Advertising agency business development has often been the task of a junior account person, primarily an order-taker or a salesperson, someone from a traditional sales role in media or other services. We often argue about whether it’s better to be a hunter or a farmer. Male or female. Young or old. Those are the debates of old. Today, the marketplace is changing. Marketers are changing. And the effectiveness of the old way will decline more rapidly. There is a new way to BD, and it begins with the person.
Before getting any further, it is important to caveat my assertion. In this business, there are exceptions everywhere. A junior sales person can become the highest grossing BD phenomenon just like the salesperson from the local ABC affiliate can be widely successful. It depends in great measure on the person, but when we look at the collective results, we can see trends that give much better guidance than chasing unicorns.
When you consider the customer, I know, a novel idea, certain things become obvious. A busy marketer, under pressure to perform, worried about his or her career, facing greater marketplace challenges and can no longer rely on past marketing practices has a different need than marketers five years ago. What used to be sure bets; TV, email, display, PR, have all lost their effectiveness to a greater or lesser degree while increasing in price. Response rates are down. Engagement rates are dropping. Traffic is slowing. ROI is falling. It is a marketer’s worst nightmare.
Does this marketer want a junior account person knocking on their door? Maybe if all they are buying is a commodity. Does this marketer want a salesperson to sell them something? Not unless they know exactly what they want and are only looking for the best price. Does this marketer want an expert to help guide them to something new or different? Probably yes. Pivoting from sales to expertise drives greater value in the relationship and greater profits in the long run.
What are the implications of pivoting from sales to expertise? First, you must become laser focused on your opportunities because selling expertise is a more involved process. Second, you need to elevate and support your agency experts, but most importantly you must allow time in their day to develop their expertise. And third, put their expertise out into the market through the precision use of content to demonstrate their expertise.
Think about it this way. If you provide advertising agency services, are nice people, have a proprietary process and achieve award-winning results, you compete with as many as 30,000 - 50,000 agencies, or maybe 10 – 20 in your local area. But if you specialize in advertising services for restaurants, you just lowered your competitive set to maybe 5,00 other agencies who specialize in restaurants. If you further specialize in restaurants marketing to millennials, you may now compete with about 50 or so other agencies. If you specialize in restaurants marketing to millennials in the Atlanta area and you wrote the book on millennial foodies, you may be the only one, and you will arguably be the leading subject matter expert (SME) for any restaurant who is struggling to bring more millennials through their doors. You could have a salesperson call every restaurant in your region, or you could target the ones you want to work with and have your SME develop a relationship.
Step into your customer’s shoes. Who would you want to engage with? Most people don’t want to take a salesperson’s call and quickly slip away at a conference when they sense one approaching. In contrast, how often do you enjoy a conversation about a subject relevant to your world with someone who seems to be knowledgeable about the subject or brings a reasoned point of view? The reality is that today the marketer doesn’t have time for anyone or anything that doesn’t provide value. Junior account people and salespeople aren’t likely candidates.
Salespeople are relatively easy to hire. Account people are easy to reassign. Too often we take the easy way. SMEs are more challenging to develop; they must spend a good portion of their time working on current clients, and they often don’t have sales skills. What I’ve found to be true is that SMEs are smart, quick-learners and adapt well. Since their role is not selling, they thrive as an expert, a solution-finder, and a trusted confidant. And spreading the responsibility across SMEs; by industry, by service, by personality, whatever the natural boundaries are, you can balance the workload more easily.
The difference between the old way and the new is this. Typically a junior level person or a salesperson will do the prospecting work, and the SME or leadership won’t get involved until the prospect is vetted after an introductory call or a meeting. Agencies used to throw bodies at this early stage and accepted that 1 out of 10 or 100; even 1,000 would emerge as a legitimate opportunity. That is one reason why the average tenure of a BD person is less than two years. With SMEs, agencies must narrow their focus on the right opportunities at the start to make efficient use of scarce, yet highly effective time. SMEs, after doing their homework, start the conversation. Marketers are far more likely to engage with an SME and more open to exploring what they offer.
Let your experts take the reins on agency growth. Identify your people, divide up the prospects and let them go. You’ll see the results in no time at all. If you need help aligning a business development program using your SMEs as well as referrals, recommendations, and organic opportunities, please give me a call or email.
If you want to discover more business development strategies you can visit my website www.jheenan.com. If you liked this post and want more new business advice delivered to your inbox sign up for my monthly newsletter. #LetsGrow!