Advertising Agency Business Development & Cold Calling

The ‘not so cold’ call works better Web to Print and Sales Tips by PagePathEeeew, Cold Calling

I originally wrote this blog post in 2013. It is just as relevant today as then. Here’s an updated version. This update continues to recommend ‘cold calling’ — at least, my version.

As you traverse the world of business development thinkers, you will find people that tell you that inbound is the only way to go – even going so far as saying that if you are brilliant and narrowly focussed you will never have to pitch for business. Sorry, not true. Today, as has been the case for years, you need to exercise all of your business development muscles and tactics to win.

In and Out

Hey, I have no issue with inbound and social media marketing as I have built my global consultancy on inbound – I get it. This worked for me because when I get a call from my very (very!) narrow target audience of ad, PR, and digital agencies, they most likely found me because I am on page one of most ad agency business development related searches. Now really, do you think your agency will be on page one for a search of PPC or PR or general, even local, agencies? Probably not. That’s why you also need to be very smart about outbound marketing. Or, as it is now called Account Based Marketing. Which simply means… find a set of companies that you want to work with and go after them with a very smart, well researched, insight-driven marketing program. For years, we’ve called this ‘sales.’

A ‘nerve-racking’ element of outbound is the cold call. I prefer to call it .. warm calling.

Just the mere mention of cold calling strikes fear in the hearts of the most accomplished advertising agency CEO’s and business development directors. Let’s face it, who really likes to pick up the phone to call a stranger and ask them for something… like their advertising or design account? Um, chances are rather good that it’s not you.

Because of this painful fact, we now have an entire industry of social media experts telling you that all you have to do today to win at business development is inbound marketing. You know, if you blog, tweet, Linkedin and Facebook, the business will just come knocking at your door. Nope, I

Nope, you don’t need no more stinkin cold calls.

Really? I don’t think so. Please note, I am not telling you that a refined agency positioning plus the strategic use of social media coupled with targeted content delivery won’t deliver incoming leads. I am just saying that inbound alone is a bit too passive for most aggressive (in the good way to be aggressive) sales programs.

I am sure you know what accounts that you’d like to work for and why they should think about you. OK? So, go get them. But, do not wait for the looong social media cycle to get them to find you. Will attracting the attention of the specific clients you want to work with take time? Yes. But I’d rather be intelligently pro-active than 24/7 passive.

Warm vs. Cold Calling

download wrmBack to cold calling. I’d actually rather call it warm calling. A strategic use of warm calling offers a direct way to target and reach out to your prospect. Why, because volumes of sales research and experience points to the simple fact that most marketers (at least, the ones you want to work for) will respond positively to very smart relevant business insights. Therefore, that outbound call shouldn’t be shunned — it should be managed. It works… sometimes, just as social media works sometimes. I call it warm calling because you are not going to create a list of total strangers and just start hammering away. Like every thing else you do in your business development plan, warm calling is an integral component in a master plan. In this case, you have already made some form of contact with the prospect because they are on your short list. Your earlier contact could have been via…

Email: For example, you have sent the prospect focused emails over a period of time. I am a fan of sending one email per month that delivers one smart idea that delivers value to the prospect. Your tracking has shown that the prospect has opened up your email and, hopefully, clicked through to your website.

White Papers: Like the email, you have sent the prospect some form of brilliant strategic thinking via paper. I like paper. Paper is so rare these days that getting paper in the mail feels like Christmas.

Your category related and inexpensive Google Consumer Research (check this out if you haven’t) or man on the strreet interview.

Your category related Zine. Yes, a Zine. Why not?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

So… The tactical outreach program is predicated on the idea that you made a strategic business decision as to why to target this specific prospect; you did research on the company and its marketing group; you delivered relevant and valuable information; you might actually know that they looked at it; you’ve warmed them up and you can now apply some warm call outreach.

What else? OK, I know that some of you are thinking that I am too optimistic about the warm calling idea. But, it does work some of the time. Even if Mr. Big is being harassed by other agencies, if you have the right reason for him to listen, in many cases he will. Really, what do you have to lose? Some face?

Here is the plan:

The Pre-Call

Before you make the call, you will need to do some serious homework on the prospect. Every prospect is different but I suggest that you start with these first steps.

  • Understand the prospect’s industry, company, and people (especially the marketing folks).
  • Know about and understand the key issues confronting the company and category.
  • Demonstrate some evidence of your past results with similar customers and issues.
  • Know if you have any common contacts or experiences. This is where LinkedIn comes in. Six degrees of separation baby.
  • Creat unignorable insights. This is critical.

The Actual Call

The most important thing is to be cool. You are making this call because ABC Corporation should be using your services and if you have the right pitch, they will want to hear you out. You have to believe that or why are you making the call in the first place? Next…

  • Decide if you want to call the prospect and have them take the call or want to do a warm-up voicemail shot across the bow via leaving an off-hours message (in fact, you must always be prepared with a pre-packaged message script.)
  • Have specific call objectives and a scripted opening. Be prepared should they actually pick up. You are probably not as glib as Robert Di Niro so a bit of prep is a good idea.
  • Timing is critical. I usually avoid Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.
  • Have a plan for getting through a gatekeeper if he answers. The assistant’s job is to block for the prospect. Friendly works. Having a clear reason for the call is essential. You want to make the gatekeeper think that it would be a mistake not to pass you through.
  • I suggest doing a bit of scenario planning. Be ready to handle a range of reactions.
  • Get into it. The more calls you make, the better you’ll be.

Back to Di Niro. I suggest that a way to get comfortable with the cold warm calling program is to do some more research on the the act of the call. There are dozens of websites that can provide insights.

The Business Development Bottom Line? Food.

130801112922-reggie-jackson-001287899-single-image-cutTry this for ‘caveman’ stimulation:

You need to eat; you need to house your family; your kids need braces; you have a business to run; you have staff to keep employed; you need to keep new business coming in the front door – revenues are a good thing; you have a great story to tell; you chose this prospect carefully, you have services that the prospect needs and all you need to do is to get him to listen.

It’s that easy. Well, it might not be but… what do you rally have to lose? There are Hall of Famer baseball players like Reggie Jackson who got in with under .300 batting average. That’s less than 3 hits for every 10 times at bat. I’d take 2 or 3 direct contacts for every 10 calls.

Warm calling is just one way to grow your agency. Need more ideas, tactics, and approaches that I’ve used to grow Saatchi & Saatchi and my own agency? Just click right here to go directly to my contact page.



  1. Gabreil Feinstein
    | Permalink

    “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” -Wayne Gretzky

  2. I’d like to share the best advice I ever heard about how to approach cold ( warm ) calling: think of it ( and refer to it ) as “treasure hunting”, because words have power.

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