We recently got back off our honeymoon, three weeks touring Italy, after our wedding in June at the beautiful Pimhill farm in rural Shropshire.

Whilst we were in Italy, it struck us that a little of the Italian character would go a long way towards more effective business development activity (sure, there are some Italian character traits that perhaps aren’t conducive to good business development practice, but on the whole, they could teach us a thing or two!)

The country that brought us the likes of Ferrari, Opera, Gucci, The Passeggiata, Espresso and Italian Cuisine can teach us a thing or two about passion. And passion is an essential ingredient of effective business development – your customers are much more likely to buy into your product or service if you are excited and passionate about it – just as it was very difficult for Sarah to resist when a waiter in an Italian restaurant passionately extolled the virtues of linguine alla vongole!

Ok, so the Italian mans reputation for persistence in the pursuit of women isn’t always a welcome one, but in business development, persistence pays off. You need to develop a ‘Testa Dura’ or a hard-headedness, and let nothing shake your confidence. No doubt you will experience knock backs, and your approach won’t always be well received, but by being persistent and focused and by seeking to building relationships with your prospective customers, you stand a much better chance of success down the line when they are in a position to use your services.
‘No’ might mean ‘Not at the moment’, but if you give up at the first hurdle, you’ll never find out.

Be Relaxed
Nothing will drive customers away like obvious desperation, they can smell it a mile off. So even if you are really, really desperate to win that piece of business, just relax and think like an Italian – don’t let the situation ruffle your feathers. That doesn’t mean to say that you should be distant and act like you aren’t bothered at all – just don’t lose your cool.

Don’t take yourself too seriously!
You should take business seriously – but not yourself. If you take yourself too seriously then you won’t appear open or likeable. At the end of the day, people buy from people, so if you don’t come across as a likeable, approachable person then you’ll be hampering your ability to win new business.

If you apply a little of the Italian spirit to your new business programme then you won’t go too far wrong. If, however, winning new business has been on your ‘to-do’ list for a while, get in touch.
We can work with you to uncover what really sets your business apart from your competitors, develop a comprehensive and effective new business strategy and help you to find and win new business opportunities.


This post is written by our guest blogger Elizabeth Chapman…


Connecting with prospects and winning new business is hard work. And with competition at an all-time high, agencies simply can’t afford to make costly mistakes, especially ones that can be avoided. Below is a little insight into the Top 5 agency prospecting gaffes, as inflicted on the client side marketing professional:


1. Cold Calling as a First Approach

Probably the oldest method of engaging with a new business prospect, so what’s the problem? Put simply, very few client side marketing professionals actually appreciate this approach; it’s about as welcome as the proverbial ‘fart in a spacesuit’.

Prospects can be wily creatures when it comes to avoiding unsolicited phone calls. Even the most good-natured Marketing Director will suddenly turn into Mr Elusive at the slightest whiff of an ‘exciting opportunity’ call from an unfamiliar source. That’s if you even make it past the receptionist, – chances are he / she will have an arsenal of rebuttal lines, ready to deploy at the first opportunity.

Some would argue that ‘cold calling’ is integral to the acquisition of new clients, but for the majority of targets it remains an unpopular and unwelcome approach. Research into prospecting practice carried out by Acquire reveals that of the seventy client side marketing professionals interviewed, 70% were sceptical of cold telephone approaches, with a further 21% expressing a positively hostile attitude.

It is without doubt that an agency needs to be able to communicate in an effective and convincing manner over the telephone, but this should come once a relationship has already been established, not as a quick hard-sell that demands immediate commitment on the part of the receiver.

Alternative channels of approach such as direct mail and email are often favoured by marketing professionals as the most effective way for agencies to make initial contact. Indeed, the recent study by Acquire highlights direct mail as one of the more successful introductory methods, especially pieces that are quirky and eye-catching. With so many agencies fighting for the same prospect’s attention, a bland or impersonal mail piece risks being lost in an ocean of monotony..so keep it interesting!! And above all, make it relevant. Sending a pair of underpants branded with your agency’s logo (or worse) through the post will earn you a few giggles but the chances of it enticing a new client to your books are doubtful.


