Category Archives: Outbound 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: 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.

Return to

<a href=””>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>


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: 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: Engaging the C-Suite

After learning from a new client that chief among the reasons for choosing us over a competitor was our ability to handle conversations with the C-Suite, we decided to explore the overarching intricacies of engaging this important organizational subset.


Interrogation selling is a “bottom-up” approach designed to gather the basic organizational and historic information needed for a predetermined sales strategy.

Interview selling is a “top-down” approach designed to gain an in-depth understanding of the business challenges an executive is facing in order to create a climate of intellectual reciprocity.

Interrogation questioning frequently consists of questions beginning with phrases like:

“Are you…?”

“How do you…?”

“When will you…?”

These questions often put a prospect on the defensive and can create the impression that you are not adequately informed or prepared for the conversation. They also signal that you are primarily concerned with aligning quick sales solutions.

The interview approach is focused on uncovering organizational objectives and the prospect’s perceived path to achieving them. It requires strong listening skills, as well as, in-depth knowledge of the marketing solutions landscape.

Questions typically begin with:

“Tell me about…”

“What has been your experience with…?”

“Do you think that…?”

These questions require a certain level of knowledge concerning the executive’s industry and organizational functions. Such inquiries are designed to uncover detailed information about specific business issues, as well as, what the prospect may or may not want to do about addressing them. It is not an opportunity to offer tactical solutions.

Successfully interviewing a senior executive requires both a willingness and an ability to conduct a detailed conversation.  It often concludes successfully with the prospects request for a meeting to further explore the issues and to meet the team. It is not an opportunity for your business development representative to push a capabilities presentation designed to ply your wares.

At the end of the day, a myriad of factors contribute to successfully engaging the C-Suite. Mastering these skills will maximize positive perceptions of your agency and create quality new business opportunities.

Return to

Agency New Business: Has voicemail gone the way of the fax machine?

In response to Coca Cola’s recent announcement that they are jettisoning their voicemail system (sending some sales organizations into a frenzy), we pose the question: “What new business tactics are tried and true?”

The answer is none and all.

After decades of successfully representing marketing agencies of all sizes and abilities, we can assure you that blanket trend statements and truisms are often misleading.  And, reacting to them can be detrimental to your new business success.

So what works?

We advocate a nuanced approach – one that layers the personal with the promotional.


What is the role of voicemail?

The purpose of voicemail is to cut through the clutter of an overflowing inbox and link personal credibility (and likability) to your agency’s USP. To be effective, it is critical that your message be personalized, professional and intentionally clear.  Nothing guarantees an early delete like a voice message that meanders around the point or is overly familiar in style.

We suggest the following concise approach.

1.  “My name is…”

2.  “I am the Director of Business Development for… ”

3.  ” I am contacting you because…” (State clear point of reason/market differentiation here.)

4.  and/or, “I am following up on…” (Reference specific content.)

5.  “You can reach me at…” (Reiterate your identity and personal contact info.)

6.  “I will also send you a follow-up email so that you will have my contact info handy…” (Give them an alternate response option.)

7.  ” Thanks so much for your time. ”  ” I look forward to connecting at your convenience.”

It’s important to remember that every message you leave (whether voice or digital) is directed toward an individual with very specific likes and dislikes. Getting to know the personality traits and professional preferences of these individuals over time will expedite your success. In the interim, consider these voicemail tips for positioning your agency beyond the new business fray.

UPDATE: As corporate giants like JP Morgan Chase announce the cancellation of their voice mail services (June 2015), we further recognize that this growing trend needs to be identified (and flagged) at the contact confirmation stage in order to effectively tailor a custom outreach plan.

Return to

Agency New Business: Up Close and Personal…Tradigital New Business Practices that Get Results

While your new inbound program may have helped to entice a few new business conversations, it would be a mistake to underestimate the value of a personal touch.

Smart and professional personal outreach is often the most important factor in turning a cold lead into a warm opportunity. Also, while some prospects prefer to privately research agency partnerships, we have found that most value agency representatives who intelligently pursue appropriate personal contact with their organization.

So, how do you engage? To start, consider these easy to implement “tradigital” strategies that combine old tactics with new ones.

Social Interaction

Many agencies are talking but few are listening and even fewer are interacting. Engaging personally with your prospects via social media is a vital business development practice.

To begin, assign an agency representative to follow the blogs and professional social channels of your top 10 prospects (preferably individuals not organizations, although both are important). Develop the habit of liking, sharing and commenting appropriately. Participate in their broad forum Linked In groups and Google+ communities.

By actively engaging with your prospect’s inbound activity you will enhance your credibility as an expert firm.

