Category Archives: Inbound Solutions

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.

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: The Cobbler’s Children Still Need Shoes.

Despite an endless supply of easy-to-follow tips designed to put you on the road to new business success, your firm may be one of many continuing to put its own work last by prioritizing client activity and postponing agency needs until they become urgent.

How can you change this pattern?

After decades of working with marketing firms (of all specialties and sizes) we offer two maxims which have consistently helped our clients succeed.

1.  BUDGET don’t barter

2.  HIRE don’t appoint

Chances are you have been through an agency rebranding or two aimed at refining your position to sharpen appeal and generate new business.  Perhaps staffers were appointed to assume “new business” roles and all “free time” was proclaimed to be “new business time”. Lists were generated, mailers conceived and social calendars formulated. Everyone appeared to be onboard.

What happened next?

Probably little or nothing …and time passed.

But then, maybe you got a referral or an existing account blossomed. The storm passed and you shelved the endeavor…until the next dark clouds arrived.  Like the cobbler’s children, you still lacked a basic requirement to ensure the long-term health of your agency.

Don’t kid yourself. Creating a successful business development program is a full-time, multi-pronged endeavor. With hundreds of firms competing for the attention of your top prospects, mounting a last minute, part-time effort is about as effective as spitting into the wind. Furthermore, as inbound marketing tactics continue to gain momentum, agencies can expect the “barter” approach to be even less effective as marketing channels overflow with the content of competing “experts”.

And whom you hire also matters.  Business development is a skill and a specialty. It’s not the secondary job of an under-utilized account person who would rather spend their time elsewhere.

So, when is the best time to make this person and program investment?

When you are BUSY.

Allocating resources in good times allows you to focus on pursuing the accounts you want. It frees you from desperate selling tactics, resulting in project work with less than desirable prospects. It also provides the opportunity to build and nourish a true expertise.

Take the time to do it right. Plan your program for the long term and hire the right individual or resource when times are good. It will give you the freedom to CHOOSE the business you want and strategically plot the logical evolution of your firm.

Stop going barefoot. Treat your agency like its best client and outfit yourself for the inevitable winter ahead.

Return to

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.

Return to

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.

Return to

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.

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: If You Write It, Will They Come?

Many marketing firms are quick to believe the promise of what an inbound-only approach to new business can deliver. Finally, they think, our problems are solved! We have a solution that is non-interruptive and easy to implement.

But if you write it, will they come?

There is no shortage of experts providing advice on how to create content that will generate a steady stream of qualified leads. Unfortunately, these experts often don’t factor the following:

(1) Agency time comes at a premium.

Creating an in-depth stream of consistent content that resonates with your target audience requires a time consuming writing commitment from your top talent. It also requires the attention of a seasoned social media expert to position that content so it will be seen by the right audience.

As Jay Baer said recently in an article on, “Social media success is about the wizard, not the wand.”

Your subject and disciplinary experts must make the magic happen.

(2) Too many are talking.

Last month at HubSpot’s Inbound14, Chad Pollitt of Relevance described the once existing content deficit as a rapidly developing overload. This leaves one to wonder with so many talking is anyone really listening?


Obviously your agency can’t ignore content creation. Still, you need to be realistic about your message and plan accordingly. Creating a strategy to dependably deliver a unique and sustainable point of view is critical to your success.

Consider these steps when creating your firm’s successful content culture:

Step One – Identify Your Wizards and Empower Them

Identify your content and social media experts. Assign your cerebral leaders the writing of material specific to their expertise. Empower a social media expert to direct distribution and engagement. Incorporate deadlines into your traffic schedule and make these activities a priority.

Step Two – Avoid General Blog Content and Start Small

Develop core, in-depth content around ONE SPECIFIC topic (designed to yield approximately 3-5 articles/posts) to moderately feed your inbound program.

In a crowded and noisy world, general content is often overlooked. Narrow topics specific to your expertise (and your prospect’s needs) will help break through the cacophony.

Step Three – Personalize Prospect Relationships

While social media can be helpful in building strong, prospect relationships, your goal is to move them off platforms not controlled by you. Serve one piece of content that requires an email subscription and then deliver that material via Constant Contact auto responder or a similar tool. The relationship is now in your hands! You can then use targeted outbound tactics to personally nurture it.

Consider this. If HubSpot’s sales people (the folks who coined the term inbound) still use the phone and email to connect with prospects brought in through their inbound channels (and they do), then maybe you should too.

Creating a robust new business program requires a serious commitment and a blended inbound/outbound approach. Plan for it wisely and utilize the strengths of each to hit your next home run.

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: Creating an Expert vs. Agency Blog

bloggerCreating good content helps to fuel long-term new business success. However, with almost 75% of agencies blogging today, why are so many failing to gain traction?

The reason is this, prospects want to connect with experts. The thinly veiled promotional content that many firms use to fill their inbound voids lacks the in-depth substance that most executives seek when deciding where they are going to allocate their precious time.

So what’s the problem? Time and focus. Content creation gets delegated and the quality becomes lackluster, irregular and burdensome.

How can you change this pattern of failure?

Start with these actionable steps to help improve quality and efficiency:

Schedule a Leadership Meeting

Your agency’s best experts are its leaders. They are the glue that binds and have more credibility tying their knowledge to a particular expertise. They are also less likely to leave, taking any equity built amongst prospects with them.

