In recent years, I’ve noticed a pattern. It tends to occur with agencies that are part of a network or holding company—though it can happen with any agency. It is the conflation of cold leads with warm or hot leads. And it ends up hurting agencies because it can give them an inaccurate view of how they present themselves to prospective clients.
There is a world of difference between going through the new business process with a warm referral from a sister agency and trying to generate interest from someone who a) may be unfamiliar with your agency, b) wasn't expecting to hear from you, and c) perhaps isn't actively seeking new agency support.
These two points of origin are so divergent that one could argue the two types of leads should be treated differently as they progress through the sales funnel from "cold" to "warm" to "hot." Because you will likely always have to work harder for the business of someone with whom you have no relationship than you do when there are multiple layers of relationships and mutual investments already supporting your connection.
"When talking to warm leads, they may be more inclined to hear what you and your agency are up to, however, with cold leads...it's all about them. Find something in the trades. Did they win any awards? Did they recently get promoted? Did they make a post on LinkedIn that you can refer to? Talk about them to get their attention." — Jordan Mayer, Vice President, Client Engagement, The Duval Partnership
When you get a substantial portion of new business coming in as referrals, the bar is lower, as is the competition. And honestly, that’s great; it works in your favor. If your agency can get those friendly new business opportunities, take full advantage of them. But even when opportunities abound, agencies usually want to diversify their new business streams.
The danger is that these easier wins can create a sense of complacency and make an agency overconfident about how it presents in the marketplace. It may reject suggestions for improvement out of a false belief that what they have been doing already is working. If “working” is being measured by the ability to close business with “friendlies,” maybe it’s not.
Closing with friendlies is one thing. Going after new business in “the real world,” cold, can present some harsh wake-up calls. What’s your agency’s win-rate and response rate when you remove those warmer leads?
Consider these examples:
- That outdated and less-than-informative website that your friendlies were willing to look past? It will be a dead-end for cold prospects who aren’t interested in wasting their time.
- Your agency’s CPG work that friendlies were willing to believe you could duplicate for them in automotive? In the real world, nobody is going to entertain it.
- Those long-winded poetic emails explaining what your agency is *really all about* that you thought were so effective? They got a response because someone already knew they wanted to work with you despite your emails. Not because of them. In the real world, that lack of self-awareness will burn bridges.
The takeaway is that you can always benefit from looking critically at how your agency presents to prospects. Keeping your agency competitive will never hurt your warm opportunities — and it can prevent you from missing opportunities with valuable top-funnel leads when you need to generate new connections.
Expect your audience to have less interest, less patience, and less attention. When it comes to new business, write and present to those people.
Here are five ways you can improve your outreach to cold leads:
- Keep it simple. If you are writing an email to someone who may not know your agency or be interested in its services (yet), keep your message concise, customized, and focused on solving their immediate challenges. The bar to get someone's attention couldn't be higher. Most of the great things you want to share about your agency are better shared later in the funnel, after someone has expressed interest and is willing to listen.
- Mind your deliverability. Email deliverability challenges will be heightened when sending an email to someone who doesn't have you in their address book. While you might not think twice about sending attachments, links, and HTML-heavy features to a warm and friendly contact, when sending cold emails, keep in mind that you are more likely to end up in junk mail, be marked as spam, or get routed to the great abyss.
- Be timely in your response. When sending emails to cold leads, you face greater challenges. There is reduced likelihood of getting into the inbox and being seen before someone hits delete. If they read your email, will it be compelling enough to keep them reading to the end — or to click through to view your case study? If you do get a response, reply as soon as you reasonably can (during business hours). Don’t let it sit unanswered. Waiting too long to respond may cost you the potential opportunity before you have a chance.
- Don’t waste people’s time. Including your own. Outreach is a waste if you hope to go after business you don’t have a right to win. If you don't have proof of performance for work that is relevant to your lead, you don't have anything. Sharing work without context and outcomes doesn’t generate conversations. If those “reachy” tactics have worked for you before with warm and friendly leads, understand that they are so unlikely to work with cold outreach that it’s probably not worth the effort.
- Convince people with your online presence. Cold email outreach aims to create awareness and generate interest in your agency. But let's be honest: cold emails can be unwanted intrusions. If you hope to make a good impression with yours, everything you share should be helpful and inspire confidence. Your online footprint (website, social media, etc.) should be up to snuff. Should someone be interested enough to click through to learn more about your agency, everything should be in place to make a great impression, answer their questions, and make them want to have a conversation.
The reality is that your warmer, friendlier-origin leads will probably always be easier to close. When leads have existing relationships with your sister agencies, they may be more forgiving about some delays and oversights, while cold-origin leads may be quicker to judge.
That doesn't mean you should bring less than your "A game" with friendlies or that leads generated from cold outreach are less valuable. It means you should take a different approach to close leads generated from cold outreach. Keep this in mind at every touchpoint; in meetings, presentations, follow-up timeliness and follow-up strategy. Be aggressive about making the best impression consistently.
Is it worth the extra work?
Taking a proactive approach to your agency’s growth through cold outreach has important benefits that can’t be duplicated by friendly leads. When it comes to passive lead generation (such as friendly referrals), you get what you get. It may not be your first choice type of project, client, vertical, or budget. Maybe those friendly opportunities don’t give your agency equal “shine” in the limelight if it's playing a supporting role.
Cold outreach is an important path to build awareness, capitalize on a winning streak, grow opportunities in specific markets or verticals, and generally have greater control over your agency’s future client roster. It should always be part of a healthy new business program, though not the only component.
Staying competitive should be a priority for every agency. In this industry, stagnation and complacency are dangerous roads. Tackling new business challenges and securing hard-won opportunities can help keep your agency fresh and desirable.
With a realistic understanding of how prospects see your agency, you can prepare to maximize your wins no matter where your leads originated. And before you know it, the relationships you build will make your cold-origin leads indistinguishable from those that came in as friendlies.
- How to Reach Your New Business Prospects via Email in 2021
- Why Marketing Emails Don’t Generate Agency New Business
- 7 Steps to Eliminate Unqualified Agency Sales Prospects
- Is Your Agency Ready for a New Business Outreach Effort?