By Category: New Business Lead Generation

» Hot Categories for Ad Agency New Business - Today

Where and how to successfully prospect
by Todd Knutson  |   published on February 18, 2010

hot off the pressThere are only a few people in the U.S. who have a broad-based and in-depth view of the proactive new business market, and who can speak to all geographic regions, industry categories, and types of services being purchased by large and small clients alike. One of them is Dave Currie, President of Catapult New Business. I interviewed him yesterday to get an insider's view of where and how to successfully prospect - today.

What categories are currently hot?

  • Consumer Package Goods (CPG).
  • Food.
  • Retail - both big-box and super markets.
  • Consumer banking - particularly regional banks who want to acquire customers from their larger rivals.
  • Travel and tourism.
  • Education - colleges and universities (all types), and MBA programs.

What outreach techniques are most effective?

  • Email marketing with trackable links to landing pages.
  • Rifle vs. shotgun: carefully identify your hard targets, but be sure you have a lot of them.
  • Small email batches (less than 20 per group).
  • 60-second, HD, production-quality video case studies.
  • Webcasts with niche content.

What messaging is most effective?

  • Show something they may not know, that's a result of research.
  • What's your solution that will help your prospect - NOT why your agency is best.
  • Specify your value: why should they talk to you?

What follow up techniques are most effective?

  • Plan for 15 touch points.
  • Variable media: email, phone, webcast, direct mail, video case studies.
  • Concise voicemail messages, each with a value message.
  • Relevance: get to the point very quickly, with specifics.
  • Consistency: success only comes if you regularly follow up.

How fast is work being won?

We've seen first meetings progress to projects in a week, as well as 6 months. The key is consistent follow-up, at least weekly, by phone as well as other touch-points. Be proactive and suggest days and times to connect with your prospect by phone.

Most importantly: "Ask for the meeting. Marketers are taking meetings today that they wouldn't or couldn't take last year."


» Direct Mail Back for Ad Agency Lead Generation?

Wall Street Journal article suggests it still works
by Todd Knutson  |   published on January 14, 2010

direct mailIt wasn't too many years ago that ad agencies used direct mail to generate new business leads. Then, it went out of fashion in favor of email. But, as spam laws and filters have made email less effective, the question is, is it time to experiment with direct mail again? 

A January 12, 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal titled. "Firms Hold Fast to Snail Mail Marketing", gives examples of small businesses continuing to rely on and benefit from direct mail.

This got me thinking about the past, and the potential for the future of agency lead generation.

Five to ten years ago, it was not at all uncommon for agencies to use various forms of direct mail to solicit new business and help introduce or reinforce their brand to prospective clients.

Common examples of direct mail included:

  • Post cards (to large numbers of prospects, often times humorous)
  • Personal letters (one-to-one communication with a unique prospect)
  • Credentials (one-to-one communication with a unique prospect)
  • Your work (beautiful, expensive boxes to showcase creative sent to a small group of potential prospects)

We all know that email took over, propelled by the ease of communicating directly with a specific prospect, and because, at first, they avoided the proverbial circular file that captured so much direct mail. Best of all, they landed directly in the prospect's in-box.

But, as it's gotten harder to be "heard" via email, now that in-boxes are carefully filtered and emails from unknown senders are routinely deleted before they're read, the question is: How should you now make your prospects aware of your agency's existence?

We hear this frustration every day from new business people.

So, I'm wondering -

  • Is now the time to re-introduce direct mail into your marketing mix?
  • Is, perhaps, direct mail another case of "what goes, around comes around"? Or, a marketing tactic whose time has come (again)?
  • Or, is B2B direct mail dead? Should we all just move on to something new? (If so, what are your ideas for the new new thing?

I'd love the hear your thoughts - whether as a comment, tweet, or email.

» Guest Post: Taking New Business Dating to the Next Level

Know your type
by Todd Knutson  |   published on December 18, 2009

dating typeThis is a guest post from Craig Kavicky, Vice President at Big Red Rooster, an independent research, strategy, and design company in Columbus, Ohio.


In recent posts, Todd has referenced the business development axiom relationship-building and compared it to dating. Nothing is more true than the dating reference, and like identifying good prospective dates, identifying good prospective clients requires that you know your type.

All too often, collaborations are doomed by the same difficulties that have felled many a date: bad chemistry, poor communication, and misaligned expectations. We've all gotten into these situations (particularly in lean times) while seeking any work, rather than the right work.

