Category Archives: Agency Positioning

Ad Agency New Business: Getting Past the Gatekeeper

We’ve all been there. You place a call to a senior executive at a highly qualified prospect organization and encounter the Brigadier General of assistants – one who expertly and deftly blocks your access to the prize. This is not your average receptionist. It’s a professional gatekeeper who has been hired to protect and defend the decision-maker. This individual cannot be charmed with friendly overtures or small talk.  Professional gatekeepers are smart, experienced and, most importantly, skilled at handling sales inquiries.Padlock on Fence

So, how do you break through?

It’s all about control.

Watch your tone. Be authoritative. Identify yourself immediately. Don’t wait to be asked for your name.  Remember, the person who asks the questions is always the one who leads the conversation. Example…

Ring, ring

Gatekeeper: “Bill Smith’s office”

You: “Hello, this is (your full name) from ABC Agency. Is Bill in?”

Gatekeeper: “What is this in reference to?”

You: “I’m following up with Bill on our earlier correspondence. Who is this?” (Follow this “answer then ask” strategy. )

Get personal and ask for help. Learn the gatekeeper’s name immediately and use it in the conversation. If you are in the early qualification stage of the process, ask for the gatekeeper’s “help” in discerning the true decision-maker from the rest of the team. By asking for advice you demonstrate that you respect and value this person’s knowledge and suggestions. The gatekeeper becomes an ally rather than an adversary.

Connect with content. Always reference content previously sent or intel gleaned from your marketing automation system to support a valid reason for your call. A promotional mailer or email will suffice, as long as it is personalized and contains information specific to your USP.

Be certain to emphasize that this is not a cold call, but a focused follow-up on valuable (even proprietary) material, perhaps known to have been viewed by the prospect. Support your message by establishing a thought leadership position via various social channels.

To clarify, while cold calls are dead – content doesn’t close, people do.  Establish recognition before picking up the phone via a blend of strong content and direct outreach. The call then serves to begin the relationship development aspect of the process.

Never pitch the gatekeeper. Be forthright while avoiding in-depth explanations of your intent. Selling the gatekeeper never works and relinquishes control of the conversation.

Never lie. Engage don’t evade. Don’t try to fool or sneak past the gatekeeper. Be professional and forthright. Treat the gatekeeper as a valuable member of the team whose input is important. Lying as a means to get your call through is a mistake that can never be corrected.

Finally, when all else fails, always ask to be put through to voice mail. A succinct, benefits-driven message (followed by an email and personal note) is another highly effective mechanism for getting the decision-maker acquainted with you and your firm. It also creates a pathway for follow up calls.

Bottom-line, avoid being a barbarian at the gate. Increase the likelihood of encountering a welcoming committee by being focused and authentic with your prospect’s gatekeeper.

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Ad Agency New Business: What’s in a voice?

Agency new business combines many inbound and outbound activities designed to position your firm as an expert with a select group of prospects. Although the marketing landscape has dramatically changed, one activity still stands apart – the executive sales call. Coupled with other positioning activities, the sales call frequently turns prospects into relationships.


Paramount to the effectiveness of a call is the sound of your voice. According to top sales consultant Chet Holmes, tonality has 5x more impact than the words you use. Often, it is the first impression a prospect uses to personally judge your agency.

When asked what personal traits promote successful telephone sales calls, corporate executives stress the importance of being authoritative but also “expressive” and “engaging”. Conversely, off-putting traits include those that display a lack confidence or are heavily laden with tics such as “vocal fry” or “uptalk” – common voice patterns typically exhibited in younger people that are emblematic of a conversation with certain members of the Kardashian clan.

Assuming you have done your homework prior to picking up the phone, and have a clear understanding of your prospect’s business climate, what else can you do to best position yourself for a successful call?