2. Not Knowing One’s Onions

One of the biggest mistakes an agency can make when looking for new business is failing to fully research a prospect. A snazzy suit and industry-savvy patter is all very well but a lack of understanding for the potential client’s business will fast-track any advances to the ‘no chance’ pile. All too often there are instances where agencies fail to look at a prospect’s competitive situation, their culture and crucially the types of projects that would be appropriate for a company of their particular size and standing. The old adage states, ‘time is money’; and when it comes to choosing a creative agency to work with, clients are deterred by the thought of having to explain in great detail their status, the nature of their business and their needs. As stated by a participant in Acquire’s recent study “the greatest challenge when changing agencies is the education process, you have to invest so much time in helping them to understand your business and its customers before you get anything back”. So the message here is simple, failure to put in the groundwork can result in failure to attract new business.


3. A Perfect Mismatch

Impressive ROI stats, soaring pitch-wins and a glowing reputation are all great boasting points but an agency that fails to show category experience has about as much chance of winning over their prospect as Burger King would have at appointing Morrissey as their new figurehead. The demonstration of relevant experience is a crucial factor for agencies to consider when approaching client side marketing professionals. Whilst the view from Mount Ego may be a pretty one, potential clients are unlikely to want to join the expedition unless they can see exactly how an agency has developed a company similar to theirs. Recounting his own experiences of misplaced prospecting, a respondent to Acquire’s research said “we work in the B2B space and everyone knows that, so it makes me despair when we get approached by agencies who name drop and tell me they did great work on the KitKat brand, but have no B2B experience at all”.


4. Scraping the ideas barrel

A lack of creativity is another frustrating blunder in the art of prospecting. Time and time again agencies approach their target clients with the same old hackneyed propositions, prettied-up and re-packaged as their latest ‘new biz strategy’. A futile exercise, given that most clients are looking for daring concepts and innovative uses of new media; the things that will put them one step ahead of their competitors.

Ok, so creative flare alone won’t guarantee success, but it’ll certainly increase your chances. 29% of the marketing professionals interviewed by Acquire flagged “innovative and interesting content” as an important factor when being approached by agencies. As one respondent said, “most of the approaches I receive aren’t memorable in any way, but every once in a while I get something that’s really interesting or shows that the agency is innovative and makes them stand out from the crowd. In cases like these I’ll keep the information on file for future reference”.

5. Not Seeing the Wood for the Trees

In the frenzied hunt for prospects and new business, many agencies make the ‘epic fail’ of overlooking what’s right under their noses: existing clients. With many marketing professionals preferring to choose a creative agency on recommendation from their peers, it makes sound business sense for agencies to invest more of their energy in developing relationships with contacts that are already on their radar. By nurturing these connections and becoming a valuable asset, agencies will be able to give current clients the trust required to make a recommendation to anybody able to benefit from the services offered.

We’ve written a white paper which expands on the themes discussed above, if you’d like a copy, please email stefan@acquirenewbusiness.co.uk for more details

With 1 week left until I jet off for some winter sun so I thought it was time I reflected on my first of many professional years.

My professional development started off with the last 6 months of my 3rd year degree course ahead of me and I was still questioning what career path I was going to take. I struggled to identify a job role where I felt I would become a fundamental part of team rather than a small cog in a large agency machine. Above all I didn’t really understand what I was good at yet.

On the horizon was the final year group project which we were all looking forward to. It was understood that we were to become a mini agency and promote the kind of graduate you would expect to come out of the Design Futures course at Salford University. The methods which we decided to use were completely down to us. Job roles were created for each student within branding, finance, online, editorial & events. For some this would be their first exposure to the industry so a real chance to show off how professional you could be.

This project later became ‘I25UE’; A graduate movement that highlighted the gap between graduation and employment and the need for more engagement between the two. We produced a newspaper, mobile app, website and live event discussing what employees are looking for from graduates coming into the market.  

