Ad Agency: Why No Sales Methodology?

Glengarry-Glen-Ross-Alec-Baldwin-ABCI came across the revealing ad agency business development infographic below on the RSW/US website. The infographic highlights some of the findings from RSW/US’s 2014 Agency Marketer New Business Report. 

The infographic sucks. Um, no. The infographic doesn’t suck, but it points out one critical agency fail that… SUCKS!

According to the RSW/US report, 66% Of Ad Agencies Have No Business Development or Sales Methodology

What? 66%! Having run ‘sales’ (sorry, it is sales) at Saatchi, my own agency and two Internet companies, I know that a company that has something to sell in the B2B marketplace cannot succeed without a biz dev plan and implementation methodology. Cannot, full-stop. No methodology means no plan and no plan means no growth no growth means lower income. So, let’s solve this problem.

8 Key Elements of a Methodological Ad Agency Business Development Plan

This 400+ post business development blog has numerous posts on how to run sales. But, here are some of the key elements to get you started. Yes, I will sound pedantic and obvious. But, since 66% of agencies admit to not having any methodology to tame the madness of sales, how could I not sound somewhat pedantic?

Have clear objectives for the agency and the type of clients it wants. Do you want to grow (some agencies are happy to stay put)? If yes, how fast? Do you want to sell in 3 years? To who / why should they buy you? Do you want to do good deeds? Do you want to be famous? Do you want to specialize? Do you have a client category you want to own? A specific client you covet? Do you want to be national or regional? Want to build products and not just sell your staff time? Just want to get rich?

It is very important to try to have very focussed objectives. Poor objectives are a fail point for any sales program.

Create a brand positioning that separates your agency’s reason for being from sounding like thousands of other agencies. This includes thinking very hard about your brand positioning – who you are and who you want to be.  For lots of ‘food for thought’ detail, read my two-part post How To Position An Advertising Agency. I’ve helped agencies this year zero in on client category specialization, demographic-based specialization, direct marketing video expertise, results-based SEM, mobile advertising, how to hone their digital story, UX/UI and challenger brand solutions, to name a few.

I know that many agencies fear having a focus. They might ‘miss out’ on luring a big client. Get over it. Unless you are a super creative shop (and there are very few) you will not win by playing the ‘full-service’ card. Unfortunately, many clients are looking for specific skills to solve a specific problem. It’s called a project. Today, experts win. Once in the door, you should be able to add more work. Yes, that is also a sales skill.

Understand your capabilities. Know where you are starting (be honest) and now that you have objectives, think through what capabilities you will need. I was just at Advertising Week New York 2014. Clients want measurable ROI, addressable media, social media / content marketing prowess and… need to know how to market with video and on mobile phones. Are you prepared to meet these needs?

What client brand, category or audience  experience do you have? If you don’t have the right experience, I know that you can learn it and begin to look like an expert in 3+ months. Here is a quick ‘secret’. I’ve seen where agency management hasn’t done a very good job in clearly understanding what experience is actually under their roof. Do you know what your staff has done and knows?

Create a messaging plan. How will you express your positioning? What is your brand, your tone and your attitude? What is your vibe: plain vanilla, hot shop, expert, caring? It is OK to say, “we kick serious ROI butt”. Many agencies seem to be afraid to present the confidence clients are looking for. The client’s job may rest on your ability to deliver – sound like you can.

Rule inbound marketing. I call this an attraction strategy. Smart inbound marketing will have the categories, clients and geographies find you. This isn’t easy. You will need to plan for your thought leadership strategy; a content plan; a social media calendar; smart SEO / SEM;  LinkedIn – Twitter – Blog – Facebook – mobile strategies.

Man, there are a lot great tools out there to scope out and blow past your competition. Just go to Ian’s Razor Social and read about all of the marketing tools that are being developed every month.

Use audience insights to build your social traffic. When I first left advertising in the middle 90’s to put a newspaper group online, I realized that one way to quickly build our audience was to put photos of student athletes and their games up on the sports pages. Give people what they want. I’d imagine that’s why you have read this far. Every one of your target markets has hot issues. Build your social media plan to deliver these. Please, don’t create a blog that just talks to other agencies. Many do.

Critical Inbound point: Build a website that sells. Not just another look-alike brochure website. Your website is usually the first and maybe last time that a client prospect spends time with you. Begin to use it to sound and look different and use it to start to build chemistry (interpersonal chemistry is usually the the most important reason that clients make their agency selection in a world of similar agency skills). I have a series of ideas for how to break out of the land of agency website clutter.

Outbound marketing. There are clients that you should want badly. You can’t wait for them to find you using just inbound marketing.

Know who you want to work with (just the ones you are willing to reach out to with an intelligent program) and create a well targeted and manageable client and category list. Then produce marketing materials (with their needs in mind) and begin to gently woo them on a scheduled basis. There is a lot of attention to detail required here (and in implementing your social media plan) but being highly targeted with smart messaging should get you in the game.

Idea: why not create client category information specific websites / blogs to help you ‘own’ a category? Prove that you are an expert by sounding like one.

Pitching. Sorry (again), but in many cases you will not win without pitching or a sales call. You’d have to be very uniques to be able to avoid the agency line up. Some do. But, most can’t.

So, here is my pitch: Buy my very practical book on pitching and presentations and you will win more pitches – I guarantee it. Amazon has the paperback and eBook right here The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book. Win More Pitches. The book is 251 pages of very practicable advice and learning from over 30 experts including 15 agency search consultants. You will also dig the cartoons.

Back to methodology

I help my clients do all of the above by giving them a detailed strategic plan that they can implement. It is critical that you recognize what your agency can do on a weekly basis so you will actually do it. Inconsistency is the single biggest reason that agencies fail at business development.

If you think that you need some help getting past, “I know that I need a better biz dev plan but I need some seriously expert help to make it real”, give me a shout. If you are in the 66%… call me today. We can figure out if I can help you grow faster in about 15 minutes.

Now, finally, the infographic.

US Agency New Business


Thanks for reading.

Let’s all help RSW/US design an more optimistic infographic next year by being more methodological.

Oh, sign up below to see my LinkedIn new business hack. It will help you get into the head of your prospects.


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