Ad agency business development is anything but predictable. On any given day, you have a list of prospects and go about the work of getting their attention, demonstrating value, and motivating engagement. Whether it's emails, phone calls, friendly referrals, mailings, LinkedIn messages, or other tactics, you are desperate to start that first conversation. Despite all your outreach, prospects can appear out of nowhere. A call to the front desk instead of your direct line. An unexpected email instead of a reply to yours. Even an unannounced visit to your lobby. Yes, that has happened.
What may seem like a random act or a coincidence is more likely the result of a long series of actions initiated by your prospect without your knowledge. Statistics show that buyers get through about 60% of their journey before identifying themselves. They want to keep their intentions a secret as long as they can to avoid disruption with their current agency and the onslaught of new ones. When one pops up, we wonder what started their journey, and more importantly, how could we have directed that journey to our best advantage.
The sales cycle of ad agencies is typically a long one. B2B sales surveys indicate only a tiny percentage of your overall opportunity is in the market looking to buy immediately. We know from experience that the process a marketer goes through is complicated and time-consuming. That process begins internally and proceeds undercover for an extended period before anyone under consideration becomes aware. Technology like email and website tracking can provide clues in the earliest part of the journey to guide proactive and strategic efforts to influence their decisions.
We do our best to ensure our prospects are aware of the agency. We provide reasons to care, demonstrate capabilities, and all the other details we think might provoke a need or sway a decision when they realize a change is needed. Unless we know there is an actual search in the works, we do it all blindly, hoping our timing is right and our message resonates. With email tracking, we can see what emails are opened or clicked. We look for behaviors that indicate more than just a chance engagement and plan our attack. But what are those behaviors, and what can we do with that knowledge?
A marketer's journey
Using a real-life example from inside the SharpSpring platform, we can actually see the early stages of a search process develop and gather clues from the prospect's behavior while they think no one is aware of their intent. This example follows the VP of Marketing at a national business services company, ABN Global Services (names have been changed to protect the innocent). He works out of a field office and reports to a CMO in Chicago. The CMO has delegated all advertising responsibility to the VP but retains final approval of any spending above $100K.
There's a lot we now know about this example that we didn't at the beginning. The VP had a good relationship with his agency for many years, but as his company grew, he began to feel that the agency didn't have the resources or experience to support future growth plans. After some time grappling with this dissatisfaction, he started exploring other agencies to see the possibilities and finally convinced himself that a change was needed. He went to his boss for approval to hire a new agency. The CMO agreed but asked him to consider an agency in Chicago that she had previously worked with.
Head down, not paying attention
Before the VP realized that his current agency was no longer suitable, he had no interest in learning about new agencies. He was focused on the challenges of the day and hitting his KPIs. Any email sent to him was ignored. Not because the subject line was off or the content wasn't relevant. A clever email, a surprise package, a cold call, a box of gourmet cookies, couldn't get any reaction until he was ready. As we can see in this example, when he began to weigh the pros and cons of his agency against the time and effort to find a new one, his focus and his engagement changed.
Looking back at SharpSpring's Life of the Lead, the situation seems obvious. After many ignored emails and calls, he finally opened one. Without email tracking, there would be no way to know what happened to the first XX or the next XX. We could only assume no reply meant no interest, even if he opened one, some, or all. Looking in SharpSpring, we saw that a couple more went unopened, but then the next was. That pattern continued; some ignored, some opened until one got clicked. The Life of the Lead function showed what pages he visited and how long he stayed.
This behavior change signaled some level of interest or perhaps just passing curiosity. We raised the priority and or strategy of outreach. The pattern continued with more frequent opens and more clicks. A trail of webpage visits began to emerge, providing further evidence of interest. The page visits showed what specific information he was looking for, the time spent on each page, and the pages he abandoned. Each email and subsequent action provided more clues, even though he had yet to reply or take a call. In fact, throughout the whole research phase, he didn't respond until he was ready.