  1. Prepare your voice. Like any muscle, your voice should be warmed up. Clear your throat. Exercise your vocal chords and get some talk time in prior to making that first call. This will loosen you up, get you in the mood and, most importantly, get your voice on track for conversation.
  2. Consider standing. This helps convey energy and vigor. It also allows you to leave your desk and focus on the person with whom you are speaking rather than your computer screen or other distractions.
  3. Check your speed. Some of us are prone to speaking too quickly. Moderate your pace by listening and responding, rather than simply moving the prospect toward a predetermined next step. This will help slow your cadence. Be sure to breathe before making important points.  Do not be afraid to embrace appropriate pauses and/or silence.
  4. Practice enthusiasm. People like positivity. To convey enthusiasm authentically, remember that you are offering a valued professional service, which will “help” your prospect achieve his business objectives. You are not “selling” something. Phony and pandering styles often evolve when sales people are unsure of the value of their service. Dispel all traces of insecurity by learning as much as you can about the value your agency will bring to a future relationship with the prospect’s organization.

Not everyone is cut out for outbound sales!  Are you one of the select few who enjoy the hunt?  If so, remember to be positive and to treat every sales call as an opportunity to build a new, mutually beneficial relationship.

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Ad Agency New Business: Love the One You’re With

With a myriad of experts advising similar content strategies for attracting new business to your agency, we ask ourselves – what is the overarching takeaway? Simply put, narrow content, aimed at niche audiences, aligned with a strong and defendable positioning strategy.

Then, why do many agencies continue to apply a generalist approach to the central component of their inbound campaign – The Agency Blog?

Research shows that, without focused content, your blog is less likely to be followed or read.  Google’s announcement last month regarding its core-ranking algorithm (in terms of how it processes quality signals) further elevates the value of content quality.

Consider these two exercises when evaluating your firm’s blog:

Segment Audiencesd103c31477955141d5a16ccfe5e92bd6

“The majority of agency content (and social interaction) is with people who already know and support your firm.  Stop looking at content creation solely as a customer acquisition vehicle and start looking at it (first and foremost) as a customer retention vehicle.”  – Jay Baer/Convince & Convert

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are our best clients?
  • What industries do they represent?
  • Do these industries line up with our new client acquisition goals?
  • What service patterns do they follow?
  • Who is the most common point of contact/entry (e.g. Director-level or CMO)?
  • What specific characteristics do they exhibit? What business issues keep them up at night?

Prioritize your target audiences with clients and prospects that fold easily into existing business silos. Then, cater your content to speak (in a detailed manner) directly to them.

Further, we strongly recommend staying away from a preponderance of posts about YOU.  We understand that you are proud of your awards, anniversaries, birthdays and office culture.  However, unless you are closely connecting these topics to something that your clients and prospects value, it is counter-productive and may reinforce some of the negative stereotypes associated with our industry.

Segment Topics

Create expert blogs and, within them, personas showcasing your in-house talent. Empower these subject matter specialists to delve deeply into their specific areas of expertise with commentary and analysis to support your firm’s unique market position.  Brand your blog with the intent to engage and distribute it to both your client service and business development teams (along with clear instructions for usage).

Bottom line, highly specialized content (aimed at niche industry audiences) will help you both keep the clients you’ve got and entice the ones you want.

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Ad Agency New Business: The Cardinal Rules of Hiring an Outsourcing Partner

So you decided to hire an outsource firm to conduct new business for your agency. Ensure success by thoroughly examining the following key elements of your new relationship.Outsource Key Showing Subcontracting And Freelance

Lead Generation

Where does your new partner get its leads? Most likely, they come from a combination of industry specific lists, previous pursuit activity and key contributor insight. Your agency’s target audience should be a nuanced universe, crafted from a variety of sources and honed by very select criteria. What you don’t want is a pre-purchased generic list that is being resold and recycled to other firms.

Custom list building is crucial to creating a successful program. Carefully selecting each and every organization on which your firm will spend its time and resources is an imperative function of your outsourcing agent. More is never better – it’s just unfocused and reflects a lack of in-depth knowledge.

Data Ownership

Once you have decided what organizations are your agency’s best targets, ensure that your firm has complete ownership of all the data associated with every contact made on your behalf. Some outsource firms resell lists that lie on their servers within their CRM and Marketing Automation programs, forcing you to tie all future pursuit activities to them.

If you are sold this operating practice as an easy-to-implement value-add – proceed with caution. Having worked with agencies that bought into such an arrangement (previously), we were astonished by the lack of information provided once the relationship ended. Many times, they were left with nothing more than a list including thousands of organizations ordered by SIC code.  No contact detail including: email addresses, direct dials, personal observations or outreach history was contained.

Get what you pay for and insist on anytime access and the rights to all of your data.

