The start of a new year usually means a spirit of optimism, possibilities, and a renewed commitment to take your business development program to new heights. But there is nothing usual about this year. The last couple of years have taken a toll on all of us in so many ways; physically, emotionally, and financially. And that doesn't look to change any time soon. Despite everything they throw at us, business must go on, and ad agency new business must lead the charge. The best cure for these challenging times is a new client, and then another, and another. Work on these five things right now to sharpen your spear and get hunting.
1. Prospect list
Purge and refresh. Your prospect lists suffered in 2020 from layoffs, furloughs, and turnover. I've analyzed many active prospect lists to find around 10% - 15% increase in bounce rates than in previous years. Usually, that number is only 1% - 5%. According to a prominent executive recruiter, I believe this massive job turnover trend could result in as much as a 20% change in our national workforce at the executive level.
You've got to spend time verifying, researching, and updating your lists now and in the future, as more turnover is still to come. This effort can be very time-consuming and arduous. You need the right tools to help make it quick and easy. 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. The two best resources today are Winmo and LinkedIn. You can read more about them here.
Adjust your aim. In the past 12 months, we've witnessed unprecedented changes in the marketplace. Many sectors tanked while others surged. Over the months, some sectors have come back while others remain stagnant. Depending on who you target, you may have had a great year or are teetering on disaster. For those in the right sectors, keep at it. For those not so fortunate, time to adjust your aim where the opportunity is. Suppose the industries or sectors aren't where you have experience. In that case, you'll need to use what experience you have to bridge the differences through audience expertise or tactical expertise and make a good argument for how well it translates.
Do you want some ideas on where to aim? Check out my BD Insights page.
Revise your old stories. You've likely got a handful of flagship case studies that demonstrate your best thinking, most creative work, and most significant results. You wrote them a few years ago, and they've served you well. Those stories probably need to be revised to highlight aspects of the work that resonate with what marketers are looking for today. Marketers have to get current customers back and convert new customers, or they will not last long. In other words, long-term investments in things like culture building or brand building are not the most pressing priorities.
The demand for short-term results is why there has been a significant uptick in marketing leadership turnover and agency changes. Everyone is scrambling to make up for their losses, reverse declining trends, and reclaim momentum going into the new year. Your case studies and your agency stories have to express this. They need to emphasize speed to market, faster results, and lower cost to get today's prospect's attention. Three years ago, brand building, community building, cultural change, and going viral were all the rage. Today it's a very different mindset. You can read more about that mindset in my post: Short term thinking is the headline in 2021.
Create new stories. For the same reason as above, take a look at other work you've done that may not have risen to your list of top cases but might be perfect for today's market needs. Creating new case studies is often difficult for agencies because of internal bandwidth, but now, more than ever, it's a critical investment. As you consider what and where to invest limited time and resources, take a step back, and consider what a marketer will take away from the current work on your website. If it doesn't speak to their urgent needs right now, identify the gaps, and fill them with new stories.
Update your website. Again, for the above reasons, take a hard look at your website and the messaging. Imagine you are a marketer searching for a new agency. Does the message speak to their needs? Enlist someone in your network, a marketer ideally, and get their unbiased, objective, outside impression and takeaway. Ask them specific questions about their impression and if they concluded that your agency would be a good fit for short-term results, quick to market, and can do more with less, or whatever your key benefits are for 2021.
Reconnect. There is no better time than during these uncertain times to reconnect with past friends, colleagues, and clients. Everyone is suffering, and a compassionate word goes a long way. I'm sure you'd like to know how Bob Jones or Sharon Smith is doing and how they are coping with this. It's a natural conversation and an ideal reason to reach out. During the conversation, share what your agency has been doing and suggest making referrals in both directions. Friends helping friends. Try committing to a few a day as you work through your network, and then repeat the process every month or quarter. Be sure to include your trusted vendors, other agency leaders, media partners, anyone, and everyone who has the potential to run into someone who might need your help.
