8 Rules for New Business Courtship: The Small Agency’s Guide to Wooing Clients

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Josie Brown
Josie Brown



rules-for-new-business-courtshipLike any exemplary work that deserves congratulations and accolade, a real lust for the task is the true kick-starter. New business is no exception. Speak to anyone who runs a young growing agency where the founding client’s demands haven’t abated from their “only child” rearing — the organic growth of the agency is hitting its capacity and the daily management of running a company is all-consuming. They will tell you acting on new business leads can be a frenzy of false starts, and, as such, a genuine “thrill for the chase” is what it takes to do it artfully.

But plenty of new agencies — especially those run by directors who haven’t come from an entrepreneurial background — shy away from the hunt for new business. Thinking of new business as a “courtship” may at first seem tenuous, but the stages of parlay are pleasingly similar, and the change in perspective can help shift the course from intimidating to enthusing with the resulting relationship going from supplier to partner.

Step 1: Know What Sets You Apart

Both agency and client alike need to have an authentic understanding of themselves in order to attract the perfect partner. Having a clear and unique purpose for your agency — and what distinguishes your offering or work product — helps an agency identify their own values, expertise and traits. More importantly, standing for something (other than “great creative” and “above-and-beyond service”) sets you apart in a crowded space — be honest and objective in your self-assessment. Respondents of a survey run by agency search advisors Avidan Strategies said that 82 percent of clients would like to see agencies create a differentiated agency brand. Articulating what you stand for and what you are truly best at will help an agency recognize the best business partner to start a relationship with. Whether it may be startups that want guidance and collaboration, clients with recent investment who need impressive ROI or challenger brands that need bold creative. Knowing your own needs makes it easier to spot the potential.

Step 2: Get a Makeover

A healthy bit of cyber-stalking is par for the course in this day and age, and your greatest tool is your own PR. Easy discovery of your best work and all public profiles of your agency need to be optimized. It’s not acceptable these days for an agency or its senior management to have sparse Twitter feeds. If they’re dangerously infrequent and irrelevant, they will work against you. In a recent survey by RSW/US, 53 percent of agencies cite social media as the second biggest source of opportunities. Likewise, if employees are sharing their views with your agency name in their profile, their musings will be associated with yours. Create a strategy for your social media, and implement against it consistently. An agency website is a first stop for any curious prospect so keeping it updated, uncomplicated and immaculately designed takes time and dedication.

Step 3: Create a Plan of Action

Be ready to put your best foot forward — agency case studies need to sizzle. The new business function within the agency needs to have a system, a pipeline, a plan of action, regular meetings, accountability and dynamic tools that will impress prospects. A 10-page deck may not be the best way to win over some clients, yet it may be perfect for others. Know your audience, and that’s the easy bit — you already do it all day.

Step 4: Show Interest

Once you know what you’re looking for and you like what you see, you need to make your interest known. Don’t be afraid of the approach. The prospect’s existing relationship may not be exclusive, and they may just be losing faith in their current agency. Showing your interest by way of a third-party introduction or phone call may be more effective than waiting for the big agency RFI ticket. However, don’t be arrogant; the simple charm of a no-expectations invitation to connect is vastly underestimated. Even if the request is politely declined, it will not be forgotten.

Step 5: Don’t Hoard the Conversation

Once you have danced the “when shall we meet up waltz,” it’s best to forgo bravado and chest beating — it’s that kind of thing that can kick things off on the wrong foot. The first meeting or two is for gaining trust and really understanding whether it’s worth the investment. In the RSW/US survey, 73 percent of marketers said that agencies mostly spoke about themselves, but marketers would like agencies to be more interested in them first. These first meetings are the time to ensure you really are compatible and can create something great together.

Step 6: Look for Chemistry

It’s what we’re all looking for — that indefinable aspect of “chemistry” and rapport. Unsurprisingly, in the Avidan survey only a third of the respondents said it was not brilliant creative or strategy that won a pitch. Practically every consultant, or 96 percent of the sample, pointed to “chemistry” as the winning component. Downside is you can’t fake chemistry. But you can sure as hell nail it with your team and their attitude because 61 percent said that agencies that have a “confident, articulate team” saw more success, and those that “demonstrate passion for the client’s business” also trumped.

Step 7: Be Assertive

The point of every new business meeting is to secure the next. Leaving things open-ended and casual shows a lack of interest and follow-through. Suitors should always be attentive — but not desperate. Follow-up emails lack a sense of the personal; you have their number, so use it. Pick up the phone and talk with your prospect — it shows them they’re important and that you want to get to know them. Implement a two-day rule: Go back to them with a response to their business challenges and needs quickly. Don’t give them time to look around at their other options. But remember to not be too forceful; 35 percent of marketers think agencies are too aggressive with their follow-ups.

Step 8: Go the Distance Without Conceding

If you know “you’re in,” then putting real effort into to the relationship is what closes the deal and allows the tricky contract negotiation phase to be enjoyable. Be accommodating without conceding your agency’s needs and priorities — this is a relationship you want to last. The truth being: The greatest relationships are with two equals that do not compromise on their own goals but build a greater goal together.

In busy, small agencies, where timings are diminishing and demands are ever growing, developing a new business plan can be daunting and lead generation can be even more overwhelming. Therefore, adjusting the dial of new business development from needful to joyful is something that can give your success rate an essential boost. New lead generation and the acquisition of new business partners should be thrilling; it allows one to flex their creative muscle and be winsome all at the same time — the perfect formula for winning the chase.

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