdeliver.
Here are the benefits of narrowing your focus and finding your true point of difference.
When you offer everything, you’re really competing with everyone.
A few things happen when your agency finds the importance in narrowing your focus and becoming the best at your niche. You may notice your competition is virtually eliminated. The more you focus on your niche, the less other companies will offer what you offer. Once you determine your focus, your competition will be a fraction of what was there before, and you’ll realize only a handful of agencies are doing exactly what you are.
When you narrow your focus, your competitors can become partners.
After eliminating thousands of agencies that were once your competition, you’ll find you now have many potential partners. You’ll also realize there are so many companies with complementary services to a similar client. This aspect of narrowing your focus could lead to the greatest amount of growth for your agency. Coming together with other partners who specialize in different skills in the same industry can help achieve the greatest outcome for clients.
Improvement at a faster rate.
Practice one thing for hundreds of hours instead of hundreds of things for one hour.
Once you eliminate the other things that were dividing your attention, you’ll soon realize your can spend so much more time learning and practicing on your area of focus. You will find you can keep up with the latest methods and trends within your niche that you never had time for before. A narrow focus helps you improve at a much faster rate.
The most important benefit of narrowing your focus is the increased value you can bring to your client. When you provide a specific service for a specific industry, you are better and faster at solving problems. You’ll understand the needs of your client quicker with less of a learning curve on each new project. It may seem like you are eliminating potential clients once you find your niche, but remember how valuable you’re making your agency to the clients that are right for you. Ultimately, you’re growing your pipeline and your business.
We are all living in a world of sameness that needs more specialists.
Think of all the revenue generating opportunities you will create when you excel in your uniqueness. A tight focus on your core expertise ensures your agency is easy to buy and difficult to dismiss. That’s what true differentiation is all about.
If new business is a race, would you say it’s better to spend your time looking forward or backward? Do you run with your head turned backward watching mile markers get further away? Or do you watch those mile markers in front of you get closer? I would highly suggest not looking backward whenever you are running, and the same goes for your new business planning.
As any agency approaches this process of planning, it’s important to note there are two different types of measurements that can change not only how you evaluate the race that is your new business program, but also predict your future success. Those two are Lag Measures and Lead Measures. Let’s break them down.
- Lag Measures – These are backward looking measurements of a result that has already happened.
- Lead Measures – These are forward-looking measurements that are predicting a result that will happen.
In 2018 your agency needs to be looking at Lead Measures and how they can help you forecast revenue, new clients, and staffing needs. Too often, I see agencies looking at only lag measures to determine how they are doing with new business. They look back at measures like number of leads created or revenue generated and then try to determine what will happen in the future based off of those results. Closing a new client in August has no bearing on September’s chances of closing a piece of new business, so why do we forecast this way?
The best example I have seen of an agency using lead measures was based on two factors. First, my agency measured the number of “engaged conversations” that they have each month. An engaged conversation was defined as one where they determine money, authority, and need from a prospect. They knew that if they had five of those calls a month, that would lead to enough pitches to hit their new business goals. The second measurement was based on lead score. Any great new business program will have a marketing automation built into it and that will include lead scoring capabilities. This lead scoring mechanism gave my agency the ability to judge just how effective their sales and nurture campaigns were and allowed them to prioritize prospects to go after. They set a score level of 25 points as the definition of a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). The goal was to create 15 MQLs a month, because if they got 15 MQLS, then they could have at least 5 Engaged Conversations. See how each of these begin to predict one another?
As your agency begins to set your new business goals for the year, take a look at all of the different ways that you measure the success of your program. Take those measurements and put them either in a Lag or a Lead bucket. The majority of those will probably fall into that Lag bucket, and it’s fine to track those, but we want to start prioritizing the tracking of those Lead measurements. If you can find two dependable Lead measures, then you have not only simplified what you need to report, but you can also begin to set realistic goals for 2018 that will actually drive you to more new business wins!
Here at Catapult we are all about understanding our agency’s prospecting and pipeline needs. If you don’t know what it takes in terms of activities and numbers to generate a winning piece of business, how can you develop a successful plan to do just that? As an easy tool, we created a Pipeline Calculator that breaks down this process into three simple chunks to help our agencies get a head start on understanding their pipeline numbers.
The goal section is made up of three main pieces – revenue goal, the number of contacts in the database, and average first-year value of a deal. Your revenue goal should be pretty straightforward in this calculation. We are looking at the amount of new revenue generated from new business (not organic growth). The number of contacts in your database is essentially how many individual contact prospects you’re currently reaching out to in your content marketing. This is a number that is easily changed and can have a major impact on your new business success. Often though, we see people trying to adjust other numbers and holding to very small databases with zero success. Resources like Winmo allow for focused growth in these databases to hit the quantities needed to be successful.
Lastly, the average first-year value of a deal is limited to just this first-year value, so in these calculations we are not over-valuing each deal for our short-term prospecting efforts.
