Do you have a plan to support your agency’s new business efforts this year?
If you’ve re-assessed your agency’s position going into the new year and are poised for profitability in the current landscape, you’ve already done the heavy lifting. Now, what can you do to generate interest and strengthen your agency’s new business efforts?
We often talk about the importance of having a solid underlying strategy to guide you towards your best future business partners (and away from those who will drain your agency in every respect). That’s still a necessity, as is the new business drudgery of cold-calling and emailing. But what about all the other activities and elements that help support a healthy new business pipeline?
This post takes a more holistic view of agency new business, exploring ways to level-up your new business efforts and support agency growth. It includes “low-hanging fruit” items and activities that most will find more enjoyable than cold calling (I know; that’s a low bar). Use this list to identify areas of opportunity and map out your agency’s monthly, quarterly, and annual activities and goals.
Thought leadership and educational content:
A 2019 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study by Edelman and LinkedIn revealed the high value of thought leadership. Fifty-eight percent of business decision-makers indicated thought leadership had directly led them to award business to an organization. The study also found thought leadership drives growth with existing customers, creates access to high-value decision-makers, can help command premium pricing, and generates RFP opportunities.
Thought leadership can also generate inbound leads, increase agency visibility, and elevate search rankings.
Here are some venues where agency leaders can build their personal brands in support of new business:
- Relevant industry trade publications (here is a list of industry news and trade magazines from Rutgers University Library)
- Business publications (such as Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, etc.)
- Your agency’s blog
- Guest posts and articles for other blogs and eNewsletters that reach your target audience
- White papers and eBooks available on your agency’s website
- Webinars and podcasts available on your agency’s website and social channels (consider guest opportunities here as well)
- On social media, by being involved in relevant groups and providing thoughtful, insightful contributions
You may also consider publishing a book in your area of expertise and generating PR opportunities around it.
Networking and growing your reach:
Whether regional, national, or international, specific to one of your service areas, target industries, or the agency world, there are many avenues for you to increase the visibility of your agency and its team members.
- Joining advertising agency associations, organizations, and networks (Michael Gass compiled a list of some here)
- Participating in a trade association event for an industry you have experience in (Marketing Mentor has a list of trade associations and trade shows here)
- Marketing conferences (See this post for recommended agency-specific conferences)
- Local and regional business organizations and events
- Guest publishing and guest speaker opportunities for any of the aforementioned groups (find tips for doing that here)
Here are some considerations when choosing events:
- Which events are attended by the right people in the right roles from the right types of organizations that you want to connect with?
- Which events and organizations are the best match for your goals and making meaningful connections with attendees?
- What other speakers and organizations will be represented at these events?
Establish credentials and trust:
Your prospective clients want to know why they should trust your agency with their business. It’s important to establish your agency’s credentials and build trust.
Here are some things you can do to build trust on your website:
- Feature client logos
- Include client quotes and recommendations (TIP: consider sprinkling these throughout your site versus siloing them on a single page for increased visibility)
- Highlight agency news on your website. It doesn’t really make sense to have articles about your agency’s work published elsewhere but nowhere to be found on your website. Spread the word about your agency’s accomplishments!
- Highlight your agency’s awards (TIP: share credit and the spotlight with your clients to generate goodwill and make your agency more attractive to potential business partners)
You can send out lead generation emails all day long, but if you don’t have the work—and the results—to get prospects’ attention, you’re not likely to get far.
Here are some of the most important assets you need to support your new business efforts:
- First and foremost, your agency’s website. Specifically, the homepage, “about us” page, service pages, case studies, and lead generation offers, blogs, or videos, if those apply. Areas to look at include positioning, UX, performance, and speaking to your target audience. Learn about optimizing your website for new business here.
- The importance of your case studies can’t be overstated. These may be webpage-based, in a pdf, or video-based. It is not a bad idea to make yours available in multiple formats. Also, consider whether you need to track views or add protection features to your case studies to have greater control over who accesses them. Learn about creating compelling agency case studies here.
Some key points about case studies:
1) It’s not enough to show the work you did without providing context about the problem you solved and KPIs to prove it.
2) Curate and organize your case studies for maximum effectiveness:
- Retire older case studies (older than five years is a good rule of thumb, but when rolling up relevant work in a single category case study, it is acceptable to reference older work as long as there is also newer work included).
-Tag case studies by client, industry, type of work, and problem solved. That way, when prospects are on your website, they can easily sort the case studies to find the ones most relevant to them.
-Use the right language and terminology. What might have been referred to as “electronics” in a prior decade may be more appropriately called “tech” in 2020.
- Not all agencies use these, but you may want to have some polished one-pagers available in digital and print formats to provide an overview of the agency and its services.
- We can’t forget the decks on decks on decks! Surely your agency has presentations and capabilities decks to share with prospective clients. Ensure that yours follows best practices, is the appropriate tool for the task at hand, and is approached with the right sense of purpose. Learn more about improving your capes deck here.
