We’ve found that most presidents of firms in the marketing communications industry don’t really understand new business.

ad agency leadership new business

In new business never lose sight of the big picture.

And they don’t like it. They solve this problem by spending their time working in the firm as some type of technical expert. And they delegate the new business function to others who may not understand it either.

For the most part, all marketing firms love the chase, the thrill of being in the hunt, late nights and cold pizza, and then having the opportunity to stand up in front of a prospect and deliver the winning pitch. If I had a nickel for every agency president who told me “just get me in front of em, I’ll do the rest.”

But that’s missing the forest for all the trees. The key to getting “in front of em” and winning is building a relationship with them. Long term nurturing of prospects is NOT something most agency leaders think about. As a result most agencies end up pitching to prospects that are already deep into the review, with little time to build a relationship, much less better understand all the nuances of the brand. And they are now involved in a heavily contested review where up to 20 other marketing firms are all scrambling to make the cut.

What most agency presidents fail to understand is that prospects end up holding reviews because nobody was in there early in the process showing the prospect another way. By the time the prospect is ready to buy, there is no relationship-based agency friend from which he would like to buy.

I mean lets face it; the formal review process needs to change. If more marketing firms took the lead in developing their relationship building skills we would not be subjected to the pain and suffering of giving away ideas for free. All on the whim of a prospect you may have a 1 in 20 chance of winning. In addition, formal reviews can be too expensive for clients. It takes time, management commitment, and in the US, heavy fees for search consultants.

While one of the goals of relationship building is to improve your chances of winning formal reviews, there are additional benefits to nurturing prospects you are interesting in working with. The longer you work to build a relationship, the greater chance you have of closing the business with a fast close. You just need the skills and training needed to recognize where the prospects are in the review, and an understanding of how to move quickly and aggressively to preempt the process. Use that insight you’ve gained from understanding the prospect and building the relationship over time to win quickly, saving the prospect from the long drawn out formal review process. It all starts with the advertising agency prospecting in a consistent, formal way.

Agencies Are Full of Winners.

The type bred for the hunt, the closers, the hawks. But who on your staff holds the responsibility for being the relationship builder? Who has training on how to cultivate and build relationships with a large number of prospects over time? The farmer of leads? This sacred role is the secret to many new business wins over time. Some of the largest account swings in history have been the result of an agency well versed in relationship building and understanding how to close.

Most agencies ignore prospects that are not ready to buy now. Those that don’t ignore relationship building as a critical element of new business have to attempt to swoop in and  convince the prospect on the beauty of their idea, the desire they have to work with their brand, how much they looove them!

This is a losing proposition if some other agency has put the time and effort into relationship building.

In the U.S. it’s called Spark™. The concept is simple. Your firm hires an account handler, called the Agency Spark, whose responsibilities are to build awareness and create relationships over the phone with good prospects. The Spark’s objective is to build awareness and relationships with a large number of prospects. This is a very different role, more friend building, than the traditional new business “sales” role. Over time, awareness grows, relationships grow, your agency grows.


Photo by Wayne Silver and used under creative commons.