After hearing all the tales of the previous year’s financing issues I was pessimistic about being in that team to say the least! However I was shortly promoted to team leader by the rest of the team and we had to think of a strategy that would enable us to get the right amount of funding for our 4 elements but also provide an enticing offer with which industry professionals would want to engage, considering the economic climate.

At this point in the project, my professionalism was in full swing, I was organised, my team were getting on well, everybody was enthused and proactive and we got things done: Surely there was a leadership role within the industry I could adapt to just as well. I had never realised I could be a leader before or anything particularly managerial. I had toyed with account management before (through work experience with Saatchi & Saatchi) but I found the role too impersonal. The puzzle continues.

The next stage of the project was to pitch the idea to potential sponsors. We had to identify who we wanted associated with our cause bearing in mind shared values and possibility of employment.  We then secured a meeting with the Managing Director or Creative Director and in that meeting it was my job to explain why I25UE was a good investment. We were successful with 85% of our pitches, had 15 confirmed sponsors and with the help of Sarah Cheal, a lot of interest from the industry through a creative collaboration called Northern Soho.

Sarah was the first professional we pitched to. I didn’t fully understand business development at that point; in fact I don’t think I knew it existed! But as I listened to her explain how Acquire works I suddenly felt a strong feeling of enthusiasm, ‘I can do this’ I thought to myself. It was the first time I had felt at the top of my game, like a real professional and ready to take on my career. Luckily for me, on the night of our I25UE event Sarah approached me with her partner Stefan and I got my very first job offer.

I have been in my role of Account Manager for Acquire New Business for 4 months now and it has been a whirlwind of learning and unpredictability. If there’s anything I’ve learnt from being in Business Development is to expect the unexpected, think on your feet and adapt your behaviour quickly.

However just because I have a professional job role does that mean that I have achieved professionalism? I beg to differ. I believe that to be professional is a state of mind as well as behaviour. Too many pre-graduates think that getting the grades is the hard part but it’s building your professionalism that takes the most work. Learning how to walk the walk and talk the talk is essential if you’re going to lose the graduate ‘label’.

Looking forward into 2012 I aim to push my professional development towards seeking the relevant training and mentoring to help me achieve and realise my full potential and this time next year I hope to write a similar piece as a fully-fledged professional looking back at my pre-professional self. 

1. Talk to Strangers

Openness, honesty and strong self-belief will get you far in your personal and business life. Fear of
rejection is one of the biggest blocks to selling yourself and your business
but in any industry people buy people. There’s no need for a hard sell, just be
yourself, be proud of what you stand for and take every opportunity that arises
to make connections.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

With a new connection you may want to over promise as you’re keen to impress, but under-delivering not only
leads to losing business but it can also affect your reputation. A sustained consistent, persistent approach, where you achieve what you have agreed to do in the timeline stated will demonstrate your expertise and help you to stand
out amongst your competition.

3. Show, Don’t Tell

Talking about your selling points will only get you so far and at some point, metaphorically speaking, the dog is
going to want to see the rabbit. By walking your talk you have already qualified your expertise without the need for any hard sell. If you’re a web
expert, have a blinding website. Get the picture?

4. Know Who You Are and What Makes You Different

What makes you different from your competitors, and what does this mean for your potential clients? Drill down into exactly what the benefit would be to your prospect of using your services. Understand and believe in yourself, and don’t try and be someone you’re not. You should aim to attract like-minded clients – don’t be afraid of turning away business because you can’t work with everybody!

5. It’s All in the Timing

We know you want those successful connections and you want them yesterday. You need to take an intelligent and sustained approach to relationship building. The quick hard-sell can alienate your contacts whereas a well-executed and measured approach doesn’t force or scream desperation and is more likely to yield outstanding results.

6. Sales and Marketing Needs to be Fully Integrated

This can be difficult when the two departments are treated as entirely separate entities, but an integrated sales and marketing strategy means that the sales department can maximise leads resulting from a marketing campaign. Any that aren’t at the right stage in the sales cycle can be handed back to the marketing department for lead nurturing until the time is right.

