I’ve seen a lot of sensational headlines appealing to ad agency leadership claiming to offer a winning new business plan and I wonder what that means. What constitutes a winning program? Any agency that doesn’t win new business won’t be an agency for very long. Every agency wins some of the business they go after. So, the idea of a winning plan seems as nebulous as whiter whites or tastier cheese. Cheesy indeed.
I’ve reported in previous posts the state of agency new business wins across a diverse group of firms. Some as low as 10%, others as high as 75%, most in the 25% range. Are these winning new business programs? I’ve heard an agency president claim to win everything they pitch. Now that sounds like a winning new business plan to me. I then asked their new business lead, and the number is far less. But even at far less that could qualify as a winning plan too.
In my view, the goal of any agency working on their new business program is to improve their winning. Dah! The steps to do so are no secret and pretty basic, yet agency owners still fall for the sensational. I have yet to find a silver bullet or magic beans. I haven’t seen a secret formula or a new, never before used breakthrough approach, as some might claim. If you have the beans, let me know. I’d like to refer some agencies to you. It’s always painful to hear owners recall bad experiences and money wasted on empty claims.
The agencies that I have seen performing better than most execute the basics better than most. That doesn’t mean they never lose. It does mean they spend precious time and resources in the places that deliver the best results for them. They are great at saying no, focused and deliberate in what they pursue, and confident about what makes them different and why that matters. They are marketers applying proven marketing strategies, learning from their efforts and continuously optimizing what they do – the basics.
To be honest, there are many exceptions in new business success. Agencies have found unique channels to engage, stunts to attract attention, partnerships that differentiate, and other effective ways to improve their odds. But these are for the most part one-off tactics. They aren’t successful when others try. They come about from unique circumstances that are hard to repeat elsewhere. Agency leaders have shared their experiences trying to recreate the formula others have profited from with disappointing results and return to the basics.
The majority of agencies large and small can improve their winning program by following the basic tenants of marketing, the things they do so well for their clients. The hardest part by far is differentiation. It is the hardest task for any brand in any category. Many agencies I speak with believe they are different from their peers, but their prospects think not. I surveyed those prospects, and they told me again and again how many agencies contact them who don’t seem any different than the hundreds before. It is no different than laundry detergent or cheese. All the brands clean your clothes or satisfy your hunger. You’ve worked hard with your client to separate their detergent brand from the pack. Why not do it for yourself?
Don’t get me wrong. With roughly 50,000 agencies offering essentially the same benefits to skeptical marketers, the task of differentiating is tough. Some agencies have been able to solve it themselves while others seek outside help. I provide that help as do many other great consultants, firms, and resources. In fact, there are agencies who focus exclusively on helping agencies in this way. And, the best ones start with the brand and how to differentiate it. Those who start with a phone bank or an email blitz are essentially doing the same thing over again expecting different results. When you know what your difference is, you’ll be more successful on the phone or with the email. Before you do anything, figure out your difference in a way that will matter to those who will listen.
The benefit of differentiation impacts every other part of the business development process. When you know why you are different, you will better understand who your difference will appeal to and who it won’t, shaping your prospect list into higher probability opportunities. Knowing what makes you different and who that difference matters to makes it easier to know what to say or what content to share, and how to pitch more wins. Now that is what I call a winning new business program – today, tomorrow and far into the future of a growing agency.
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