Busting the New Business Cold-Call Myth

Our friends at RSW/US, the agency search and new business service, shared the findings of their annual Agency New Business Report as the year began. They report that 63 percent of agencies say it is harder to break through to prospects than it was a year ago. The reason: gatekeepers.

By gatekeepers, we do not mean just secretaries, personal assistants or procurement departments. Today, you can add email junk/spam protocols, dispensing with voicemail at some companies, and the sheer volume of social media chatter, all of which make reaching a new business prospect that much tougher.

Lee McKnight of RSW writes that agencies should be using all of the tools and channels available to them in a consistent and coordinated process. But Lee then highlighted two underused channels that might be good alternatives to digital outreach: the phone and direct mail.

RSW works with many companies conducting agency searches. His contacts report that cold calls have greatly decreased, and direct mail is pretty much non-existent.

Cold Calls Don’t Work

We have long advocated for the use of calling [link 820] as part of your regular new business process. But yes, we agree: cold calls don’t work. Your calls need to be warm calls, in which you share an insight or research nugget that will intrigue the recipient and prompt agreement to an initial meeting. Another part of warm calling is to get to know your prospect informally, through civic/community organizations and events, or by networking. Then, when you make your warm call, there is already familiarity with you and the agency.

Every prospect is different, for some, tactic 1 will work; for others, tactic 2 will cut through; still others may require both tactics, plus repeat attempts. Remember: it can take as many as 10-15 contacts to win business. Persistence is everything in the new business effort.

Mail Is Old-Fashioned…and Targeted

Direct mail was a major part of most ad agency new business efforts not so very long ago. The trick to cost-effective direct mail is to target a niche industry or category. You can create clever, attention-grabbing direct mail packages much more cheaply today than 15 years ago, using online resources or even a high-end in-house color printer. Add a fun or clever “keepsake” element, and they will be much more willing to take your next call.

Do not use direct mail to share your portfolio or bloviate about capabilities. Share relevant case studies. Pitch an idea you “need to meet to complete.” Talk turkey about industry challenges. By making your mail-piece targeted and relevant, you easily cut through the clutter to engage the recipients’ interest and willingness to hear your pitch. (We once sent sunglasses to highway construction contractors for a white concrete promotion.)

Letters Provide the Bait

An alternative to direct mail is a straight-forward letter with a bold-face, attention-grabbing nugget of news or research, and the outline of an idea you would like to discuss. The new business letter is a time-honored way to gain a meeting for good reason—it works.

Let go of the myths about cold-calling and direct mail. You can break through by using channels others are not. Your willingness to take that extra step to connect could make your agency stand out from all the others relying on email, social and content. Give it a try and let us know if your efforts bear fruit. Bust some myths, and your agency may bust out of the pack.


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