Imagine starting your day looking at your prospect opportunity timeline and mulling over which brands you really want to go after and which you don’t. You sip your coffee and think about all the creative ways to connect with those brands and build relationships before any pitch drill comes about. How different would that be compared to your morning today when after weeks or months of nothing, some opportunity pops up in your inbox without warning along with a crazy deadline allowing no reasonable time to prepare. You thought you were going to have a manageable week, maybe even some spare time to catch up on all those neglected things, but alas, your time was just stolen, and your stress level is redlining. Instead of letting new business control you, take control of it.
We know that statistically only a small percentage, maybe 3% – 5% according to the experts, of your market is ready to buy. That varies by time of year and business cycles, but for certain, it’s not everyone. So, what about the rest? Remember, marketers plan in yearly cycles and choose agency relationships for multiple years so for some prospects the opportunity might be a year or more away, others might be sooner or as a project. These kinds of new business opportunity typically follow the marketer’s cycle of a new budget year or industry seasonality, among other things allowing you a better chance of controlling them.
And then there is the rare occasion when the incumbent screws up. The creative director post a disparaging tweet, the account manager insults the CEO, or worse, the client finds out that more than half her digital impressions are fake. Hmmm. It could be that sales are declining or the Board is turning the screws on the CFO, or the CMO jumps ship. Or, the AOR has been overwhelmed by other client work and the VP of marketing has had enough. Whatever the reason, and there are many, opportunities pop up outside of the predicted cycles. These kinds of new business opportunity steal control of your agency.
What is the best way to manage ad agency new business development under such diverse, chaotic and sometimes unpredictable circumstances? Well, many just go with the flow, racing to the next opportunity as it comes, taking on new business as the fire department. No time for anything else. Let's put out this fire and then on to the next. This first deadline won’t allow a deep dive into the industry, the marketer, their customer so we’ll just have to wing it. You do the best you can given the time allowed and hope it won’t hurt your chances too much. Or worse, pull everyone off their current clients in an all-hands-on-deck scramble and pray your current clients won’t notice. You’ve got full-on new business controlling your agency.
These are the symptoms of new business managing you. It comes in many different varieties, some more obvious than others but regardless, it puts a gun to your head, so you pull out all the stops and force decisions, choices, and compromises across every aspect of the agency. Of course, you want to win. You don’t want your rival agency to win. You don’t want your team to get demoralized, but you need the business. Maybe you are about to lose that anchor client, so you really need the business. Does any of that sound familiar? You are not alone. The majority of agencies let new business control them, all or some of the time. And most agency leaders don’t have the confidence in their future opportunities to say no.
Now imagine for a moment that you have a timeline in front of you stretching out for the next two to three years. And on that timeline, are the brands that YOU want to win. Each brand has been placed in the month when they are likely to have an opportunity; agency contract ends, new products launch, seasonal campaigns, etc. You’ve done your research on each, so you know these facts, and that’s why you have a crystal-clear view of your new business future and the confidence to see it through. Let’s say you are looking at twelve brands on your prospect opportunity timeline. Statistically, you know you only win 30% of your pitches, so you decide you need to increase those future opportunities to achieve your revenue goals. You go back to the research and add 36 or 100 more. Finally, you and the team sit back, refill your coffee and decide who among those plotted do you absolutely want. Who do you think you can realistically get? Who are you passionate about? It is at that clairvoyant moment that you have turned the table on new business and are back in control.
With your top prospect list identified, you’ve got to get to know each of them and determine where they sit on the prospect opportunity timeline. Through your research, third-party research, social media, industry trades, friends, vendors, specialized databases, anything and everything you can get your hands on you figure out what their timing is, their business cycles, industry cycles, agency contracts, what their needs are, competitive issues, consumer trends, things they’ve done and not done, and everything else you’ll need to win them over when their time comes. As you complete each puzzle, you then develop an individual marketing plan governed by the time you have until their opportunity date comes up. Through those efforts, and many other things I haven’t covered here, you’ll become known to them, you’ll have demonstrated your value, and be top of mind if not top of the list when they start looking for a new resource.
It doesn’t happen overnight. You probably have a prospect list of 1,000, 10,000 or more that you churn through looking for any opportunity hiding within? Don’t stop. Keep your current activity going until you are ready to transition to your prospect opportunity timeline. And even then, you still may want to keep stirring that pot for gold, if they meet your new and very strict criteria. A good rule of thumb as you begin to take back control of new business is to spend 30% of your time on short-term events, 30% on your prospect opportunity timeline, and 30% on organic, referrals, recommendations, and other things. That leaves 10% for the unknown. Once you feel your prospect opportunity timeline is solid, you can decide how to adjust your time commitment to each. Ideally, you won’t want to stop and deal with sudden events or less than desirable clients because you’ll be fully committed to making your ideal prospects your next great clients. As the timeline rolls on you’ll be adding new future opportunities, always keeping that pipeline full today, tomorrow and long into the future.
I’ve been a little dramatic, it’s true, but the principles still apply. I’ve made it sound so easy, but in fact, it’s hard. It may even sound impossible, but it’s not. The toughest thing is breaking old habits. It requires discipline to ignore all the distractions. It takes an unwavering commitment to the time and effort necessary to be successful. And, it takes a steady hand to drive the agency in this direction. But the reward is well worth the pain. And the feeling of control, well you decide what that’s worth.
I’ve got some ideas on how you can make a prospect opportunity timeline work for your agency, and I’m happy to share them with you. If you like this post and want more new business advice delivered to your inbox sign up for my Newsletter. #LetsGrow!