When I talk to ad agency leaders about their new business struggles, I hear things like in and outbound marketing, cold calling, referrals, pipeline, and many other tactical challenges. There is no doubt agency business development is hard and getting harder every year. Prospects are blocking emails, not taking calls, disabling cookies, browsing in steal mode, and employing new defenses as they become available. Despite the pervasive cold shoulder, new accounts and projects are won.
Almost every agency uses email and calls for cold prospecting. They compile a list of prospects, compose attention-getting emails, write provocative subject lines, and prepare engaging call scripts. Then reach out only to find so many dead ends, no clicks, no response, or wholly ignored, time and time again. Why has it gotten so hard? Think about your own inbox. You probably only open the emails you know.
In those same conversations, I ask what things they do to support their new business prospecting and get very few answers. What seems to be lacking is a brand awareness strategy. That is to say, the process of creating and building awareness of the agency, going from cold to warm, before prospecting activity. One reason it’s getting harder is that your prospects can't separate you from the tens and hundreds of others vying for their time every week.
An essential start of any successful agency strategy today has to be shifting from cold to warm prospecting. It requires investing time upfront in creating awareness and shaping perception among your prospects so they will more likely be open to your email, click to your website, and be interested in taking your call. How can an agency shift their prospecting from cold to warm? Glad you asked.
Survey work that I've done identifies the top sources marketers use to learn about new agencies. You can view those results here. A high-performance business development program uses these and other channels to build awareness and differentiation and see much higher prospecting results.
- 85% ask colleagues and friends for recommendations
- 84% check out agency websites
- 77% do Google searches
- 76% look in advertising and marketing trade press and blogs
- 71% look at agency social media
- 12% Unsolicited calls and emails
Marketers ask colleagues and friends for agency recommendations more frequently than any other source, 85%, when looking for a new agency. Wouldn't it be great to have some influence on those discussions? You can't get to all their friends, maybe none, but if you reach any, you can exert some influence on them through some of the same tactics you use to influence prospects directly. Placing content in trade pubs and websites that they read, posting, liking, and sharing relevant content in social media, especially LinkedIn, can help make the agency recognizable to their friends. Good content can create some level of understanding about the agency and why it is a potential resource that a friend might pass along. Learn how agencies can exert influence, Influencer Marketing for ad agency new business.
We all know that all prospects go to the agency website before anyone knows they are searching for a new resource. That's why 84% say they check out a potential new agency by visiting the website. If that website experience isn't optimal for the marketer, the game is over. The same is true for any potential influencer. Before you invest in any new business program, make sure your website is up to date. When a marketer visits for the first time, it must reflect the latest market trends, clearly communicate your value proposition and difference, and designed for a frictionless prospect journey to keep your story flowing.
What happens when you search for the services and capabilities that you promote about your agency. Like the 77% of marketers who start searching, do you find your agency on the first page of Google, the tenth page, or never? Search can be expensive; however, done well, it can be your best investment. The impact comes from buying terms hyper-focused on your best potential audiences with every click leading to the best content for the right point in the journey. Look again at those results and swear at all those agencies that showed up before you.
Trade Press and Blogs
PR for agencies is often a struggle, but the benefits are worth the effort, so say 76% of marketers. Stories, case studies, thought leadership, subject matter expertise, and other useful content strategically placed where your prospects go for news will have a significant impact on their awareness of you. One of the biggest challenges that agencies admit is creating good content and lots of it. I posted a simple framework that agencies can use to identify and produce great content: How to create great content for your agency.
There are a lot of opinions about the efficacy of social media for B2B sales; however, 71% of Marketers use it to discover new agencies. When asked, many agencies believe it is only suitable for celebrities or politics or is passé. Marketers seem to think it is a vital channel when searching for a new agency. Which platform, how often, and what content are all good topics of debate; however, for ad agency prospects, no one can argue the reach and authority of LinkedIn. If you think otherwise, read my post: Does LinkedIn work for new business.
Unsolicited Calls and Emails
It may seem odd that I would share this statistic given how essential calls and emails are to an agency's new business program. At 12%, marketers must loathe unsolicited calls and emails. There are a couple of reasons for them to hate it. First, the number of emails and calls a marketer receives daily is overwhelming. See my post: A very smart CMO nails it. Second, the content in those calls and emails so often fails to be relevant or interesting to what is most important to the recipient. Third, in a call or email, it's so difficult to separate a good one from all the bad unless the marketer recognizes the sender. The point is to shift calls and emails from unsolicited to recognizable, from cold to warm so that your prospects can separate you from the hundreds of others who are trying to get through.
There is no doubt. Reaching prospects is getting harder, but agencies have a choice. They can go straight to cold prospecting in hopes of catching that one unsuspecting marketer at just the right time with just the right solution. What are the odds? Or, they can take the time to build awareness in the channels most used by marketers when they start looking for a new agency. Yes, that is harder in the short term. By doing so, they will stand out from the hundreds of other emails or voice messages as a recognizable name. Better yet, they will be appreciated for what they do, making it easier to start that conversation.
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 Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please share your new business advice, successes, and failures. #LetsGrow!