This is the area where many agencies struggle. Understanding each stage of the sales pipeline process is something that most have never done. We broke this section out into four main parts – Initial Approaches, 1st Meetings, Needs Analysis, and Pitches. For many of our clients, turning the amount of Initial Approaches into 1st meetings is the biggest area where we can provide improvement for them. Most agencies aren’t making a lot of proactive introductions to new brands. As a result, they are limiting themselves from an initial database size perspective, and their conversion rate in this area is also very low. For any sales person this is going to be a smaller number, as we are fighting through initial qualification, awareness, and timing issues to move these prospects to first meetings. With that knowledge, increasing your database size and improving your approach are paramount.
We also find that many of our clients initially overestimate their win rate on pitches. Anecdotally, I can tell you that when I talk to agency principals and owners, the win rate is often overestimated while a New Business Director may often underestimate. I think this is purely a function of perception given how much they are both involved in conversations with new prospects. Our advice: Be conservative on your pitch rate win percentage and if you overperform it, all the better.
From here, we should have a good understanding of both the number of new clients that we will win based off of percentages, and the total revenue generated from new client wins. Disclaimer: There are many factors that go into your individual success, such as time, skill, resources, etc. This calculator should be used with the understanding that it is giving you a baseline of understanding of different areas of your pipeline process that you need to consider when both setting goals at the beginning of the year, and as your year progresses.
You should be using this calculator to understand where you might be underperforming. If you find yourself lower than average on initial approaches, then you can fix that area. If you are generating enough meetings and pitches but not winning business, no worries. We fix our pitch materials. If we are fine on all of our pipeline stage percentages but still not getting enough meetings, then most likely we need to look at how many prospect contacts we are reaching out to in our database.
Hopefully, this calculator gives you an initial guide to your proactive prospecting efforts!
Is your agency truly unique? Or are you one of the thousands of agencies selling the same products and services? Almost all agencies claim to be unique, different or better while using essentially the same descriptors as the others. The truth is, most prospects (advertisers) can barely tell the difference in your agency and your biggest competitor.
In this session we looked to fix that by discussing:
- Your differentiator isn’t different at all
- How to find your difference
- Using your differentiator to generate more opportunities
For any business development program to be successful, we need to take this first step of identifying a truly unique position. Once that positioning is in place content and distribution becomes much more effective. Hopefully this webinar will give you a great first step in finding your uniqueness!
Our guest host this month was John Heenan. Be sure to check out his website for other great insights and content!
So many agencies. So little difference. from Catapult New Business on Vimeo.
Every well-run agency is consistently looking at their mix of clients and where their revenue is coming from. The better understanding you have of your current revenue forecast, the better prepared you will be for any bump or turn on the road ahead. During a previous webinar (Driving Agency Growth and Building Value Before the Sale) we discussed navigating this winding road by making sure your agency is following the 40% rule. The rule is simple: No more than 40% of your agency’s revenue can come from one client.
Now I know there are a lot of small agencies out there that got their start by landing one big client that contributes most of the revenue to your overall agency, and naturally, we all want more clients. While it’s easy for me here to say “diversify!” I fully understand that it is entirely something else to put into practice. There are so many reasons why you need to live by this 40% Rule and do everything you can to make sure your agency isn’t in this typical position, but here’s a few:
A wide building is sturdier than a tall one.
- I would much rather have 10 equal size clients, rather than 2 super clients because turnover happens. It does not matter how great your service is, how good your ROI is for your client, or how much the client loves you as a person, they are going to turnover at some point. It’s a lot easier to manage turnover from a revenue and employee standpoint if we have 10 clients, rather than 2.
Having to cut employees because of a lack of work is simply the worst.
- It breeds resentment and negativity in those employees that get to stay, and it’s an all around un-fun part of business. If we can mitigate that need by having 10 smaller clients rather than 2 large, we can not only give our employees peace of mind, but we can show them that we are doing everything we can to give them stability and room to grow.
We aren’t beholden to bad deals.
- I’m sure we have all at some point left an initial fee negotiation, in the beginning, feeling like we made a good deal, only to find out that this client is way more work than we bargained for. We then either need to change the scope of the work or raise the fee. This normally goes over like a lead balloon, so we need to be able to walk away from a bad deal, and by having the account only represent 10% of your revenue verse 60%, you give yourself the ability to actually walk away if necessary.
It makes our agency more valuable.
- Charles Fallon of SI Partners talked specifically how when acquirers are evaluating agencies and looking at their value multiplier, that number goes up if client diversity exists. This means that any acquirer is willing to pay you more money for your agency if they can see a larger range of clients by revenue and type. More money is a good thing, right?
If you find yourself in a position of being over that 40% threshold, it’s probably time to begin thinking about your new business development plans. Waiting for referrals will get you killed, so putting a new business process in place that can consistently generate new clients for your team should be an absolute priority for any agency that wants to be more stable, more predictable, and more valuable.
