7 things I wish I’d known

Here are 7 things I wish I’d known when I started out in business development:


1. What’s the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned working in business development?

That business development is not just the responsibility of one person or a team, it is a culture that needs to be developed driven by an engrained behaviour in everyone in the organisation. There should be a leader and an orchestrator to this culture, with business development encompassing everything from the brand reputation, lead generation, pitch best practice and the brand experience at every touchpoint someone has with your agency. A successful business developer is someone who can manage all of these touch points with quality and consistency of experience and understands how they relate to each other. They will also be good making an impact towards and nurturing the people they come in contact with the business, turning them into referrals, leads and business opportunities.


2. What piece of advice would you give to someone who is starting out in business development?

Know if you’re a hunter or a farmer.  Hunters will have an instinct for finding new business and have the ability to close and only farmers with a commercial savviness, will be successful in business development.  A farmer without any hunter (or sales) mentality won’t be good at new business or growing client accounts.  You need to be sharp, opportunistic, tenacious and brave.  When done right it can be the most thrilling and enjoyable job in the world.  If you don’t love the chase and you don’t thrive under pressure, then it’s not for you.


3. What do you think makes you great at business development?

I think like a sales person and a marketer. I understand the importance of telling a unique and differentiating brand story and at the same time how this contributes to the numbers and ultimately to a business’s commercial success. When we put strategies together we are thinking about the entire B2B ecosystem, including everything from internal comms, to PR to prospecting. Not only are we changing the leadership and culture of an organisation, but we are thinking about the entire purchasing journey for a marketing director and consider the emotional and rational reasons they appoint agencies. There is a common belief in our industry that agencies can differentiate themselves by the services they offer or claiming they’re “award winning”, and that new business is just cold calling prospects.  This narrow minded and short term attitude is why so many agencies are unsuccessful at it and jump from idea to idea every 3 months.


4. What kept you going in business development?

The new business road has been a rollercoaster ever since I graduated from Leeds University. Like many, I fell into it but through a combination of poorly paid graphic design roles, the financial attraction of recruitment and the recession of 2008.  At first I loved the chase and the thrill of hitting sales targets among jovial comrades but then I wanted to learn more about the world of advertising and moved in-house to an agency.  In the back of my mind I was always enticed by the creatives, strategists or AMs who got to work on alluring client brands but over time I realised the benefits of new business.  You can read more about that in this blog. However, my true inspiration was when I met Lena at Vizeum who introduced me to Simon Sinek and made me rethink my entire approach to new business.  Suddenly the envy of working on other brands was gone because I had my own brands - agency brands - and I had complete autonomy and control. Lena was the first person to truly believe in me and give me the confidence I needed to succeed and it is a skill I try to take with me to inspire others.  If you're not appreciated in a new business role it can be demoralising, so you need to make sure you are working for an agency who truly believes in new business as a culture and appreciates your skills.


5. How do you make sure you stay as informed as possible?

We read all sorts of blogs and books that inspire us and often come from different aspects of life, like Hegarty on Creativity: There Are No Rules or Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott.  We also take learnings from lots of different places and industries, like the tech start up scene, and think about how we can use them to enhance what we do. The B2B world outside of agency world is fascinating and there are plenty of learnings we can take from other industries. Talking to the industry constantly and networking with agency owners, intermediaries, journalists etc. is all part of our day-to-day job.  If you’re not submersed in it, you can’t really improve it.  Technology obviously transforms the way we operate on a daily business so we do our best to keep abreast of new tech if it can save time and money or enhance the execution of our strategies.


6. What’s the importance of data to your job?

We use data to help inform us of metrics around brand reputation (internal and external audiences) and from a sales targeting perspective.  In business development, we know the importance of using accurate and up to date contact data, which is fed into CRM systems.  We look at website analytics, social and blog engagement, email conversion, sales conversion, PR coverage etc. to understand where agencies are weak and successful.  Recently we have started looking to automation tools such as Act.On and Hubspot as a way of tracking digital leads, content etc.  We also look at softer metrics from employee surveys to physical interviews we conduct ourselves with clients, suppliers and employees.  The insight is fundamentally in the data and there is no one size fits all solution, different agencies need support in different ways.


7. Can you recommend any apps or tools that help you to stay ahead of the pack?

  • We have used Upstream, Pearlfinders and ALF for business info, contact data, media spends etc. 
  • For client and employee surveys we have used The Happiness Index
  • Hubspot are really changing the game and appropriate for certain agencies/’sales’
  • MailChimp is the main email tool we advise on.
  • Hootsuite is brilliant for managing multiple social channels with consistency so you can save time posting across them all and maintain consistency
  • CRM systems - I’ve used all sorts e.g. Salesforce, ACT, Microsoft Dynamics, Batchbook, Nimble, Bullhorn but for me Pipedrive wins every time as its so flexible.
  • Agency Core have created a great project management tool designed for agencies to help streamline processes and make you more efficient – it also has an amazing user experience.
  • We’ve also developed a number of our own bespoke tools to help our clients with prospecting, new business pipeline management, reporting etc.


And if you're looking for a job in new business, which I highly recommend, then the people to speak to are: