The Agency New Business Blog


Your Crash Course in Agency New Business Terminology

Posted by Mark Duval on Apr 11, 2019 6:30:00 AM
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Have you ever noticed that some of the terms we use in agency new business are a little, well, wonky? Most of us use them all the time without thinking twice, but pity the new hire who comes over from another industry and is trying to keep up with the lingo. I mean, really; “tissue session,” “sizzle reel,” and “postmortem”?

That's why we’ve compiled a list of agency new business terminology for anyone who may need to reference it at some point.

Agency new business: The universe of plans, processes, and activities related to generating and closing new business opportunities for agencies.

AOR: Increasingly a dated term, being the AOR (or “Agency of Record”) at one time meant being responsible for overseeing all marketing services on behalf of a brand. Under threat by the move to more project-based work and in-housing, AORs still exist but are becoming relatively less common and more limited in scope. (See more from Brooke B. Sellas on {grow}).

seat at the table

At the table (or seat at the table): In agency new business, when we talk about “getting a seat at the table,” or “getting in the room,” we are referring to the pitch room or a conference room involving a meeting with the prospective client which could lead to closed new business. While securing this seat is itself a key goal for many agencies, in reality, it is only the beginning of the road to closing new business.

Business development: A deceptively broad term, business development roughly includes all of the ideas, initiatives, and activities across functions and departments that increase a businesses’ revenue and profitability.

Capabilities deck: An overused presentation (typically PowerPoint or Keynote) that describes why an agency is different and why the prospective client should hire them. (Yes, it could just be called a “capabilities presentation,” but someone thought “deck” was more appropriate).

Disciplined process: We use this term often when talking about the need for an agency’s approach to new business to be defined, repeatable, strategic, and consistent. The opposite of dealing with opportunities on an ad hoc basis as they occur, a disciplined process should be ongoing and proactive, like a well-oiled machine.

Filters: When we talk about filters in agency new business, we mean a series of qualifying questions that help filter out prospects who are not an ideal fit for the client agency. Filtering out these poor-fit opportunities allows agencies to focus their resources on the opportunities where they can do their best work and generate the most profit.

Ideal client: After evaluating which clients have been the most enjoyable and profitable to work with, as well as their internal resources and what future directions they want to pursue, agencies should create a profile of their ideal client. This profile may include client size, geography, industry, marketing savvy, agency experience, culture, and budget, among other factors.

In the room: See “At the table.”

Lead: Once they have indicated a genuine interest in and need for your agency’s service, a prospect becomes a lead. At this point, the salesperson must further qualify the lead through strategic questioning to determine whether there is a suitable fit and if the lead should become a sales-qualified lead (SQL).

Lead generation: There are a lot of definitions out there, but I’m going to use a slight revision of Marketo’s here: “Lead generation describes the process of stimulating and capturing interest in a product or service for the purpose of developing a sales pipeline.” Lead generation methods include emails, phone calls, speaking at conferences, etc.

performance metrics

Performance metrics (a.k.a. “Proof,” “results,”): In agency new business, when we talk about performance metrics or results, we are talking about quantitative proof. We aren’t talking about marketing campaign metrics like impressions, views, or social media likes. We want to know how the creative moved the needle for the client in terms of the bottom line. Unfortunately, these metrics are often difficult to obtain or to attribute to the agency’s campaign, so we make due with the best available evidence to illustrate results. But creative without proof is no longer acceptable when showing work, and demonstrating bottom-line impact for the agency’s client should always be the goal.

Positioning statement: Surely you know what this is...but it’s possible you are still getting it wrong. An example of an incorrectly-crafted positioning statement is one that is aspirational and not rooted in your agency’s current reality. You can read more about positioning statements from Workamajig, Hubspot, and in our earlier post.

Postmortem: When you lose or fail to close an account, a postmortem helps your team turn it into a learning opportunity by identifying what went wrong so you can avoid repeating the same missteps and do better next time. Hubspot shares their tips on effective postmortems here.

Proactive Sales Process: A proactive sales process is one where you have created a profile of your ideal clients and identified opportunities that fit those profiles and are regularly making efforts to get on their radar and establish a relationship with them so that they will consider giving some business to your agency. These consistent efforts will typically follow a defined sequence of steps. The opposite of a proactive sales process is waiting for leads to come to you, such as via website inquiry, word-of-mouth, and referrals, which is a reactive sales process. The advantages of a proactive sales process over a reactive one is that it focuses your efforts on opportunities that are best for your agency, and is less likely to result in opportunities falling between the cracks.