Niche Industry Knowledge

While limitations of physical location can be overcome, your Business Development Director’s knowledge of your target industries cannot. Having worked in the northeast at a variety of both B2B- and B2C-focused firms, we have interacted with a wide gamut of agency audiences. From the financial services, healthcare, medical technology, high-tech, pharmaceutical and industrial sectors to the travel and tourism, food and beverage, retail and real estate industries, we have been fortunate to work closely with them all.

Your agency’s business development plan hinges on communicating a unique specialty that is often industry specific. As such, your Business Development Director must be comfortable discussing (and writing about) the complexities of these industries. Be sure to gauge this ability before committing your firm to a representative who will be the conduit to getting the business you want.

Long story short, understand the methods, own your data and get to know the person on your agency’s frontline before tying your future to a third party.

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Ad Agency New Business: A Philosophy for Success

Many marketing firms recount costly war stories associated with failed new business efforts. Tales from the dark side frequently include statements like: “The effort never gained traction.” or “ The opportunities generated weren’t properly qualified.” or most frequently, “Our business development person just didn’t deliver.”.

New business concept.

If any of this sounds familiar, ask yourself: Does my agency view new business as a cost or as an investment?  The answer may well determine your firm’s potential for success.

Typically, agencies that view business development as a cost, assign small expenditures to project-oriented efforts designed to alleviate short-term problems. Agencies that believe business development is an investment, budget for it annually in a programmatic manner and tie it to longer-term development plans. The most successful link business development to human resources, technology and operational efforts.

For those who view it as an investment, growing their marketing firm requires the adoption of a systematic program designed to build professional relationships with very select individuals and organizations. It also necessitates the development and maintenance of a relevant point-of-view. Allocating resources to maintain energetic contact with your prospect universe through the delivery of insightful information via a combination of inbound and outbound mechanisms forms the basis of your program investment.

Now, whom do you hire? Paramount to creating and funding a strong program is finding the right person or resource* to execute it. Putting the wrong person (backed by costly resources) in your new business driver’s seat can quickly lead to failure and set your agency back years.

Ensure success by hiring a candidate who exemplifies the following personal traits:

Archetype: Is your candidate a hunter? You will know a hunter when you see one. This type thrives on pursuit and focuses relentlessly on the prize. Typically, an extrovert with a passion for perfection, this individual feeds off the possibility of what’s next.

Persistent: Does your candidate have what it takes over the long term? Short-term opportunities are great, however, many new account wins take time. Your new biz rep must possess the ability to continue a prospective conversation without losing focus or confidence – sometimes for years.

Independent but Team-Oriented: Is your candidate a self-starter? While agency new business should never be an island, it does require long periods of solitary, detail work culminating in a high stakes team effort. The ability to work both alone and as a member of a team is a critical attribute.

Resilient: Is your candidate an optimist? While an opportunity lost can be unnerving, derailing your program would be far worse. The ability to manage defeat by adjusting and moving on is a requirement for this position.

Energetic: Does your candidate have stamina? Tracking hundreds of prospects at various stages of evolution is quite a task. Your biz dev rep must be someone who wakes up every day eager for the challenge ahead.

Process-Oriented: Is your candidate efficient? Does this individual naturally develop systems, procedures and timelines to go about the business of their day? The ability to multi-task in a highly detailed manner (on a very large scale) is essential.

Make no mistake. Adopting a successful, business development program requires a commitment and a very long view. It takes the resources, planning and staffing of some of your best accounts. While the costs are serious, the alternative approaches and outcomes might be more than your agency can afford.

*Note: If hiring an outsource firm, be sure to meet the individual responsible for your business. While front men and women can be appealing, you must look behind the curtain to ascertain the true experience and abilities of the person driving your program forward.

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Ad Agency New Business: Ensuring a Productive First Meeting

Have you ever attended a new business meeting that seemed awkward or directionless? One in which the intent seemed misunderstood? Unfortunately, many agency principals have occasionally found themselves in these circumstances. As the business development liaison, avoiding this situation is a critical aspect of your job.

Preventing a Wandering Discussionstock-footage-close-up-of-two-businessmen-giving-handshake

We have all been there. Initial intent gets sidetracked. A spark of interest grows cold. Unhappiness with an existing partner fades. A new contact learns she doesn’t command the decision-making power originally claimed.

