At its heart, new business is not hard. As one old agency wag used to tell me, “This is an easy business kid — find the damn client, keep the damn client.” The rules for winning more new business are not difficult to understand. If your new business program isn’t producing, chances are someone is making it more complicated than it needs to be. Or, maybe your new business effort is focused on the wrong thing.
In an effort to keep up with this fast-changing industry, many marketing firms have dived into the land of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, blogging and more. After all, the cool kids are all doing it! And while this is an important innovation, it’s not very helpful to closing more new business by itself — agencies are supposed to be on the bleeding-edge of marketing. Social media is a great vehicle to help position your brand, build awareness and get information across — it does not supplant building human relationships. Most new business wins still come the old-fashioned way: by earning the confidence and trust of prospective clients. In other words, agency growth is built on a foundation of relationships.
The Way It Used to Be
Throughout the long history of advertising, nothing good happened with a client until someone from the agency was seated across the desk from a good prospect. Every successful new business pro knew that the keys to new business were referrals and relationships. The overreaching goal was to keep the Rolodex full of targeted, relevant relationships.
And now, with the growth of social media, many agencies have moved away from the tried and true. They’re tweeting and Facebooking into this new world. They’re attempting to build online relationships by measuring their followers, tracking blog hits and creating cool “growth in social” infographics.
So while social media is the au courant means to reach people, these days virtually all new business wins still prove the truism from 20, even 50 years ago: developing relationships is indispensible. Invest in a new business program that’s focused on building relationships, and you have the foundation for success. Ignore the development of relationships, and watch as your new business dries up. It’s that simple.
Rules for Building Relationships
Have a list: Set up and build a robust CRM to track and maintain contact with all prospects. It always shocks and dismays me how many marketing firms have no prospect database (or even just a few names in an Excel spreadsheet).
Do outreach: Develop an awareness-building program aimed at prospects using all tools at your disposal: speaking engagements, social media, attending industry conferences, direct mail, warm calls and more. Set up and maintain a relevant, robust drip campaign.
Keep it personal: Follow up every point of contact with a personal telephone call; never ask for a call back. Double the impact of the contact with a warm personal note.
Frequency is key: Stay in contact with prospects with gentle nudging using articles, white papers and category information of interest. “I saw this and thought of you…” What friends do for friends.
Listen and be alert: Constantly seek an opportunity to help the prospect. This takes listening, not talking. Never sell, and always seek to be of assistance.
Speed wins: Be prepared to strike while the iron is hot. When the opportunity is right, ask the all-important question that has resulted in more new business wins throughout all of time: “Isn’t now a good time for us to get together?” Go and build trust, don’t sell. If you handle this first visit correctly, you will soon have a new client.
If your agency’s new business system isn’t building awareness with large numbers of prospects, then you do not have the opportunity to create relationships with prospects. If you are not creating relationships with large numbers of prospects, then your agency isn’t going to win many first visit opportunities. If you don’t see many prospects on first visits, then a dangerous cycle starts. Your agency isn’t going to grow, and you will get blamed.
Originally published Feb 19, 2013 12:00:43 AM, updated June 28 2019