July 24, 2019

by Mark Duval - The Duval Partnership

The other day I spoke with an agency owner who told me that they aren’t “doing new business” right now because they had just closed a large account. Some readers will understand immediately why that thinking is detrimental to an agency’s fiscal health (and if not, I’ll explain it shortly). It’s a fast way to shut down a conversation with me, given my work as an agency new business consultant—and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve heard it. Hopefully, what he meant was that they aren’t outsourcing their new business at this time, and not that they have literally back-burnered all new business efforts for now. That would be a bad move for them.

The conversation left me inspired to write this post about the myths people hold onto where agency new business is concerned. Because this “bird in hand” story is not the only one! Join me as I crack open three dangerously deceptive new business myths and expose them for what they are.

Myth #1: Having new business in hand means you don’t need to worry about new business right now

It’s easy to see why this myth persists; nobody likes having to do agency new business. It’s very tempting to use a new business win as a convenient excuse to pause other sales efforts. But the logic is flawed! You always want to think ahead and keep your pipeline full for the inevitable crisis that will occur a year from now when another big account is lost. Otherwise, when that happens, even if you scramble to generate new leads you will still probably be a year out from closing them. Don’t forget to factor in a long sales cycle and annual budget allocations.

The mentality is that new business is a box to be checked as if it’s “one and done.” But in reality, sales is not a punctuated event. New business should be a perpetual activity—whether your agency is big or small, and whether you have all the work you can handle in this moment or not. Because if there is one thing you can count on in the current environment, it is that your client roster is not static. Work will ebb and flow, and accounts will be lost and won.

What you gain by investing in new business efforts on a consistent basis is greater control over who you work with (and through that, your profitability, future opportunities, agency health, and quality of work-life). With a repeatable sales process and strategy, you can target the types of clients you want to work with, making it more likely that you will generate desirable opportunities.

When you have a consistent sales process and a full sales pipeline, you have the luxury of saying “no” to clients who aren’t the right fit for your agency. You know the kind of clients I’m talking about: the ones who are going to create headaches, drain resources, be unprofitable, and generally be more trouble than they are worth. But when you’ve lost a major account and you don’t have solid opportunities in the pipeline, you’re in no position to say “no” to poor-fit clients. You’ll probably have to say yes to them. Once you have a poor-fit client on your roster, eating up disproportionate resources and causing headaches, you’re even less likely to have time to spend landing the right clients! It’s a vicious cycle.

Make a new business cycle work for you, not against you. Leverage a period of success to generate even more new business. I have said many times that the best time to invest in new business is when you are already doing well. So if you just landed new business, great! Now use the momentum to create even more new business for your agency.

To that point...Greg ‘Sparrow’ Graham, Group Marketing Director for WPP AUNZ, was recently a guest on Darren Woolley’s Managing Marketing podcast. Darren is also TrinityP3’s Founder and Global CEO. I want to share something that Greg said when talking about pitching:

“To me, when you’re pitching well you’ve got great people, great resources, and all the smartest people coming up with great ideas, that has a real energy and vibe around the place. It gives you momentum. When an agency is doing well that normally infers growing and winning business. It has that momentum or feel, that buzz about it. You can sense they’re doing well... And the reverse is when someone is no longer on a great streak or not doing well you can also feel that lack of energy and you think these guys aren’t winning. They don’t have momentum or spark or that drive.”

It’s very true! And that’s why you don’t take one win and hang up your hat. That would be incredibly foolish. Instead, you harness that winning energy while you have it, because there will be a time when wins are harder to come by.

Myth #2: “Just get me in the room” and everything will be golden

This is a myth that people seem to love holding onto. I’m not sure if it comes from wishful thinking, denial, or naivety. Perhaps all three. In any case, the idea that all an agency leader needs to do is have the right audience to magically close new business is entirely unrealistic.

I’ve heard it said so many times, as if once they get “in the room” their future clients will be there waiting for them with checkbooks in hand, just waiting to be told what denomination to make the check out for. As if the new business is ripe fruit on the tree, just ready for their agency to stroll by and pluck it. That perception (or daydream fantasy) is wildly inaccurate.

In reality, getting into the room is just the start of the process for an agency, and they still have far to go before the business might be theirs. Read more about the right way to approach that first new business meeting here.

Myth #3: “Our creative will save the day”

This is very much like myth number two; it’s a continuation of the flawed thinking that an agency will just magically be able to close opportunities. Is your agency’s creative truly great? I hope so. It might not be. But even if it is, you won’t be the only ones with great creative. Opportunities aren’t often won by the creative alone. Your creative *might* win you new business, but it would be foolish to count on it.

It would be smarter to plan on winning new business through a more strategic approach—in addition to having great creative. That’s true during the RFP/pitch process (Chris Shumaker just shared his approach to winning without the winning creative with us here). It’s also true across the new business lifecycle. An agency that worries only about producing great creative and doesn’t concern themselves with new business will end up in poor health (for the reasons I outlined earlier in response to myth number one).

Expecting your creative to save the day is putting all of your eggs into one basket. It is betting everything on one single factor that may or may not determine if you get the account. It’s not smart from a tactical standpoint. You are better off also investing in relationship-building and other factors that will be influential — not just the creative.

Also, don’t forget that good creative doesn’t stand alone. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. For creative to be “good” today, it must also be effective. So if you have a bunch of case studies that show visually stunning work that perhaps resonates with the viewer, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s compelling from a prospect’s perspective unless you also have demonstrated business results. “Yes, this is “nice” creative work, but so what?,” they will ask. “Why should we care? What will it do for our bottom line?” That’s what they will be thinking, so it’s what your agency should plan for.
Parting thoughts

Have you ever bought into one of these common myths? If so, you certainly aren’t alone, because I hear them all the time. And each of them, if held onto, will only end up hurting an agency’s new business prospects in the end. Which is why we need to be vigilant in rejecting them. It’s critical to see the industry landscape realistically for what it is, and not how we may want it to be. Doing so allows us to be better prepared.

 

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