The Agency New Business Blog


Prospecting In Difficult Times

Posted by Mark Duval on May 15, 2020 6:27:00 AM
Find me on:


In the face of an evolving crisis, it’s important to keep a positive, problem-solving mindset, and to continue to project success. There is another side of that coin, however. If everyone is putting a positive spin on how agency new business is faring, it invites anything from over-optimism to delusion. Some agencies may be doing well, but many aren’t.

It’s clear from the mass agency layoffs and the latest industry performance that even the best agencies are experiencing difficulties. R3 Worldwide found agency new business is down globally 29.9% in Q1, with no projected improvement for Q2 (Campaign). So lets have an honest discussion about agency new business right now. 

Here’s the bare truth of my own experience: as the weeks pass and we continue to slog through this pandemic, it seems to be increasingly difficult to register success with outreach.

prospecting in difficult times COVID-19

Acknowledge new business is more difficult now

It’s not the target industry or the companies or the people, and it’s not the agencies or their quality of work or their right to win the business. It’s just harder to get through to people right now. I have had numerous conversations with agency owners and CEOs who are trying hard to break through during this time. 

Getting up every day and pushing through the no’s has always been a challenge—but one those of us who do new business are prepared for. The current situation of getting up and pushing through our activities for the day and not receiving any feedback, any response, is a bit of a tougher pill to swallow.

A lot of companies don’t have a budget for new projects right now, and many marketers are still working remotely and have atypical access to email and phone calls. Even the brands that have enjoyed a “pandemic boost” aren’t necessarily entertaining marketing calls. They may be overwhelmed by new challenges and rapid growth, or they may feel they are doing so well that they don’t need to invest in additional marketing right now (like Peloton). 

So things are hard. Now what?

The obvious temptation when something is difficult is to push it off in favor of something— anything—else. Putting prospecting on the back burner is one of the most common ways agency leaders go wrong with their new business efforts. 

Though we are acknowledging the challenges of prospecting in the current environment, it’s no time to give up. Mindset plays an essential role here. If you go into something expecting negative results, it quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now is not the time to tell yourself your efforts will not result in a good outcome. True, your efforts may not generate immediate business—it may be more long term. 

Simply having a conversation and opening the door to a future relationship is a realistic goal right now. But not doing any prospecting now will get you nothing in the pipeline for the future.

Opportunities come through connections. Proactively making connections with the companies you want to work with through prospecting will yield the best outcomes for your agency’s future business. 

First things first

I have written previously about having the right to ask for someone's business or even a conversation.

Let’s assume you do have a strong body of work within the targeted industry. Let’s also assume your messaging is one of helping, perhaps sharing some ideas and thoughts on how you can help their brand through these times. Great; all the necessary boxes are checked. (If not, that’s probably your first problem).

Unfortunately, you’ve gone through your “normal” prospecting process and still have not gotten anywhere. What now? Go back to review the best practices for selling agency services now and make sure you are doing them. 

If all else fails, find ways to work through discouragement

If you know that you are doing everything right and you are actively testing what you are doing for ongoing improvement, you may need to elevate your patience and persistence. That’s easier said than done, especially when the wins are fewer and farther apart. Here are some tips I’ve relied on over the years. 

Eat the Frog prospecting past discouragement in difficult times

Eat the frog

A friend of mine used to classify his tasks and use them to break up his day. He would separate the ones that he might find easier or more enjoyable from others that were more difficult and unlikely to provide immediate gratification – such as prospecting. He will tackle those less desirable tasks first. He had a name for it: worst things first. 

It's like the book by Brian Tracy, Eat That Frog. Simply put, if you know you will be eating a big bullfrog that day, there’s no sense in procrastinating. Open up, chomp it down, and move on with your day. 

The book came out in 2007. It is a simple, quick read, but it has straightforward advice. 

One thing I took from it is that we often fall into the mental trap of assuming that people who are enjoying more success than us are better at what they do. This is not true; often it's just that they are doing things differently.

Another practical point from the book is that the “ability to concentrate single-mindedly on your most important task (often that task is prospecting), to do it well and to finish completely, is the key to success and achievement.”

More advice for difficult sales days:

  • Visualize future wins. This goes back to having a positive mindset and not allowing yourself to be so conditioned by a lack of response and hearing “no” that you expect it.
  • Remain confident in your ability to provide solutions that can help the prospect and resolve their challenges.
  • Take time to manage your stress and reduce anxiety, especially in the current crisis. Get outside and take a walk in the fresh air and sunshine, catch up with an old friend, or watch a comedy to trigger some laughter.
  • Continue sharing ideas and best practices with peers and be open to incorporating new strategies and tactics.
  • Focus more on relationship building than closing sales. Not only is it the only option in many cases, but it is likely a more successful approach.
  • Don’t take it personally. Inability to close new business right now most likely has nothing to do with you or your agency. If you can extract anything positive from your outreach (a connection, a referral, the possibility of future business), take that as a definite win. And if you botched your approach and you know it, learn from it.


If the current circumstances are testing your sales confidence and will to persevere, find a way to work through the discouragement. In the future, you’ll be grateful you stuck with it.

If you have other tips, thoughts, or would like to discuss agency new business in the current environment, reach out to me here

New Call-to-action

Read more:


Image credits: Photo by Julien Riedel on Unsplash; Photo by Austin Santaniello Bucholtz on Unsplash

Topics: Agency New Business

Recent Posts

New Post: