What did you think of the rubber chicken? Today’s business development pros strongly suggest you avoid the cold call. Maybe that time is gone but maybe it’s time to bring it back. Folks are abandoning email like files on dead meat; the experts now advocate we annoy people in a new way. Let’s fill up their text message folders. People have considered text messages personal and sacred. But they do see business intrusion coming and they aren’t happy. But there’s good news for those working in the B2B world. Your intended recipients expect to be approached, one way or other. Enter direct mail and the call.
Your targeted B2B phone call will hit the target. It will always take more than one attempt, but your target finally answers. “Bernard Epson here”, and you say “Bernard, what did you think of the rubber chicken?” Rubber chicken you say! Yes you sent Bernard (or his female equivalent) a bright yellow rubber chicken. And he’s been waiting for your call. This call format is not for the faint of heart. It takes someone who can strike up a conversation and keep it going. The chicken (or anything else) is your conversation starter. What happens next is up to you but if you’re good, you had a warm conversation and an open door to call again.
How in the world can you expect to stand out; how will anyone find you? If you’re an ad agency or any of its derivatives, you’ve been told for years there are 29,999 more agencies in the US competing with you, wanting to be found. So what’s the secret for breaking through the clutter to connect with ideal clients?
Follow this… Not too many years ago in the mid-nineties, most agencies were content to prospect within a limited-mile radius of their office. Biz Dev consisted of direct mail, modest early-stage email and telephone outreach. And most competitors were also within that radius, but certainly nothing like 30,000! From the client’s perspective, other than Yellow Pages and Redbook, there was a crying need for a place or service they could use to search and find perfect-fit agency candidates. In 1997, to answer that need we introduced AgencyFinder.com, one place clients could visit to find and explore a database of extensive agency data contributed by our many good-friend agencies themselves. Substantial Internet traffic found us and for quite some time the “world was our oyster.”
We delivered no-cost algorithm agency search coupled with HI (human intelligence) consultant-assisted guidance. That was good for the industry because agency websites were themselves at an infant stage. Maybe you don’t remember, but agency websites were often wanting! Then after quite a spell, AgencyFinder copycat directories began to surface. Disappointingly directories embraced the “Google Model” – the more an agency paid the more prominent their display. Not really fair to agency or client. Close but “no cigar” in what they delivered, but they chipped away at our traffic anyway. And agencies were beginning to learn. SEO and SEM; keywords, social media – all to vector searching clients directly to their websites. And that’s where things are today. Slowly but without mercy, those 30,000 agencies each introduced websites all decked out in their best SEO, shouting “I’m here!” But what is here? Is it equivalent to searching a database of 4,500 prominent agencies committed to new business who drew upon more than 500 data fields, 7 essays, case histories and website access to factually and visibly define their firms, or is it the relatively shallow agency website data Google will use to find candidates? For local search Goggle is powerful, but most clients are well beyond locations as their primary stipulant.
So what to do… well, what goes around comes around. Direct mail is again shouting “look at me!” Agencies advise clients to target; so agencies should target as well. Email these days is destined to the giant junk mail folder in the Cloud. Clever DM can be a pleasant and compelling surprise. That coupled with professional telephone outreach to ask – “what did you think of what I sent?” can begin a meaningful business relationship. But don’t forget to check out or overlook AgencyFinder.com and those few like us that still offer the precision and free service that’s always been our forte’. If you’re an agency needing targeted client introductions Enroll Now. If you’re a client needing “perfect-fit” agencies, Search Now!
We’re going to kick this off with some tough love: The world does not need another generalist firm.
The reason why running your agency still feels so hard is you have not successfully positioned your firm. And let me tell you, avoiding The Difficult Business Decision is the single biggest problem when it comes to business development.
Specializing is scary. It feels risky. You don’t want to scare off leads — lord knows, they’re hard enough to come by!
Think about that for a second.
You call yourself a “full-service agency” because it makes you feel like you’re covering all the bases. Look no further, Mr. Client! There’s nothing we can’t do for you.
But if your client list is bloated with too many clients, paying too little but demanding way too much and, keeping you from actually attracting the ideal clients you so dearly need — you have a positioning problem.
Maybe it’s time to rethink risk.
Like a list of competitors as long as your arm — and that’s just your local market.
That is risky.
In this scenario, you have little or no power so you capitulate and write the Big Damned Expensive Proposal (and miss eating dinner with your family, again).
Your power comes from being seen as meaningfully different in the eyes of your ideal client.
To choose a focus for a market is to choose power. You are choosing to be strong.
The truth is, successful positioning is what separates the good WWP firms from the great.
They didn’t get there by failing to decide.
They got there by boldly staking their claim and building deep expertise in the service of their ideal clients.
They didn’t let an expensive consultant do the picking for them.
They didn’t delegate it to a writer or make it a branding-by-committee exercise.
They did the hard work of reframing their business around their bold decision (we’ll get to that later) … but first, they decided … to decide.
“I’m going to do X discipline for Y market.”
Stay tuned: we’re going to share the framework for making that Big Business Decision and all the things that flow from it that have served other WWP firms just like yours so well in a few days.
And just in case you’re thinking:
“I get it. I do. But we’re a creative firm … I’ll be bored with any one thing I choose in about 3 months flat. Then what?”
That’s a topic for our next email.
It’s one of the BIGGEST misconceptions — that your creativity will shrivel up and die. I promise you, it’s the opposite.
I’ll show you what your new and powerful world will look like in my next email.
