2020 started with the promise of a robust economy, businesses, brands, and consumers would thrive. With historic stock market gains, lowest unemployment, record sales across the board, ad agencies expected a terrific year. And then it happened, one after another. The Covid-19 pandemic and shutdown of the global economy. Then civil unrest, protests, and riots just as things were beginning to reopen. But wait, there’s more. We are heading towards the most divisive presidential campaign season in history.
Despite everything happening around us, ad agencies must find new ways to succeed in today's environment. Working from home, video conferencing, virtual meetings, limited collaboration, onscreen pitches, no personal interactions, reading body language, or assessing group dynamics, change everything we’ve learned about sales. Today is anything but normal, and we better get used to it.
One of the industries significantly impacted by this new normal is live events, and that eliminates an essential channel for ad agency new business – networking events, conferences, and tradeshows. Most are canceled this year, and many are turning to virtual versions of the real thing, a far cry from personal interaction. Many agencies have relied on events for all or a significant portion of their new leads and clients. But no more. Something has to fill that void.
How can agencies find and pursue new clients in the post-Covid environment? Attitudes vary, but some might still grab a coffee, take a lunch meeting, or let you in their office, all with proper social distancing. When I say some, I mean a few. Most are not ready for personal interaction. I sense that of those, some will use virus concerns as an excuse not to meet while the majority have legitimate concerns and err on the side of caution. In mathematical terms, the few that you used to be able to score meetings with have now been reduced by 90%. Not good odds.
The goal of effective prospecting is more; reach more people, more effectively, more often. LinkedIn and social media are useful tools. Emailing is widely regarded as the most effective. Virtual networking is great. Content posting and commenting is good. Calls and video conferencing are another. Each has its limitations in terms of scale and reach, except email. And each has its' own unique method of measuring results requiring time-consuming record keeping, analysis, and largely open questions about engagement, intent, and best next steps.
For these reasons and many others, marketing automation is now, more than ever, the essential tool for prospecting. Not just an email platform or a CRM system. Full-blown marketing automation combines all the disparate tools and products you may use into a completely seamless management platform, integrated measurement, and analytics across email, content, mobile, display, social, website visits, automation and logic, engagement tracking, and reporting. In today's environment, no agency should be without this time-saving, productivity-boosting, data-driving, tool.
In conversations I've had with agency leaders, there are a few common misconceptions about marketing automation. The first is the idea that these technologies are overly complex, difficult to learn and use, ineffective, and ultimately left to collect dust. I've had the same experience myself and have heard sad tales from many agency business development pros. Many marketing automation systems are overly complex, overly featured, and require too much training to use. Not mine.
The second is an unfortunate yet deserving reputation that marketing automation is a spam engine responsible for all the bulk emailing junk we loath. Email volume has grown immensely because of the onslaught of unscrupulous marketers who flood our inboxes with potions, get rich quick schemes, job offers, and a million other unwanted messages. No surprise because the cost of email is cheap, and the results, even from the worst of it, according to the data, is far better than any other tactic. Spam and junk mail are not what marketing automation should do for agencies.
The third is the long-held belief that personal interaction is far better than impersonal automated one-way communication. I don't think anyone in our field would disagree. Who among us doesn't believe that all we have to do is get in the room, and the magic will happen? Today, and in the near future, getting into the room is less likely to happen. For most of us, getting on the Zoom is the best we can hope. Impersonal automated one-way communication is not what marketing automation is good for.
An ad agency business development process is all about establishing and nurturing relationships, collaboration, steering conversations, gaining trust, making a case for better ROI, and delivering value. These are the essential ingredients in any economic environment. Today, the question is how these new relationships can get started when almost all of the proven approaches are closed down or gone altogether. This is precisely what marketing automation is good for.
Marketing automation is the tool to get these relationships started and nurtured. It is the means to develop trust, make your case, and deliver value before the first virtual or in-person meeting. When used correctly, it is your top of the funnel engine and through the funnel journey. It creates awareness (the most significant barrier for small to midsize agencies.) It allows markets to pick and choose the information they seek on their own time that communicates your agency's value and benefits so they can make fully informed decisions about who they want to engage. When used properly, it automates most of the repetitive, time-consuming work of prospect to free up your time for the relationship building and closing activities that you do best.
Despite all the benefits, marketing automation is only a tool. It starts up the conversation so agencies can focus their limited time on the highest probability prospects. That may include continuing the conversation through LinkedIn messages, a personal email, handwritten note or video chat. There will be prospects who don’t respond at all, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t reading the content and then will take a call. Others may open and click but never reply. Better to know they checked and aren’t interested. People interact in different ways and to different messages and mediums. The best strategy is to start out wide and narrow in using data.
I've written a lot about marketing automation and the benefits of ad agency business development. You can find other posts on my website. No matter which system you use or how you use it, the key to your success is the content you share and how you share it. The difference between spam and your agency is a brilliant strategy you'll develop and execute. The fundamentals are exactly the same that you apply so successfully to your client's marketing initiatives. From the top of the funnel awareness tactics, trust-building, experience, value proposition, call to action, et al. Agencies know all this stuff better than anyone. Marketing automation allows it to work at scale and reach 10X more prospects, more effectively, more often.
If you haven’t achieved what you expected from your current system or have never tried marketing automation, I'd enjoy sharing my experience and success. The majority of agencies who have tried it and quit admit that they were never adequately trained or able to use it the way they expected to. In the new normal, there can't be any excuses. Marketing automation is, more than ever, the difference-maker for agencies who want to succeed in the post-Covid marketplace.
Good luck and stay optimistic!
I've got a lot of advice on how to make your business development efforts work better in the new marketplace and enjoy sharing what I know. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily tips, tricks, and insights. And, please feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!