Incorporate content development into one status meeting per month with your principals in attendance. Review issues impacting clients. Poll the account teams to determine which topics best address current client needs. Use these topics to generate content ideas for that month – client work then doubles as content strategy time for the agency.

Assign a Research Team

Good content is based on good research.  Task your account teams with collecting the necessary facts relating to key topics.  It will cut cold writing time in half while enriching your team’s service provision and overall professional development.

Consider an Expert vs. Agency Blog

Ask your principals to create an expert blog highlighting a particular industry or service niche. These blogs will both live apart from AND directly link to your website. To illustrate, check out:

By decentralizing content, you will reach a much larger audience and inspire team leaders to take their ideas to bigger and better realms.

The world of agency blogs is a crowded and often dull space. Take steps to streamline your process and achieve an expert position. Your new business rewards will be measurable.

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: Your Agency’s New Business Strategy Depends on a Good Content Strategy: Five Steps Towards Making It Happen

Creating a strong content culture is key to achieving long-term new business success.  It strengthens your position, supports prospecting activity and often helps close business.

Understanding that time is often the issue, below are five steps to help get you going in the right direction:

1. Appoint A Leader
The most successful content cultures are born at the agency principal level. As in business development, gaining the support of your firm’s visionaries is vital to your success. The individuals who provide thought leadership and drive agency direction are your best resources for guiding content that will resonate with your target audience.

2. Staff the Effort
Assign a team as you would to any important client. Define your strategy, create a tactical plan and hold your staff accountable, regardless of competing workloads. New business should always be your first business and on-target; regular content creation is central to supporting that effort.

3. Define and Research Your Prospect Audience
Research your target audience(s). If you use HubSpot, you are already familiar with Buyer Personas – prospect representations that include demographics, behavior patterns, hanlon_bullseyemotivations, pain points and goals. It is critical to construct comprehensive personas for each audience segment, as it will steer the development of stronger content and other important elements of your inbound program.

4. Pick One Audience, One Problem, and Provide One Solution
As Derek Halpern from Social Triggers explains in his Blog That Converts, don’t try to reach all of your prospects at once. Instead, use the “Divide and Conquer Technique.” Pick one prospect segment, select one problem they have and develop one actionable solution to that problem. Offering “finely focused” versus “broad topic” content separates expert firms from the generalists.

5. Write Base Content
Establish an expertise, one topic at a time. Pick a subject, divide it into 3-5 sub-topic blog posts and explore it in depth. Once you have established and exhausted your expertise on this subject, move on to the next bite-size portion.

Good content creation is a never-ending story, designed to methodically bring prospects through the sales channel. Take the time to do it right. Gain the support of your principals, develop a strong point of view and assign the appropriate resources to ensure success. Most importantly, do it right or don’t do it at all. 

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: Blogging for Agency New Business: Pick One Thing & Do It Well

blog-iconBlogging is an essential part of any comprehensive agency new business program. If done well, it can bolster your position and help convert prospects to clients.

Unfortunately, many firms struggle with maintaining an effective effort. And, although there are no quick fixes, there are ways to streamline the process – starting with your content strategy.

Ask yourself this question:  Are your blog subjects unified or do they bounce from topic to topic?

FACT – Specialist agencies win more business than generalist firms. 

Ergo, your blog must reflect and reinforce your specialist position.  Derek Halpern from Social Triggers puts it best,  “Dig one hole 100 feet deep, not one hundred holes 1 foot deep.”

Stop writing if your themes are general and shifting. Examine your agency’s position and select narrow topics that provide real solutions to very niche audiences. Then commit to a series of scheduled posts and dive deep.

And, while you are at it, check out Derek’s website Social Triggers and his online course – The Blog That Converts. Both are great resources, filled with practical advice designed to help you create a winning blog.

We get it. Effective blogging is a big commitment. But, the competitive advantage it affords will far outweigh the work involved.

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: Do it right or don’t do it at all.

As the default social network of the future (keep your eye on Google +), Facebook continues to be a powerful relationship building tool. If you read our previous post, perhaps you have been adjusting your content strategy, getting to know your followers better by asking questions about their professional and personal interests, and testing the waters with what you have learned.

Equally important to knowing what to post, however, is knowing HOW to post it. For example, consider the recent Facebook algorithm change late last month. Users will now see fewer text-only posts from Pages and the algorithm will favor Link-share posts. Link-share posts are not new, but Facebook will now push them from Pages into the News Feed. In social media terms, this is old news (nearly 30 days after the announcement). Surprisingly, though, many mid-size agencies are not implementing this change.

In more recent news, the introduction of Facebook Paper for iOS earlier this month confirms that the platform’s future is mobile. Paper is an uncluttered, distraction-free news vehicle that provides users with a slower and more thoughtful reading experience (completely counter to Twitter). Paper is sourcing new and better content for users and encouraging more engagement with what people are sharing. Users will likely spend more time with stories, making the delivery of content that inspires engagement and sharing even more critical.

Make no mistake, your prospects view your social activity as a reflection of your ability. When you lack audience engagement, you weaken your agency’s position. So, capitalize on new trends early and take the time to post good content well.

Return to