Margaret Thatcher said it best, “Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” Great advice for ad agency owners and anyone running a business, especially those running business development. It seems a bit surprising that so many agencies don’t have a business development plan that they can work, and even more surprising that those who have a plan don’t work it. The truth is that high performing agencies all had a well-established plan ingrained in the overall agency operation and managed as diligently as any of their clients. Agencies that grow do so because they plan their business development strategy and then work that plan day after day without fail.
Agencies that struggle often don’t have a fully functioning strategic and comprehensive business development plan. When I talk to agency owners, they sometimes say they have a plan of sorts, but actually, don’t. They describe their plan but no one else in the agency has ever heard of it, or they show me a well-documented plan, but those involved in executing it are too busy, too frustrated, unclear about what to do, or doing their own thing without regard to the plan or agency strategy.
Another difference between agencies that struggle and those that grow consistently is that the owner diligently invests her time every day in agency marketing and sales. Most small to midsize agency owners spend all their time managing clients and agency operations. She knows business development activities are the only tasks on her long to-do list that will result in more clients and more revenue. High-performance agency owners spend at least 40% of their time on new business, and they make sure they have the right leadership to handle the things that might steal back that 40%.
Plan your work
It all starts with the plan. An agency growth plan can take many shapes but always has the same objective – adding new clients. Your plan should be guided by the long-term goals you have for the agency such as what you want the agency to look like in five years or whom do you want as clients in ten years. If your goal is to grow rapidly, your plan might include strategies and tactics to reach and engage many different companies and marketers. If your goal is to grow strategically, your strategy might focus on engaging a few strategic prospects. There are many variations, but each must begin with a plan.
It sounds obvious in theory, but the practical application is a different story. I’ve heard agency owners say they tried one plan and then another, and another, yet nothing ever worked. They’ve hired one BD person who didn’t work out, so they hired another only to find that person didn’t work out either. One agency owner admitted paying three different new business consultants on after another, terminating each because their efforts didn’t result in any new business. In practical terms, it’s probably not the “plan” but rather underlying issues like agency positioning, uncompetitive service offering, or an outdated perception that are affecting the results. An agency growth plan has to begin with the four Ps, five Cs, or however you want to characterize the core pillars of your product offering.
The point is, a plan is not just a series of tactics. A new business plan requires a comprehensive approach including an evaluation of the market, the marketer, the agency, the services, the value proposition, and many more variables in the agency selection process before any consideration of the tactics. A good plan will uncover the issues that might impact results and include ways to overcome or even embrace any problems. The result of a proper planning process is a plan that is fitted to your agency resources and capabilities with steps toward your long-term goals.
Work the plan
In my experience agencies have the best intentions when executing their new business plan but often get sidelined by client emergencies, peak periods of work, employee turnover, as well as many other legitimate reasons. Regardless of who is responsible for managing the day to day, agency owners have to take responsibility when the new business plan gets derailed. It should be treated no different than a new client. You would never let a client’s work get pushed aside or delayed. You have to manage the operations of the agency in such a way that new business always has the resources it needs to keep the plan moving forward.
It is OK to push new business activities aside for a week if circumstances require it, but no longer. Each day makes it harder to regain momentum. Sure, the staff will give all kinds of reasons why they can’t accomplish their piece of the plan but don’t give in. Help them figure out how to balance and accommodate the priorities. Don’t let them think about it as new business activity versus client activity. Think about it as all the same activity and with appropriate requirements for staff and time. Worse case, maybe the team will have to stay late, or later, or catch up over the weekend. Whatever it takes, right?
Let’s face it. It is universal. Agencies get busy, and the first thing they do is put the business development activities aside. Even though that is the worst thing to do, it is the easiest because there will be no screaming client, no missed production deadlines, no client to answer too. That is until the next month when forecast slips, and the next month when the pipeline dries up, and the next month when agency bonuses get canceled. Likewise, it is easy for the agency owner to sympathize with staff who are already going the extra mile for their clients. However, they shouldn’t. No other industry operates this way. No other business would dare push sales aside.
I know it’s hard when you are in the midst of a resource crisis. I know the feeling when you sense you might lose a great client if you don’t put every possible resource on her need. Alternatively, when you assess every option and concluded that there is no urgent business development leads so the impact will be minimal. That is precisely how it happens. It makes sense at the moment, but then two months later you are signing the “where have all the prospects gone” blues.
Plan your work and work your plan
Such simple words with such profound implications to ad agencies. I’ve talked to a lot of agencies small to large. I’ve analyzed even more. Agencies can be successful, profitable, growing in many different ways. One thing stands out among the top performing agencies, and that is that they have a plan and execute it consistently. That means they manage the cycles of demand. They manage staff time to keep their growing client list happy and keep new business activities running to ensure the pipeline stays full. Agencies that do have a much better chance of realizing their goals.
I help agencies create high-performance new business plans and show them how to work those plans to optimize success. I’m always open to a conversation regardless of your needs. 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!