Your first, best goal is to find the best dates in the least amount of time. It all starts with your contact in the prospective client organization.

Asking some simple questions at the start can make all the difference:

  • Is your contact a change-agent?
  • Do they invest in the value you bring per hour or discounts? 
  • Do they share full disclosure and provide time for informed responses? 
  • Are they a details person or do they look for comprehensive help to champion their cause?
  • How is your contact’s role integrated into the organization for budgets and what's their criteria for decision-making?
  • Is your contact chasing trends or making them?
  • What other programs is your contact working on and how does this fit in with their annual goals?
  • What's their past experience with firms or agencies? Preferences?
  • How does your contact view his/her competition and the moves they're making?
  • What's their vision for the success of the program and its impact on their role within the organization?
  • Do they believe in committing to one firm or do they intentionally spread work out?

Keep in mind that the compatibility of organizations plays a significant factor in the harmony between them. For example, if an agency represents Hustler, it may have difficulty meshing with Wal-Mart. Recognizing this, you can easily translate the answers to these questions into all the criteria you need to evaluate good dates from bad ones. The questions take a little time to ask and answer, but it's time invested at the front end that will save much more later. And, as we all know, time is at the core of what business development leaders try to save every day.

We assume that skilled business developers already know their best fit within verticals or in targeted specialty roles, so the goal of talking to the right people becomes one of disqualifying the wrong ones. However, in my experience, most business developers will try to over-develop a poor fit until the end of time.

The right thing to do is to use these questions to identify prospects who aren't a good match. It's not always easy to do in one conversation, but then again, that's the nature of courtship.

If you don't know your type, you may not be their type.

» The “So What” Behind a Prospect’s Pain and Aspirations

Reveal the answer to close more new business
by Todd Knutson  |   published on December 02, 2009

so whatBefore a prospect can become a client, they have to clearly understand the value of working with your ad agency or marketing services firm.

Does your current new business process demonstrate what the positive impact of using your services will be? Do you clearly communicate both the dollar and non-dollar value of doing so?

One of the best ways to demonstrate value is to help your prospect answer the question, "So what?"

For example, if your rapport-building questioning reveals pain within your prospect's company (e.g. revenue is slowing, trouble with a new product launch), "So what?" questions around this type of pain might be, "What will happen if revenue continues to slow?", or, "What will happen if the product launch fails?"

On the other hand, if your questioning reveals a new opportunity, or aspiration, "So what?" questions may be, "If you don't pursue this, will someone else make this potential product a reality?", or, "If you can bring this to market in the next six months, how might your division better compete against your arch rival?"

Sometimes, the answer to these type of questions may be as simple as helping your prospect get promoted - or keep their job. But, in most cases it's going to be up to you to demonstrate how using your services will directly, clearly and positively contribute to resolving the pain or fulfilling the opportunity facing your prospect.

Recognize that your biggest competitor may be inaction. Expect to have to create a sense of urgency in order to get your prospect to purchase your services. The magnitude of the sense of urgency will be determined by how well you help your client answer your "So what?" questions, and a big part of closing the deal will be your ability to quantify the positive impact of using your firm.

Here are three ways to quantify the impact of using your services:

  1. Dollar benefit. This could be "new" dollars generated - as in revenue from a new product; or, an increase in dollars - as in better marketing driving increased sales from existing products; or, dollars saved - as in less costly marketing. Whatever the situation, whether you're solving a pain or helping them achieve a goal, you need to be able to quantify the financial impact of using your services.
  2. Non-dollar benefit. People buy from people they like. Don't diminish the positive benefits of working with your firm, whether it's your high quality team, your company's reputation, motivating influence, etc. Recognize the soft intangibles that you bring and don't forget to incorporate them into your conversations.
  3. Your firm vs. alternatives.Your prospect may be considering a competitor, internal resources, or doing nothing. You're selling against all of them. To overcome these very real obstacles, you may need to be able to sell:
  •     Why you're better. When faced with a competitor or internal resources, what are the tangible and intangible reasons why going with your firm is a better business decision?
  •     What they may lose. There are potential costs to your prospect if they do nothing about a pain or don't pursue an aspirational goal. You need to be able to paint a picture of their potential loss so they can visualize themselves achieving their objective - with your help, of course.

Asking "So What?" questions is simply finding out what's at the root of their pain or aspiration. Why is it important to them? What's the potential upside and downside?

Understanding what's behind the situation and getting your prospect to verbalize it is a key part of the new business process, and to your closing more new business.

