By Bob SandersPresident, Sanders Consulting GroupNew business is the art and science of growing an agency and is often referred to as the “life blood” of an agency. If you’re like most marketing firms these days, you’re losing more than winning. What most agencies need is to build a pipeline to tap into the new business reservoir that all this change, upheaval, client churn, and agency closings are creating.
Unlike the traditional sales funnel that you run prospects through, the New Business Pipeline is made up of seven sections: #1 – Positioning, #2 – Preparation, #3 – Pursuit, #4 – Pounce, #5 – Profile, #6 – Present and lastly #7 – Patience. Get a good handle on these seven and you’re going be winning a lot more new business.
Pipe #1 – Positioning
Positioning is all about your brand. We all understand that every agency needs to be positioned. Each positioning descriptor carries with it certain messages to clients, prospects, and employees. What most agencies fail to recognize is that most of their competition is operating against a gray background without any strong positioning other than a hazy label (“we’re a full service marketing firm with great creative”). There is little concentrated branding going on among agencies; meaning few agencies have a clearly defined brand. If you create a strong brand that stands out against the gray marketplace, then you will create separation from most of the competition. This comes at cost, as a clearly defined brand means that you have to stand for something – something most marketing firms hate to do.
Pipe #2 – Preparation
The most difficult part of new business: creating an actual new business system. You must outline resources, positioning, targets, support materials, personnel to operate, and then find that special someone who will lead the whole thing. Most marketing firms feel all they need is that special someone to lead (or blame) for new business. Many firms feel they have a new business system; responding to all the RFPs, pitches, and more. But is that system proactive, focused on the right goal – generating leads? Or is it reactive, only responding to referrals? Only a strong new business system can generate enough leads – meaning at least one good lead a week! Of course, the alternative is to find that rare breed of individual who can charm a prospect into the agency. Those “rainmakers” are difficult to find, hard to keep, and can never teach anyone how they do it.
Pipe #3 – Pursuit
Nothing good happens in new business until someone from your agency is across the desk from a good prospect. This usually means someone in your agency is focused on outreach full-time and following up on all those leads to create first visits. We call that winning the first opportunity. A good first visit is when your team avoids presenting a catalog of your firm’s capabilities and instead focuses on building trust so prospects will discuss their business needs openly and honestly. It’s a learned skill—one that is undervalued and can always be improved. Without a good first visit, clients are forced to move into a formal search where competition is high. With good first visits in hand, you can start to walk away from RFPs, cattle calls, and agency clusters where competition is strong and your marketing ROI is low. The most dangerous thing an agency can do is put someone not trained in first visits across the desk from a great prospect.
Pipe #4 – Pounce
Pounce is the speed needed to win new business. Most firms walk away from a first visit with no idea where to go from there. They may send a thank you note, and just wait for the prospect to do something, anything. Learn how to close fast. If you’re doing pursuit correctly, you should have many opportunities for first visits or what we call the New Business Interview – where you go in with the attitude of interviewing the prospect to see if they’re a good fit for your firm. After an interview you have a range of options from waiting (slow and weak) to going for a 48-hour close (fast and strong). The 48-hour close is a process where the agency leaves the prospects wanting more and returns in 48 hours for a working session and a solution. Some of the largest account swings in the world have been won using the 48-hour close. Speed wins.
Pipe #5 – Profile
Profile is the chemistry of new business. Creating good chemistry with people is not as hit-or-miss as you may think. People’s personalities and how they interact with the world can be categorized into patterns and profiles. Learn to achieve “good chemistry” by profiling and putting prospects into one of the four major prospect quadrants called Headline™, BodyCopy™, Logo™, and Illustration™. Profiling helps you avoid a lot of tactical obstacles, like how to handle the critical question all prospects will ask on the first visit: “Can I get you anything… cup of coffee?” Your answer to this question will often determine if you win or lose the account.
Pipe #6 – Present
Present is how you pitch or ask for the business. Sometimes the present phase is long and complicated (formal reviews). And sometimes it’s short (48-hour close). If your pitch skills are weak, it really harms the new business program. Your best presentation strategy is to one up on the competition: one up on style (skill in presenting), one up on format (staging and meeting strategy), and one up on content (what is presented). When you beat the competition on style, format, and content, you usually have a new account. A quick question: Which of these three is least important? And where does your agency put most of its time and effort in preparing for a presentation: the answer is, of course, content.
Pipe #7 – Patience
Patience is the closing phase in new business. A new account requires you to know how best to price your services, how to win with incentives, and how to ask for all the money. This is where the key skill of negotiating must be developed. Clients are better informed now by taking courses on negotiating with agencies and attend meetings armed to the teeth. Most agencies come in under-armed and wonder what happened and why aren’t they making the money they want to make. Agencies are operating under an assumption they need to keep their prices very low. That’s a real money-losing assumption.
Get the Pipeline Flowing
Please understand that new business is the ultimate revenue maker for your firm, and you need to be doing it right. Go back to each of the pipes and evaluate your firm with a grade. Be honest. If you’re not averaging a least a B+ then you’re losing new business. If even one pipe is failing then the whole system gets clogged. You know one good win can dramatically increase revenue. Now, what are you doing about that? Consider this: what are prospects hearing about your firm today? If no prospect is hearing about you, today, then you aren’t doing new business the right way.
Sanders Consulting Group (SCG) is a leading consulting firm specializing in the marketing communications industry. Every year SCG works exclusively with more ad agencies, direct marketing firms, design groups, promotion companies, and other marketing communication organizations than any other firm in the world. The firm’s experience allows it to understand the issues, speak the language, identify opportunities, and implement best practices faster and more effectively. SCG understands that marketing communication firms are different and it is these differences that matter most. Bob Sanders, President of Sanders Consulting Group, directs program and practice development, handles most client engagements and manages the overall operation of the firm. Bob’s experience includes extensive long-term consulting and training engagements with many agencies around the world. Bob can be reached by email at Bob@SandersConsulting.com or by phone at 412.897.9329.