Ask and offer referrals. Referrals are the highest converting leads. Many agencies can grow for years on referrals alone but not always for very long. Too often, the work volume keeps agency leaders from staying in touch with their network and facilitating referrals. Slowly they will dry up without intentional nurturing. A strategic referral and reciprocal referral process and commitment to networking will keep the flow of leads coming. Staying in touch, asking for help, and making it easy is essential, along with a commitment to set aside time regularly no matter what. Winmo has an excellent outline for a simple and easy referral strategy. Read it here.
Expand your network. Now is a great time to expand your network. I've found an increased willingness to accept a connection invitation on LinkedIn. Growing your LinkedIn connections exponentially increases your reach across 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree connections. It opens up vast new possibilities to engage with the prospects you are or want to pursue, leverage the connections of those prospects for introductions and referrals, and increase your 'database' of potential new prospects as you expand your industries and geographies.
Today, I have many connections but nowhere near the maximum 30,000 that LinkedIn allows, at least not yet. I am also a member of many LinkedIn groups. That means I can reach millions of people who are marketing decision-makers. I send out invitations weekly, trying to connect with more people and grow my network. These are people who I don't personally know but may benefit from the agencies I work with or who find value in my expertise. I end up establishing a connection with only about 15% of those I invite, and that is ok. I've just started using a new tool called Omorfi, which automates the connection process and provides simple steps to move LinkedIn relationships out of LinkedIn into real person-to-person relationships. If you'd like to learn more about Omorfi, schedule a call, and I'll show you how I use it.
Build out your verticals. Too often, business development people are challenged to balance their time between prospecting and prospect research. Both can be all-consuming. Typically, it begins with a concerted effort to build a good prospect list for a vertical or a service offering. Hunting, researching, identifying, validating, contact info, appending data, and circling back to look for other decision-makers at the company takes time. Once compiled, the prospecting begins leaving no more time to continue building or replenishing that list. Many think they've collected all that they can handle.
In this environment (less travel, no conferences or networking events, less time-consuming meetings) and with the right tools, business development people can handle more, much more. There are percentages of prospects who are high value, medium, and low in any size list. As you scale up and tighten your criteria, you can spend more time on high-value leads while nurturing the others and rotating them through your process. By scaling up your list, you can also expand company size criteria in both directions. Response and conversion ratios have declined in the past year and require a large volume to achieve your new client goals.
Add adjacent verticals. We know from the data that the number one concern among many marketers is category experience. Agencies who align their business development process with their industry experience gain greater credibility and often see more opportunities as 'experts' in those industries. If your industry expertise happens to be in some or all of the industries suffering the most, you need to look at adjacent industries for growth.
Setting aside the clients who only accept actual direct category experience, what open-minded clients want when they ask for experience can be something different. There are four dimensions to relevant experience; category or industry experience, product or service experience, customer or audience experience, and relatable problem-solving experience in another category or other audience. That doesn't mean something as generic as increasing sales in another industry will translate to their category. But success with products that share similarities with theirs will. Break down your best work and see what comparisons you can make in other growing industries.
5. Automate everything
Marketing automation. One of the best ways to free up more time for prospecting is to automate as many processes and tactics as possible with a marketing automation platform. When a prospect visits the website, automate sharing similar content like what they viewed or a more detailed story about it. Have them automatically go into your follow-up list, ready for you each morning. Start them on a personalized drip campaign that nudges them along their path to learn about the agency. Set up nurture campaigns that deliver regular emails to build awareness and understanding with triggers that notify you when they engage. Create newsletter campaigns with dynamic content to match each prospect's interest. Activate multitouch outreach that integrates emails, mailings, and calls. Sort prospects into lists by priority, follow-up time, or any other criteria. Marketing automation can do almost all of the manual sorting and analysis work for you in the background and deliver the results when you need them. Your time is freed up to apply your skills and expertise to the prospects who matter the most. Your business development effort can scale without crushing you with dead ends, endless follow-ups, and non-stop emailing, calling, and wondering who's next. You can learn more about my Ad Agency Prospecting Platform here.
Go get 'em.
As Charles Darwin said, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."
If you'd like help adapting to change, let's talk. You must rethink and reset your business development program for the new year. I am always open to discussing your business development challenges. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Let's connect on LinkedIn to network, share resources, and new ideas, or talk about the latest ad agency business development news. #LetsGrow!