I hope this helps.

» The Other Reason Why Your Clients Buy Marketing Services

Help them create a new future
by Todd Knutson  |   published on November 23, 2009

aspriationThe common approach to selling marketing services is, "Find their pain, and then show how you can solve it." But, if you only focus on your prospect's pain, you're leaving half the potential new business on the table.

A client who hires an ad agency or other marketing services provider is looking to either:

  1. Solve a problem or pain.
  2. Grow, improve, innovate, etc.

After you build rapport, if your questions only focus on identifying and solving their problem(s), you may miss all the fun - helping them grow, innovate, or create other opportunities in the future. Who knows what they may be, but you'll definitely want to be part of it. 

Here are a few questions that will get your prospects or clients talking about what they want, hope for, or aspire to:

  • So, what's going on at your company lately?
  • What do you want to get done in the next year or so?
  • What parts of the business hold the most promise for the next couple of years?
  • What are a few things that your competitors are doing that you're watching?
  • How might you improve on what they're doing?
  • What do you need to get these things done?
  • What do you need to know that you don't know yet?

The great thing about these questions is that they're not too-personal - they're not threatening. They're also open-ended, and future-oriented. You can just as easily ask them to a prospect or a client.

Since most, if not all, of your prospects and clients think a lot about how they'd like to change and improve, these questions may be just what they need to start talking.

And, once you get them talking, you're likely to hear things you've never heard before, which will probably open up a whole new world of potential new business opportunities.

» New Business Cold Calling Conundrum: Research More or Make More Calls?

The answer depends...
by Todd Knutson  |   published on October 22, 2009

conundrumThis is the last in our three-part Q&A from our reader in Finland, who posed an often-debated question: "Should I thoroughly research my prospects and make fewer calls, or research less and make more calls?"

The answer is that it depends, which I'll explain in a minute. Most importantly, if your job is to secure meetings via cold calls, recognize that it's a numbers game. If you don't make enough calls, you won't have enough good conversations with your prospective clients, and you won't secure enough qualified meetings.

And, whatever you decide is the right amount of research after reading this post, if you end up doing too much research because it's interesting and perhaps more enjoyable than making calls, you're unlikely to be a successful prospector. And, if you've been a prospector for very long, you know Murphy's Law - do a lot of research on a company or person, and you'll end up reaching their voicemail, and perhaps never even having a conversation with them!

I think the right amount of research comes down to three things:

  1. Self-Awareness & Balance
  2. Agency Positioning
  3. Industry Category

Self-Awareness and Balance: Know yourself and your tendencies. Do you like making cold calls, or avoiding them? Do you like researching companies and industries, or would you rather just pick up the phone and have a conversation? If you like making calls and hate research, you may need to do a bit more research. Alternatively, if you love research, you're going to need to practice serious time management, scheduling (and sticking to) a calling calendar. Keep in mind that it's very possible to do too much research. You have to balance what you need to know to ask smart questions, and the odds of actually talking to your prospect.

Agency Positioning: The amount of research you need to do will be impacted by the strength of your agency positioning. If you have a strong positioning statement you can be effective with a limited amount of research. To do this you need:

  • To really know why you're a good fit for the potential company or industry you're targeting.
  • A relevant message that differentiates you from your competition.
  • To properly target the appropriate person in the organization.

Industry Category: Who you're targeting will also impact the amount of research you need to do.

  • New industry: If you're targeting a category that's new to your agency, you're going to need to do a lot of research. You're going to need to learn to talk like them, know the acronyms, the industry-specific terminology, as well as the slang. You're going to need to determine where the industry-wide pain is, their specific company pain, and where the growth opportunities are. In this case, targeting and reaching out to a smaller list will be more effective that a large list.
  • Popular industry: If you're targeting a popular industry (like consumer packaged goods), where marketers receive dozens of calls a day, you're going to need to do less research and make many more calls. You'll also likely need to target a specific need or leverage your strongest capability so you can differentiate yourself from the competition. A category like this requires a larger list - cast a wider net.

I hope this helps, and appreciate the feedback, comments, and questions. Please keep them coming, whether via the blog or email.


» Data Accuracy Essential for Proactive New Business

Just because you have a database doesn't mean it's accurate
by Todd Knutson  |   published on September 28, 2009


Most agencies have a new business database. Twelve years ago, while working at another company, I would've agreed with the majority of agency principals who believe that their database resembles a Chippendale chair more than it does a head of lettuce.

