Interview on Agency New Business (Part 1)

March 11, 2020


You preach to agencies to ‘Learn to love New Business’ – do that many hate it? If so, why is that?

From my experience working with agency owners, I’m yet to find any that truly enjoy new business or at least, not all of it.  Often, they have come from a more strategic, creative or technology background and therefore sales often takes a back seat; it’s not what they enjoy doing or why they set the business up.  They want to be doing more of the actual creative work, so the sales process feels painful.  There are different elements to the sales process and often it’s not the pitching that’s the issue, its more the finding and nurturing of leads – most don’t have the patience or process required for this.


I suspect the reason they don’t like sales is that they have to put themselves ‘out there’ and that leaves them open to criticism, failure or injection and psychologically people are scared of those things; and therefore more likely to stay in a comfortable place and not sell. I often think agency owners believe that if the work is good enough, then it will speak for itself – and that alone will attract new business.  However, how are people going to know about that great work if you don’t market yourself and tell them?  I don’t think great work is enough to cut through on its own, but obviously it’s imperative to getting referrals and converting prospects. It’s also based on perception.  It’s not always the most creative or intelligent agencies that attract and win the big deals.



Content marketing and Inbound, in general, takes a LOT of time to execute well, how can an agency avoid burnout in that area?

The whole thinking behind why agencies need to develop content is about moving them from a chase to attract a model. If you’re constantly chasing prospects, you’re inevitably going to be reaching out to them at the wrong time, and therefore nurturing them until the ‘right’ time is so important when it comes to generating a consistent pipeline. Content sits at the heart of that, allowing you to keep in touch with those prospects so that you can start to build a relationship with them by demonstrating your value.


I think most agencies are aware that they need to be doing content marketing, but we do appreciate and empathise with it being time-consuming. I think the part that takes the most time is coming up with content ideas and starting. Often agencies ‘go to market’ without a clear positioning and personality, or a clear target audience, which results in them to create generic content that doesn’t really appeal to anybody on any deep level.  What is should be doing is educating and motivating your target audience to buy into your mission and want to work with you.


In terms of burnout, if you have a clearly defined mission that your team buy into, then it’s easier for you to a new business culture where people will contribute to content development.  Who in your agency has an opinion that could be shared but maybe needs a confidence boost and a push in the right direction?


You can also collaborate to develop content, for example, we often spend time interviewing authors, and then we can turn that into a blog post for them to edit (as people often find it easier to edit than create from scratch).  Often there’s great work being done internally on pitches, client work, or just general sharing; and that could be packaged and shared externally; but it’s underutilised.  We also talk about ‘atomising’ content, so breaking content down into lots of different formats across various channels.  You don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel and can often find past content is just as relevant today.


It’s about setting a structure and process to creating content, ensuring that you’re coming up with the idea early and not leaving it all until the last-minute as opposed to, “what the hell are we going to stick in the newsletter this month!?” With our clients we generate content calendars which enable agencies to be very proactive and coordinate their activity strategically to maximise exposure.




We talk a lot (or I do) about having clear Buyer Personas – do they really make a positive difference to agency new business?

Whether you call them Personas, Customer Profiles or Avatars; most of you would agree they are crucial when you’re working on behalf of your clients. How can you possibly target and attract people if you haven’t taken the time to understand who it is that you’re talking to? And just saying any marketing director that will pay you, isn’t enough.


Often agencies look to attract anybody who might be willing to buy their services and you’ll hear me talk a lot about niching and the importance of defining and understanding a core audience. Without this, your message and your agency positioning, products, services, all become generic.  We spend time interrogating an agencies work and the types of businesses or people they work best with.  All good marketing starts with audience insights, so why agencies think they are above this, is beyond me!


There are lots of ways you can define businesses, such as philosophy, size, culture, sector, values etc. and in terms of the people, this could range from job title to mindset, to personality or personal challenges. All of this is going to lead to a better and easier sales and marketing plan because if you can be much more targeted and demonstrate empathy and understanding to a particular audience, your conversion rates will increase and your cost of sales will decrease. The common push back to this is that agencies like diversity so they can cut their cloth on many different challenges.  I think this is still possible if you are creative with how you define your audience i.e. thinking outside of just sector targeting.



Pitch or Don’t Pitch – what say you? (and if it’s pitch… what can agencies do to make it a fair process?)

The pitch debate is one that’s been going on for many years and I know a lot of agencies hate it. For me the real debate around the pitches is about how much agencies value themselves and the respect from the client. This wrestling for control and duelling is a vital part of the relationship building; much like dating.  When there are too many restrictions around this and people act unnaturally, it leads to unhappy marriages and high divorce rates.


Often client processes are not fit for purpose and they make the agency jump through hoops, with them often giving away free creative and strategy work before any decision is made. I don’t have a problem with pitching but for me agencies should set boundaries early on, which includes not giving away free creative work, but also challenging the client so that you’re able test the relationship out to see how interested they are in so that you don’t become subservient. For me it’s about the way you pitch, and the qualification of who you pitch that’s important, but I don’t see any problem with pitching itself. It’s very natural.