It seems like a funny question to ask an ad agency. After all, agencies are in the business of defining target audiences for their clients. Agencies rely on well-articulated criteria that guide almost everything they do, like brand strategy, media planning, creative development, and more. Whether through intuition, experience, or the latest data and tools, a well-crafted audience definition is critical to their client's success and, therefore, their success.
My experience says agencies aren't as particular about their audience, those prospects they pursue to find new clients. Many understand the importance of category experience. Some use company size or sales revenue. Others use distance, region, or other criteria to describe their audience. I have looked at many agency prospect lists and can confidently say there is typically 40% - 60% who are not the agency's audience. Why is this?
When I work with agencies to help them develop a prospecting program, I always do an audit of their current prospect list, if they have one. What I find is almost always surprising. Some portion of their list sometimes comes from previous prospecting efforts. One recently had a considerable percentage of wrong titles and wrong companies as if they were repurposing an old list or, worse, had no idea whom the agency was targeting. Another agency had asked its employees to provide company names they wanted to work for. Another's list resulted from chasing anything and everything on a whim.
I asked on BD Director why her list was all over the place. She admitted she had inadequate tools and access to contact information. Her management was reluctant to invest. Imagine going to your client and saying we're ready to start your new campaign, but we'll be guessing who the audience is. Don't worry; we'll make it work. The same is true for your agency. The better you can define and access your best audience; the more successful your prospecting will be. But you know that, and yet, the excuses are many.
In a conversation with a successful agency owner, he admitted he did not know who their best audience was. He said they have clients with little in common, making it difficult to define and target more of the same. He has one in retail without any previous retail experience. He has another in telecom with no telecom experience. He has three in healthcare and has not been able to pick up another for more than three years. And his explanation continues. He acknowledges he should target industries he has experience in, but even that doesn't seem to work.
Another agency owner said she doesn't care what industry, what kind of product or service. All she has to do is get in the room with the prospect, and her win rate is 90%. I hear that a lot, and I suspect it might be true only when the prospect is a good match, to begin with. Then again, when I speak to the BD exec, they tell a different story. Regardless, the goal is to ensure that every opportunity that advances is a high potential prospect.
In addition to a well-defined audience, audience size also matters. Sure, it would be great to have ten highly qualified prospects than 100 unqualified. The problem is that the sales process for agency clients does not lend itself to prequalification compared to many other industries. The decision criteria are often not made clear. The desired qualifications often are ambiguous. The prospect is not forthcoming, transparent, or honest. The choice is subjective. There are a rare few clients who are open throughout the process but far more who aren't. And when procurement is involved, the process becomes even more ambivalent and detached.
Audience size is important because when you calculate the percentages, your funnel starts pretty wide to end up with those ten prospects at the closing stage. A survey by Salesforce described the market opportunity for B2B companies. They concluded that only 3% to 5% of total opportunity is available today – companies looking to buy now. The next 30% are considering a purchase sometime in the future, exploring vendors, defining needs, and building internal consensus. The next 40% - 50% aren't going to make a change for a couple more years. The rest aren't going to change ever.
If we apply those percentages to our process, for any 100 prospects, only 3 to 5 of them are currently looking. Keep in mind that hundreds of agencies will fight over the 3 or 5. Your odds are much better if your list was 500 or 1,000. Or you can apply your funnel percentages. Take the portion of outreach that leads to a response, the percentage of responses that become qualified. The percent of qualified that turn into a proposal, bid, or pitch. Apply the actual win rate to understand the top-of-funnel list size better.
Once you have clearly defined your actual audience and estimated the size needed to achieve the percentages necessary to close meaningful new business, the challenge most agencies say is finding their audience. Recall the BD Exec whose agency would not pay for a contact source. Lead sources can be expensive and very time-consuming. I know that sounds counterintuitive because lead sources should save you time. Very few truly understand the ad agency prospect and deliver them without a lot of wrong contacts mixed in. The time and effort required to remove those bad contacts can be significant.
If you've been following me for any time, you know that Winmo is my go-to platform for top national and emerging brands. Their list is hand-curated and human-verified on a regular rolling base. They offer many granular ways of defining your audience, from NAICS code to company size, industry, category, title, geography, and many more. In addition to their database, Winmo produces many kinds of ad agency business development sales intelligence reporting to put you at the head of the pack when opportunities arise. Not just general industry reporting. They publish weekly recaps of agency new business triggers like decision-makers on the move, vulnerable accounts, new hires, changes in spending, and much more. As a subscriber, you are one of the first to learn of new opportunities and know who the people are, along with contact information to go after. Click for a demo if you are interested.
In addition to Winmo, I use LinkedIn's Sales Navigator. LinkedIn is a database of 810 million people, 58 million companies, and 68 million decision-makers worldwide. Of course, LinkedIn does not provide contact info, so I use other add-ons to find contact info for my Sales Navigator lists. Winmo is the best because it's all built-in, so the time and effort required are less than any other system that requires multiple resources to do the same thing. There are other resources like ZoomInfo/DiscoveryOrg, or Dun & Bradstreet. My experience is that these are expensive, difficult to use, not specific to ad agency prospects and decision-makers, and don't provide the level and timeliness of details about prospecting triggers because they are ad agency-focused.
Needless to say, the better you know your audience, the better you can be at targeting and engaging. Knowing is more than title, size, industry, or geography. Knowing is the nuances in between those typical details. It's the insights that connect seemingly unrelated clients. It's the mindset that separates leaders from followers. It's the experience that predicts future decisions. The criteria and filters allow you to weed out the low-probability contacts from the rest.
Whatever you do, don't buy a list, don't take that trade show attendee list, don't take that webinar list, or any other list that is not explicitly curated for you. While tempting, the time and effort to go through those lists, separate the appropriate contacts from the trash, verify the contact info and append with data you need to prospect with is a nightmare. And the net contact count will be a fraction of what you think you will be getting. It's never a good ROI.
I build lists for ad agency prospecting and would be happy to share how I do it and show how to do it too. I am always open to discussing your challenges and offering my opinion on possible solutions. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. And find me on LinkedIn for daily tips and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!