What are the three biggest barriers to new business success for agencies? If you ask agency owners, you may get a different answer than the business development people at the agency. I just conducted a survey among advertising agency business development professionals, not including agency owners, representing a variety of agency sizes – roughly 1/3 small, medium, and large. Within this group, about 69% work for full-service agencies. 25% work for a specialist like digital or social. 6% work for other kinds of marketing services firms.
Many answers from the survey reveal the gap between the owner or leadership’s perception about business development and that of the people actually doing the work. I know from my experience that there often exists a lack of understanding and appreciation for what the BD team encounters. This gap is a big problem. Unfortunately, it often results in personnel changes rather than solving the real barriers to new business success. Job tenure confirms that business development people become the scapegoat when in fact the problems are within the agency. Have you ever heard a lost prospect say the reason you didn’t win was the BD person?
In a previous survey, agency owners said that a “lack of time” and “prospect quality” are the two biggest barriers. When I asked BD people, they say that “agency differentiation” and “positioning” are tops. Can you blame the BD team for poor results if the agency doesn’t have anything different or better to offer than the many other agencies your prospect is considering? If your differentiation is great processes, award-winning work, industry-beating success or years in the business, you are no different than the thousands of other agencies. No doubt it is hard work to figure out what makes the agency different, but that is the biggest barrier to new business and the one thing that you can control.
Spending time figuring out what makes the agency different will result in a tangible competitive edge and a more compelling reason why a marketer should pay attention. It informs better tools for the BD team to engage in conversations and convert more leads. It will also help improve lead quality because your top of the funnel will contain prospects who know why what you offer is better or different and want to have a deeper conversation. In many respects, they will self-qualify resulting in higher overall success rates.
Far too often we blame the BD person citing a lack of understanding about what the agency does or an inability to convince the prospect of the benefits or value of the agency. I’ve heard agency owners claim that because they’ve done great work for company x, y, and z, they have to be the best choice for any company that comes along. But that is no different than what every other agency claims. It’s not differentiating, not an advantage, and not the BD person’s fault. If you do the hard work first you will see a change for the better. This is one of the first things I do with my clients. This article by Gregory Ciotti at Help Scout helps explain it: https://www.helpscout.net/blog/unique-selling-proposition/ .
Whatever kind of agency you have, I’m pretty sure you spend a lot of time and energy helping your clients find their difference so your work for them will achieve the best results. Why wouldn’t you do the same for your agency? Treat your agency as your number one client and you’ll see significant growth, more successful BD people and a much healthier agency overall.
Oh, and by the way, that BD person you hired, promoted or reassigned may be smarter than you think. Lets Grow!
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