Situations change and people can be fickle. Perhaps, when you initially connected, frustration levels were high or there was a strong desire for change. Those feelings may have shifted, but a meeting is on the calendar and costly preparations are in the works. How do you ensure that you are sending your A Team into a situation that represents a real new business opportunity?

It’s all about qualification.

Your Pre-Meeting Questionnaire

After uncovering the key business issues surrounding a new client opportunity, be sure to ask these pre-meeting qualification questions before sending your big guns into their first face-to-face with a prospective new client.

  • Who will be involved in your agency review process?
    • Who are the decision makers?
    • Are there any key influencers who will play a role?
    • Will the CEO be involved?
  • What are your criteria for reviewing candidate firms? (Get details.)
  • What firm(s) are you working with presently?
    • What is the nature of that relationship?  (Is it AoR or project-based?)
  • What is driving your decision to consider alternate resources?
  • Are there any other firms you are considering?
    • Who are they?
  • Is there a timeline associated with your process?
  • What specifically would you like to learn from our team during this meeting?
    • How much time will you allow?
    • Are you interested in reviewing case study material?
  • Is there a particular assignment you would like to address?
    • Is there a brief we can review prior to getting together?
    • Is there a budget associated with this initiative?
  • What is your process for moving forward?

Most prospects, if properly cultivated, will answer the majority of these questions willingly because they appreciate that this is a serious endeavor for both organizations. Occasionally, you will encounter someone who is “interested in learning more”, or “open to meeting the team” or is “just too busy” to give significant detail.  Such responses indicate that you need to make a judgment call. Carefully consider the following:

  • Is the account a whale and worthy of a possible tire kicker session?
  • Are you so well positioned that the networking opportunity alone is well worth the price of admission?
  • What’s your gut?

Bottom-line, don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the process. Prospects expect them. You are sending your most valued agency assets into a discussion with an organization with which you hope to do business. Your job is to arm your team with as much information as possible.

Ad Agency New Business: How to Jumpstart Your Agency’s New Business Resolution

It’s that time…again.

The new business resolution that you talked about last year is back. You strategized about it in committees, assigned roles for its enactment and made plans for its progression.

So why hasn’t it happened?

The onset of any new year inspires many resolutions. Resolving to create a sustainable business development program is perhaps one of your most critical.

Following are a few quick tips and easy-to-implement solutions designed to move your agency toward increased new business health and success2011-year-resolution-400x400

Small portions lead to big results.

Big goals can often be overwhelming and easy to postpone. Rather than tackling your prospect universe in its entirety, focus on one niche industry or highly specialized service area in which you possess a strong competitive advantage. Be certain that you are strategically positioned to resonate with the intended audience.

Target 50-100 organizations within that meet very specific criteria within that subset. Consider: organizational size, geographic location, sales orientation and current relationship status. The more focused, the better.

Personally research and build an associated contact list to include all decision-making and influencing roles within each organization. Purchased lists are notoriously fraught with misinformation and dead ends; so take the time to delve deep as your program’s success relies on the accuracy of this information.

Structure a preliminary outreach plan to include a simple door-opening piece focused on a unique point of prospect pain. Follow with a regimented combination of personal, social and direct outreach designed to create awareness and an ongoing conversation. A succinct and personalized approach will also help to increase effectiveness and the likelihood of a positive response.

Exercise smart content.

Developing relevant and regular content that cements your unique brand position is another critical element that you can no longer ignore. Assign an agency principal your thought leadership role. Support this individual with a small team of research and fact gathers to aid in the writing load.

Commit to creating consistent and detailed content that defines and demonstrates your USP. Relentlessly distribute this material in a multi-channel manner.

Trim your social fat.

Stop tinkering with your social networks. Assemble a squad for each major platform. Empower these teams to be creative in their approach and mindful of the content nuances associated with each. Monitor results regularly for adjustment and cross-platform coordination. Have fun with the process. Cultivate a friendly and competitive environment to help bolster positive results.

Creating a comprehensive business development program requires a significant commitment. There are, however, some easy-to-implement first steps. Commit to a plan and assign the proper resources or give us a call; we would be happy to help get your new year off on the right foot.