That belief changed dramatically when I saw with my own eyes that elements of more than 30% of our prospects' contact information changed every 3-4 months. All of a sudden, that repository of information that I thought was a valuable business asset became a liability. How was I going to keep it current?

This was in the days before information was available online, so we rented lists and spent significant dollars doing so. However, the alternative was hiring a couple of full-time people to do nothing but update our database, which was a more expensive option.

Today, the situation for agencies is similar, but many still ignore the reality of inaccurate data. This is not a situation unique to our industry: every company that sells anything has to deal with it. Many have realized that the cost of not keeping an internal database up-to-date is the opportunity cost of a lost sale. In other words, the cost of inaccuracy is:

  • The time it takes to constantly look for accurate information. Measure this as the person's equivalent fully-loaded hourly cost (i.e. including benefits and company-paid taxes) times the number of hours they spend digging for information every day. Then, turn this into an annual cost.
  • Calculate the number of leads they could have generated had they not needed to research. From that, calculate the number of prospect meetings they could have set up, and the value of the resulting business that could have been won over the course of a year.

It doesn't take long to do some rough calculations - you'll have it in less than 5 minutes. I also encourage you to figure out how much it would cost to hire someone to keep your internal database accurate.

The good news is that there are a variety of information providers who supply varying degrees of accurate and relevant prospecting databases for agencies and marketing services companies, at a reasonable price. (The price will appear to be a steal once you have the numbers mentioned above.)

The best news of all is that you don't have to give up on your internal database. If you want, you can use any of these resources as your updating resource - let them hire the people to do the research on your prospect companies, so you don't have do.

Here are some other posts that may be of interest if you want to learn how to choose a new business database, whether to rent or license a list, or whether to buy or build your new business database.

» New Business Prospecticide

Add value so you don't kill your prospects
by Todd Knutson  |   published on September 17, 2009

Pros-pec-ti-cide  [pros-pek-tuh-sahyd]


  1. The act of killing prospects.


What a great word! I came across it in an article by Paul McCord. He raises valuable issues and recommendations that I'm passing on below. I've edited it down and oriented it towards new business (to read the full article click here).

The more timely and pertinent the message, the more value it adds. The more value you add, the more valuable you become. The more valuable you become, the more you ease competition out of the way.

You commit prospecticide when you kill your prospects through communication that trains them to avoid you - because you’re focused on your needs, not theirs. You're doing it when your phone calls, e-mails, voice mail messages, and other communications are designed to advance your cause, not theirs.

Every communication you have with a prospect trains them either to:

  • Pay attention to you because you bring value to them; or,
  • Avoid you because you waste their time.

In a long sales cycle, which is typical of ad agency new business, prospect communication is crucial.

  • Each time you send something, call or leave a voice message, you're telling your prospect what you think their time and attention is worth.
  • You’re telling them whether you’re concerned about them - or about yourself.

With every call, you're also telling your prospect a great deal about you and your agency: What you think is important, and whether you have anything of value to say.

Before sending anything to a prospect, picking up the phone or leaving a voice message, ask yourself a few questions:

  1. Would I want to hear from me?
  2. Would I want to receive this?
  3. Does it represent me well?
  4. Does it add value to our relationship?
  5. Is it designed to benefit the prospect - or me?

If your answers don't indicate that the communication is prospect-centered and adds value, why deliver it?

Inexperienced new business people may not pay attention to the communications they deliver to their prospects. The objective, they figure, is to keep their name in front of them and let them know they're interested in working with them.

The issue isn’t with the objective, but with the way it's done. Examples of poor follow-up communication include:

  • The “How ya doin’?” call.
  • The “Is there anything I can do for ya?” call.
  • The “Did you get my package?” call.
  • The “I couldn’t reach you, but I wanted to see if you need anything” e-mail.
  • The  “Here’s our information again in case you misplaced it” package.

These communications are time-wasters for your prospects: They teach them to avoid you. Your future calls are likely to be screened and your messages not returned.

What can you communicate to add value?

  • Articles or white papers relating to aspects of their company or industry that may impact their business, that they're unlikely to have read.
  • New agency services that enhance your ability to meet their needs.
  • Awards your agency has won - if they're relevant to their business.
  • Articles relating to an interest your prospect has outside of work (providing you know them well enough to send it) - from a source they're not likely to discover on their own.

To reach your prospect, have your calls returned and separate your agency from the competition, your opportunity is to stop teaching your prospects to ignore you and begin teaching them that you're the new business person who adds value to their day.