7. Look At Your Current Clients for New Business Opportunities

Everyone knows it’s more costly to attract new clients that it is to retain existing ones, so seek to actively build stronger relationships and explore new ways of working together in order to maximise the potential of your current client pool.

8. Be Personal

You’ll win more business if you tailor your approach to each specific prospect. People like to feel special and if you’ve taken the time to do a little research into their business and challenges, you’ll give the impression that you really want to work with them rather than making it look like the prospect is just one of many you’ve approached that day.

9. Don’t Be Arrogant

No one likes a show off, so don’t beat your chest and yell from the tree tops about how great you are. Would you rather spend time with the person shouting out their attributes or the person taking an active interest in you?

Understanding your audience means you can you can better engage and interest them, so give your prospects a compelling reason to use your services by showing them how you helped similar clients with their business challenges.

In short, make it all about your prospects rather than all about you.

10. Make The Time to Win New Business

Winning new business can take time and a lot of hard work; it’s not something that can be done effectively in a half-hearted manner. Make sure that all parts of your business are bought in to the need to win new business and know what is expected of them.

There is nothing worse than doing the hard work of identifying an opportunity only to let it slip out of your grasp because one of your departments or people doesn’t have the time to produce something that you need to convert the business. We’ve seen this sorry situation far too many times!!!

When an agency embarks on New Business Development they address their business plan, look over their target forecasts, discuss their ideal position in the market then implement the appropriate strategy to achieve those targets. It’s a lengthy process and requires commitment from not just the Managing Director but the whole team to ensure the business plan is clear and that everybody is aiming for the same goals. NBD is a rewarding part of your business, or so it should be.

Once you’ve committed you’re in it for the long haul to essentially ensure the success of your agency. Prospecting and insight gathering is a lengthy process. The problem is that everybody is desperate for new business, which means clients side marketers are inundated by cold calls, emails and direct mail, most of which are impersonal, arrogant and irrelevant, making it harder than ever before to get through to the decision makers. They’re crying out for specialist understanding of their business, personalised emails that go further than ‘Hi Steve’ and the all-important WIIFM (what’s in it for me) rule.

The Golden Rule: Remember it’s the person you’re talking to that’s important. Not you.

Sadly agencies seem to be looking for a quick fix. They don’t seem to realise how much work is required in-house to provide the right level of engagement that the prospects are waiting for. Why don’t they want to spend time building and nurturing relationships that will eventually lead to fruitful new business?

It comes down to ROI, time is money. NBD is time-consuming and to win new business you need the time to complete the in-house production that’s required, which means taking staff off client work or hiring new staff to focus on growth. So initially a lot of spending without any guaranteed return, but that’s the reality. What may seem like a financial risk in the first instance will more than pay off, if you prioritise and devote the time needed to convert opportunities.

We all know agencies that are great at winning new business but don’t spend the time nurturing the relationship in order to keep that business. In the same breath we all know agencies that have long-lasting relationships with clients but aren’t getting much in the way of new business. How do you devote your time to keep the balance right between them both?

Being at the hard face of winning new business can be very hard work. And it can be wonderful! And its these extremes of emotion that makes it an appealing career choice for me. That and my over-riding passion for effective communication and relationship building. I have decided to start to study psychology and counselling too, so that my innate abilities can be underpinned by qualifications, and I can help to legitimately resolve internal disputes and breakdowns in communication that all too often are the root cause of why a business is not as successful as it could be.

I came across David Hyner recently, an internationally renowned motivational speaker, and he has developed something called “the  massive goal principle”. I met with him to discuss his Sales and Marketing, so part of my “getting under the skin” of what he does, he gave me his CD.  I would urge anybody who needs a good old kick up the arse into action to buy this. Already it has changed Stefan and I – we are in the process of putting his philosophy into action and we are already more effective.  I have been putting off blogging for a while now due to our focus on delivering for our clients, and also our website has been “in development” for months while I “perfect” our proposition and content.  Well, I am pleased to say that both of these tasks are getting underway this week – thanks to David Hyner.

