Last week I talked to a young, aggressive agency owner who wanted to grow fast and thought the best way was to create a conceptual campaign to take around to marketers in hopes of selling it to someone. The owner didn’t want to spend time away from current clients to work on cultivating new relationships and new business. She believed that a hired gun could go selling for her. The owner was only interested in clients who could sign in 30 – 90 days and did not want to bother with long-term relationship building. Who wouldn’t?
In the same week, I spoke with a seasoned agency owner with years of experience working at and owning agencies. He talked about how bad things had gotten for his agency with no pipeline, no leads, and more clients fading away. He devised a ready-made offering to generate sales in the shortest amount of time guaranteed. He was looking for someone who could hit the road and sell his package to brands desperate to end the year with a bump. Who wouldn’t want that?
Both of these examples have the same thing in common. Neither wants to do business development, the hard work necessary to compete and win and grow and stay in the ad business. Each believes they can do something different, create something out of thin air, come up with an idea no one else has had before that will be appealing and successful for everyone. And, their idea is so good it only needs a salesperson to take it to hungry marketers. The young owner felt she could sign 3 - 4 new clients per month while the experienced owner would be happy to find just one. I politely declined both.
It’s not that I don’t like helping agencies be successful. There is no greater feeling than to win new business and new clients for agency owners. Regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or commitment, there are some fundamental truths to selling any product, service, or relationship, and their ideas were not. It’s not that I don’t believe in innovation. Innovation is the lifeblood of every industry. These weren’t innovative ideas but rather as old as snake oil. While there may be marketers who still fall for it, not me.
These two examples are not unique by any means. They are emblematic of an all too common dilemma among agencies. It’s the ‘I don’t need to do business development’ syndrome. Whether they think their work will bring new clients, or their notoriety will keep the phone ringing, or their network will keep them busy, when the leads dry up, and clients go elsewhere, the reality comes and panic sets in. It may be one or many years before the crisis, but every business that doesn’t have sales and marketing as an integral part of their operation is doomed to failure. The puzzling thing is why so many agencies think they are different.
There are a few agencies who have had pretty good runs without any formal business development. A very few. Unfortunately, other agencies see that as proof for them. They have no idea what the underlying factors are for the success, or they believe they also embody those same factors. Whatever the case, the chances of succeeding are almost zero whereas the possibility for success through business development is, on average 25%. While it is true that the cost and time necessary for a healthy new business effort is much more than doing nothing, doing nothing will eventually result in nothing.
Neither of these two examples had any business development efforts ongoing. The former had leveraged industry relationships to grow her new agency, and those had all dried up. The later had stopped all business development when the agency got overwhelmed with low paying client needs. Both had come to the desperate reality that they had to do something, or they couldn’t make payroll, couldn’t pay rent, and wouldn’t dip into savings anymore.
These are cautionary tales for every agency. Don’t neglect your business development responsibilities. Doing so is no different than ignoring your best client. Initially you can avoid any repercussion, but eventually, that client will go elsewhere, probably to an agency that has a business development program running. Also, then there is the absolute heartbreaker when a recently discovered prospect replies if only they knew about you six months ago when they picked a new agency.
The only solution is to have a business development program that is well-defined, integrated into the operations of the agency, is regularly monitored, delegated across functions, and reviewed every six months. Keep in mind that the waves in the marketplace will buffet your efforts both positively and negatively. Don’t expect consistent results. Be patient. As long as you have a steady drumbeat of common-sense tactics and an ever-refreshed prospect list, you will have both short and long-term opportunities to keep your agency growing. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time so get started now.
I want to help you get your business development program started or restarted. Click on Schedule a Call and let’s talk about what has been working well and what has not and how to fix it. 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!