What will agencies do in 2020 to break through the clutter and capture the attention of those elusive, increasingly skeptical marketers? What can agencies do to separate themselves from the growing herd of competition? How can they make a compelling case against the tide of in-housing, specialists, mini-projects, and procurement? What are agency priorities going into next year, and how can you make sure yours are the most effective?
The 4As released a new study compiled from their members on this very subject. It's only available to its members. If you are a member, get a copy. If you are not, the data, along with many other benefits, are worth the annual fee to join. Check out a membership at https://www.aaaa.org/home-page/membership/
Another great resource comes from RSW/US. They have been conducting a comprehensive survey among agencies for over eight years covering topics like "biggest challenges facing marketing agencies," as reported by both marketers and agencies. Other topics include spending and investment expectations, the growth of specialty agencies, the importance of measuring ROI, and many others. If you haven't seen the 2019 report, you should click on over right now, https://www.rswus.com/survey/2019-rsw-us-new-year-outlook-survey-report/ And, they have started fielding the 2020 survey right now. I urge you to participate, https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ANBAgencies
A must-read report comes from Agency Spotter. They analyze all the search activity on their platform and provide research and insights on what agencies and services are searched the most and the least. They include data on marketing trends, what services are in highest demand, what services are declining, and more. Check out all their reports at, https://www.agencyspotter.com/reports
I have looked at a range of publicly available research and talked to many agency leaders and business development pros to see what are the business development priorities.
3 Channels of Growth
Regardless of the year to year trends, agencies that consistently grow do so equally in three areas; organic, networking/referrals, and cold prospecting. Organic is the richest source of new revenue since you already have a relationship and have proven your value. Networking and referrals are rich sources so much so that some agencies focus exclusively on them. Cold prospecting is the hardest but holds the promise of bigger and better opportunities, a broader portfolio, and the excitement of new verticals and brands.
Organic growth requires a comprehensive strategy for each client that is actively executed, diligently monitored, tracked with accountability for both the account lead and management. That's right, both the front line and management have to be actively pursuing new work together. They incentivize success, invest in tactics, and work proactively. Unfortunately, many agencies are passive about organic growth or leave it to the account team without oversight or accountability. Agencies that are successfully (some report as much as 60% of new revenue) know they have to allocate time to work on organic growth outside of regular client work; otherwise, all their time will be consumed by the day-to-day demands.
Networking and Referrals
The dreaded cocktail-party schmoozing. Networking and referrals require agency leadership to reach out to their networks and look for opportunities. Since the network knows you, it is a more relaxed conversation. Agencies who do this well have developed and honed their skills so that they aren't 'selling' but rather sharing value and opportunities in exchange for the same. Yet, too many agency leaders think networking is nothing more than schilling for the agency, and any outreach is annoying to their connections. That's because they only reach out when they need something. Regular, consistent outreach, attending networking functions, and other activities, help keep those relationships friendly and the agency top of mind when new opportunities arise. It also requires reciprocal help by introducing your connections to others for business benefit. The best networkers pay it back and pay it forward as often as possible.
Prospecting is the hardest of the three, but the one that most agencies turn to almost exclusively because it is a task, they think they can delegate and stay out of the way. Most agency leaders hate cold prospecting, trying to intercept and sell the agency to a disinterested stranger. They don't have the patience for long sales cycles or the fortitude for rejection, endless rejection. That's because they think it's all about endless cold calling until one unsuspecting soul picks up the phone, and a brilliant sales pitch turns them into a client. They don't know how to properly manage the process or how to put their agency in the best position for success with today's marketer.
Regardless of how you go after new clients, it is important to know what those marketers are looking for, how they look, and what is most important to them. You should check out my latest post, 2020 Trends – Marketer Priorities, for an overview of what is important to marketers today. You will also find a variety of other posts relating to marketer preferences.
What prospects think about your business development practices
What do your prospects want to know first?
What's on your prospect's mind?
Advice from your future client
How does a marketer want to learn about new ad agencies?