If they determine they need you and that you add value to them and their business, you’ll have far less difficulty gaining their attention.

» $40,000 Off Our Fees. Your Next New Business Pitch?

($ Canadian, that is.)
by Todd Knutson  |   published on September 09, 2009

$40,000 off coupon

How many of us are willing to offer $40,000 off agency fees to bring in a client? Well that's what The BrainStorm Group did at the end of May. And it worked.

Ron Telpner, chairman and CEO of the independent Toronto-based agency, was asked by a reporter from Canada's National Post newspaper (read interview here), "Have you won any clients?" and he responded,

Yes, and we exceeded the other, equally important objectives we established for this campaign -- increasing the number of RFP invitations, dramatically increasing visits to our new website, and generating increased exposure and awareness through media coverage, which we saw in Canada, the U.S. and even in Japan.

They also did what he calls Walking The Talk:  they advertised.

Telpner refers to the "inherent hypocrisy of an agency that would recommend advertising to its clients as a strategy while not having enough belief in the power of advertising to use it for themselves." So, they ran their $40,000 off coupon in newspapers and online, and it worked exactly as intended.

At first I thought this was just a terrific promotion, and then I thought about it from an ROI standpoint. Consider this (and mentally add to the list or feel free to comment, below):

  • How many RFPs do you respond to each year?
  • How many pitches do you participate in?
  • How many of them do you win?
  • How much do you spend on submitting RFPs? On pitching?
  • What's your average cost per RFP submission? Per pitch? Per win?

If you do the analysis, my guess is that a $40,000 off offer isn't as expensive or outrageous as it first might seem.

While it has now been done, what other innovative ways might you generate new business leads, publicity, and buzz - that really aren't that expensive?

» Agency New Business Killer or Promoter: Your Director of First Impressions

You are judged on first impressions
by Todd Knutson  |   published on August 27, 2009


A recent survey reveals that only one in three agency receptionists meet the characteristics of a Director of First Impressions. Staffed well and you'll have another new business weapon in your arsenal.

Prospects start evaluating your agency on their first interaction, which is often the person who answers your phone.

Done well, in the eyes of your prospect or client, your agency may gain a competitive advantage over anyone else they're talking to. Done poorly, and well...they may dread the idea of calling, and won't.

Personally, I've been struck by the rudeness of receptionists at certain agencies. To get a better feel for how widespread the problem is, I asked eleven of our sales and new business people to give an overall grade to the receptionists they speak with at agencies all over North America. Now, these eleven speak with about 35 agencies a day, so that's about 385 per day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. That's a lot of agencies, so while not scientifically based, it's a decent sample.

In answer to the question:

What percent of agency receptionists fulfill the role of a good Director of First Impressions? Only 34%.

There were some highs and lows (e.g. New York agencies: 5%), but even accounting for them the average was the same. This is not good news for ad agency new business.

What to do to fix the problem?

Below are some suggestions. I'd like to thank Jann Driscoll from Catapult New Business who significantly contributed to the list. She used to work at Cox Communications and for a time was in charge of training people in this critical role.

  1. Evaluate how you're doing. Call in from a phone your receptionist won't recognize, or ask a friend to do it for you. Evaluate how they handle the call.
  2. Think about the skills you want in the role. A director of first impressions needs to have a passion for the agency and also be able to do a tough job - be the gatekeeper, research director, operator, friend, and of course the first impression anyone has with your brand.
  3. Teach them your brand. No one off the street can possibly step in on day one and understand the history of your agency, its culture, positioning, etc.
  4. Set expectations. They need to know that their job is making a superior first impression with every human interaction….never just passing someone off, always exuding empathy, courtesy, and confidence, and always demonstrating that they are a true resource for the person on the other end of the phone.
  5. Train them in customer service. This means both internal and external customer service. How you want them to treat employees is as important as how they're to treat prospects and clients.
  6. Broadcast their title. Put it on their business card, on their employee file, on your website. Let them know that their role is critical to your future business success.

The challenge for most agencies is that the "front desk" job is often taken for granted, and perhaps even considered a necessary evil. If senior management makes sure that your Director of First Impressions is welcomed into the business, treated well, and provided ongoing coaching and encouragement, you'll have created another member of your new business team.

So, you must be asking yourself, "Who does it well?" Well, here's one agency that does: Brains on Fire. if you want to hear what a great Director of First Impressions sounds like, give them a call. If you want to see what one looks like, click here!


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