By now your 2018 new business planning is well underway. If not read this article. Your priorities for next year are probably not dissimilar from last year. Prospect smarter. Pitch better. Stay focused. Say ‘no’ more often, and on and on. I can hear the confessions ring out; I’ll make more calls. I’ll send more emails. I’ll stop chasing dead-ends. The head nodding, fist bumping, and occasional happy dance are all part of this annual ritual. Those aren’t the agencies to worry about. They are probably the 41% that will miss their numbers this year and continue to fall behind by doing the same old things.
When I talk to agencies who struggle, they are often their own worst enemy. It’s not that they don’t know what to do. They just don’t do it. The greatest threat to those agencies are the ones that continually evolve, innovate, and leverage the latest trends to improve their success. Don’t get me wrong. It all starts with a solid, high-performance business development program. That is not a trend. The question is, what can we add to our toolkit to be even more successful?
There are many things an agency can do to improve their chances. Some are very simple while others are big initiatives. One thing is certain, if you aren’t moving forward, you are falling behind and catching up is expensive and hard. I’ve highlighted just a few things I think are important for agencies to consider in their 2018 new business planning. One needs only to look at the greater trends happening around us and apply them to our strategy. Not all will be right for your agency or even practical to implement. Doing nothing is not a plan for growth.
Has your website, content, capabilities, positioning, and pitch deck not changed since 2016? According to Gartner, on average, marketing leaders today say 34% of their budget is spent on channels they didn’t know existed five years ago. According to Adobe, over 75% of marketers think the industry has changed more in the last two years than the past 50. Changing with the times and embracing new channels and new technologies are mission critical to stay competitive.
Even more important, according to Gartner, 75% of marketing leaders said they own or share responsibility for the P&L. “Over the past several years, what was largely a promotional role is now seen as the growth engine for the business.” That means that your prospect has an even greater interest in bottom-line results. Of course, other metrics are still important, but P&L responsibility means they live or die by the contribution their agencies make to the profit or loss of the company. If you aren’t talking their talk, they won’t be listening.
First impressions are critical in this business. If your first impression is out of date, by even two years, you may be perceived as behind the times. The thing you have the greatest control over in the entire new business spectrum, your brand, should be updated to reflect the things marketers are experiencing and seeking today; new channels, new approaches, and bottom line results. I know it takes valuable resources, money, and deep thinking to stay current but why handicap your agency in such a highly competitive environment when you can do something about it right now?
Is there any doubt that marketing decision makers use their mobile phones to make choices and decisions? There are over 280 million mobile users in the U.S., and 82-percent of adults own and use their phones daily, usually hourly, especially busy marketing executives. The latest research shows that almost half of marketing executives use mobile devices for research while at work. Are you engaging with them through the channel they're using most often? My website statistics show over 40% are coming from mobile. What about yours? That number will continue to grow each year.
Too many agencies do not have a mobile-optimized website and content. How frustrating is it when you receive an email on your phone that is too small to read or spills beyond the screen, or takes forever to load? If you are like most people, you simply delete it and move on. If you are like your prospects, all your time and effort to craft that perfect pitch disappears in an instant. We expect content to be simple and easy to consume. In 2018, patience for anything else is gone and so are your engagement rates if you aren’t mobile-first.
We all know that prospects start their journey well before we have any clue. AdWords and SEO were the main tactics to intercept early interest. Did you know that voice search or natural language search, already popular in the consumer market, is also gaining in B2B? It may seem insignificant today but you better not blink. Voice searches already make up 20% of all Google searches on mobile. Even more important, younger people – today’s prospects - are more likely to use voice search; 71% of 18-29-year-olds are using voice assistants compared to just 39% of 44-53-year-olds.
The majority of executives use mobile for research. No wonder mobile search traffic has exceeded desktop. According to a study out this year, voice search through Google, Alexa, Siri and others is rapidly gaining use in the B2B market. Over 50% of professionals have used voice search in the office, and that number goes up with income levels. Is your agency showing up? Natural language search works differently from traditional search. To ensure you get found you have to rethink your content, web copy, and other collateral elements that are indexed, otherwise your competitor may show up before you. Try it yourself. Ask Alexa for the best ad agency in your market and see where or if you show up.
Activating referrals, recommendations, and influencers aren’t new to ad agency business development. B2B marketers across industries are increasingly using influencers to build awareness, credibility, and trust whether it’s those with broad appeal or micro influencers with highly targeted following. Given the increasingly challenging task of connecting with prospects, ad agencies who employ these tactics see improved results. There is a lot of recent thought leadership on this subject that is worthy of investigating. The goal is to find what works for you.
Just think about it. Your prospects know people, follow people, trust people who are independent authorities and thought leaders in areas that are important to them. Those influencers have built their industry status on credibility and independence. They are motivated by bringing unique value to their followers which increases their authority and influence. If you can find synergies that your agency has or can support their point of view a partnership becomes the natural extension of what each other offers.
Make sure expectations are properly set. Influencers can’t credibly sell the agency but can refer, recommend, or introduce and help build a relationship that opens up possibilities. Find out who your prospect values and build deeper relationships with them so that they know what you do and why it would be of interest. Find common interests and synergies with those influencers and ways that your agency experience coincides with their areas of expertise. Once interests are aligned, those influencers and recommenders can naturally and effortless reference your work in support of the things they are passionate about.
