What is fascinating about the ad business is that new business people come in all shapes and sizes. Each can be as successful as the other or succeed in one place and fail in the next. New business is often feast or famine. Some strategies are successful for one agency but don’t seem to work for another. A plan that filled the pipeline last year hasn’t generated a single lead this year. A category that was ripe with opportunity has dried up. Let’s face it. Ad agency new business is hard and even harder today than yesterday.
Even with the best-laid plans, the economy, a significant client loss, staff turnover, and many other events can derail a program. In my experience, the biggest impediment to successful new business is the inability to execute consistently. After all, new business is overhead, and when revenue shrinks, it’s the first to get cut. Agencies have to prioritize client business leaving new business last or worse, unattended altogether. The result is a program executed in fits and starts, and restarts, leaving the agency with no new leads and no new revenue in the forecast.
As an agency leader, you can’t change the industry roller coaster or stop your new business person from jumping to the next agency, but you can take steps to ensure that your new business plan continues despite the ups and downs. You can manage the chaos by adopting these seven new business mandates to get you through the good times and bad.
Keep prospecting no matter what
Think about your agency's new business program as your best agency client. You wouldn’t stop work for your best client when another client leaves – you’d double down on your remaining clients. Whatever happens, don’t let your new business activities stop. You know that the best way to recover from any setback is with a new client and the fastest way to get one is from the ongoing efforts of your prospecting. You may have to adjust the time spent, shift people around, or pause some activities briefly as you adapt to changes but don’t give up entirely. With a consistently executed program that new client is just around the corner.
All new business contacts must be put in a database
Some new business people are reluctant to put a contact or prospecting history into a database system until an opportunity starts or they have made contact. I’ve heard many horror stories about new business people who exit with their prospects in hand or leave no clue about who they’ve been working on, have or haven’t contacted, or any trace of a status. Work that was done while at the agency is the property of the agency. That is as true for employees as it is for consultants. A database is far better because spreadsheets can accidentally be deleted or lost on the server. Your prospect list is the future of the agency and represents untold hours of work and history. Keep them in a system that you control with passwords and frequently back it up in another location. If you wake up tomorrow without a single prospect, you will not be happy.
Include new business in your agency workflow
Too many agencies leave new business activity as a stand-alone function with support handled on an as needed basis which means it often gets the lowest priority. BD people sometimes go outside the system to get things done below agency standards. Treat new business as client work and require all activities to be included in traffic reports, managed by production, reviewed, proofed, and approved. Assign people to support BD projects and hold them accountable for both quality and schedules. You’ll get better more consistent results, help keep new business on track, and will always know where things stand, deadlines made and missed, and up to date on deliverables. There should never be an ‘I didn’t know’ or ‘it slipped through the cracks.’
Establish metrics and stay on top of them
It’s too easy to get distracted by more pressing needs when new business isn’t measured and held to milestones, deadlines, and results. Things have a way of slipping when there is no accountability. Keep a schedule of processes, projects, dates, and expected outcomes that can be measured, quantified, and reported. Stick to weekly status meetings with a simple reporting format so that it doesn’t require too much prep time. Identify and problems and together figure out how to solve them. Make it a top agency priority and take ownership of the process and the results. New business is a team effort and managed like you would any client team.
Dedicate time to long term opportunities
It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day battle for new business. After all, who doesn’t want new revenue now? There is always something more that can be done to move a languishing prospect along or breakthrough on a hot tip. However, it is equally important to spend time on long-term prospects. That’s the only way to ensure your pipeline remains healthy tomorrow. Prospect who aren’t ready to engage because they have an agency contract until next year or have no budget until the fourth quarter likely forgets about you between now and then. Investing time developing and executing a long-term strategy to stay in front of them will help make sure you will be on their list when the time comes. It is surprising how many new business people spend time only on what is in front of them. Make sure to divide new business time on both short and long-term prospecting.
Referrals are the most abundant source of new opportunities. The more extensive and more active the network, the more referrals will come. If you and your agency leadership aren’t proactive with their network of friends, colleagues, clients, and past associations, the agency is losing out. Many people don’t like networking because it feels like selling, but it doesn’t have to. Reach out by asking what your contact has been up to, what’s new in their life or business. Then share a few new successes at the agency and leave it at that. Your goal is to stay top of mind so that when they hear of a potential new opportunity, they will remember to pass your name along. Dedicate a set amount of time every week to networking, put it on the calendar, and hold your leaders accountable for the same.
Reward effort as well as the outcome.
New business is the hardest job in the agency. It is filled with rejection, dead ends, misses and wasted time. For every win, there may be twenty losses. Each loss required as much effort as the win. If you only acknowledge or reward the wins all the time in between will become harder and harder to endure. You have to keep your new business team motivated and excited no matter what happens. You have to let them know how much you appreciate their effort despite the results. They have to feel they have your support and trust as they step up to the plate every day. They also have to believe that the entire agency has their back. If you do, everyone else will too.
No matter how you run business development; a dedicated person, a team, shared among leadership, outsourced, implementing these seven mandates will keep your program running no matter what challenges you face. The age-old adage, out of sight, out of mind is as true today for business development. If you aren’t on your prospect’s mind, you’ll never get up to the plate. If you don’t stay on your prospect's mind, you’ll quickly be forgotten.
I’ve got a lot of advice on how to make your business development efforts more effective and would enjoy sharing what I know. If you like this post, click the thumbs up, so I’ll know, and then sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures. #LetsGrow!