Sales (or business development) continues to be a challenge for many agencies. Whatever your opinion is of sales, by avoiding the common mistakes we’ve identified here, you can improve your agency new business outcomes and create stronger growth for your agency.
- One Person Sells (vs. Sales as an Organization-wide Tactic)
It can make sense to have people with certain personalities and aptitudes responsible for lead generation and closing if that is more conducive to sales success. However, if your agency delegates all sales and business development efforts to one or two specific people, it removes all responsibility from other team members — which can result in missed opportunities. New business is an agency-wide function. With a little training, everyone on your team should be able to recognize and handle upsell opportunities. They should also know when it is appropriate to hand off conversations to other team members so that sales don’t fall between the cracks.
- No Business Strategy or Strategy Not Applied Consistently
Everything about your agency should be centered around a consistent and compelling strategy. That includes (in part) your agency’s positioning and extends to which type of clients you will serve, how you will serve them, and what services you will offer to solve their problems. How is your agency different from all the other agencies?
New services and trends are constantly popping up, and while your agency must evolve to survive, the evolution should be strategic. Without a solid strategy, knee-jerk reactions to perceived opportunities can lead to chasing resources that aren’t a good fit for your agency. If you are tacking on new ad hoc services without a lot of thought as to how they fit into your existing and future strategy, it could look sloppy and confusing to prospects—not to mention misuse your resources. You don’t have to offer every new trendy service; it’s enough to be prepared to have a conversation about it and perhaps have a partner agency that specializes in that area should your client need it.
- No Biz Dev Plan or Biz Dev Plan is Not Implemented Consistently
The next step after laying out your business strategy is creating a business development plan. It should start with identified goals that are consistent with your business strategy. Next, think about how you will achieve those goals and commit to a plan with identified steps to reach them.
One of the first steps is clarifying your ideal prospect. You should be realistic about what client size, location, industries, and level of sophistication your agency can deliver superior service to. Not who you want to serve, but which types of clients can you do incredible work for and be able to impress consistently? How will you connect with these clients?
What we often find is an agency has created a new business plan but it has never been fully implemented, or at some point, it was left by the wayside so that energies could be spent on growing clients’ businesses rather than on the agency’s new business.
Business development is prone to be overlooked, particularly when it comes to tedious, repetitive tasks with little immediate gratification (such as making hours’ worth of cold calls on a weekly basis). Especially when such tasks fall to the agency executives who are pulled in many other directions, it’s easy for them to be put on the back burner temporarily. And then temporarily turns into a long-term situation, and your agency isn’t generating as many desirable new leads as it should be.
- Inconsistent or Inadequate Lead Generation Planning
Under the umbrella of your new business plan, you should incorporate plans for prospecting, or how you will generate interest. Typical strategies include: social media, blog, thought leadership content (owned, paid, earned, etc.), email, in-person events, and cold calling. You don’t have to do each of these, but pick a few, prioritizing those you believe will be the most fruitful, or the easiest to execute.
Whichever strategies you choose, everything should be very strategic; who are you writing to, why, what is your message, what action do you want them to take, and how will you encourage them to do that? There is little point in posting to social media just for the sake of posting. What image do you want to support? What conversations do you want to provoke?
Just as importantly, you must commit to executing your lead generation strategies on a consistent basis. Do the backward math. If you have to generate five new clients this year, how many conversations do you need to have, how many pitches must you deliver to close five accounts? If 85% of your calls don’t connect to a live person, and it takes an average of 18 calls to secure a conversation or disqualify, how many calls must you make each week to be able to deliver your target number of pitches and meet your annual goals? Calendar a chunk of time to make those calls every week and treat it like its sacred.
- Lack of Follow-Through
Once you’ve made a connection with an interested party, your work is far from done. Closing an opportunity is often a long process for agencies, often over a year. It is a mistake to let too much time lapse before getting back in touch with the prospect. Keep the conversation going periodically by offering helpful and relevant information. Don’t leave the next step up to them. Keep the ball in your court by letting the prospect know when you will follow up with them next—don’t ask them to reach out to you “IF they are interested.” Make follow-up easy by automating reminders for yourself to circle back at appropriate intervals.
- Website Does a Poor Job of Explaining or Selling the Agency
Agency websites make regular appearances on lists like these, and it’s for good reason. Many of them are way too heavy on creative and not heavy enough on business results. Agency websites also tend to be interchangeable. Too often it is hard to determine what exactly the agency does and who they help.
Here is a quick checklist of what should be clear to anyone visiting your site:
- what your agency does
- how it is different from other agencies
- what types of businesses you work with
- how you help them
- the business results you have generated for them
It should also highlight who is on your team, what they do, and why someone would want to work with your agency. The copy should be clear; the information should be current, the website should be fast-loading and easy to navigate. Case study results should be logically indexed and easy to find. Creative work should be accompanied by business outcomes (answer the “so what?” before it is asked).
- Chasing the Wrong Opportunities
When you cast your net, cast it carefully for the type of fish you want, not the most fish you can get. This goes back to strategy—what qualities make a prospect desirable or undesirable as a client? This should be clearly articulated so you can disqualify the wrong leads and focus your attention on the right leads. There should be a physical checklist that you run down for each prospect and evaluate them against to determine whether they are a fit for your agency.
Drew McLellan, CEO of Agency Management Institute (AMI) has said (of such checklists), “If they don’t check off the boxes of the kinds of clients that you can delight for the long run, then skip it—because it’s not about winning, it’s about keeping. Because nobody makes a lot of money the first year that they have a client. You’ve got to keep them around for long enough that you can make some money.” He suggests starting with a mandatory 75% match to your agency’s “sweet spot filter” to proceed with a prospect and increasing it to 85-90% as your agency becomes more successful.
Appreciate every person that tells you “no,” because you can’t afford to waste time chasing the wrong accounts. Disqualify whoever is not a genuine prospect as soon as you can. Use these tips to eliminate unqualified prospects and spend more time building relationships with the prospects whose business you want and can close. Doing this one thing will have a major impact on your ability to meet your year-end agency sales goals.
- Talking More Than Listening.
We’ve written about this extensively in the past. You should be focused on the prospect, not your agency. Instead of talking at them and selling, you should be trying to understand the prospect and their pain points, their needs. Good listening skills are an art. In sales, good listening skills become strategic when paired with a studied questioning process. Make time to practice conversations where you are fully engaged in listening, using clarification questions to better understand. Repeat this practice until the questions are second nature. Formalize a discovery process so that for every opportunity you are applying your questioning skills to truly understand your prospect’s business and challenges.
Do these eight things, if you aren’t already, and watch your agency’s sales improve. Let us know how these strategies work for you.
Could your agency benefit from additional new business support? Find out here:
- 15 Steps to Creating a New Business Plan
- 7 Steps to Eliminate Unqualified Agency Sales Prospects
- Sales is Not a Four Letter Word
- 6 Practical Reasons Why Your Agency Needs A Sales Process
- 10 Mistakes Agencies Make That Hurt New Business Efforts (with Drew McLellan)