Can you look at your present client list and say with conviction that they are all loyal, tied fast to your agency and sure to stay with you far into the future? We’re betting you can’t. In today’s fickle business environment, no client is truly loyal to its agency or marketing partner. Agencies are too thick on the ground, and often do a poor job of defining their points of difference. That makes it easy for clients to think of agencies as all cut from the same cloth—a dime a dozen, in fact. Even those clients who may be loyal can’t be counted on; a change in management, a sudden shift in the marketplace, a sudden economic downturn, and that old reliable client could vanish faster than you can squeal “New Brooooom!”
The Next Best Account Strategy
Agencies need to have a new business process aimed at winning their “next best account ever.” At many smaller ad agencies and mar-comm firms, new business is something you pay attention to when you get a referral, or sadly, when you lose a big account and have to replace it. Replacing a big account after you lose it is a bad strategy because:
- Waiting until an account leaves means your income is cut until you can find a replacement… and that may mean lay-offs, financial problems, and more.
- You can’t leverage that big account to gain more new business; and losing the account may negatively affect your reputation, making it harder to win a comparable replacement account.
- If you’re desperate to replace lost business, you may end up taking on any business that comes your way, regardless of whether it may be profitable, beneficial to your reputation, or a client you can get passionate about.
In short, new business development is something you should be doing every day, regardless of whether you have “enough” business right now. A daily new business effort protects you from account losses; you always have more new business coming in the door, and no single account dominates your AGI. Further, you can selectively pursue qualified prospects—those accounts you really want to work with, that will bring higher profits, prestige or creative opportunity to the agency… no more “turkey” accounts taken just to pay the bills. The most successful agencies recognize this fact of business life, and have active new business processes to continually generate leads, meetings, proposal opportunities and, hopefully, account wins. New business should also be integrated into your longer-term agency business plan, so you pursue accounts that align with your values, build on your core competency and enhance your ceative reputation.
Regular pursuit of new business is generally not a daily activity at small to mid-size agencies. Lean staffing means they may lack the people needed to spend time developing and nurturing prospects; and the duty of new business hunting often falls to the already very busy agency principal, who in most smaller agencies is also an account manager, creative director, or CFO. That is why the best small agency new business programs we have seen involve the entire agency, not just a designated new business developer or top management.
The Whole Agency New Business Approach
In a new-business-all-the-time agency, new business development is spread across all departments, and multiple people share new biz responsibilities. This means no single person has to deal with the often-repetitive chores of managing lists, doing mailings, calling, scheduling, researching or pitching. The other benefit of this “everyone-pitch-in” process is that all agency employees are vested in the idea of continually seeking better, bigger, more creative clients. It becomes the “juice” your agency lives for, part of your core culture. Improve the agency or bust!
Select some enthusiastic employees for your new business team. This team, led by an agency manager or principal, meets regularly (at least bi-weekly) to discuss recent activity, action items for “hot” targets, who to focus on next, etc. This way, new business is factored into the daily schedule, leadership stays in the loop and directs the effort, and the workload is spread out so it is not a burden on any one individual.
To keep your pursuit team “fresh,” rotate people in and out of the new business team. Also, even when they’re not “on” the team, other agency employees can submit leads, advise on cool prospects to add to your “A” list, assist with new business tasks, design and produce custom mailers, network for leads and generally be a part of the whole agency new biz process. In this type of new business team, the more people, the merrier.
If you don’t have at least two or three new business projects in progress in the agency every week, you are not being proactive about gaining new clients. Think hard about incorporating the entire agency into the new business hunt. Don’t wait for your biggest account to announce their departure. Behave as if every account you have could leave on short notice. Make the most of them while you have them, service the heck out of them… but get busy pursuing your “next best account ever,” just in case.