I'm going to bet you feel the same way under your mask. 2020 hasn't been easy. At the start of the year, the possibilities were exciting, then the pandemic's darkest months prevailed, and now the aftershock of an economic crisis. No one could have scripted what we've been through. But here we are, and it's time to start thinking about 2021.
This unprecedented year and the uncertainties that lie ahead are forcing marketers to reset their strategies, budget, and agency partners to adjust to the new post-covid market conditions. Changes to agency rosters started at the onset of the pandemic out of panic and the economic crisis. As we advance, marketers will be on the lookout for less expensive resources, new ways of thinking or doing, fresh ideas, and insights around the evolving consumer. In 2021, neither agency nor the marketer wants to waste time preparing. Agencies have to make the process better, faster, easier, and more successful. 2021 seems like the ideal time as we all reconsider what is important and what is a waste of time.
Typically when you begin the process, you take stock of your past year's new business performance. There has been nothing ordinary about 2020, so the lessons will paint a very different picture than we would have expected at the start. Between response rates and response times, the predictability of new business tactics will be anything but predictable. That said, the fundamentals don't change.
Scrub your Prospect List
I'm sure you've observed that your prospect lists have suffered from layoffs, furloughs, and turnover. I've analyzed several active prospect lists to find around 10% - 15% bounce rates in the last few months. Usually, that number is only 1% - 2%. You've got to spend time verifying, researching, and updating your lists now and in the future as more turnover is still to come. Now, more than ever, you need the right tools to help. I've used numerous different databases and sources, many of which result in more time and effort than they save because the accuracy is low. There is nothing more frustrating than discovering Mary Smith hasn't worked at the reported company for eight years. Yes, that happens too many times with some resources. The two best resources today are Winmo and LinkedIn. You can read more about them here.
Know your Prospects' Needs
The second half of this year has shown encouraging signs of improvement. Ad spending is increasing. Hiring is on the rise. Consumer spending is rebounding. Shell-shocked marketers in many sectors have had budgets slashed, while others have had budgets increase. As forecasts for 2021 become clear and marketing budgets follow, fast, shorter short-term results will be the mandate. Long-term strategies, brand-building, experimentation, and questionable investments are likely to be off the table until enough momentum is achieved.
The bright spot through all of this is digital. Spending on updating technologies, digital outreach, experiences, content, mobile, and social media has consistently risen. Ecommerce has become the mandate for brands who didn't have effective online sales channels, and for those who did, improving their approach has been the focus. Agencies need to carefully assess their prospects' competencies and align their expertise and services to help support what marketers need now.
Scale your Prospecting
The pandemic has wholly removed a critical channel for prospecting, person-to-person engagement. Conferences, tradeshows, events, lunches, drinks, face-to-face meetings have, for the most part, been canceled. Some are beginning to reappear, but capacity restrictions and underlying health concerns impede genuine relationship building. With an unprecedented shift to remote working, finding and connecting with prospects is even more challenging. Today, video conferencing is becoming more awkward, tedious, and a growing source of pain, frustration, and even contempt, yet the only means most prospects will use to engage. That first zoom meeting has to be carefully planned to use the medium in a way that isn't awkward, tedious, and painful. Agencies must also invest in training on how to use the medium and interact effectively to be successful.
In the same way that marketers have embraced digital channels, agencies must too. Technology tools are crucial to agency business development in many ways. They can be a huge time saver by handling some of the day-to-day tasks done manually by the business development lead. They provide prospecting data, once the role of endless spreadsheet analysis and guessing can be accomplished with the mouse's click, saving time and contributing greater intelligence to the job. They allow for much greater scaling of prospecting activities, often limited by the number of people and hours in the day. They meticulously maintain records of prospects and prospecting activities that can be accessed, analyzed, and used to inform the next steps, next strategy, and as necessary, decisions about investing time and money to pursue.
Many agencies use technology tools to some extent. Some do it very well, while others struggle to gain advantages. About one quarter don't. Today, digital outreach is the primary means of prospecting and brings all the benefits of data to the prospecting process. Agencies need to be super users of technology, not to replace all new business functions but as tools to enhance and improve their ability to get new clients and steer their agency toward the future.
What are you Selling
It goes without saying that marketers are desperately looking for ways to regain lost momentum, motivate customers to come back, and acquire new customers to recover lost sales and revenue. They are less concerned with the process or technical details. They want to know how what you do will benefit them and their most urgent needs. Agencies often default to their 'features'; full service, digital, omnichannel, when they speak to a prospect and may hint at the benefits; more traffic, more customers, more sales. When 'what can you do for me' is on the top of their mind, 'we are Google certified, Sitecore gold partner, Agency of the Year', will lose their attention and interest fast. First, demonstrate how what you do will directly and relevantly benefit them in this time of marketplace challenges, and you will more likely get their attention. Once you have that attention, they'll be open to learning why you are different from your competitors and why you are uniquely suited for their industry, a specific channel, or a challenging customer segment? These are universal concepts but even more critical today.
Don't Forget Inbound
Marketers spend as much as 60% of their agency search before you even know they are looking. They want to identify the right resources before investing any significant time determining who is the best solution. You can't sell your agency directly during that time. Your inbound strategy can. Your inbound tactics have to be discoverable, educational, relevant, and interesting to your target prospects. Your efforts to put that content in the places where your prospects go to research and discover new agencies will result in those prospects contacting you with an understanding of what you do and a desire to learn more.
It's content marketing 101. All the same rules apply to your agency. If your content is discoverable and interesting to your prospects, they will know that you do content marketing well, a service that is in high demand by them. Content marketing is one of the top tactics that marketers say they want more of and want to do better. You should also consider that without conferences, networking events, and personal interaction, marketers have few ways to learn about your agency. Strategic investment of time and resources on inbound agency content will also demonstrate your content marketing expertise to your prospects.
Don't be a waste of time
Remember, neither agency nor marketer wants to waste time. Your prospects have less time and even less tolerance for wasting time. You have to make the discovery process better, faster, and easier. It would be best if you reconsidered what is critically important to your prospects right now and what is a waste of their time. A tighter, more benefit-focused approach supported by in and outbound tactics will help make 2021 a better year.
Good luck, and happy planning
These are uncertain times, yet no better time to rethink and reset your business development program. I am always open to discussing my favorite subject – ad agency new business. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on LinkedIn for daily tips, observations, and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!