5. Approach them intelligently with an idea or insight that will help them drive business
This is the final installment of the series: How to Win One Good Account a Year: Take 5!
In the past decade, we’ve had two major recessions — the double whammy. It’s fair to call this the Recessionary Era of Advertising. Under such circumstances, it’s not difficult to understand why new business has become such a high priority for ad agencies. In 10 years, the function of agency business development has gone from a luxury to a necessity. In the 90’s, it was mostly the larger agencies that could afford this “luxury” (a luxury employee is one who is not billable). Today, you can’t afford NOT to have a dedicated new business program/function/person.
I talk to marketing directors every day. They tell me that they have never seen or heard more outreach by ad agencies than now. They receive countless tweets, calls, emails, materials, books, brochures, PDF’s, live links. What they tell me is that 99% of the outreach is about the agency, their people, their awards, their case studies, their positioning, their cool office space, their latest hot campaign, their omniscience to all things pertinent to their business. What most of the agencies fail to do, is demonstrate that they’ve given any thought to the prospect and their business challenges.
There’s a myth floating out there that “all agencies look and sound the same” in their positioning. This claim was more accurate 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve noticed that the better creative agencies have done a great job in differentiating themselves. The top creative agencies recognized this and changed the way they communicated their offering and positioned themselves. It’s funny how the best agencies did little communicating at all — they preferred to let their work speak for them. They showcased it on a neat site with as little of the usual salesmanship as possible. Their work was VISIBLE. People saw it and liked it. They talked about it. It won awards. Marketing directors noticed. Consultants noticed. They got invited to pitch and they won a few and lost a few.
Then the second recession hit and cash became about as tight as an old man returning soup to the deli.
Existing clients cut spending. New business reviews, while seemingly abundant, were more often than not, futile fishing expeditions on behalf of struggling, unprofitable marketers. That’s when everyone either became a new business director or hired one.
So that’s the world marketing directors live in. They become the boy in the bubble because everyone’s become a salesman selling their agency. I think there’s a new way to sell. I believe our new business targets are smarter and hipper than ever. They’re certainly younger than ever. They have more digital acumen than ever. But, do NOT let the presence of additional outreach tools like twitter be a substitute for developing a personal relationship with your top 5 prospects. Do not let social media make you less social, or even anti-social.
The best way to differentiate yourself from other agencies and their outreach programs is to treat your top 5 prospects as clients. Up to this point in the series we have:
- gotten smart on their business
- established credibility as a thought leader
- been creative and entertaining
- developed a relationship
None of those things has brought one dime into your agency from your top prospects. What they have done, however, is pave the road for you to do what you do best — help solve one of their critical marketing challenges. By now, you should have identified a gaping hole in the prospect’s marketing mix that you can fill. You may even have an unexpected insight into their target, or an opportunity they are missing out on in the marketplace. You have an idea that can help them drive business. If you don’t by now, why are they even on your prospect list? Tell them you have an idea. They need ideas.
I’ve heard that Jack Connors was a master pitchman. Supposedly, he would always say in a meeting, “we’ve done some homework on your business, here are 3 things we think you could do right now”. They weren’t spec ads, or media plans — but business ideas. The “idea” you bring to the prospect should never be ADVERTISING, or creative. Make them pay for that. Besides, it’s too expected — creative agency brings in fluff, free, spec creative. They will not value a free product. Creative work is your product. But, you will surprise them with a business idea or a target insight. You don’t need to blow it out. You don’t need fancy boards or powerpoint.
Tell the prospect you want to meet for 20 minutes at the Mom & Pop coffee shop closest to their office. If you have to go to Starbucks, okay — but I find most of them too loud and WIRED (gee, imagine that). Show the prospect your idea on a napkin. Don’t let them have the napkin. Get clarification on the potential for them executing your idea. Explore other opportunities in their mix. Find out who else would be involved in making a decision. Close on a meeting back at their office (or invite them back to yours). If they agree, then you can blow the idea out and sell it in. You’ve hit a double off the wall. If not, your idea had warning track power. Keep swinging for the fences. Maintain the relationship. Be professional. Your respectful persistence will be rewarded. Maintain an unwavering faith in your ideas. Your ideas will become meetings. Your meetings will become projects. Your projects will become retainers.