Many agencies are doing business development the same way they did ten or more years ago. Yet the industry has changed so dramatically. Doing the same thing, the same way over and over again will yield a diminishing return no matter what industry but even more so today considering the significant changes in the ad business over the last couple years. The fundamentals of the agency haven’t changed so much. They provide a service the client can’t do herself. But the processes, the tools, the technologies, and the prospect have. It is surprising how many agencies haven’t yet adapted to these kinds of changes in their business development practices. Even more surprising is how many are being left behind.
The prospect has changed
Marketers are under siege by an increasing number of aggressive vendors vying for their time. The sheer volume has become deafening. And prospecting results prove that. Response rates are down. Calls go unreturned. Inquiries have disappeared. Marketers don’t want to waste their precious time on irrelevant or uniformed agencies. They are stretched too thin with reduced staff, tight budgets, and increasing competition. They are hyper-focused on solving their marketing problems or trying to squeeze additional value out of the goods and services they currently use. Most agencies claim they can help. But if the marketer isn’t listening, how will she or he know?
The marketplace has changed
There are more agencies than ever before, and those agencies are getting increasingly sophisticated in how they hunt for new business. There are more specialties than ever before. AOR relationships have been declining for years. Digital agencies are expanding into full-service shops. Creative agencies are merging with digital agencies. Consultants are buying agencies. Marketers are taking creative services in-house in increasing numbers. And, the list goes on. What your agency offers and how you compare to all the other choices has become a very fluid dynamic. What you were selling five years ago won’t be in demand tomorrow.
The search process has changed
More marketers are actively seeking solutions on their own. Search consultant volume is down. Marketers can find almost any service and firm on the internet, investigate through online news sources, social activity, blog post, rankings, case studies, everything and anything they want to know about an agency before that agency has any clue they are looking. New research indicates that a marketer is almost 60% through the vetting and decision-making process before any contact is made. If you aren’t found and favorably viewed before you get the first conversation, you won’t get a chance to make a case for the agency.
Agencies haven’t changed
Agency management expectations are misaligned. They’ve been conditioned to think all you have to do is call more prospects to find the ones who will talk. You have to talk to more prospects to find the ones who are interested. One can make a statistical argument that more is better but what is the cost in dollars and workforce? The state of the industry has reached a point of no return as far as the number of emails and calls required. Today, the agency’s time is much better spent on fewer prospects that are better prospects. To do so means changing the strategy to attract and connect. It requires time and money spent earlier in the process when marketers are seeking services on their own. It requires being found when marketers are looking. And that doesn’t happen by the coincidence of catching someone when they aren’t expecting.
Agencies have to change the way they do business development to keep up with the marketplace. Why do so many agency leaders lament that their pipeline is drying up? They used to have a steady stream of inquiries and referrals. They used to be able to get a marketer on the phone, but none of these things are happening anymore. They have to realign what they do with what the changing marketplace requires. They have to rethink their approach and their processes to reverse the declines of the past years and adjust to the rapidly changing environment.
The first step is to reassess the overall business development process. Is it in tune with the way marketers are searching, with what marketers want, and the way marketers want to learn about new resources? The second step is to identify what the agency has to offer that is in highest demand and who is most likely to want it. The third step is to determine how to break through all the noise to let these specific marketers know that the agency is a subject matter expert, a specialist, a thought leader, in the things that marketer wants? Does the agency solve the specific problems the marketer is facing today? Or is the agency just promoting how great it is, how terrific their results, how smart they think?
Change is hard
Changing the way an agency does business development is hard because new business is essential to staying in business. Completely rethinking how to do business development - to shift from outbound to inbound has to be a top priority. Changing from asking for the prospects time to telling them what you do is important takes courage. Creating a way for them to find and come to the agency is all new territory but the likelihood for increased inquiries, referrals and returned calls is certain. Put the agency, its ideas, and its solutions in front of the prospect. Set the bait where the marketers are feeding, and the ones who are serious will call and want to know more. And then play the numbers game with the right numbers. Dedicate the resources and time where it will serve the agency best.
Change is essential
Today, if the agency is standing still, it’s falling behind. Don’t get left behind. That’s why I’m here. To make the right change happen for agencies in a pragmatic and proven way. Few can do it on their own. They have the best intentions. They dedicate people and time but when their client demands peak or some other distraction hits, and it always does, this kind of initiative runs off the rails, languishing from lack of attention, and before they know it, they are doing the same thing over again and wondering why the pipeline is dry.
Change will do you good
I’ve got a lot of advice on how to make your business development efforts more effective and would enjoy sharing what I know. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures. #LetsGrow!