TIP: Your 100-page deck will play better with your mom than an actual prospect.
In my experience, agencies seem to downplay the role of SEO for their websites. There just aren’t a lot of agencies who seem to be winning at it. But the truth is that many prospects do start their search online. It is important to understand who you are competing against online so that you can help your agency stand out and be easily found.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Optimize your agency's online presence for SEO (and brand consistency)
- Look at agency directories as an additional source of attention for your agency (noting that most agency directories rank higher in Google search results than individual agencies)
- Consider investing in online advertising to bring your agency to the forefront when people search on relevant key terms (whether on search engines or social platforms)
- Invest in PR (this falls under other categories as well, but is valuable for generating traffic and visibility for your website)
- Encourage participation in social platforms (LinkedIn, Quora, Twitter, Medium, Instagram, etc.) This is another thought leadership activity that does double-duty for agencies by growing your digital footprint and increasing visibility online.
Strengthening client relationships:
The poor quality of client/agency relationships has been the source of much misery for agencies, specifically in the realm of agency new business. If you have not evaluated your internal processes and looked at implementing tactics to strengthen those relationships and rebuild trust, why not?
Here are a few ideas:
- Formalize retention efforts by including clients in agency events, updating them on agency news, and inviting them regularly to lunch or drinks
- Conduct regularly-scheduled “relationship health checks” to understand what has gone well and what has not, and intercept problems early on
- When clients are happy, ask for referrals
- Use lead nurturing to farm former clients and lost opportunities for future business
New business capabilities development:
As much as agency leaders insist that they will be “golden” if only they could get in the room, experience has shown that is not the case. Getting in the room is not the end goal, but the starting point. It just means you are on the field; you still have to get the ball across the field before you can hope to score a goal.
How can you improve your chances of making it to the goal post and closing a deal?
- Hone your sales skills (not the “selling at me” kind of sales that everyone hates, but the consultative, asking thoughtful and strategic questions, and listening more than talking kind of sales).
- Build up your presentation skills.
- Develop your negotiation skills. Additionally, being versed in pricing strategy and remuneration options will help put you on equal footing during contract negotiations.
- Evaluate your team’s equal business stature. If you have any doubts, consider investing in a consultant who specializes in executive presence.
Another area where you might increase your agency’s new business productivity is through your CRM. If you use Hubspot, Salesforce, or any other CRM, chances are good that your team is not using it as effectively as possible. To get a more accurate view of your agency’s new business outlook, forecast more effectively, or just to streamline your processes, consider investing in expert guidance.
Agency management is not an area typically included in lists of agency new business activities. It should be. When agencies are fiscally disorganized in terms of tracking KPIs and aren’t managing their client and employee relationships effectively, conditions are not optimal for agency new business. Of course, in the real world, businesses often operate in sub-optimal conditions. Still, when an agency is in disarray, it can only be hidden behind a curtain for so long. Problems tend to creep out and negatively impact agency culture and the agency’s business relationships.
Here are a few examples of how agency management issues can affect new business:
- When agency owners are bad at delegating activities that can be done by others, they may make themselves unavailable for new business tasks that require their attention.
- Many agency owners still don’t track their KPIs. If you don’t have that information, you can make educated guesses, but you don’t actually know which resources are going where, and which accounts are best for your agency. That information is needed to shape your underlying new business plan and to identify what types of business you should pursue and avoid going forward. Without it, you are more likely to repeat the same headache-inducing problems you’ve had to date with less profitable and overly-demanding clients.
- Agency leaders help set the tone for agency culture and employee satisfaction. At a minimum, that impacts employee retention, hiring, and client relationships—all of which touch the world of new business. So, how are you developing yourself as an agency leader? Not for yourself, but for the health of your business.
If you are concerned about your agency’s operations and management, you might look at the Agency Management Institute or Sakas & Co. for guidance. Drew McLellan (of AMI) has shared his expertise with us here, as has Karl Sakas (of Sakas & Co.) here and here.
Any of the categories identified here would be a worthwhile investment opportunity for agency growth. Determining the best place to start will depend on your agency’s unique strengths, priorities, and available resources.
If you can’t pick, I suggest choosing something achievable, even if it’s just one new thing that you can commit to taking on this year. There is nothing wrong with making incremental changes in manageable bites. Agency new business is a long game. If you are pushing forward and gaining momentum at any speed, you are better off than many agency leaders who are too consumed with client business to invest in their agencies.
- Building Agency New Business With Thought Leadership
- Why Agencies Can’t Count on Blogging Their Way to New Business
- Get Your Agency Ready to Generate New Business in a New Year
- How to Survive in a Project-Based Agency Landscape
- How to Make Agency Directories Part of Your New Business Strategy
Image credits: holistic approach to growing agency new business © Adobe Stock/Smileus; thought leadership for agency new business © Adobe Stock/jakkapan; boring capes deck © Adobe Stock/Prostock-studio; agency culture agency training © Adobe Stock/Photographee.eu