The change over to the new year is not the time to be planning your business development strategy, yet so many agencies do just that. It is like a retailer planning next year’s product assortment during the holiday rush. It just doesn’t make business sense to take your eye off the ball to prepare when you should be executing a smart strategy while the market is hot. It also doesn’t make sense to be planning when you are late, panicked, and rushing to get something, anything into the market. A show of hands. Who is planning right now? Enough said.
If you look at search activity throughout the year, the first quarter ranks the highest for terms like an advertising agency, digital agency, advertising RFP. Search volumes at the most popular agency databases are up, search consultants are slammed, and agency business development people who properly plan are swamped. A new year, new budget, new goals, new product launches, all create a frenzy of market activity as brands race to get the year off to a head start.
Why plan now if now is the time to execute? I’ve had a lot of conversations about this with agency leaders and new business pros. There are two dominant reasons. The first is that everyone in the agency is scrambling to finish up any end of the year projects to bill as much income as possible. The conscientious business development person tries to bring together the leadership before it’s too late, but all they get is sorry, no time to plan.
The second is the new business person. As the agency, they are desperate to wring any additional income before the end of the year to hit forecast, salvage a down year, or close an uncooperative opportunity. He or she can’t take time out to analyze current year's activities and provide useful recommendations for next year. Usually, it is both reasons, and nothing happens until this time of the new year. Moreover, because it is this time of the new year, everyone is in a panic that they are too late – again.
Ideally, the leadership team should commence the planning process starting July 1. That gives you a full half-year activity to analyze. Include the second half of the previous year if you like. Plan to conclude the process by the start of the fourth quarter to free up everyone for fourth-quarter activities. July and August are typically the slowest months of the year making it easier to spend time and brainpower to the task. Once the plan is finished, it can always be tweaked if anything changes in the fourth quarter.
During the planning period, you have time to revisit positioning and differentiation. You can’t do that yourself or with your team because you are too close to it. You should seek outside objective feedback. I find it very helpful to reach out to senior-level marketers for feedback. I look for LinkedIn connections that are outside my business segments so that they won’t be suspicious of a sales pitch. You can also pay for help from new business consultants like me or agency search consultants who offer such services. If you are going to pay, be sure they have experience in your industry with similar businesses like yours otherwise you won’t get meaningful, actionable insights.
Take a fresh look at your prospect list. I bet there is a lot of wasted time between the good ones. Like your positioning, you shouldn’t do your prospect audit yourself. You will benefit from outside objective feedback. I know how hard it is to look at a prospect with potential yet set them aside because they don’t fit your strategy. It is precisely that kind of discipline that keeps your approach on track and ensures precious time is spent in the best possible way. If you have a marketing automation platform like mine, it is simple to focus on just the right prospects while keeping any others in the queue. The tracking, analytics, and reporting built into my system help me define who my best prospects are by their behavior on the website, with emails and social media, a blog, videos, and other content. I find it’s an invaluable way to validate any assumptions and sharpen a prospecting strategy.
If you are reading this now, you are too late. It would be best if you had started planning last July. However, it’s not too late to adjust your timing this year. Put it on your calendar for July 1. Block the time to avoid any summer vacation conflicts. Give out assignments in the second quarter and bring the team together for a fresh start and a new way of thinking. The most important thing about early planning is to drive the process to a conclusion. Human nature tends to let things languish when the deadlines are far off. Be diligent. Stay committed. Keep everyone on track and don’t let up until the plan is complete. The first time around will always be hard, but the result will be well worth it, both in staff time and in first-quarter wins.
I want to help you get your planning cycles in sync with the marketplace. Click on Schedule a Call and let’s talk about how you can get ahead of the competition just by adjusting your timing. 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!