It is always a challenge for ad agencies to maintain a consistent new business effort. It usually happens in fits and starts. The team gets busy, a person leaves, or many other reasons. The result is a dwindling pipeline, lost leads, and no follow-up. Panic sets in and everyone rededicates to the cause only to find they are back at the beginning again. Sound familiar?
When I talk to agency owners who struggle, there are three common reasons.
- No plan
- Too big a plan
- Not integrated
If business development activity isn’t fully integrated into the operation of the agency, it can create all kinds of problems for everyone; staff time, resource allocation, client deadlines, and project schedules, ultimately compromising the agency’s overall operation. Likewise, if the business development plan is too aggressive it may take too much agency time and resources away from paying clients while causing frustration among staff who pitch and pitch with little to show for their efforts.
Without any plan at all, there is no predicting when these kinds of peak demands will impact the agency or when the right agency folks will have time to put into new opportunities. Your BD efforts and your agency will work better if you refine, simplify, and focus, and your results will prove it. If you take the time upfront to develop a strategic business development plan and all the components within it, you can confidently plan your agency time, dedicate the right resources, and justify your efforts with a strategy that leadership has signed on to. And, you can confidently say NO to things that are off strategy.
In my work, I have the opportunity to peek inside many different agency new business activities. Some are impressive while others are, well, not so much. And when I say not so much, it usually means no real plan at all. Even worse, leadership insists they have a plan. If they do, the plan is likely to be winding up a BD leader and setting them loose in the wild. There are always many reasons for poor planning, but the results are the same. No new business.
The symptoms of no planning
- Unqualified prospects
- Poorly defined agency positioning
- Uncooperative agency people
- Unnecessary meetings
- Unstructured prospecting program
- High turnover
I’ve got some thoughts on how to develop a high-performance business development plan. You can a read few of them here.
If your agency is not following a well-conceived plan, try this. Write a brief for your agency. Then outline the marketing plan to support it. Identify the tactics, timing, and deliverables. Define the milestones and metrics. Calculate staff time, resources, and expenses. Voila! Your plan is hatched. Now the hard part. Keep everyone accountable, daily, weekly, monthly. That’s how consistency is maintained.
Too big a plan
Sometimes an agency BD plan is too big to be successful. The result is too little effort on everything. In today’s uber-competitive marketplace, it takes more time and effort to develop relationships that lead to new clients. Start off small, get it right, manage the process consistently, and then gradually scale. Of course, circumstances will vary by agency, by staff, by available support, and by person or team, and other factors. But guess what. Cutting out time for unqualified prospects, reducing demands on other agency people, limiting unnecessary meetings, and not having to restart the prospecting program, again and again, allows ample time to spend on the right prospects.
When you plan a BD program that is rooted in the practical realities of today, you gain a solid foundation that you can scale to where you want to be tomorrow. As an example, you’ve defined your sweet spot in healthcare, and when you focus on that industry, your pipeline starts to flow. While you keep that going, you can take the necessary steps to go after Pharma without jeopardizing your healthcare opportunities. You know Pharma will be hard, but you’ve now got the confidence to take that risk. And, you’ve got a business development process running that you can apply to almost any vertical.
As the new business lead, there are a million things you could do, another million that you want to do, but only a couple that you must do. Focusing your time and energy on the must-dos is the secret to your success. When I talk to new business leaders about their daily activities, they spend upwards of 50% of their time on things outside of their fundamental responsibilities. Not surprisingly, when I talk to CEOs, I often hear that their BD person isn’t spending enough time on BD.
How big should a plan be? As big as you can handle well. What I do is define the average time it takes per FTE to do the four fundamental activities of business development and relate it to a per prospect calculation. I divide that into the workweek to get an approximation of the number of prospects I have adequate time to manage. It’s a rough guestimate, with a lot of variability and unknowns but it is a starting point. I include a 20% buffer for those unexpected things like meetings, content, travel, that always come up and a 5% allocation to project management, analysis, and reporting. When you track your time to discover your unique averages, new business resource planning is a little easier.
Let’s break it down by week for one person managing 500 prospects
- Priority one is finding new leads and prospects – 7 hours
- Second is converting cold to warm prospects into clients – 20 hours
- Third is project managing the agency in support of your needs – 3 hours
- Fourth is administration, tracking, analyzing, reporting – 2 hours
- Buffer for unexpected activities, content, meetings – 8 hours
Your mileage will vary making it important to track time to get the right calculus. By doing so, you’ll be able to establish benchmarks to help gauge whether your plan is too big or not big enough. You will know how time and tasks should be allocated and be able to manage that time for the right tasks. And, you’ll have another measure of accountability.
For some reason business development people don’t like to be encumbered by agency processes. They prefer to run rogue doing what they think is best when chasing a hot lead. Agency leaders often look the other way thinking the freedom will result in a win. No one wants to take the blame for a loss. However, the outcome of shortcutting processes results in painful consequences across the agency. BD people need agency resources and people to be successful. Those resources and people have to be properly allocated and managed to achieve profit goals and to keep client work flowing and clients happy.
For these reasons and many others, business development has to be fully integrated into agency processes, and those processes have to be accommodating to new business needs. Once again, if you treat your new business program as a client, the result will be far more effective for everyone involved, including the new business leader. Of course, it’s a give and take with compromises along the way but no different than how your other clients are treated. Work gets planned, resources get allocated, the workflow is managed, and deliverables are scheduled. And, when every aspect of the new business process is tracked, no more finger-pointing or guessing when things go wrong.
When you manage your BD efforts as a client, you will stay on schedule – you can’t move your client’s deadlines. Stay on budget – you can’t ask your client to pay more. Innovate, excite and delight – you do everything you can to make sure your clients are happy. Embrace the challenges head-on, solve the problems, overcome the obstacles – that’s how you make your clients satisfied. That’s how you make your new business efforts more successful – for everyone. That’s how you go from chaos to a high-performing and consistent new business program.
I’ve got a lot more advice on how to improve your business development program and would enjoy sharing them with you. If you want to talk about your challenges, 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 LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. #LetsGrow!