And many others
This information, along with the survey results, are important considerations when adjusting your positioning and messaging for 2020. If you are talking about apples and your prospects are looking for oranges, …you get the point.
The research I've done shows where your prospects look for new agencies and what they want to know. I've also asked agencies what they think are the most and least effective prospecting activities. You can find some of the answers in these posts.
How do other advertising agencies do it?
Survey: Ad Agency Business Development Practices
Why don't more prospects respond?
What's wrong with my ad agency business development
And many others
Agencies consistently say that networking, email, PR, and content are their top tools for new business. I am referring to the majority opinion of agencies. That doesn't mean you can't be successful in other ways. I've spoken with agencies who do nothing but cold calling and get excellent results. Others spend 90% of their effort on search and do very well. Some do nothing but rely on their network to send them leads. Others piggyback on an unrelated industry to get a steady stream of introductions to new clients. The truth is, there are many ways to grow. The following are the most common because they work.
Agencies are almost unanimous about networking as the best activity for finding new clients. If your agency isn't out working the events, tradeshows, and conferences, you can be certain your competitors are. I often hear agencies lament that those events are too crowded with other agencies and too challenging to get a word in edgewise. They are right for a good reason. If you want to improve your chances, you've got to swim with the sharks. Marketers say that referrals and recommendations from their network are the number one source to learn about new agencies. Networking events are the best place to turn those chance encounters into referrers. There are plenty of resources, just a Google away to help you be better, more productive, and a more confident networker.
It's no surprise that email is one of the top new business activities, and marketers agree. They would rather learn about a new agency by email than a call or through the mail. That said, how you use email is the determining factor for success. Email open and click rates have been in decline for years at the same time email volume has been increasing. Your prospects are on the front line of the email tsunami. Today, marketing automation is increasingly used by agencies to better manage and improve prospect engagement across the entire funnel, including email. I am a big fan of marketing automation for agency business development and have posted about it often.
Should marketing automation be in your toolbox
Welcome to your Ad Agency Prospecting Platform
How to get real value from your marketing automation
What is an ad agency prospecting platform?
If you would like to learn more about how my Ad agency prospecting platform can help you, give me a call.
PR is also named as a top new business activity for agencies. Marketers agree, citing industry, trade, and business press as the top places they go to learn about agencies. A quick audit will show you that some agencies do it well, while many others do not. If you don't have an active PR strategy for your agency, you should. That strategy should be tightly aligned with your new business goals and not deployed independently with different objectives. Given the fact that marketers frequent the pages of pubs and blogs, it is an ideal way to build awareness and value among your top prospects. Too many agencies use PR exclusively for new hires, social events, and other 'cultural' activities, completely missing the mark as business development support.
And, of course, content is near the top of the list for agencies. According to my marketer priorities analysis, their top priority in 2020 is more content and better content. It should be agencies as well. Statistics prove that content is a preferred way to learn about new resources, especially during the covert research stage of their journey before engaging directly with an agency. Useful, informative, engaging, and memorable content can turn a neutral or skeptical prospect into a curious and interested one, on their own time without any of that dreaded selling. Good content can lead that prospect through most of the proof points about the agency, allowing you to focus on the personal relationship and trust-building, and ultimately closing the deal.
And finally, many agencies are planning to and need to update their website. Given the fact that almost 100% of marketers visit an agency website before deciding to make contact, I think this should be a top priority for all. Marketers are pretty clear on what they want to know about when searching for a new agency, and the website is the first place they go to learn. Websites often get a makeover every couple of years but can quickly appear outdated or worse, difficult to navigate. A marketer has little time or patience when speeding through their research. If the website doesn't satisfy their needs in just a few seconds, that marketer will get 'clicked-off' and leave. Make sure your website quickly and effortlessly meets their interests and allows them to dig deeper when something catches their attention.
I've got a lot more advice on how to make these and all your business development efforts more effective. Read this post, Your 2020 new business road map, for ideas on how to get your overall marketing plan set for 2020.
So, there you have it. You now know what to do and what not to do in 2020. Or, maybe you should zig when your competition zags. 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 Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures. #LetsGrow!