Prospect: A contact who has not yet been qualified and may not even be a lead. In other words, someone who represents unknown possibilities.

Qualified lead: After a lead undergoes the qualification process, with the salesperson using strategic questioning to determine the status of the opportunity, a lead will either become disqualified (nonviable) or qualified (a.k.a. “Sales Qualified,” SQL, or viable). These are the leads that new business and sales professionals will focus their efforts on, as they are most likely to result in closing desirable new business.

RFI:  An RFI (or “Request for Information”) is used to gather information from agencies about possible next steps. It is typically requested by a company before they issue an RFP.

RFP: An RFP (or “Request for Proposal”) is sent out to agencies by a company when they want to find the best agency with the best solution for a problem or challenge they are facing. Agencies then gather information and prepare customized responses offering proposed solutions. Read more about RFPs here.

Sales pipeline: A specific sequence of stages and salesperson-led actions that a lead enters and must advance through until they either drop out or complete by becoming a customer. Your sales pipeline may be represented by a pipeline report showing the value, quantity, and stages of each opportunity in your CRM.

Sizzle reel: A three to five-minute video designed to give a high-impact overview of the agency and its capabilities. As the name implies, sizzle reels are meant to inspire “wow,” and are often used as part of a pitch or sales presentation. Drawbacks of sizzle reels are that they tend to be similar and predictable (the opposite of “wow”), and it is difficult to keep them current or ensure they are highly relevant to the opportunity.

Spec (as in spec work or spec creative): No!Spec defines spec work as “...any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees.” This unpaid work is often unprotected by contract or agreement, and is, therefore, No!Spec argues, unethical. Zulu Alpha Kilo made a video showing how people in other industries react when asked to provide their work on a spec basis. Despite the controversy, spec creative still plays a role in some pitch processes.

stake in the ground

Stake in the ground: In the agency new business context, we talk about “putting a stake in the ground” in reference to defining your agency’s niche. When your positioning statement reads, “We help Healthcare and Pharmaceutical brands grow their business…,” that’s putting a stake in the ground to stand for an area of specialization. On the other hand, if your positioning statement says “We are a full-service agency that does everything you need to help you grow your business,” that is not putting a stake in the ground.

Strategic questioning: Informed by defined filters, target criteria, and ideal client profile(s), a questioning strategy should include things that will weed out poor-fit leads based on disqualifying factors, and confirm qualified leads when they are a good fit. Strategic questioning should include a lot of listening, and not be delivered as an interrogation. A skilled salesperson can integrate strategic questioning into a no-pressure conversation in a way that encourages the lead to share information that helps the salesperson extract the underlying pain points, challenges, and opportunities.

Suspect: A suspect is a contact who doesn’t have the genuine interest or means required to transition to a lead. It is important to identify and weed suspects out as early as possible because they will only consume resources that are better spent on leads. Read more about sorting prospects from suspects here.

Target criteria: Taking into consideration an agency’s ideal client profile(s) and immediate goals, the target criteria are the parameters that will define the target list(s) for a new business generation campaign.

Targets: This refers to a list of approved companies that will be contacted, based on the target criteria. Multiple contacts are typically contacted at each target company, according to certain predetermined roles (for example CIO, CMO, Director of UX, Director of Innovation, etc.).

Did you know? At The Duval Partnership, we prefer to work from smaller, customized lists of targets and tailor each point of communication to the specific contact at the target company, so that no two people are getting an identical series of communications.

Tissue session (or tissue meeting): An informal presentation of creative work or other ideas in early-stage development. Seed Factory provides a history of the term and explains why it’s important to have these meetings with both agency and client participation.

Win-rate (or close-rate): How many opportunities you close versus how many you chase. For example, if you pitch ten clients in a year, and close three of them, your pitch win-rate is 30 percent.

Parting thoughts

Agency new business occupies space at the intersection of advertising and sales, each of which has its own insider terminology. It’s probably taken for granted too often that all of the agency new business “lingo” we regularly use is well-known by all parties. With that in mind, a user’s guide is overdue. We’ll add to this list as needed in the future, and if you have other terms that you think we need to add here, let us know in the comments.

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Image credits: a seat at the table © Adobe Stock / hakinmhan; performance metrics © Adobe Stock /; stake in the ground © Adobe Stock / Pamela Au

Topics: Agency New Business

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