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October 16, 2021

By Mark Duval - The Duval Partnership

We often encounter misperceptions about agency new business in the course of our work. They are persistent — and even dangerous — because they can hold your agency back from achieving its best new business outcomes. Here are five of the most common misperceptions.

Misperception #1: Agency New Business is Not Sales

It is. Sure, we can split hairs about the nuances between business development, sales, and new business, but, for the most part, we’re talking about the same thing. And yet, the advertising industry tends to shy from the concept of “sales” when it comes to growing agencies.

At the end of the day, sales is about closing. And many agencies fumble opportunities before they get closed. When you embrace sales as a relevant tactic, you open the door to information and training that can help your team get better at selling, pitching, and negotiating (a.k.a. “growing your agency”).

Misperception #2: More RFPs = More New Business

New business is a game of strategy, not odds. You can’t win more of it by chasing every opportunity that comes your way. Considering the amount of time and effort that goes into RFPs and pitching, that approach is also not sustainable as an agency’s primary source of new business generation.

A smarter approach is to nurture new business through a variety of channels and close more opportunities outside of a formal pitch process. When pursuing RFPs, be selective. To get an acceptable return on your investment of resources, pursue only those opportunities you are most likely to win. Focusing on fewer RFPs also allows you to give each one your agency’s very best, so you can win at every touch.

Before investing five figures worth of work into an RFP, be sure that you’ve completed these two sales tasks:

  •     Define your agency’s target clients. Who are your most profitable, best clients? What do they have in common? How about your least desirable clients?
  •     Create and implement a qualifying process.

Don’t waste time on RFPs until you have qualified your prospect. Learn more about what questions you should be asking before you respond to an RFP here.

Misperception #3: More is Better When it Comes to Positioning Your Agency

A simple Google search reveals the hundreds of agencies that claim to specialize in lists on lists on lists of services. What kind of specialization is that?

Listing more and broader areas of specialization is not only visually overwhelming, but it’s also not credible. Today, being smaller and specialized is more of a selling point than a drawback. Bigger does not = better. And neither does “more.”

Your agency’s website doesn’t need to list every service it’s ever done or would hypothetically be willing to do. Instead, list what it legitimately owns.

Of course, additional services can always be provided through partnerships, referrals, or freelance talent, whether under the agency’s banner or not. But it’s unnecessary to advertise those options. If your agency doesn't have the internal resources to support its list of services, who is served by offering them? Is it authentic? Is it helpful or different? Not really.

Agency leaders, especially at smaller and small to mid-sized agencies, often struggle to reign in their capabilities lists and the type of businesses they serve. They are afraid of losing potential business by limiting their options — but failing to put a stake in the ground and define what your agency does best causes more lost opportunities.

Most agencies should not try to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” Very few have the resources to pull it off. And those that do face other challenges, such as overhead and bureaucratic processes.

So resist the temptation to “supersize” your agency. Accurately defining your agency’s strong suits will help connect you with prospects who seek what you offer, make it easier to close opportunities, and support better client relationships.

Misperception #4: More Leads = More New Business

Some agency lead generation services capitalize on the perception that more leads are better. Seeing more leads reassures agency owners; it makes them feel like “things are happening,” and they are on the path to ROI. It usually follows guarantees of X number of leads per month — which is why we refuse to make such promises.

Months later, many of those same agency leaders are disillusioned, finding they’ve paid for a bunch of crap leads and wasted time in meetings that were never going to result in new business. Why? The prospects and opportunities were never qualified. They weren’t the right people or the right companies, or they weren’t legitimately interested. Those opportunities never really existed.

Agency new business is a long game. If you seek speed and quantity, you might find it. But process and strategy are more important than speed and quantity when it comes to lead sourcing. One or two of the right leads are much more valuable than a list of unqualified “leads” that will likely lead to wasted resources.

Focusing on the right leads instead of more leads can help your agency grow. They are more likely to result in a closed deal, more likely to be profitable, more likely to lead to a long client relationship, and more likely to help you generate future business.

Misperception #5: New Business Can be Solved by [ _____ ]

Everyone wants a shortcut to new business. Bonus points if it doesn’t involve actually selling. Unfortunately, there is no quick and easy solution to generate new business. While many tactics can play a supporting role in new business generation, none are a magical solution. Heavy lifting is still required.

Here are some tactics we’ve heard can “solve" new business — and none of them can!

Blogging. Blogs never have and never will close a deal. Your blog can boost SEO and demonstrate expertise to support credibility. It may even create a steady trickle of variable quality, early-stage “leads.” But blogging will never be a magical fix for new business.

Social Media. As far as sales and lead generation are concerned, social media is best used as another venue to make connections. However, the easy paths to connect are often ineffective, and more meaningful connections aren’t usually made quickly. Spewing out streams of posts and sending spammy emails doesn’t work. And getting your “connect requests” accepted isn’t meaningful.

Connection attempts often fail because they are tone-deaf, one-sided, or self-serving rather than offering something of interest or value. It’s a slow path to gain someone’s attention and trust to make a genuine connection on social media. It can be done by leveraging shared interests and common connections. But it’s certainly not a shortcut to agency new business.

Being Everyone's Friend. Popularity isn’t the same thing as sales ability. It can help to have a lot of connections, and it can help to have great communication skills and charisma. But none of those things mean you can sell. You don’t have to be an extrovert — or even likable — to be good at selling.

The brand-side people you need to speak with aren’t interested in being BFFs with the dozens of salespeople who reach out to them every day. Not even the super cool ones. More likely, they will regard your attempts to befriend them early in the sales process as amateurish. Don’t sacrifice equal business stature to make a sale. Remember that you need to be trustworthy and credible, and it’s your agency’s ability to show compelling proof of results that matters most.

Incredible Presentation Skills. This is the “just get us in the room (and we’ll magically secure the bag)” mentality. Sure, great presentation skills can only help you in pitches. But let’s not confuse what they can do. Showmanship will not compensate for underwhelming creative and lack of proof points.

More importantly, you may have already lost the pitch before you walked into the room. If you didn’t do your due diligence on the client, the opportunity, and your odds before you got there, nothing else matters. Preparation goes further than the ability to “wing it” with charm.

Doing Great Work. By all means, do great work! But thinking that great work alone will organically generate all the new business opportunities you need is flawed thinking. Of course, if your work is truly that great, it WILL lead to new business through inquiries and referrals. The problem is, it’s a passive approach to new business that leaves too much to chance. Your agency will have an empty pipeline (in an industry where opportunities often take 6-18 months to close), and it will leave you at the mercy of whatever comes to your door.

It’s better to be proactive, define the type of business you do and don’t want, and actively nurture relationships that align with your agency’s goals. Additionally, your agency still needs to have the processes and skills in place to transform leads (from any source) into closed new business.

In short, there is no magic bullet to crack the code of agency new business. The only proven path includes a solid sales strategy, a defined sales process, sales activities that lead to meetings with defined targets, and having the skills to close.

Parting thoughts

Holding on to misperceptions about new business can only hold your agency back. If you still subscribe to any of these ideas, try letting them go. Discover how much more efficient you can become while creating better new business outcomes.

 

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