Want to Avoid New Business Pain? Focus on These 3 Things

Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting

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There’s either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.

The problem is that agencies spend most of their time looking for a third option when it comes to business development.

This just doesn’t exist said Mark Duval, CEO and founder of Duval Partnership.

There are, however, a few things you can do to create a successful new business program -- but as you might have guessed, these fall under the discipline category.

The 3 Key Elements of a Successful New Business Program

To grow your agency -- by either increasing revenue or value -- you need a solid new business plan and approach.

But agencies approach sales with a marketing mindset that doesn’t take into account that sales is a mental game that has different rules of engagement.

“Agencies are filled with marketers; they're not filled with sales people,” Duval said. “Agencies spend too much time talking about themselves, not about the client. It's crucial to demonstrate industry expertise and the ability to solve the client’s problem."

Duval founded Duval Partnership, which helps agencies create and implement sales solutions to win more business through sales training and coaching, agency auditing, inbound and outbound marketing, and prospecting. Previously, he held business development roles at Univision and The CBS Television Station Group. He thinks there are three core areas agency execs need to understand and focus on when it comes to selling:

1) Consistency

This scenario might be familiar to you: You’ve finally hired someone to do business development. You send this person out into the world to walk the streets and work the phones.

One day, your new business person walks in the door with a grin so big it makes you uncomfortable. She just landed not one, not two, but three new accounts.

Before your excitement lets you award her with a bonus, you remember that your operations manager had said that you only had capacity to take on one, maybe two, new clients.

So what are you going to do? You can scramble to get a job description plastered on every job board as soon as possible, but it will still be at least two months before someone is fully onboarded and ready to manage an account full-time. The solution? The new business person can service the accounts -- after all, the client likes and trusts her. Don’t worry, you say. It will only be for a few weeks.

Six months later you’ve lost four accounts, your new business pipeline is nonexistent, and your qualified and previously successful new business person is spending all of her time managing clients who’ve shown no signs of remaining loyal.

“Sales is not a punctuated event,” Duval said. “The key to success in sales is consistency.”

Consistency -- doing new business every single day no matter what is going on in the agency -- needs to be a priority. And agency leaders, operations, and other staff need to protect the person who is bringing in new clients from distractions. Setting goals and quarterly targets is one way to make sure new business is a priority for the overall business and the individual rep, but consistency also requires a plan. What activities and tactics will the sales person do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis? Does this include setting a specific number of meetings? Writing blog posts? Asking for referrals? Cold calling? The ultimate goal should be results, but you need to define ongoing, consistent activities that lead to meeting your goals as well. This keeps people focused and on-track. And it gives you the ability to forecast your agency’s growth for hiring purposes.

2) Attitude

Attitude is ultimately about buy-in and respect.

One issue is that oftentimes the new business person doesn’t have a voice at the table -- she isn’t on an equal level with other key decision-makers in the agency. This causes issues because goals are set without her input. It’s simply a line-item on the yearly projections.

“It's a number that's pulled out of air to make everything add up,” said Duval.

This lack of having a seat at the table is partly because there’s not a lot of respect for the art of sales in the agency world. It’s a marketing-driven industry led by creatives, account managers, and strategists.

“Someone used to tell me that you can always tell how the company feels about their customers by the parking lot,” Duval said. “Do they put you up front or do you have to park way in the back and trudge through the snow to get to the front door?”

It’s the same with your new business person. Does her picture appear towards the top on your “meet the team” page? Or is she relegated to the spot next to the pooch in residence?

These small choices -- even if they seem insignificant -- often reveal the value your agency places on new business and sales.

Another issue is that the new business person is not responsible for determining the plan. Either no plan is created at all or leadership team creates the plan and passes it on for action from the new biz rep. There’s no connection to the realities of what sales reps face on a daily basis. And because they have no part in determining the lack, there’s no conviction or drive on the rep's part to actually meet the plan’s goals.

“If you believe in something -- a document, a plan, a process -- that you helped build, that's going to get you just to keep your head down and just keep trudging through the mud, so to speak,” Duval said.

The final issue is what Duval calls “head trash.” Duval provided a few examples of this: “We learn early it's impolite to talk about money. Our competitors are cheaper, and they're lowering the rates, so we need to do that. Or, nobody ever answers the phone on Friday afternoon, so there's no sense in making calls.”

This head trash can create a behavior where the person is always looking for the perfect time to reach out, and so she never does. It makes people nervous and unconfident -- the exact opposite state of mind a person should have when entering into a conversation with a buyer.

What compounds all these attitude issues is that agency owners who disdain sales hire people who feel the same way. Thus, the agency is full of people who have to sell but don’t know how to sell and have a negative attitude towards the idea of selling.

And guess what? That attitude doesn’t result in much new business.
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3) Behavior

The final thing you need is action. This is about actually doing the work (calling, emailing, marketing, selling, etc.).

You should start with a solid plan that, as we mentioned before, has buy-in from the sales rep, and then set goals associated with that plan.

“Goals are good for two reasons,” Duval said. “Tracking goals highlights your strengths, but it also sheds light on some weaknesses so you can create a plan of attack around those weak areas.”

Creating an agency-wide report that you present or send out on a monthly or quarterly basis will help with buy-in from the entire agency. The new business role is often a mystery to others in the agency, and having a level of transparency about what new business does, the major initiatives it is working on, the metrics it is measured by, and how it is performing will help the entire team to believe in and support the person in the role.

Behavior is also highly reliant on the type of person you hire for the new business role, so this is critical. Someone who can diagnose a prospect’s pain, ask thoughtful qualifying questions, handle objections, uncover urgency, and build rapport is important. Too often, agency owners simply focus on the ability to build relationships when hiring. Duval typically suggests hiring an experienced sales person who has no agency experience over a former new business director or agency person. It’s much easier for an owner or hiring manager to train a person on the industry, rather than teaching her how to sell.

“The new business role is the hardest job in the agency,” Duval said. “You need someone who can take a proactive approach to a reactive industry.”

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