Personal Voice Messages

Although cold calls have seen a drop in effectiveness, you can turn them warm by leaving a “specialist” voice message, which succinctly details the specific reason for your call.Unknown-1

In the last few years, we have seen a significant increase in response rates when an effective voice message is paired with a supportive personal email. While many prospects ultimately respond via email, the initial voice message is often referenced in their response. When combined with other inbound tactics, this is a highly effective 1-2 punch.

An Oldie but a Goodie…The Handwritten Written Note

That’s right, we said it…a handwritten note (accompanied by a business card). No, this isn’t your grandmother speaking. There are some things that always work and this is one of them. Keep the copy tight and professional. Overfamiliarity is a no-no. When properly composed, this old-school executive touch is highly effective. In fact, elusive prospects often take the time to acknowledge previously ignored outreach upon receiving a personal note inquiring if they have a moment to connect.

Bottom-line: beware of simple solutions and single source advice. Create an effective new business program grounded in a deep understanding of both traditional and digital practices. Trust your instincts. Have fun and be creative in your approach. The rewards will be exponential!

Return to

Ad Agency New Business: Set Your Agency’s Business Development Director Up for Success

Finding one person who can generate leads, maintain regular outreach with a large number of prospects, develop marketing materials (including high quality content), nurture relationships and close business is not a realistic endeavor. And, if you try to find that one person, you will likely end up with someone who does some things well and the others, not so well. Sales and marketing, although entwined, require different skills sets, personal qualities and experience.

So, why do many agencies continue to look for a Jack-of-All-Trades?

Likely, it is a blend of wishful thinking and nostalgia fueled by memories of the good old days when someone could do it all. A Roger Sterling type. Someone who could cold call, network and wine and dine like a pro.

Prospects today are smarter and their expectations higher. Sure, you still have to do the research and leg work to identify and maintain communication with the right people, but you also need to actively market yourself by creating valuable messaging and content across a variety of mediums and social channels.

So, whom do you hire? A sales or marketing pro? More than likely, they are not one in the same.

Reconsider your search parameters and assess your current situation. Is the marketing function at your agency steadily underway? Is there a supportive communications program in place? Are your social efforts gaining traction? Are you blogging effectively? If the answer is yes, then hire the sales pro to actively pursue and generate opportunities with qualified prospects.

If the answer is no, you might want to rethink your approach by committing to the following:

1. Assign an agency marketing manager to oversee the creation of a multi-pronged program designed to effectively position your firm with its key constituency. If it’s an internal candidate and not a full-time position, it’s close to one.

2. Hire a sales pro (full or part-time) to work that program to its maximum advantage. A good inbound program will produce opportunities but it often comes at its own pace.  If you want to truly control your own destiny, find a proven sales professional with the right skills and experience to harness inbound efforts and hasten the process.


The role of the Business Development Director has changed. It requires a more nuanced and multi-layered approach. And, while there is nothing like finding that special person who can pick up the phone and create an opportunity where there once was none, it’s becoming less and less realistic to hang your firm’s future on that scenario.

Treat your agency like one of your best clients. Marry sales and marketing efforts to best support your positioning and success.


Return to

Ad Agency New Business: Build a program. Don’t buy a list.

For most agencies, buying a list is like shooting an ant with an elephant gun.

Here’s why:

A successful new business program is a methodical one, designed to maintain regular and personal contact with key decision makers within VERY targeted organizations.

Collecting a large volume of contacts via various list services (many of whom may not be perfect fits) is counterproductive. Focus your efforts on identifying prospects that would make the best clients – those ripe for your unique expertise and market position.

Consider these tips when building your own customized list:

1.  Begin by identifying 50-100 prospect organizations based on your agency’s unique selling proposition (the narrower, the better).

2.  Research all of the decision makers and influencers within each, along with their relevant contact information (phone, email, mailing, social info, etc.).  Use LinkedIn and InsideView to help gather this information.

3.  Call and verify the information.  That’s right…CALL.  Especially if you bought or are working with an inherited list. Confirmation is key. Many lists are fraught with outdated contacts and misinformation – all of which can lead you down rabbit holes that waste valuable agency resources.

4.  Load into your CRM system. We recommend Salesforce. It’s affordable, easy to use and integrates with other new business assets like Constant Contact and Hubspot.

5.  Pace yourself. Begin your outreach and build your list in batches. Most mid-size agencies with a strong and narrow position realistically target approximately 500-800 organizations. Remember, this is not a mass marketing exercise. It’s a personal, relationship-building approach that takes time and discipline.


Your new business program is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Take the time to choose your ideal prospects well, then research and confirm the identity of the decision makers and influencers within each of those organizations. Quality over quantity is the key to winning this race.

Return to