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New business development for marketing agencies

Author's avatar By Mark Kelly 17 Jun, 2016
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A checklist of issues aimed at improving your new business marketing processes and techniques

If you are a big, established agency then you may well run a finely tuned new business or demand generation machine already. If you are a smaller or a start-up agency and growth so far has been ‘accidental’ then where do you start with a more proactive, controlled approach to generating ‘New Biz’?

New business is, I think, is more competitive than ever and there are a few reasons:

  • The sheer number of agencies of all types. There are 18,000 or so in the UK alone (figures I have seen vary from 16-20,000).
  • Client (prospect) time is stretched thin with smaller teams and more to do. It follows that decision makers are less willing to hear you out, unless they have a burning need and you catch them at that exact time.
  • An increasing understanding of all things inbound marketing means some of your competitors are already attracting more interest than you are.
  • Face to face account servicing is still (to my mind) important but clients are more comfortable with their agencies being out of town, in remote rural locations even. Meaning you can’t rely on proximity as being a plus point for you.

Competitive times indeed. So you might think everyone was on the case and had a solid plan for new business. However, this Rswus new business report surprised me. Two points jumped out of Rswus's US Agency/Marketer's New Business Report were:

  • Everyone (minus the 14% who are either awesome or just plain complacent?) says that they'll be aggressively chasing new business next year (making it the most aggressive year since the survey started).
  • A vast majority,  80% of agencies say the New Business Director lasted less than 2 years. Of those, 66% said that was because they didn’t have a methodology for new business.

The role of the Agency New Business Director

The point above tallies with my own experience over the years - the New Business Director role can be a precarious one. They can be seen as a silver bullet, shouldering all of the responsibility for magically attracting work. But without everyone's buy-in and senior team ownership, it’s a flawed appointment from the start.

The New Business Director (if you have one) needs to ‘own’ business generation but you (the agency owner / senior team) shouldn’t leave them in isolation to devise the methodology or indeed ‘police’ it. Which is where the accompanying checklist comes in.
Whether you hire a specific senior person or not (I have worked with a couple of very successful agencies who don’t have a dedicated New Business Director) you should plan out your new business machine (demand generation strategy) to make sure that conveyor belt always has some new work trundling down it. Don’t start trying to fill it once it is empty!

I’ve mentioned Demand Generation a couple of times now. It might not be a term you are that familiar with (depending on your experience and the type of work that you do for clients) but in a nutshell,

Demand Generation encapsulates all the various marketing programs and processes you can use to stimulate awareness about your products or services (and agency of course). It covers both inbound and outbound marketing. As HubSpot nicely put it: 'What makes demand generation a distinct concept from other customer acquisition tactics is a commitment to long-term customer relationships and a strategic mindset.'

Some principles for your New Business Marketing

Before you get to the checklist here are some principles for New Business Marketing.

  • 1. Make time for new business. There’s always the existing client work and you’ll never have enough time. But that’s an excuse you can’t hide behind. And likewise, whilst you need to make sure all of your collateral is up to date, don't use that as an excuse to not to get prospecting.
  • 2. Spread bet. By that I mean you can’t rely on just one channel or technique to attract business. No doubt your advice to clients is to continuously test, learn and optimise for any campaigns. Do that for yourselves.
  • 3. Think data. Successful new business marketing is underpinned by segmentation, testing and learning and fuelled by data. So develop an ethos of continual data collection and analysis.
  • 4. Inbound Marketing first. Focus on your inbound marketing first. Try a range of content and channel mixes. Blogs are hugely important but you can do more. If Inbound marketing (and within that, Content marketing) are still fuzzy concepts to you have a look at our Simon Swan's post on SEO and Inbound Marketing.
  • 5. Use Outbound. There is a lot written about outbound approaches having had their day (direct mail, telephone approaches) and there’s truth in that but well researched, targeted, clever (creative) proactive approaches can still work and you should employ them for selected prospects when your inbound strategy is up and running.
  • 6. It’s continuous. If you bunch your new business activity into sporadic efforts you’ll have gaps in the pipeline / conveyor belt. It can take weeks or months to convert initial enquiries so you should always have some prospects that you're developing into a live client.
  • 7. A culture of New Business. Everyone has a role to play. Ask your whole team to keep an eye out for new opportunities. Things they may have read about e.g. job changes (on LinkedIn, Twitter, Trade press etc). And remind them to always have business cards real or metaphorical) to hand at any networking events. They may not be ‘salespeople’ but they should feel empowered and motivated to sell the agency’s brilliance wherever they meet prospects.
  • 8. Keep New Business visible. Add new Business reporting as an agenda item in your board and senior management team meetings. Discuss what is working and what isn’t. Set up either shared Google Docs, basecamp or a CRM platform that everyone can access (not just the New Business Director / team).

Checklist for new business marketing

  • Positioning

Spend time (if you haven't already) getting that right, before completing the rest of the form. A quick review will show you that many agencies have identikit About Us / Proposition pages. Make yours stand out and be buyable.

  • New Business Tools

There are a host of tools you can use for new business and across a range of use cases: content creation, (pitch) project planning, market research and of course lead tracking / CRM.There’s a blur between prospect management / lead tracking and customer (client)  management CRM tools and they come in all shapes and sizes:

Standalone platforms

Some examples of relevant platforms:

Integrated platforms

Integrated platfors where you have a CRM function built into a wider agency management suite (job bag management, finance reporting etc) include:

From my personal viewpoint, working as a consultant with just a handful of prospects (and clients) at any one time I’ve found that Contactually works really well for me. It actually has more features than I need, it integrates with Gmail and keeps the disparate social network updates for all my contacts synced into central profile for them in Contactually. If you’re an agency with a lot more leads (and clients) to manage and a new biz team it will scale to that too.

As with all software choices you should review a few platforms, ask them for a demo, ask industry contacts for their thoughts and create a scorecard for yourself. I would also look at the excellent G2 peer review site (link to the CRM category):

Further reading links or generating new business

If you're involved in New Business then you should have these guys on your radar for a mix of great thought leadership. There are other consultancies / practitioners in this space but I come back to these often, hence sharing them here.

  • Fuel Lines (consistently great articles and thoughts on agency new business)
  • The Art Of New Business (both a NB consultancy, blog and UK events organiser)
  • Ad Age Small Agency diary (often a good source of NB focussed articles)
  • The List (A lead generation business. Their pinpoint blog has some great NB articles)
  • RSW (new business agency with a good blog).


Author's avatar

By Mark Kelly

Mark Kelly is a digital marketing and agency growth consultant working with agencies and their client brands. He can be found at Mark Kelly Consultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

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