9 Reasons Why Your New Business Program Is Failing

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Karla Hesterberg
Karla Hesterberg



A whopping 66% of agencies have no plan in place to develop new business. And among those who say they do have a plan, their strategy might not be as comprehensive as it needs to be to keep the sales pipeline from drying up. 

In fact, it seems like many agencies are leaving their new business development largely to chance. Agencies surveyed for the Mirren-RSW/US 2016 New Business Tools Annual Report frequently cited "keeping our eyes open" as one of their top new business development tools. Simply staying on the lookout for new business is not a complete business development strategy. 

So what factors contribute to a poor business development strategy? And more importantly -- what changes can you make to get your agency back on track?

Here we go over nine new business development mistakes that commonly plague agencies and what you can do to overcome them.

9 Common Business Development Mistakes 

1) You don't make new business development anyone's responsibility.

We're not going to sugarcoat it: The process of prospecting, pitching, and closing on new business can easily evolve into a long, grueling, and energy-consuming process. And your time and resources are understandably precious. You want to focus primarily on the clients in front of you, not pour time into a prospect that may not even work out.

But when no one is held accountable for new business and everyone is expected to just help out when they can, it will never really get done right. If it isn't someone's real responsibility, there's no reason for them put it up high on their long list of priorities, or above client work.

A significant majority of agencies don't have a single employee dedicated to new business development, leaving a critical gap in their ability to acquire new clients: 

Data from The Agency Pricing & Financials Report

Even if you can't afford to hire an employee devoted entirely to new business development, your team needs to set aside time and resources to seek out new clients. To start holding yourselves accountable, develop an annual new business plan with goals in alignment with your projected revenue and growth. Once you start to treat new business development as the responsibility it is, rather than a casual side project, you'll begin to see better results. 

2) You don't know who you're marketing to.

Do you know your agency's ideal client profile? If the answer is no, you're probably not targeting the right people in your business development efforts.

Remember that a net cast too widely will almost always come up empty. If you try to market your agency without targeting a specific demographic, your efforts are going to fall flat. You need to know who exactly you're looking for and tailor your efforts to attract these specific types of businesses.

To get started, take a look at your current clients and write down the characteristics that make them a good fit for your services. Make sure your list reflects your clients' actual characteristics, not just characteristics you wish they had. This isn't a wish list. It's a profile for clients who can realistically bring actual revenue and value to your agency.

Once you have a good idea of what kind of client you're in the market for, think about what channels have been most successful in tracking them down. Consider pursuing those spaces more seriously as part of your overall new business development program.

3) You don't know who your competitors are.

Yes, you have competitors. Even if you don't often find yourself aggressively competing for clients with another agency, it's important to realize that other agencies are more likely than not dipping into the same client pool as you. And you can't compete with them until you know who they are and what they offer.

You don't need a private investigator -- just start with a simple Google search. Pretend you're a prospective client and try searching for some long-tail keywords they might use when searching for a new agency. See what other agencies pop up, and take a good look at what they offer. Ask yourself: How does your own presence measure up? Are you differentiating yourself enough to really stand out?

Another straightforward way to get the scoop on your competition is to ask your current clients what other agencies they considered, or who they worked with before coming to you. This will start to give you an idea of your competitors and what you need to do to make your agency's brand and offerings unique.

4) You talk too much about yourself.

Time for a reality check: 79% of marketers think agencies talk too much about themselves in meetings.

It's no secret that agency people like to talk, but when it comes to pitching a prospective client on the benefit of your services, your part should be succinct, brief, and focused intensely on how your agency can specifically benefit the client's brand.

As an exercise, try condensing your entire pitch into a short paragraph. If any piece of information feels even slightly unnecessary or gratuitous, omit it. This will help you organize your thoughts and distill your presentation into a more digestible chunk of information.

During the pitch itself, refrain from launching unprompted into any case studies or an extended history of your agency's core beliefs -- this is all information they probably already have on you. Remember that this is the prospective client's time to ask questions and see if the relationship is a good fit. 

5) You don't fully understand your prospect's context.

It's not enough to simply understand a prospective client's direct needs for a project -- you also need to make an effort to get to know their unique business and industry. This will give your pitch some depth and show the prospect that you're serious about doing business with them.

Before the pitch, take some time to thoroughly research the client's brand. For a deeper look into their particular point of view, you could even consider setting up a meeting or call to interview your prospect.

Try to understand not only what their business functions are, but what the climate of their industry is like. What are other people in their industry working on? Who are they competing against? The more you understand, the more relevant your proposal will be.

6) You don't use a CRM tool to manage new business.

As any agency professional will tell you, time management and efficiency are absolutely key when it comes to staying on top of prospecting. But many agencies are problematically behind the curve in terms of organizing their existing and prospective clients. 44% of agencies don't use a CRM, and 30% of agencies still use Microsoft Excel as their main CRM.  

Why wouldn't you want a tool that can help your team get organized and stay efficient with fewer resources? New business development is often the last thing an agency is able to devote time, people, and money to, but a CRM can help you do more with less. Consider starting off with free or inexpensive project management software, like HubSpot's free CRM, to see if  it can help your team stay on top of your new business goals.  

7) You don't figure out why a pitch was rejected.

Sometimes a pitch doesn't go quite as planned and the prospect turns you down. It happens to the best of us. But the biggest mistake you can make after a rejected pitch is to not solicit critical feedback about what exactly went wrong.

It might seem awkward at first, but understanding why a proposal was rejected is a vital part of building your ongoing business development strategy. Ask the prospect to identify specific areas of the proposal that really turned them off, and see if they're willing to suggest any changes or things they would have liked to see. You aren't going to find a better source of proposal feedback than someone who you've pitched to directly.

8) You don't plan your follow-up strategy in advance.

After a meeting or call with a prospective client, you should have a follow-up plan already in place to maintain a connection with your point of contact and continue the discussion. Follow up is just as important as the proposal in securing new business, but most agencies fail to close the loop, leaving their prospects wondering if they're truly serious about their business. In fact, 53% of marketers say that agencies aren't sufficiently aggressive in following up after a meeting.

Instead of resigning yourself to waiting around, inspire some extra confidence by reaching out after the initial meeting with a brief recap of your conversation and next steps. This will help the prospect keep your proposal fresh in their mind, and give them the opportunity to ask additional questions.

9) You don't know your own deal breakers.

It can be hard to remember during the hustle of the proposal process, but you're there to qualify the prospect just as much as they're there to qualify you. You're on the hunt for profitable clients who will add value to your portfolio, and if a prospect doesn't seem like they'd be a good fit, you're allowed to gracefully bow out.

Make sure you have a solid structure in place to weed out prospects who don't fit your agency's ideal profile. You want to make sure that a client's project would be a worthy use of your time and expertise before you dive in, so consider asking some basic qualification questions before you devote time to a full-scale pitch.


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