How NOT To Build A Winning Advertising Agency New Business Program

How Not To Win While Losing

download loserA friend in advertising sent me the following email. I’ll follow it with some thoughts. I removed names to protect the innocent (actually, not so innocent).

“I read your long blog post, “How to Build A Winning Advertising Agency New Business Program“. Every sentence is worthwhile.

I did new business at Big NYC and Big L.A. agencies, and then at BlahBlah/SF, where it was my sole responsibility for 3 years. The biggest thing I noticed at BlahBlah was that they lost their biggest client every year. If they had shut down the new business operation and had me, or someone like me, be the client retention and client delight manager, the agency would’ve doubled in size just by not losing the biggest account.

What a piece of insight! But, being digital geeks, the principals didn’t like to leave their desks, screenss and their HQ meetings. Instead of wandering the halls of their biggest clients, cementing the relationship and pulling in even more business, they stayed in the office talking about getting new clients, which, as we know, is a low-odds practice.” 

My Unpack

Business Development Is A Must Do

I tell all of my agency clients that they must have a business development plan that runs 24/7 because they will lose large clients every year. This inevitable loss has accelerated over the past few years because an ever increasing number of client assignments are now ‘projects.’ Larger, longer Agency Of Record accounts are becoming scarce. Is the need for a BD plan a secret? No. But, half of all agencies don’t have a sustained sales effort that will replace those lost clients.

Grow Your Current Clients

I started my career at New York’s Dancer Fitzgerald Sample. Our accounts included P&G, General Mills, Toyota, Sara Lee, J&J, HP, and on. Virtually every account was a 10 plus year relationship. Toyota alone had and has been a client since the late 1970’s (DFS was purchased by Saatchi in the mid-80’s and the account stayed put).

Client longevity was not an accident. All the AE’s were trained to nurture the agency-client relationship. As my friend says, we walked the Fortune 500 halls and made friends and discussed new ideas even with the brands that we did not have. Today most agencies do not train their account people in anything, let alone relationship management and sales. Worse, super spread thin agency management is often missing from the day to day or even month to month client relationships. The people with the most marketing and sales experience are not meeting with the clients on a regular basis.

Business Development “Is A Low-Odds Practise”.

Again, I couldn’t agree more. Advertising agency business development is the most difficult chore (and, it is considered a chore) at most agencies.

That’s why you need a smart plan. A plan that does not look and sound like every other agency. A plan that gets run.

That’s why agency management has to make client nurturing a part of how agencies manage their current accounts. Make friends; dazzle; look interested; learn the client’s category; deliver new ideas; deliver smart – on target- thought leadership; make sure you are uncovering opportunities, and prove your value every week.

These two points are the essence of business development. Add new clients and grow them.

One More: Referrals

Virtually every agency says that they get most of their business from referrals. Of course this is great – you are loved – and it is very efficient. However…

The good: If you get business leads from existing clients then you better manage those relationships. You need a referral plan.

The bad: many agencies only get new business from referrals because they do not have a BD plan.

Don’t forget Vito Corleone.

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