I posted some thoughts on this last year and received a lot of good feedback. You can read it here. To summarize, three key factors influence success, and then there is the exception. The first, according to recent sales statistics, is that only 3% of the market is ready to buy today. The second, the kind of business you are going after has certain cycles when the opportunity is likely to open up, and there is a seasonality to new business when marketers are more active in general. And the third, a prospect must first know you and your value before they might consider you as a viable resource. The curse of this industry is that there are always exceptions. When an agency wins a piece of business by chance or unplanned events, they can sometimes get fooled into thinking lightning will strike twice. And they might be right because, as I said, there are always exceptions.
Whenever I talk to agency owners, the question always comes up. How long will it take to get a new client? My answer is always the same. You should plan around those three factors and always be ready for the exceptions. Exceptions can come at any time but are not predictable ever. The three factors mentioned above suggest it is going to take some time. Remember, marketers plan in yearly cycles and choose agency relationships for multiple years so achieving an optimal program with repeatable success will also take multiple years. During those years, opportunities will begin to take shape, a few sooner than others depending on industry cycles and how quickly you can get your program into the market and the hands of your target prospects.
The difference between a plan and the exceptions is you manage the plan while the exceptions manage you. With a good plan, no matter who develops it, you’ll gain a long-range view of prospect opportunities ahead, your prospect opportunity timeline, and be in the enviable position of smartly choosing this one over the other. In a good plan, you will attempt to uncover that 3% of opportunity that is around you and spot possible opportunity at some future date to work smartly and strategically towards – to get your agency top of mind when it comes up. You will be able to plan people and resources more accurately while leading your agency to the future you envision. With the exceptions, well, you’ll just have to wait.
Many will argue that if you have a robust flow of leads new business will happen right away. That is, if you relentlessly work the phones, burn through the prospect list, and churn through meetings, proposals, pitches, dead ends and bad fits you’ll win more new clients faster. It’s all about the numbers game, they say. More calls times your conversion rate equals the number of wins you can expect starting on day one. That is somewhat true maybe. However, the wasted time and resources required for one win means you must burn through ninety-nine calls, meetings, proposals, and pitches, not to mention all the collateral damage to staff who get caught up in so many fire drills instead of spending time keeping current clients happy. And then there is that dirty little secret about lead gen in general, and even more so for ad agency new business. Its effectiveness declines over time. What might start at one out of ninety-nine turns into one out of one hundred and fifty, two hundred, or three fifty. And that leads to chasing things even less desirable just to get something from the effort. Lead gen companies will tell you, oh no, it gets better over time. Perhaps, if you are selling aluminum siding but even then, I wonder. If you are an agency that lives off the numbers game, please tell me I’m wrong.
With a good marketing plan, one that any of the good new business consultants can provide, you’ll be spending agency time on fewer but better opportunities. That doesn’t mean you won’t be calling or using similar numbers to track and measure results. But it does mean a lot more work up front to keep those numbers manageable, strategic and in line with the success you want to achieve – more clients and better clients. The kind of future clients you want to put everything into, the type of brands you’ll be passionate about, and the quality of relationships your staff will be excited to give that extra effort to make it happen. You won’t win them all, but you’ll do much better than one in a hundred.
Make no mistake, it takes time to a get a good plan up and running, it takes extensive research to achieve the degree of focus necessary, and it takes unwavering commitment to see it through – the same kind of commitment your clients have for their brand. That doesn’t mean you can’t go after the exceptions when and if they come your way. But you’ll be in a much better position to choose because you’ll have a defined pipeline and a better sense of what is ahead. Best of all, you pivot from chasing everything to intentionally choosing the ones you want to spend precious time and resources on rather than being enslaved by anything that says yes on the phone.
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