ABM is a trending tactic in B2B marketing, and there is plenty of thought leadership for you to consider. For ad agencies, this tactic has been loosely practiced for years. Today the strategy is gaining popularity with data to support its effectiveness. Part of your business development plan should include identifying the top tier of prospects worth investing additional time and resources and apply ABM methodology. Choose those that will have the greatest impact on the agency's long-term vision and goals.
Considering the increasing challenge of breaking into new organizations and the growing complexity of decision-making, developing a collaborative ABM approach that brings together colleagues in the agency and relationships outside the organization who can help improve results. Together, determine where and how to meet the prospect’s unique business challenges with agency services. Use the ABM team to develop customized content, strike up relationships, and leverage influencers to surround and eventually engage with the decision makers on their terms united against their challenges.
More prospects are responding to text messages than ever before. There are over 280 million mobile users in the U.S., and 82-percent of adults own and use their phones daily, usually hourly, especially busy marketing executives. I’ve seen increasing numbers of prospects reply to a text message in the past year and believe that trend will continue. But caution is advised. A cold text is much more likely to be ignored or worse. Use text after you know that a prospect has engaged; opened an email, visited your website, read your content.
It is important to remember who your audience is and how you want them to respond. Unless you already have a relationship, a formal tone is better for an executive at work. Don’t expect to get a response immediately but be prepared to pick up the conversation right away, just in case. Like email, only far more abbreviated, a personal connection and a call to action step are important. That’s why it’s also important to consider the time of day to send your message. Prospect messaging should be sent during business hours, and preferably in the afternoon. Most important, don’t overdo it. If you don’t get a response, chances are, they don’t want to text.
Content is priority
The industry has been trumpeting the role of content for years now. And experts continue to toss out statistics to prove it. Most important to ad agencies, prospects get almost 60% through the funnel before you even know they are looking. That percentage will continue to grow. Unfortunately, many agencies continue to rely on a disruption strategy to intercept the prospect’s behavior. And prospects are responding by making it harder and harder to be interrupted. Fewer calls are answered, and fewer emails are opened. Receptionist won’t transfer you without providing an extension, and more and more voicemail boxes are full.
That is why content is the priority. You’ve got to make it possible for prospects to form their own opinions before you can personally influence them. In 2018, the priority is to be found and understood and be competitively position wherever the prospect goes to do their research. Having a great and up to date website is only one piece. Sadly, too many agencies stop there. The only cheat themselves if they don’t also utilize a range of great content. Those agencies will be dismissed in seconds because that prospect cannot find out what they need to know, who you are, what you do, and why it should matter to them. If you don’t have a content strategy to satisfy their needs your pipeline will continue to slow as your competitors step up their content game.
And speaking about content, video continues to grow in popularity because it works. We can see the importance of video in our client’s strategies, across every industry, and even in our own purchase behaviors. Despite its increasing presence, agencies have been slow to adopt. It’s not enough anymore to post an agency reel, culture video or a ‘Why Us’ commercial. It used to be expensive to produce a good video but not anymore. Video is a powerful storytelling tool that should be used across the agency and the business development ecosystem.
Statistics show that marketers prefer video as a means of learning about your agency. They gain much more from seeing and hearing than the written word. And they get a more powerful sample of the agency’s creativity. Agencies are masters at storytelling and should take advantage of this trend as well as their creativity to leverage video in every way appropriate. Short snippets of pictures and sounds, case studies, client testimonials, process explanations, a day in the life of a client, you name it. This is one area where your agency can have fun and improve engagement, and differentiating your uniqueness.
There are over 5,000 Martech vendors and growing. Research shows that Martech accounts for over 16% of the average marketing budget and expect that to increase by 10% next year. Still, over 50% of marketers don’t think they have all the tools they need. All this to say that marketers need help finding, implementing, and optimizing their Martech investment. There is a real opportunity right now for agencies who can.
But what about ad agency Martech investments? Over 58% of agencies don’t think they have the Martech tools they need. And, over 47% don’t have any tools whatsoever. The marketplace and your clients have proven that Martech is a time saver, a cost saver, and an effectiveness booster for prospecting activities. It surprises me that so many are still relying on spreadsheets. Agencies who are not using Martech risk falling behind their competitors and, more importantly, tarnishing their brand reputation by not being current with the tools that their future clients are using more and more.
Some agencies say their business development program isn’t complicated enough for such a tool or they’ve tried them before, and no one ultimately uses them. Just remember, the same was said for the internet, smartphones, social media, and so many more innovations. Like any new tool, good training is essential, accountability is important, and a willingness to try something new. The more you use these tools, the better you get at unlocking the benefits. It’s a safe bet your competitors are. Why wouldn’t you want the same edge?
2018 will be an exciting year for agencies. It can also be a big growth year. More marketers will be changing agencies, dividing up assignments, and trying to find new ways and new resources to achieve their goals. By the way, those goals the marketer is chasing are getting harder and harder to achieve because of the consumer’s ever-increasing liberation from marketing’s grip. And that leaves the marketer, ever more intent on finding someone new.
I’ve got a lot more ideas about how you can start or rethink your business development program, and I would enjoy sharing if you are interested. If you want help or simply want to talk about your business development program, I’m always open to a conversation. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. #LetsGrow!