By Category: New Business Metrics & Management

» Proactive Ad Agency Business Development is Relationship-Building in Action

Jumping on a plane at the first whiff of potential client interest in your agency is a quick way to waste time and money
by Todd Knutson  |   published on February 26, 2009

I had lunch the other day with a friend who's in charge of business development for an agency with a half-dozen locations across the country. She's a true expert in proactive business development, someone who can successfully bring a targeted prospect from no knowledge of her agency to new client, without a review.

She relayed the story of her new CEO's propensity to fly out to meet with any client who expresses any interest, however remote, in their agency. The expression she used to describe his behavior was off-color, to say the least (and very funny), but it drove home her point:

Successful proactive new business development is about developing relationships over time.

There are 4 easy to identify phases of the relationship-building process:

  1. Awareness
  2. Trust
  3. Value
  4. Decision

Many of the clients on your prospect list may not even know that your agency exists. In this phase it is up to you to let them know who you are, what you do, and why they should care. This phase takes time and can't be rushed (hence flying out to meet them now is pointless).


In this phase your prospective client is starting to believe what you say and what you can do. This might be demonstrated by simply calling them when you said you would, or providing testimonials on case studies.


Here you are showing that what you do generates ROI for your clients. This might be through relevant case studies or thought-pieces. You may also be successful by demonstrating that you are thinking about their business, asking them questions and bringing ideas to the table.


Naturally, agencies want to jump right to the decision phase. Sometimes it happens - you might call and be lucky enough to get into an RFP process. Even better, though, is when they have gotten to know you and have written the RFP with you in mind, or award you the work without a competitive review.

Think about these phases as you speak with your prospects. Recognize where you are in the process, where it makes sense to nurture the relationship by telephone, and when a face-to-face may move it forward. However, resist jumping on a plane too early - it will more than likely be a waste of time and money.

» Persistence Determines Successful Ad Agency New Business Development

CMO friends consistently tell me that new business people give up too early
by Todd Knutson  |   published on February 23, 2009

Here are the unofficial statistics they cite about agencies' proactive business development people:

  • 50% never follow up on the email or material they send
  • 25% follow up only once or twice by phone
  • 10% call 3-5 times
  • 5% call more than 5 times

This does not mean that CMOs want you to call more. However, they do understand the sales process, and recognize "good sales" when they experience it.

If you see yourself in the above statistics, you might think about it this way – you're giving up before you've really begun the sales process. As one CMO said to me, "I won't ever take someone's call unless they've called me at least 5 times." When I asked why, she responded by saying. "I want to know that they really want to work with my company, and that they're not just looking for low-hanging fruit...I am NOT low hanging fruit!"

I recommend you consider doing the following 3 things to quickly improve your persistence:

  • Follow up at least seven times: remember the marketing adage that it takes 5-7 impressions to make a first impression.
  • Do what you say you're going to do; or, Set and fulfill expectations: if you say you're going to call on the 23rd, call on the 23rd.
  • Use a CRM system (for example Act! or Salesforce) to record your notes and set next actions.

» 10 Steps to a New Business Plan

Make your plan, and then work your plan
by Todd Knutson  |   published on February 12, 2009

A former senior colleague of mine on the client side used to preach the old adage, "Make your plan, and then work your plan." It works. Applied to new business, it works really well.

I remember asking the president of a west coast ad agency to describe his new business plan. He hesitated, and then answered that he had hired a woman right out of college and given her a list to call. I waited. He started visibly squirming in his seat.

I gently pushed him over the edge with another question, "...and your plan is...?" He looked at me, grimaced, and shrugged, palms directed towards the ceiling.

Creating your new business plan doesn't have to be an arduous process - particularly if you don't have one now. It's far better to do something than nothing. And, to make it a living document, I highly recommend that it fit on a single piece of paper. Some of the details may need to be on a subsequent page (e.g. the details behind the goals, metrics, marketing plan), but all the top-line elements should fit.

Here's a 10-step process that may help:

  1. Pick the new business system that best matches your agency's size, culture, personnel, and objective.
  2. Identify the person who will drive the process (who is responsible and accountable).
  3. Evaluate your new business performance over the last 2 years: # meetings, # proposals and RFPs completed, # wins. Determine your ratios (e.g. meetings/proposals; RFP/win).
  4. Set realistic new business goals based on past performance, and then set stretch goals.
  5. Identify the top two things you want to improve about your past performance. Create an action plan for each item, with specific dates, metrics, and person(s) responsible to achieve them.
  6. Identify the top 3 categories you're going to pursue.
  7. Clearly define why your agency is relevant to each category - in one sentence for each. To help, answer this question: Why should the VP marketing at one of your target companies care that you exist? In other words, what problem can you solve for them?
  8. Create your marketing and sales plan, complete with specific dates, metrics (e.g. email open rates, calls made, conversations, meetings, proposals, etc.) and person(s) responsible to implement each aspect.
  9. Implement your plan. This means work it - do what you said you were going to do.
  10. Measure the results. Determine ways to improve. Implement those changes. Measure. Repeat.

As you can see, none of this is hard. It just takes commitment to your plan.

» List Rental vs. License for Ad Agency New Business Leads

Pay for single-use contacts or subscribe to a new business resource? Each has its purpose, pros and cons
by Todd Knutson  |   published on January 23, 2009

I had a conversation the other day about renting email lists. The focus of the conversation was how to get the lowest possible cost per contact. What the new business person hadn't thought-through was what they wanted to accomplish, and didn't understand their choices.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. So, think about what you want, and then this short post may help you better understand what each option provides.

List Rental

Quality: mass email lists are gathered from a variety of disparate sources and are designed to be rented over and over again; they are generally known for being of relatively low quality. Smaller lists may be more targeted and higher quality.

Quantity: large lists necessitate your renting many thousands of names to overcome quality issues in the hope of getting enough responses to justify the purchase; smaller lists are intended for smaller mailings and may yield a higher response rate.

Purpose: Single use – for email (or direct mail).

Response rate: If you can get a 1% response rate on email you're really doing well; .04% is common. At the latter rate, if you want 100 leads, you're going to need to rent a list with at least 25,000 names.

Cost: $400-$500 per thousand names, or $11,250 at $450 per 1000.

List License

You can subscribe annually to some services.

Quality: Really large list databases are gathered from a variety of disparate sources; smaller lists may be more targeted and higher quality.

Quantity: Due to the number of companies and people in a really large database (when you start talking about more than a hundred thousand or millions of companies) quality control is very difficult. Smaller lists should be of higher quality and targeted for a particular industry vertical, geographic region, or discipline/function (e.g. IT).

Purpose: Ongoing use as a new business resource, one-to-one prospecting through telephone, email, direct mail.

Response rate: Should be much better than lists rentals.

Cost: $3,500 and up, depending on quality and the number of users who will have access.

Once you identify which type of services suit your new business needs, then decide on your service provider.

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