Without tracking, we wouldn't have any idea when a prospect is exploring or what on the site interested them. With SharpSpring, we knew the behavior showed active intent. Based on what web pages he spent time on, we knew he was interested in digital capabilities, industry experience, client experience, and leadership. With this data, we followed up each web visit with more details about the information on those pages, client testimonials, similar case studies, updated results, and other complementary content to make a stronger case for the agency.
Without tracking, we may have concluded this prospect was no different than the many others who didn't reply or take our call. With SharpSpring, we knew this one was different and spent time learning about his business, competitors, industry, challenges. We developed more relevant, insightful, and timely messages that enhanced his impression of the agency and influenced his agency list. At that time, there were questions about his true intent. Was he powerless to make a change? Was he looking for a new job? Was he locked into a contract? What we did know was his behavior fit the pattern of a marketer looking for a new agency.
The first encounter
After all this time in stealth mode, an email finally arrives, "I'd like to schedule a call to learn more about your agency." Eureka! The cloak of secrecy was removed. Our speculation was confirmed. His pattern fit the signature of a marketer working his way through that journey. We read the clues, suspected it, and prepared for this day. We scheduled the call and confirmed what we imagined. He told us what he was looking for and his process for selecting a new agency partner. We listened carefully for more clues and insights that would help us better understand his earlier behavior, mindset, frustrations, and expectations, which would help us develop a winning strategy.
He had settled on five agencies during his research phase, including us, his current agency, although they had no chance and the CMO's former agency. We sensed a dismissive tone about that one. We were pretty sure he had his top three already chosen, and we had an excellent chance to be number one. He would present his five candidates to senior leadership, and together they would select three for a final presentation to the committee.
The VP asked that each agency provide six slides for his presentation in one week, including a single case study. We all know how hard it is to condense everything about an agency into six slides, yet this request revealed a clue about his work style: brevity and precision. And to make matters worse, he would be presenting without us, eliminating the chance for valuable feedback from the committee. That indicates his confidence in his choices and the need to be in control. Luckily, we knew from his web visits what he liked best about us and used it to guide our six slides.
After his presentation, we saw a couple more website visits. We assumed these were because some questions came up about our capabilities or experience that he wanted to clarify. We knew this would be important if we made it to the final pitch, so we added that information to the list of content for the pitch. If he had questions, I expected an email or call to discuss any issues, but he did not reach out—another example of his confidence in his instincts and desire to control the process.
The final pitch
Long story short, we made it to the final pitch and ultimately won the business. During the Q&A, the CMO spent his time talking about his accomplishments and the agencies he had worked with before. He didn't ask us a single question. We could tell he had 'more important things to do, leaving his VP to decide. On the other hand, the VP was great, very complimentary, respectful, and appreciative of our efforts. As he walked us out, he said how impressed everyone was about our knowledge of their industry and company and how thoroughly we assessed and understood their needs and demonstrated it in our approach to the campaign assignment. What he didn't know is how we tracked his research and engagement before that first call and throughout the whole process collecting clues, insights, and interests that helped shape our overall pitch.
There were many other things we did that helped us win the account. Some we do for every pitch. Others were only possible because we had advanced tracking and intelligence from our SharpSpring marketing automation platform. From the clues our new client left behind during his covert research, the capabilities he spent time with, the interest in our leadership, and the time spent on category experience, we had a pretty good idea of what to cover and how to win. Equally important were the things he didn't look at, which narrowed our focus on the most critical things, demonstrating brevity and precision. All these insights shaped our story around the things most important to him without wasting time on what wasn't.
Before tracking, it was all guesswork. Now, we've developed new strategies for our email content and website content to help uncover more clues that aid in a deeper understanding of prospects who check us out under the radar. It's empowering at a time when marketers do everything they can to keep agencies away. New clients can come from almost any direction. The ones who originate in your prospect database can provide a wealth of information early in the process and leave clues about their intent that you can turn into action. You just need the right platform and data to follow their trail.
Let's get tracking
If you'd like help turning those clues into new clients, let's talk. 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, new ideas, or talk about the latest ad agency business development news. #LetsGrow!