Marketers say the first thing they do when considering a new agency resource is to ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. Wouldn't it be great to have some influence on those discussions? Wouldn't it be smart to have your own "micro-influencer" strategy surrounding the marketers you want to go after, one that motivates those who have relationships or followers in the same circles to advocate on your behalf? Sound too good to be true?
Recommendations and referrals have been a mainstay of agencies since the industry began. Most agencies get a steady trickle of leads and opportunities from friends and colleagues without doing much on their own. Excellent work and great relationships can pay off over time, but is it enough? With the advent of Influencer Marketing, one of the top trending tactics among brands today, agencies can also enjoy the benefits. Just Google "influencer marketing strategy" and pick one that suits your industry. Or, read on.
You have happy clients, friendly former clients, professional and social relationships with marketing executives, CEOs, and other influential people. The minimum level of effort some agency executives engage in is regular networking with these kinds of contacts. I say 'some' because a surprising number don't. Those who do tend to reach out regularly to swap news, catch up on gossip, and whatever common interests they share. A regular check-in keeps the agency top of mind should a need come up. And, networking can be a source of ideas, new resources, or a reciprocal referral.
Relying on current relationships to remember you, understand what you do, and communicate your advantage in relevant ways is a challenge. I cringe when I hear, "I wish I had remembered you when the VP Marketing asked if I knew anyone." In any networking conversation, there should be a more obvious ask. For example.
By the way, Margo, please feel free to pass my name along to anyone you meet who asks for a resource or seems to be struggling with X, Y, or Z. Likewise, I'll do the same for you. As a matter of fact, I was speaking with the VP of HR at Acme, and I passed your name to her.
It may feel awkward to make such a request; however, I've never heard anything other than genuine agreement. After all, everyone is looking for something, business opportunity, higher pay, more exposure, and always willing to help. All you have to do is ask in a way that makes it easy and mutually beneficial. As a follow-up, send a capabilities pdf or other content that your connection can easily share with someone else. Make sure it includes your contact info. It will also serve as a reminder sitting in their inbox or on the desktop.
Referral relationships have to be nurtured. Put a note on your calendar to check in at regular intervals. Keep your network in mind when new content becomes available that you can share, or relevant news about the agency that might interest them. Keep a mental note or, better yet, make a list of the things that will help your contacts in their business. The more value you give, the more you'll receive in return.
Your current network is a great place to start, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Consider reaching out to your LinkedIn connections, not only those who are personal friends. Try a simple message.
As a valued connection, I want to let you know what I do. (include your elevator speech with a website link) If you come across anyone looking for a new agency, or isn't happy with their current one or struggling to hit their forecast, please share my info. Likewise, I am willing to pass your name to any colleagues I know who may need your services. Please send something I can share about you.
Again, it may feel awkward at first, but for those who are open to a business building relationship, you'll be highly valued. For those who don't, there is no downside. You will discover the few who enjoy networking and can focus your time on growing those relationships. For anyone who isn't interested, perhaps a referral from you will get things started. LinkedIn has achieved such phenomenal success as a business network because it works. But it only works when you ask.
The great thing about a LinkedIn connection is access to their list of connections. Don't be shy about taking a look. You will probably see a number of people you would like to connect with. Be considerate of everyone's time. Choose a connection to start and ask if they would mind introducing you. Provide a reason why that person would value the introduction. In return, invite them to look over your connections for potential introductions as well.
If this approach is comfortable for you, the possibilities are tremendous. Start searching for new executives and influencers to connect with, especially ones who are active LinkedIn networkers. You may notice them commenting on posts in your feed or authoring articles you read. You don't have to know them to send an invitation. You represent legitimate business value as a professional marketer and by the things you've accomplished for your clients. The more connections you have, the greater your reach across the 600 million+ members.
As with everything you do, time is the limiting factor, so take it slow. Start with one new connection a day. Keep in mind there is a 10% - 20% response rate from a LinkedIn invitation, so don't be discouraged. Each connection adds hundreds or thousands of new possibilities to your network. All you have to do is ask, for a connection, for a referral, for the business.
If you have the budget, resources, and motivation, there are many opportunities with paid micro and macro-influencers. The cost will be either micro or macro, too. For example, companies like Gartner and Forrester have analysts for hire who will write and publish about your agency and refer you to their clients and conference attendees. That is a macro cost. Speakers bureaus often have subject matter experts for hire, as well. Or consider reaching out directly to other types of influencers such as Bloggers, Social Media Stars, Industry Experts, and Thought Leaders who have amassed audiences that you want to reach. The cost is determined by audience size and stature in the industry.
Get more recommendations and referrals
These tasks may seem daunting given the time you can invest, and scale of possibilities, but it doesn't have to be. Begin with your current relationships and work toward greater reach over time as you get more comfortable with the process. Focus on one industry and identify your existing connections who have contacts within that industry. Start a dialogue and build rapport so that you can ask and offer referrals. Some will, while others won't, and that's ok.
Next, identify potential new contacts within that same industry, especially those who look like they could be micro-influencers, are active connectors, and represent authority and leadership among the prospects you ultimately want to influence. Send LinkedIn invitations. I've gotten pretty good results with a simple and benefit-oriented message like this.
Hi Stephanie. I value my network of B2B marketing executives from Fortune 500s to start-ups and would be honored to include you among them. Let's connect and expand our networks so we can both benefit from the greater reach and diverse experiences.
Whoever accepts, lead the conversation, much like you would when meeting a new friend at a cocktail party. Explore what they do while sharing your story. Once you feel the connection is good, ask, and offer referrals. Next, look for media people who write for the industry and bloggers who you see in that industry's trade press. Rinse and repeat. Remember, if 10% - 20% accept your invitation, you've got to send enough invitations to gain net new connections and deal with the rejection of that unfriendly 80 % - 90%. C'est la vie!
Keep going, inch by inch, until you've got your first industry prospects surrounded. And, don't forget to nurture those relationships with regular contact, news and updates, shareable content, and reciprocal referrals when you can. Once you get to a comfortable and manageable networking cadence, turn your sights toward the next industry and repeat. Better yet, enlist your senior leaders to share the load and multiply the effect. Who knows? With success, you may never have to cold prospect again.
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