As an agency executive, it’s important to always have options for the future. If 2017 is the year you’re looking to increase the value of your agency, either for agency growth or a potential sale, this webinar will show you just how to do that. We’ll be co-hosting with Charles Fallon at SI Partners, a worldwide expert on all things Agency M&A. Whether you are looking to sell your agency now, or simply want to understand the options available, Charles will break down the steps required to strategically grow your agency and attract premium value.
We’ll cover specific topics like:
- What the acquirer landscape looks like, and how it’s evolving.
- Investors types and new market entrants.
- The different types of acquisition deals available today.
- What you need to do to attract a premium offer.
- How to find a strategic growth partner.
Driving Agency Growth and Building Value Before the Sale from Catapult New Business on Vimeo.
At some point, every new business person has been presented with this situation: A prospect comes to us that heard great things about what our agency does from a previous client and they think we are a great fit for them. Unfortunately, we don’t think it’s a great fit. They could be too small of a partner, in an industry we don’t want to work in, or located in an inconvenient region of the world. Whatever the reason is that they aren’t a perfect fit, we are left with the problem of needing new business, having an “easy” win standing in front of us, but possibly taking on another client that could be more pain than they are worth. What do you do?
Whether or not you choose to work with the referral above, there is an easy solution to the dilemma. Actively seek new referrals and STOP WAITING for them to come to you. If you are trying to truly grow your agency this year, sitting back and waiting for those referrals will not lead to double-digit growth. We need to proactively build a referral machine that will generate conversations between our networks with companies that we actually want to work with. So how do we go about doing this?
Creating a true referral machine has a ton of different pieces that incorporate almost every piece of your agency. Your marketing, sales, account management, executive team, and social presence all need to be aligned in order to really build a scenario where referrals produce themselves naturally in an organic way. If you want a great book on referrals, I would recommend “The Referral Engine” by John Jantsch. While he has gone through many of the points above, the one that I believe is most applicable for my new business directors and easiest to institute immediately is the idea that “the most easily referred companies are naturally social”.
So what is “naturally social”? In the new business world, to me it means that you are creating content that invites conversation, telling stories via blogs or video, working with partners to deliver content that is of value, and most importantly, actively having conversations within your immediate and extended networks. The last part is where we tend to see people who fall off the most, reaching that extended network. We all work to build these LinkedIn networks, and then we find ourselves only really “liking” content or posts that come from those that we know the closest. Well, those folks are already the most likely to send us a referral if they come across one, right? What I want to push my new business directors to do is find specific companies that they want to work with and then utilize those extended (and less used) network contacts to generate a conversation. There’s a really simple process that you can take advantage of tomorrow to do this:
- Build a list of prospect companies
- Search each company in LinkedIn and find their most applicable contact for prospecting that is also a 2nd-degree connection.
- Identify your shared connection with that prospect and request a referral directly to that prospect company from your shared connection.
Seems simple right? Here’s the key part – make the referral EASY for your shared connection. Too often we either a) simply don’t ask our shared connection for a referral or b) we put the onus completely on them in terms of coming up with the reason for the referral. The idea here is that we want the referral ask to be specific, time sensitive, and pre-written for our connection. This allows them to simply forward on a message with as little work as possible for them. And because your message is time sensitive in nature, we have a built-in urgency to the request for referral.
Here’s an example:
I was hoping you could help me.
You’re connected to (John Smith) of (Company) and I have some (Valuable Marketing Intelligence) that I’d like to put into their hands, and it’s a bit time sensitive.
Since you two are connected on LinkedIn, I hoped you’d be open to introducing me today with the message below? Feel free to edit as you desire:
It’s been a while since we last connected – hope all is well! I thought you’d be interested in this introduction to Matt Chollet (cc’d) who has competitive market intelligence on (Company) that he wanted to ensure got into your hands today – it’s time sensitive and may impact your competitive media investments in Q3.
I’ll leave it with you both from here, hoping this is a valuable connection for you.
The essence of the above sample is the fact that all your referrer has to do is hopefully copy and paste two sentences, sign their name, and move on with their day. By making it simple like this, you take away the hurdle of creating a whole new message themselves.
By building a very simple, straightforward referral plan like this, with a straightforward referral request, we can begin to proactively create referrals around prospects that we actually want to work with. Hopefully, this pushes us from a place of hoping and wish for referrals, to actively pursuing and engaging referrals on a daily basis that can convert the types of prospects we really want to work with.
At the beginning of every year we all make resolutions to change something about ourselves either personally or professionally. If you’re an agency, you’re likely vowing to be more proactive with your new business resolutions and strategy in 2017. Don’t worry, about 85% of all agencies are in the exact same boat.
For any resolution to be successful however, there must be a plan in place and accountability against it. Throughout our discussion we will cover the following problem areas and also share KPI’s to ensure you’re tracking your progress.
- Dedicate more time to solely focus on new business
- Make a more compelling first impression via email
- Leave a phone message someone might actually respond to
- Build a social referral machine
- Write better content for our website
5 Resolutions Agencies Need to Make (and Keep) in 2017! from Catapult New Business on Vimeo.