It is typical for an agency to have a BD person or a BD team, or for the owner and leadership to have responsibility for agency growth. But does it end there? My favorite quote is from Philip Kotler, “the sales department isn’t the whole company, but the whole company better be the sales department.” This, I believe, is true for almost every aspect of the agency business. It is a culture that should be developed and nurtured so that every person in the agency feels both empowered and responsible for the success of the agency.
In agencies I’ve worked for the attitude among the ranks is often disappointing. Business development is your responsibility. I do production or accounting or social media. I can’t sell. That’s your job. I want to show up at nine and leave it all behind at five. I make sure the client is happy and can’t irritate them by selling more work. I meet with media reps and will lose my leverage if I ask about other agency clients. I hate networking events. I’m not a sales person! I hate sales people.
Sound familiar? If not, you just aren’t listening. People generally don’t like to be pushed out of their comfort zone, and most don’t like to “sell” even though they “sell” in virtually every aspect of their life. The fundamental problem is the preconception of selling as evil, unethical, underhanded, likened to a used car salesman. This ill-formed notion is a big impediment to the success of the agency and ultimately the success of each person in the agency. We’ve all got to stop selling and start solving problems.
I’ve talked about this to very successful agency owners who say they love the ad business but aren’t uncomfortable promoting their agency to friends and colleagues – the agency that they built into a profitable business by serving their clients in exceptional ways. Better put, by finding solutions to their client’s business problems. Better yet, by creating new and innovative ways to make more money for their client’s company, its employees, stockholders, suppliers and others by finding more satisfied consumers to buy their products. Is that something you “sell”?
Let’s face it. Agencies don’t sell stuff. Sure, they charge money for what they do but what is it that they do? They help their clients make more money, pure and simple. Do you want to make more money? Of course, who doesn’t? Agencies work hard to find ways their clients can make more money against tremendous odd, tough marketplace challenges and fickle consumers. Agencies perform a valuable service to their clients, without which their businesses would suffer or go under. Why then is it so hard for everyone to share what we do?
In my opinion, it’s a matter of reorienting the perspective from selling to solutions. If I said I wanted to sell you time and materials to elevate your brand, I’d likely get the door slammed in my face. But if I said I’ve got a way to get more customers to buy your product, or I can solve the challenge you’ve got with millennials, or I’ve helped my client increase sales by 25%, and I can do the same for you, I’d likely start a good conversation. Am I selling? No, I’m helping solve a problem. By nature, we all like to help others. If we can reorient our own perception of what we do, imagine what the outcome might be. Not by selling or asking for the business but by offering solutions that most would be interested in. If they aren’t interested in more money or more customers, there is no shame in offering.
If you subscribe to the theory of 3 degrees of separation, it’s likely that everyone in your agency can share the great services that the agency provides with people who know people who need those services. In the same way, your account people can share the great solutions you provide with their clients and others at your client’s company who don’t currently use your services. And, as agency owner, you can proudly share with other board members, charity supporters, alumni, the country club, wherever you go. Be a problem solver not a salesman.
It’s our nature to be uncomfortable selling something. It’s also our nature to be excited about solving a problem for someone. We aren’t curing cancer or eliminating hunger, but we are helping our clients be more successful, make more money and enhance their careers. I think that is something to talk about at the cocktail party, the little league game, the technology conference or wherever we go. If we can get everyone at the agency to reset their perception, we can unleash a sales force for company growth.
If you want help, email me or spend some time on my website www.jheenan.com to get more tips on ad agency growth. If you liked this post and want more new business advice delivered to your inbox sign up for my monthly newsletter. #LetsGrow!