How agencies can improve their new business

The Drum Network: Business Jam - Sept 21st 2016

Last week I attended the first of what I’m sure will be a very successful series of Business Jam events run by Richard Draycott (The Drum Network), who kindly included Kiwi Gray on their ‘Boosting Sales Discussion Panel’. The room was full of eager, ambitious agencies, looking for tips and advice on how to grow their businesses. Alongside me on the panel were Chris Donnelly (Verb Brands), Karl Heasman (Greycott Consulting) and Peter Czapp (The Wow Company).

The aim of the panel was to provide event attendees with insights and thoughts into how to score some quick wins in terms of boosting sales, winning news business and getting more business from current clients.

Peter kicked off with an interesting point about “think what would happen if agencies put as much effort into their current clients as they do into new business! Why do agencies focus so much time on ‘new’ new business rather than maximising opportunities that exist in their current client list? Are too many agencies still seduced by the thrill of the chase?”

I tend to agree with Peter here, there is not enough focus and rigour put into growing existing accounts and I believe this is because a lot of account handlers aren’t challenging their clients and showing strong leadership.  If they were to spend more time getting under the skin of their clients’ businesses, then I think they would naturally find opportunities to upsell and cross-sell services. This should also be accompanied by proper targets and roadmaps with the account manager also being able to adapt to a ‘hunter’ mind-set rather than the submissive farmers we have created in the modern agency.

Here are my responses to the other questions Richard posed around new business: 


What are the most common mistakes agencies make when devising/implementing a new business strategy? How often should an agency review/revise its business development strategy?

A common mistake is that agencies just think about themselves and what they want to say as opposed to what clients want to hear.  They don’t tell stories and they don’t treat themselves like brands. If they took a bit more of their own advice when it came to marketing themselves, they would be much better off. 

If you’ve got a strong new business strategy in place, then it should only require a review once or twice a year. Obviously it would require tracking much more frequently than that and the success or failure of that strategy should dictate how much work needs to be done to change it.

The other huge mistake is that marketing, PR and new business efforts often go off in completely different directions.  It’s about creating a proper B2B marketing ecosystem to help build brand reputation and deliver a strong sales pipeline.


Should agencies be weary of the recent Brexit vote in terms of reviewing/renewing their new biz strategy? What new opportunities/challenges does this present?

We are currently writing a thought leadership piece about ‘brands with purpose’ and it summarises how brands with a purpose do better, particularly in times of economic uncertainty, than those without a purpose.  Essentially, it talks about human decision-making being centred around emotion and brands needing to show emotional intelligence in order to be more meaningful in people’s lives.  This can be applied to agency brands showing their understanding of how Brexit is impacting their clients’ businesses.  Building a brand is all about defining your purpose and communicating it clearly, going far beyond what you do and focusing more on why you do it. It also means getting your entire organisation to buy into your vision. And if you can communicate your purpose clearly, then you’ll be much more attractive to brands.


What do you feel are the most effective ways to generate new business leads and is this changing in the digital age?

We believe the most effective way of generating leads is through a well thought out B2B marketing ecosystem and landing your message consistently and timely across your available touchpoints.  I think now, more than ever, brands couldn’t be more uncertain and scared with the speed of change in technology. There used to be a time, long before my time in the industry, when agencies were brave. They stood up as leaders and clients relied on them. When we interview brands, we hear that they are looking for that same guidance and support and it’s the agencies who are brave enough to demonstrate leadership that will be most successful.  

Whether you do this through content, thought leadership or networking, you need to be putting out a strong, differentiating message. As David Droga once said "For me, bravery is putting your beliefs ahead of self-preservation because self-preservation – for yourself, your career, the agency – clouds everything. Do what you think is right not what is expected. Put your beliefs ahead of self-preservation." 


How important is the sales pipeline? How can you stop it running dry?

It is essential.  And you can stop it running dry by not having such short-term thinking. When I tell people I’m a new business specialist, they think I’m going to start cold calling, hammering the phones and booking them a meeting next week - it’s madness.  Kiwi Gray is all about the long game and planning for the future. If you’re starting to think now about how a brand like Sports Direct needs to embrace technology, then you might get a meeting in 2 years’ time. Agencies need to be having lots of relevant conversations with brands all of the time and not just focusing on the immediate future.  This way you can develop a short, medium and long terms sales pipeline.


Where does face to face networking fit into the process nowadays?

It’s important, but I hear from too many people that it’s the ‘be all and end all’ of new business.  Agency founders and clients are very busy and unfortunately don’t get a huge amount of time to network.  By all means fit it into the schedule, but don’t kill yourself over it, especially if you’re based outside of London and have kids you’d like to spend time with.  There are other ways to be successful in new business. 

Being highly selective about the events you choose is important as some can be a complete waste of time.  Once you’ve identified your ideal prospect profile, it will enable you to push hard on event organisers to ensure they have those type of people attending.  Another way of maximising event attendance is by going along to where you advocates or recommenders might be e.g. clients, other suppliers, trade bodies.  Either way you should be attending with a before, during and after plan in mind and a target for what you would like to achieve.


What role does/should social media play in new business development?

Not as much as it should.  I think social can play a huge role in making agency brands relevant in clients’ lives and telling stories. They also allow agencies to create digestible content and entice prospects in different ways.  I think it’s a completely untapped opportunity for agencies. They should be thinking about running creative campaigns and really trying to engage with prospects.  Again, it’s a part of the B2B ecosystem and cannot exist without the support of the activity around it.  It’s also a great way to amplify your annual content calendar and really convey the personality of the agency and what you’re like to work with.


Do agencies approach new business strategically enough or are they still quite scatter gun?

From what I can see it’s all quite scatter-gun and last minute.  They often ask themselves the wrong questions or spend time chasing the clients that are completely wrong for them.  Everyone seems to get enticed by the big brands and do not do enough homework or put enough thought into prospecting and identifying who would be a great long-term partner for them.  There appears to be a real lack of sales ‘know-how’ in our industry.


 Does cold calling still work in the age of email and social media or should agencies stop doing it?

It can.  It can have a very low hit rate and the reason it fails is normally the agencies fault for not supporting the caller with the right story and enough relevant content. If you’ve got something differentiating and interesting to say, then a client will listen.  All too often, agencies are contacting brands without enough research or a real view on how they can help that business. You also have to think about your sales cycle, value of deals etc.  It won’t work for everyone, but it can still be effective if done in the right way.


What are your thoughts on pitching in terms of investment, time, resource etc.?

Before agencies commit to pitching, they must put in enough time to qualify the opportunities.  Too often agencies chase after something they are never going to win because they are too afraid to ask the right questions. If a client won’t meet you face to face, then why bother? It goes back to being brave again. We need to stop bowing down to client demands. If they want a long term agency partner, that is going to be with them through thick and thin and help define the future of their brand, then they need to put in just as much effort as you. You don’t want to come across as desperate, it’s not a great start to any relationship, especially when they appear not to be particularly interested.


If you were to give attendees 3 pieces of advice that they can take back to their office today and implement what would that be? 

  1. Call me.  Just kidding! No… look at your client’s latest brand strategy and try and apply at least half of the thinking and methodology you find there to your own agency brand.
  2. Think about your purpose, your reason for being, what gets you out of bed in the morning and why people should listen to you.
  3. Look at your best long standing client relationships.  Deconstruct them as to what makes them so good, write it down and then set about trying to find more of them.


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