It's almost the end of 2021, and we all have a lot to be thankful for this year. While it may seem insignificant in comparison, I think one person doesn't get the thanks and recognition they deserve—your business development leader. In the face of the unprecedented upheaval of all aspects of what they do, the economic free fall, and a painfully slow recovery, business development pros have shown up every day, fighting against the headwinds to keep their agency going and navigating the best path forward. They deserve a hug and a lot more.
It is particularly important today to recognize and appreciate the person or people who do this job. It is often a thankless job full of disappointment and defeat. On average, agencies lose pitches three-quarters of the time. According to the RSW/US 2021 Agency New Business Report, New Business Director tenure is shrinking; 22% last less than a year, 52% last between 1 – 2 years. It is a complex, murky endeavor trying to decipher human behavior, competing agendas, little or no guidance while staying focused on the goal. The recent events that rattled us all shook their world to the core.
Now more than ever, it's critical to let your new business leader know how much they are appreciated, respected, and valued as a member of the team. Agency business is going to get even more competitive in the months and years ahead. At the same time, the worker shortage shows no signs of slowing. Agencies are struggling to hire across every position, and new business execs are in critical supply. I get calls weekly from agencies looking for a new biz person. Do not let yours get frustrated, underappreciated, or worse, get away.
As an agency owner, you will always be the chief growth officer, and you should be spending a reasonable portion of your time making sure your agency and your BD are on track. Take personal responsibility that they have what they need to be successful. Having a good BD person is a force-multiplier for the agency, who channels your vision, manages the pipeline, and develops relationships that result in more new clients. But only if you are committed to long-term growth and a long-term BD person. Of course, there may be legitimate reasons to part ways; however, agency owners often do so for the wrong reasons, which in this new environment will hurt the agency in these challenging times.
Acknowledge and encourage
Winning new clients is the ultimate goal. To do so, there is a lot of work behind the scenes that must take place, often over long periods. New business can be a long sales cycle. All the work in between the wins should be acknowledged and shared across the agency. New business pros tend to work alone, out of the agency mainstream, and other team members often don't know what they do or how they spend their time. When you make the rest of the team aware, they will have a greater appreciation for what it takes to be successful, and your BD will feel better about what they do, despite the rejections and disappointments that come with the job.
The instinct of thinking on your feet, spotting an opportunity, and adapting quickly is critically important in today's environment. Making a smart strategic sales plan is no small task. Working their plan day in and day out requires perseverance, focus, and sales talent. Having the courage and intuition to pivot where the opportunity exists is fearless. You can always get back to the plan, but opportunities arise and fade before most people react. Knowing when to let go is equally as important. Pivoting back without losing focus or spirit is priceless. If those talents and expertise don't get noticed, your BD leader will get frustrated, lose motivation, and eventually leave. Who wouldn't?
Provide the resources
For good reasons, BD people don't like to be burdened by agency processes. They want to run fast, doing what they think is best when chasing a hot lead. But, they can't be successful alone. They need help. They need agency resources and people to go fast and be effective. Those resources must be allocated and managed to support quick sprints, sudden pivots, and changing priorities. Get her the tools and services that will make many time-consuming processes easier. (I can show you how) Get the database and sale intelligence to make her more effective. (I can show you how) If your BD lead doesn't feel like she is getting the support she needs or that support is too slow or bureaucratic, she will lose her advantage, motivation, and possibly the opportunity. It won't take her long to realize she can't be successful and leave.
Many agencies say they want to grow and initiate a plan and process to do so, but fail in the follow-through: no teamwork, no training, no accountability, no introspection. To be successful, you must fully integrate the BD person in the agency, in the project management system, aware of the overall workload, scheduling, and other issues that may impact them. They must be mindful of how busy the agency is and whether to ramp up or down their processes. Likewise, they have to share their activity with the whole agency, so everyone knows what projects are coming down the pike to prepare adequately.
Celebrate the wins and the losses
A new client win is always celebrated across the agency. Anything less is largely ignored or stigmatized as a defeat. In reality, the fact that you got invited to a pitch is worth celebrating. Moving to the final round is worthy of praise. Even a close second is worth recognition. None of it would be possible if the BD hadn't laid the groundwork. If it's a win, pop the cork. If not, thank the team for a heroic effort and then dissect the process to understand what needs fixing to make the next time better. Make every time at bat a learning experience. Even if a loss, make sure everyone participates in the postmortem and works together on improving what's not working. You'll be celebrating more wins and fewer losses.
Be your best client
If you treat your agency as your best client and manage it the same way as all your clients, the result will be the same profit and growth you achieve for your outside clients. It's that simple. And, when the effort is factored into the overall agency management, just like every other client, it will be easier to manage, predictable, and less likely to cause serious disruption when new opportunities arise. Bring all your best thinkers and doers into the processes, just like you would on any campaign. You shouldn't treat your new business campaign any differently. If it's left as an afterthought, pushed to the back on the line, relegated to the B team, you'll end up with B team results. Be your best client in every way and watch how fast you grow.
Growth is a team sport
The year ahead will be another roller coaster, the competition will be even more intense, and the battlefield will continue to evolve right under your feet. You need all-hands-on-deck, contributing in whatever ways possible. There are many things that agency people can do with a bit of direction to help your BD be more successful. From sales messaging development, content creation, research and list building, writing and proofing, networking and LinkedIn detective, competitive, audience, and market analysis, and the list goes on. Any little thing will help free up your BD's time to focus on the more impactful aspects of winning new clients. To get the whole team involved, you need to establish a process where BD tasks can be requested, and agency members can take ownership. It's basic project management, including scheduling, tracking, and accountability.
In many agencies, the attitude about business development is often disappointing. I hear things like it's not my job. I do production or accounting, or social media. I can't sell. That's their job. I don't have enough time to do my thing. I keep the client happy and can't try to sell more work. I meet with media reps and will lose my leverage if I ask for favors. I hate networking events. I'm not a salesperson! I hate salespeople. These are the common refrains when asked to help. When you think about it from an agency perspective, everyone benefits from growth, raises, bonuses, new hires, better office space, so everyone should be willing to pitch in. It doesn't mean 'selling' because selling is only a fraction of your BD's work.
Whatever kind of agency you are, I'm pretty sure you spend a lot of time and energy helping your clients find ways to grow. Why wouldn't you do the same for your agency? Treat your agency as your number one client and your BD person as that client's leader. You'll see significant results, a more motivated and effective BD leader, and a healthier agency overall. And don't forget to tell your BD person how much you appreciate their effort. You'll see that effort pay off more often. While you are at it, why not give them some extra time to relax and recharge. 2022 is going to be a crazy busy year.
If you'd like help positioning your agency for success in the new year, let's talk. There's no better time than now to rethink and reset your business development program. I am always open to discussing your business development challenges. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. Find me on LinkedIn for daily tips and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!