The word on the agency street is that most want and need new clients now, not tomorrow. But how realistic is that? That expressed urgency has everything to do with orders to sequester-in-place issued for the COVID-19 fiasco and then the ensuing riots in protest of the killing of George Floyd. Just as some states were beginning to allow phased openings, the country-wide riots frightened many people who in-turn chose not to travel for work to city-center properties or to begin shopping in ernest. The result – a continuing drag on the prospect of renewed commerce and positive agency cash-flow.
After months of deep cash-flow reductions, many agencies, even those who managed to snare some of the government’s stimulus monies, were down to spending for absolute necessities, and that didn’t initially include spending for future business development. So what’s an agency to do? Some rather lucky shops may have been cultivating opportunities during the past months and now feel comfortable working to close that business. For them that’s great. But the majority found themselves stuck in limbo; choosing not to reach out to prospects and at that same time, prospects were also “hunkered down” and constrained their research and outreach faced with an uncertain future.
OK, time to get moving! Consider these options and sequence for deployment. Options are sorted by timing and costs. Not considered are items and inventory already owned by agency. Nor is talent or training of agency individuals.
Every spring, I put together a list of trends that I think agency owners need to track. I present this content at the spring meetings of the AMI owner peer groups and then later in the summer/fall, I share the trends with my podcast audience (2019 parts one and two). I just finished the deck last week and presented it for the first time today. One of the trends that we talked about in 2019 that has really gathered steam is the idea of embedding an agency employee into the client’s work environment. Many agencies initially offered it to keep a client from taking work in-house but what they’ve discovered is that it’s an amazing biz dev strategy. Remember that 60-70% of your new business goal should come from existing clients and this is a smart way to trigger some of that growth. I don’t have one agency in my world that has an embedded employee that isn’t reporting client growth, new opportunities with other divisions within the company, and a strengthened relationship. It’s definitely a winning strategy for the agencies that have implemented it.
Now that I’ve had a year of studying it from afar, I have some thoughts on best practices around this growing trend. It is not without its pitfalls, if you make some wrong turns.
This is a premium product — having your AE on-site in their environment — so price it accordingly.
Think long and hard about who you choose to embed. It’s easy for them to begin to feel more like your client’s employee than the agency’s employee. You want someone who is very committed to your agency’s success.
Do not allow them to work onsite at the client’s office more than 3.5 days a week. You need them to spend time back at the agency, staying connected to the team and being reminded where they actually work.
Have a very well-written non-compete and non-solicitation clause in your contract with the client so they cannot “woo” your employee away.
Have a very well-written non-solicitation, no stealing clients clause in your contract with the employee so they can’t branch out on their own or offer themselves to another agency with the promise of delivering your client in the deal.
There is a lot of upside to this idea but be mindful of the risks and protect yourself accordingly. In 2018, I saw a handful of these arrangements. In 2019 — it went up significantly. I am seeing agencies of all sizes, in both the B2C and B2B space, offering this to clients. It’s not going away anytime soon so you should probably decide how you feel about it and if it might make sense for your shop!
A contribution from our friend Drew McLellan at AMI
Silly question you might say, but what’s your website for anyway?
Before You Had Your Website:
Before you had a website, you should have had an agency brochure. Something you kept in inventory for those times when a prospect conversation ended with “can you send me something?” Off went the brochure with an accompanying cover letter. That conversation and package was normally sent by the person charged with agency business development and followed a meaningful telephone conversation. The cover letter was written accordingly.
A good “agency business development person” (ABD) would make a follow-up call to confirm package receipt and continue with a probative conversation. Using what was learned during that call, the ABD now sent a very carefully considered and grouped collection of materials designed to emphasize and confirm the agency’s suitability and candidacy for handling the client’s business.
This process was carefully tailored to each client and each client’s interest; when speaking with a B2B client, there was generally no “show and tell” of fashion-related experience. Conversely fashion prospects were not burdened with industrial examples. Thinking back, didn’t this all make sense?
What’s Your Website Today?
What’s your website today? A pithy mini tome declaring purpose and intent; a collection of everything you do and have done; an introduction to smiling team leaders with photos and bios, text hopefully appealing to all visitors, samples of current work in all categories, a listing of current but seldom past clients, concluding with a “Contact Us” page. Not necessarily in that order, but available for viewing.
Many variables determine why an agency is selected by a client, but all will agree that “chemistry” or likeability plays a deciding factor in the final selection. Knowing that, good agency people also know that “chemistry” plays a factor from the very beginning. Meaning – “You never get a second change to make a first impression” and undeniably the ABD can make or break your chance for success from the get-go.
If that’s the case, why not give your ABD star billing on the Contact Us Page? A handsome photo, and brief but credentialed bio, and multiple contact options. And while you’re at it, if your ABD is engaged in multiple forms of proactive outreach, rather than pointing to your website in those materials as your competitors do, suggest they engage in an initial telephone conversation; then respond with a “custom digital agency brochure” tailored to that discussion.
How About A New Website?
As to your website? How about other alternate versions – just a powerful page or two featuring a vertical market, then declaring your understanding of the importance of relationships and of one-to-one conversation. Agency-to-client and client-to customer. Let them know your initial conversation will lead to a uniquely-selected collection of samples and examples specific to their interest and needs. Not like other “we-do-it-all” agency websites. Incorporate AI to let them schedule a day and time for their call and conversation. Confirm by email plus a real honest-to-goodness agency business card via USPS.
Oh BTW – agency websites are used to recruit new hires too. But rather than burdening someone on staff who often has limited HR experience, why not engage an employee search consultant to narrow the field and present only qualified candidates? (as they’ve done for years)