I get these every day, as I'm sure you do too. Since I've been in this business, the number of people and organizations promising outrageous results has increased exponentially. What's worse, the number of people who fall for it has also increased. I talk with a lot of agencies and hear the stories. We tried the LinkedIn Guru for six months and didn't get a single viable lead, just a lot of junk. We were really excited about the Pay Per Lead Expert because we only had to pay if we got a lead, except for the startup costs, media costs, exclusive network costs, and not one real lead. The stories go on, and they're not pretty.
I certainly can't argue with the idea of generating leads. And for agencies that have struggled to do so, the allure of 10 meetings a week seems like a godsend. As the pressure for new clients and revenue mounts, the hope for a solution, the possibility that it could work, the rationalization against better judgment, the chance that their testimonials are genuine become overwhelming. Let's give it a try said too many smart people, including me. I've never heard an agency leader say, yeah, that worked well. Maybe someone reading this can comment about their success. We all want an easy way out.
The truth is, for high ticket items like a rebrand, campaign, product launch, etc., LinkedIn posts, PPC, or other shortcuts will not motivate good prospects. Maybe one in a million, if you are lucky. We know a lot about the buyer journey. The steps they take. The things they do to identify, scrutinize, and engage with a potential new agency. None of it lines up with the qualified leads in your inbox approach. No doubt a marketer looking for a new agency may click on a LinkedIn post or a Facebook ad, but there are many more steps before that marketer decides who they want to contact.
I've been doing ad agency business development for a long time and have yet to see any legitimate shortcut, silver bullet, or magic formula. My advice, don't fall for it. Save your money, time, and frustration trying to cut corners, succeed on the cheap, or abandon the principles and practices that you employ for your clients. If you wouldn't do it with your client's money, don't do it with yours.
If you want to improve your new business success, there are three critical areas to address, agency differentiation, your prospect universe, and the prospecting process. The first defines what you are selling that is relevant, valuable, and engaging. The second describes who might be a higher probability prospect, those more likely to value what you do. Once you know what you are selling and who will buy it, the third defines how to make your target audiences aware of your agency, understand what you do, and how it will help them. It's hard work but necessary, as I think you know well.
Start by reevaluating your agency positioning. No easy task, maybe the most challenging thing of all, but essential. If you don't stand apart from the hundreds of other agency choices, you'll be much harder to find or get any serious consideration. Differentiation can be several different things or a combination of things. You can focus on a specific industry or service offering, have a unique creative style, offer a special process such as behavioral psychology or social anthropology. Whichever fits your agency, is authentic and genuine to what you do, must be demonstrable—why it is important, relevant, and better than other agency offerings. It must be believable and applicable to the market challenges most pressing today. Full service or digital-first doesn't make you different. It puts you in the same box as almost every other agency.
Once you know what you are selling, it becomes a little easier to define who wants it. Begin by profiling your current and past clients, primarily those whom you want more. Look at the industry, company size, organizational structure and culture, go-to-market approach, revenue size, customer base, and other defining factors. Think about their personality, risk-averse, high-achiever, cautious, bold, consensus-builder, lone ranger, and include the most common attributes in your profiling. Use this criterion to identify other companies, brands, and marketers to put on your list. Raise the bar slightly to include better opportunities.
Once you know what you are selling and who you are selling to, the means of prospecting becomes clearer. The challenge then becomes ‘when’ and ‘why’ to reach out. Generic ‘aren’t we great’ messages get ignored or worse. I use a framework called the Prospect Opportunity Timeline, a tool to help develop outreach strategies based on the prospect’s needs, budget cycles, spending behaviors, fiscal calendar, and other factors laid out on a timeline. It allows me to execute relevant and prescient outreach at the best time and with the best messaging.
In addition to these predictable events, there are other triggers such as new hires, a sudden change in marketing strategy, spending increases, mergers, acquisitions, spin-offs, and other things to be on the lookout for, hopefully before other agencies find out. Google alerts, trade and industry magazines, other news sources, good old-fashioned networking, the proverbial keeping your ear to the ground are the most common tactics new business pros use. They require a lot of time and effort to keep up, especially at the speed of change recently. How many ‘no longer here’ autoreplies have you gotten in the last 18 months?
I don’t have a lot of time, just like every new business exec, which is why I outsource my new business radar to Winmo. They’ve got an army of people who scan the universe, including those sources I mentioned before, looking for news, hints, and clues to make predictions, both short, mid, and long term, and score them, so I have a better idea who to prioritize and what to say that will get their attention. I plot all this sales intelligence on my Prospect Opportunity Timeline for a complete, efficient, and strategic prospecting plan. I know what to do today, tomorrow, next quarter, next year, and have newfound time to spend on those things that pop up every day.
However, you collect your prospecting intelligence, decide the best tactics and channels to create awareness among your target audiences, and consider the efficiency vs. the value of those tactics since your time and budget are so limited. Develop a strategy for your outreach with the best possible intelligence and insights that will move your prospects through the buyer journey of awareness, interest, consideration, and engagement. Each tactic should tell your story along their journey with support and proof. Align your website experience with that story and pull the message through every point of contact.
These are just the highlights since there is much more to it. Circling back to the 100 leads in your inbox, do you really believe you can get any legitimate leads without strategically aligning these three critical areas? Can you imagine a marketer blindly agreeing to a meeting without vetting and validating? Is it possible that there are hundreds of marketing decision-makers aimlessly milling about, unsure how to solve their marketing problems until some lead gen guru snatches them up and delivers them to your inbox? I don't think so, and neither should you. Like everything in life, you've got to do the hard work first before you can reap the rewards.
If you need help, I'm here to talk, consult, or do it for you, part or all. I work exclusively with agencies that want to reset their business development approach. No gimmicks, no secret formula, just pragmatic, hard-earned marketing sense. (Hint, it's the same thing you do for your clients.) 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!