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imagesIf you’ve recently started an agency or you are thinking about your next stage of growth, chances are you’ve won most of your business so far through word of mouth, existing relationships and recommendations. At some point however, if you want to continue growing your agency, you’ll need to implement some sort of dedicated business development programme, but there are so many varying opinions and mixed messages out there at the moment that it can be difficult to know where to start.

You might have heard the on-going debate about the pros and cons of cold calling (for the record, although we do use the phone, we think there’s nothing worse than an unsolicited sales call and our research shows that client side marketers feel the same way). You’ve probably heard people talking about attraction marketing and might be wondering about the best way to apply its principles to your own business. You almost certainly use social media but might not know the best way to tailor your output to build relationships and attract potential clients.

To help give you a head start in developing an effective and sustainable business development programme, here are some useful tips:

Know what your vision is for your business: What is your “why”?

Your “why” drives the passion and purpose in your heart and in your business – as the renowned speaker and author Simon Sinek says, start with “Why” before moving on to “How” and “What”. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”. If you haven’t addressed this question you’ll come across as lacking passion, and who wants to work with someone who doesn’t have passion for what they do?

What differentiates you?

If you won a new piece of business from a client who was completely undifferentiated from their competition, chances are, the first thing you would do is help them to develop a strong brand that enabled them to stand out and occupy a niche in the marketplace. In that case, why do so many agencies fail to do this for themselves? There are more than 17,000 agencies in the UK, many of whom are saying exactly the same thing: being “results focused” “Integrated” “a new breed of creative” is not being differentiated, and in this situation, how can we expect clients to know what sets one agency apart from the rest?

It’s not always easy to turn the mirror on your own business – getting a fresh set of eyes to take an impartial look at your business at this stage can give you a new found perspective.

What kind of work do you need to be doing to support your vision?

You might be tempted to pursue every single opportunity you come across, but if you want to drive your business forward you’ll have to work out what sort of work you need to be doing to achieve your vision and stick to it. Be focused on your goal and don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities that aren’t right for you. In the long run, you’ll be glad that you did. Trying to please everyone is a formula for failure.

This question leads on to…

What clients do you need to work with to do the work you need to do?

You might have ideas of specific clients that you want to work with, or more general thoughts in terms of sector or challenges you can solve. As mentioned in the previous point, be focused and don’t take on work that doesn’t take you to where you want to be going to.

Once you have an idea of who you want to be working with you should think about what their challenges and problems might be. Do your homework, speak to people and find recent articles that will give you insights into their business, try to see things from their perspective and understand what’s important to them.

When you are armed with this knowledge, you can focus on tactics that will get you on their radar. To do this you’ll need to think about why they would want to work with you and come to them with a relevant opinion on their business– in other words, make it all about them, not all about you. Clients really, really hate the chest beating, look-at-how-great-we-are approach.

It’s all about the relationship

As David Tovey said at a recent Art of New Business event, clients are like icebergs -there’s maybe about 10% that you can find out fairly easily; the successful agencies are those that understand the 90% that’s under the surface. This knowledge doesn’t come about overnight however and relationship building should start a long, long time before you expect to win any work. That said, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want – you might be in the right place at the right time and some opportunities do convert quickly, but for god sake, don’t turn into a hardnosed salesman the moment you get the whiff of a potential opportunity – nothing will ruin a potentially fruitful relationship more quickly. And don’t throw the toys out of the pram if it’s a ‘no’ this time. Just because it’s a ‘no’ now doesn’t mean it will be a no in 6 months or in 2 years’ time – don’t waste the time you’ve already invested, keep on building genuine relationships and they’ll pay off in the end.

Focus on new business when times are good

As we’ve said in the previous point, successful and sustainable new business is all about building strong relationships, and relationship building takes time, so don’t wait until you’ve lost clients before you think about winning new ones. Leaving things too late can result in your business developer being put under immense pressure, corners being cut and potential clients being alienated. Besides which, clients can smell desperation a mile off and will steer well clear.

Be committed and make time for new business

If you didn’t already know, you’ve probably realised by now that an effective new business programme takes an awful lot of time and effort. If you don’t have the time yourself then make sure that you appoint someone to help, otherwise you’ll end up struggling to do everything – especially when times are good and you are busy with client work. Be aware though, that even if you do get help with your new business programme, you’ll still need to put some time aside to manage things effectively and create content – we are aware of instances where promising new business opportunities have been lost because agencies haven’t found time to create a document or develop a tailored piece of collateral.

Business development can be a complex and time consuming undertaking requiring patience, dedication and hard work, but if you use these pointers to guide you, you’ll be well on the way to making a success of new business. If you are still struggling to work it all out then we run a half day workshop that helps to answer some of these questions and gives you the building blocks for a robust and effective new business programme.

And we are always available on the other end of the phone for a chat, or even better, a sit down over tea and cake (we much prefer face to face).

Good luck with your new business efforts in 2013!

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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!)

Passion!
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!

Persistence
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.

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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!!!

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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

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