One of my first tasks was to write 2 blog posts this week, so I dug out an old post that I’d had in my drafts for quite some time… It was a response to a post by Carl Hopkins Agony Uncle at The Drum, talking about how agency business developers are shit. I wanted to post a link to this blog post but unfortunately Carl seems to have taken his blog down from The Drum website.

I have to say, I agree with a lot of what he says.. which may come a surprise as I am one of said Agency Business Developers.
There are so many bullshitters and sleazy salespeople out there that haven’t a clue about our industry or how to provide honest and effective support to the agencies they work in or with, or how to approach potential clients in the right way, that it gives the good ones a bad name.

I particularly agree with the following, “No one understands the capabilities of your business and its people better than you; no one knows the collective experience of your business better than you. No one can listen to a client’s issues and reply in a manner that is believable and deliverable better than, you”

I don’t want this to turn into a plug for my own business, but it’s because I believe in these sentiments that I set Acquire up – in order to help agency owners to create and deliver their Business Development strategy – affordably. I agree that to hire someone to do it for you and then leave them to it is mental. But it happens. And maybe because that person is shit, or more likely because they are not given any support, collateral or guidance, the new business doesn’t come in, and they get fired and then it’s on to the next costly BDM, or BDD or even worse, a telemarketing agency that (in order to meet the targets you set them) send you half way across the country to pointless meetings.

The following point I don’t fully agree with, “No one has more chances of getting to see a prospect or a client of a competitor than the owner of the agency, that’s you.” Some agency owners fear initiating the relationship with someone they really want to work with or simply don’t have the time to knock on doors, network and get out there and meet as many people as possible who will be able to help their business to grow. They may need someone to open the doors for them. Agreed that once a meeting has been set, that the agency owner or someone senior should definitely attend. Most people are comfortable with this aspect of New Business, but not the “approaching people they don’t know” bit.

Successful business development is a mixture of intelligent prospecting, a keen eye for opportunities and fantastic relationship building, in addition to excellent organisational skills, persistence, hard graft, good humour and resilience. I doubt that most agency MD’s or senior management teams have the time needed to dedicate to doing it properly and consistently once the daily pressures of simply running the business take hold.

My final point is in relation to the title of his post – we need to stop giving business developers a hard time – we’re not all lazy, money grabbing and untrustworthy. Most of us work bloody hard and are dedicated to getting results for our employers or our clients. More often than not, we’re not given the support we need. You only need to look at the amount of sales training and development given in any other industry. Compare this to our own and it’s not difficult to see why we have problems.  This is one of my missions – improving the support and development that business developers in our industry are given. But for now, I’m concentrating on one massive goal at a time…
As a parting comment, I highly recommend these blog posts (from Tom Knutson, founder of New Business Intel in Atlanta) to any agency owners who are embarking on a new business development drive:

Creating an ad agency new business plan step 1

Creating an ad agency new business plan step 2

I’ve just received a telesales call from Weatherseal.. “hello, thank you for answering your phone, this isn’t a sales call, I am just doing some research in your area” nice young chap – and seeing as I feel his pain, I let him continue.. “would you mind answering a few questions?” certainly, I replied, feeling sorry for this guy “if you could have your windows and doors replaced for free, how many would you have?”.

Now then.. I can see exactly where this is going, you’re not just doing research – you want me to say “all of them” and then you can try and sell me something..

My point is everybody hates being on the receiving end of a cold call.. We hate to be sold to. We want to make the decision about what we want to buy and when to buy it.

So why is it that so many agency new business strategies rely very heavily on cold calling?? Surely there must be a better way to show clients what we are capeable of.

I pretty much never cold call. I prefer to meet prospects face to face at events, and through networking, but if there is someone particular I am desperate to meet – then I will write, or email, or link in with using social media.

We need to start putting ourselves in the shoes of our prospects – after all – isn’t that what we preach to our clients to do with their marketing? Its about time we practiced what we preach.