January 23, 2021

By Mark Duval - The Duval Partnership

Quick question. When an agency is in serious financial trouble, where’s one of the first places their owners turn? If you guessed “agency new business consultants,” you’re not wrong.

Over the years, I’ve spoken with many agency owners desperate to fill their gaping budget holes—quickly. A lack of strategic thinking often accompanies that desperation. Agency leaders in this predicament are more inclined to embrace a “more is more” approach (as in, let’s throw more spaghetti at the wall and see if anything sticks) rather than take a laser-focused approach to the areas most likely to generate revenue. In their panic, they are quite fixed on a trajectory bound for disaster.

The good news is that many of their missteps are entirely avoidable, and they need not ever happen to you.

Below, I’ve shared five of the most common misguided new business moves agency leaders tend to make in desperation. With them, I’ve shared five smarter alternatives that will put you in a better position to win new business. Whether your agency is in some degree of distress or you just want to avoid a less-than-strategic direction, this information can help you make better new business decisions.

Five misguided new business moves — and their smarter alternatives

Desperate move: Going after a new vertical — despite not having relevant work to show — because the vertical looks promising. I discussed this at length in a recent post about using industry trends for agency new business. Going after business that you don’t have a “right to win” is a waste of your agency’s resources. Nobody is going to give you their business so that you have a chance to show them what you can do. Especially now, marketers are looking for sure things.

A better option: If there’s a new vertical you want to go after, map out a strategy to build a bridge to it. For example, say you have deep B2B experience but limited eCommerce experience, and you want to work with consumer-facing brands doing a lot of eRetail. You might plan to bridge the gap by taking on more eCommerce work with B2B brands, and specifically those that also have B2C components. Plan to emphasize that aspect of the work in a case study, leaning into details and proof points that are critical for consumer-facing, retail-heavy brands.

You might also consider partnering with an agency that does more B2C and DTC work if there is an opportunity to gain experience through a collaborative effort. Other options include bringing on new talent with deep consumer-direct marketing and eRetail expertise or even a pro-bono project for a purpose-led D2C startup — if it will provide the opportunity for a compelling case study.

By looking at what you don’t have now and what you need to show in order to secure the business you want, you can create a specific, tangible plan to acquire the assets you need.

Desperate move: Pursuing many different verticals and targets at once via disjointed efforts in hopes of closing something faster. This is that “spaghetti at the wall” approach I mentioned earlier; it reeks of desperation and is incredibly ineffective. More is not more in new business. Strategic is more. Targeted is more. Tackling too much at once results in wasted effort.

A better option: Identify one or two focused groups of targets that your agency has the best chance of closing. Gather your proof points and supporting assets to make your strongest case to highly-relevant targets whose business you legitimately have a right to earn. Using a carefully-crafted message, focus your resources on this group of contacts, taking an organized and strategic approach. As you move forward, add additional targets to your list, and consider expanding your efforts into additional relevant verticals.

This is the best use of your efforts, outside of growing existing accounts and reaching out to current and past clients for new opportunities and referrals (which you should also be doing). Don’t forget to farm lost opportunities, as they are of higher value and often have a better chance of converting to clients.

Desperate move: Creating a lot of content covering many different topics in an attempt to demonstrate expertise. Some agencies have prolific content writers. Unfortunately, many agencies create their content marketing calendars in a silo that is entirely separate from their new business strategy. If your agency’s content is not written to the correct persona, and isn’t aligned with new business messages, then it has little value for new business purposes. If you hope to generate new business mileage from this content, it may not be the best way to spend your time. Without work and proof of results to support it, blog content is almost a “net-zero” for new business purposes.

A better option: Take a “less is more” approach to your content, placing greater value on persona targeting, new business relevance, and demonstrating expertise. In fact, for new business purposes, case studies are preferable to articles when trying to demonstrate ownership of a category or topic, largely because they are easily digestible, highly relevant, and contain proof points. Agencies can expect greater ROI from case studies than from high volumes of less targeted blog content (which is often interchangeable with content produced elsewhere).

Desperate move: Positioning the agency as “full service” with a long list of capabilities and vertical expertise in hopes of casting a wider net. Though it may seem counterintuitive, trying to do more typically leads to less new business. Most agencies are better off taking a more focused approach to agency positioning. This helps their ideal clients find them easier and makes it very clear to prospects that the agency is perfectly suited to help them.

A better option: Instead of claiming to do it all, show that everything you do, you do exceptionally well. Deep, specialized expertise is often more valuable than broad expertise because it makes a very strong case to a select group of people rather than a weak case to everyone. Those most effective at selling their niche expertise through their website may even find they don’t need to do as much new business outreach.

Desperate move: Waiting until there is a serious financial threat to the agency and then suddenly engaging in a flurry of new business activity as if it could “save” the agency and make things right.

New business consultants are not magicians, regardless of how much some agency leaders would like us to be. Unfortunately, most new business programs undertaken during times of genuine distress are destined for failure. Here’s a few reasons why:

  •     New business is a long game; opportunities typically don’t close quickly.
  •     Successful new business programs require the participation of agency leaders, and if they are off fighting fires, they don’t have the bandwidth to contribute to success.
  •     Agencies in distress tend to exude an energy of failure. Often, multiple systems are failing at once; there are operational issues, employee engagement issues, and unhappy clients in the mix. The agency is not able to bring its “A” game and likely has accepted non-ideal work with non-ideal clients. Perhaps it is chasing RFPs for business it has no right to go after. All of this taxes an agency’s internal resources and creates a sub-optimal environment, making it extremely difficult to win new business opportunities.

A better option: Get your house in order. Address any pressing internal agency issues (operational, processes, management, financial, staffing, quality of work, etc.) first if you want to win new business. While new business programs can succeed amid atypical circumstances, they work best with healthy agencies that are ready to build on their existing success and amplify it.
Parting thoughts

If your agency is considering one of these “desperate” new business moves, think about swapping it for a smarter option with a greater likelihood of success.

Perhaps the greatest lesson here is this: don’t wait until the last minute to use new business generation as a last-ditch “hail Mary” campaign. Engaging in new business outreach on an ongoing basis will help shield your agency from such desperate circumstances in the first place. With a consistent, strategy-based approach, your agency will realize the greatest ROI for its new business efforts.

 

 

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