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Ad Agency New Business: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

When budgets are forming, reviews are forthcoming and meetings are here…it’s the most wonderful time of the year!Autumn time

Just as the happy parents pictured in the Staples campaign celebrate sending their kids back to school, your agency should be celebrating and capitalizing upon the new business opportunities that September through early December often present.

While a comprehensive business development program will yield many opportunities throughout the year, the next 100 days are when much of your hard work will pay off.  Many prospects are solidifying plans, formulating budgets and reviewing existing relationships in preparation for the year ahead.

Hopefully, you have been preparing for this time by positioning your agency as an expert in key markets, developing content that resonates with your target audiences and personally connecting with decision makers to ascertain the likelihood and timing of their consideration.

If not, you can mount a smaller scope effort designed to harvest some of the low hanging fruit by following these quick fix steps.

  • Identify your strongest industry (where you truly have an expert reputation).
  • Handpick 50-100 organizations that fit your geographic, revenue and service requirements. Build numbers as your program evolves.
  • CAREFULLY research and qualify the contact information for all of the decision makers within each.
  • Create 2-3 pieces of in-depth content offering a constructive POV.
  • Use variations of this content to create a promotional email campaign and fill relevant inbound voids.
  • Follow each promotional email sent with a personal phone call, follow-up email and handwritten note from a senior-level staffer who can skillfully deliver your message.
  • Continue outreach and connect via appropriate social channels.

Don’t miss another selling season by ignoring an opportunity to jumpstart your new business program. You can fill in the components of a more comprehensive effort including: database development, regular content creation, social media activity and structured personal outreach when activity begins to slow in January.

Your prospects are awakening from their summer slumber. They are sending signals that they are evaluating and solidifying future plans. There is no time like the present to make this your most wonderful time of the year.

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Ad Agency New Business: It’s Not About You…It’s About Them

Many agency websites and new business presentations lead with lengthy “About Us” sections touting everything from office dog cultures to the personal likes and dislikes of staff. Laundry lists of service offerings accompanied by comprehensive cross industry experience charts often follow creating the impression of a “we do it all” market position.

Pardon me, but my “ Who Cares” alarm is ringing…and loudly. Truthfully, most prospects see this material as superfluous and don’t read or listen much past the first few sentences. They have little interest in your office culture, past experience or generic processes – unless it relates directly to them.

So why do some continue to follow this formula? Because it’s SAFE. It’s safe to be all-inclusive. It’s safe to focus on personalities and past history rather than current niche content that directly relates to your client’s business issues.

Safe, however, does not set you apart. Prospects are quick to respond to firms that are willing to position their capabilities and assets in the context of their very specific needs.

Consider these tips when framing your next agency story:

1.   On Your Website: Offer a “Solutions” versus “Services” section and avoid generalities when discussing them. As an example, check out: This travel-focused agency packages their offerings into solutions buckets that address very specific industry challenges.

2.   In Your Next Meeting: Let Them Go First. Many agencies qualify themselves in a presentation before learning the fine details of their prospect’s need. That sets the wrong tone. Put the prospect front and center from the start, exploring their issues first. There is no better way to get (and keep) their attention than to lead with them. You will also gain additional insight that will help later in the discussion when positioning your assets to the opportunity at hand.

Above all else, assess your agency position. Today’s business environment is not favorable to generalist agencies. Make this the year that you carve out and communicate your unique market position. Take the Agency Challenge today.


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Ad Agency New Business: A Narrow Agency Position Means More Prospects, Not Fewer

Clients are no longer looking for “full service” broad scope agencies. They want specialists. Industry specialists, service specialists, audience specialists.

Few mid-size agencies, however, are willing to put a stake in the ground when it comes to a truly niche position. Even fewer successfully articulate and promote that focus. The bottom line:  most agencies look and feel the same to prospects who are inundated with promotional material touting integrated approaches and pretty pictures that many can claim.

On some level, we all know this. So, why do most agencies fail when it comes to walking their talk? FEAR. Fear that specializing means limiting their prospect universe. WRONG! Agencies that don’t focus rarely gain traction or win business outside of their regional geography. As a result, they LIMIT their target audience and, more importantly, their value to prospective clients.

Is your agency properly positioned to attract high quality new clients? Clients that view you as a business partner and not a project shop or vendor? Take the Agency Challenge and put your position to the test.


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