By Category: New Business Tools/Resources

» Hire Your Ad Agency’s Next New Business Person Without Meeting Them

Best predictor of job performance is a work sample
by Todd Knutson  |   published on August 05, 2009


Dan Heath and Chip Heath, authors of "Made to Stick" wrote a provocative article in the June issue of Fast Company. It challenges our basic premise about how to hire successful employees.They argue that the reality is that

Interviews are less predictive of job performance than work samples, job-knowledge tests, and peer ratings of past job performance.

As primary evidence, they report on an unplanned, fascinating experiment that started in 1979 at the University of Texas Medical School. The school interviewed the top 800 candidates, scoring each on a seven-point scale. They admitted the top 350. Then, unexpectedly, the Texas legislature required that they admit 50 more students. It was so late in the process that only the candidates with the lowest scores were available, and they were admitted with everyone else.

The expectation: those with the worst scores would end up at the bottom of the class.

The reality: There was absolutely no performance difference.

And then the graduates went on to their residencies, where their inferior capabilities in actual work in actual hospitals would be clear. Right? "Nope, didn't happen. Both groups performed equally well in the first year of residency." The entrance interviews "correlated with nothing other than the ability to interview."

So, you need to figure out whether or not your candidates can do the job - without interviewing them.

If you're hiring a proactive ad agency new business person, whose job it is to sell, then ask them to sell you something. Here's how you do it:

  • Set up a telephone interview.
  • Create two role practice scenarios (for more details on how to do role practice, read this post).
  • You'll be the marketer and your candidate will represent your agency.
  • Run through each scenario once, listening for the questions they ask you, their ability to engage you, their comfort level when you attempt to shut them down, etc.
  • Observe how well they understand your agency: are they a quick study, did they prepare well or wing it?

I've found this to be the easiest way to weed out new business candidates who claim skills that exceed their capabilities. And this is something you definitely want to know before you hire that smooth-talking interviewer.

» 10 Things MBA Schools Won’t Teach You About Managing Your Agency

Input from entrepreneurs on management, marketing and sales
by Todd Knutson  |   published on August 03, 2009


If your ad agency is new or entrepreneurial, you're in a start-up marketing services company, or you're a CEO, you'll relate to this list of 10 things MBA schools won't teach you and the follow-on comments from street-smart entrepreneurs.

This list was culled from two posts on

From the original post, "10 Things MBA Schools Won’t Teach You":

  • There are an infinite number of ways to spend money on marketing.  You have no idea what’s actually going to work.  The idea is to experiment broadly and learn lessons cheaply.  On a related note, no amount of MBA marketing classes will prepare you for the day that you have to produce leads in order to close sales.  As it turns out, marketing is about more than product feature matrices and the right shade of blue for your logo.
  • No amount of strategic planning will ever substitute for managing your cash flow.  Financial statements are great.  The most important one is your bank account statement.
  • There’s a lot of value to being likable.  Good things happen when people like you.  When people like you, bad things have less of a chance of being fatal.  I advise being likable. 

And from the follow-up post, "37 Pithy Insights from Street-Smart Entrepreneurs":

  • Infect employees with pride of ownership. If the employees feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, then they'll work that way.
  • Ritualize the work atmosphere -- every time a contract comes in, ring a bell or gong and let everyone celebrate. There's a reason Survivor has rituals.
  • Leave your ego at the door and hire people without big egos that can understand how to look at a problem and be open to solutions no matter where they come from.  Keep those people.
  • How are you continuing to invest in your customers and their experience after they have purchased your product? Value relates to the entire customer experience
  • Ultimately, the CEO's position is to simultaneously lead and serve others.
  • It is important that you like your customers. If you do not like your customers you will by design not do the best you can for them because they annoy you.
  • A big lesson for me was SALES. There's very little coursework in MBA curricula around how Sales works... Can be a rude awakening for freshly-minted MBAs who know all about Porter's Forces, and nothing about how the Sales mind, the Sales organization, and Sales processes work.

What are some of the lessons you've learned?

» New Business and the Art of Relaxation

How to you decompress and rejuvinate?
by Todd Knutson  |   published on July 30, 2009


As you read this I'll have just gotten off a beautiful kayaking river in Idaho. We planned this trip a year ago. With us are members of my wife's family and very close friends with great senses of humor. Part of the plan was going to a place where we were forced to completely unplug.

When you're in a canyon in the middle of nowhere, there's no other option.

Getting away from thinking about new business and business development is important - we all know it helps us relax and have fun so we can return with renewed focus and energy. The challenge is that it's so hard to get away for long enough to really gain the benefits of an extended break.

I recently finished Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals". It's the story of Abraham Lincoln's rise to the presidency and the cabinet of political rivals he created and adroitly managed.

It also reveals how one of our great presidents decompressed and relieved the stress of his job (remember, he was president during the Civil War). I discovered that Lincoln went to the theatre over 100 times during his presidency. Here's what was said about how the theatre helped him mentally relax and re-energize:

...driving his mind to other channels of thought, afforded him the most entire relief.

What do you do to take your mind completely off work? Where do you go? Have you found a way to do this in a couple of hours, as Lincoln did? I'd love to hear your ideas.

» New Business Skill: Identify What You Learned In Order to Improve

Continuous improvement is a competitive advantage; here's a 3-step process to do so
by Todd Knutson  |   published on July 13, 2009


Given the competitive nature of the ad agency and marketing services world, everyone involved in new business must continuously improve their processes and techniques in order to remain in the game.

Here's an easy 3-step way to achieve continuous improvement - what I call the "What Did We Learn" meeting. For optimal results, regularly and publicly review what you do, particularly at the end of a project or event - for example, after an outbound marketing campaign, first meeting with a prospect, or a pitch.


  1. What worked well.
  2. What didn't work well.
  3. What you learned and what you will do differently next time.

Areas you probably want to review include:

  • Cold-calling techniques
  • Outbound marketing
  • Inbound marketing
  • How you approach your first meeting with a prospect
  • Follow up from that first meeting
  • How you handle 2nd and 3rd meetings
  • Your pitch process

The key to the success of a 'what did we learn' meeting is the participation of everyone who was involved in the process or project.

The message this type of meeting sends to your firm is strong and clear:  we want everyone to learn and be a part of our growth and improvement. And that's a good goal, isn't it?



» New Business Skill Development: Convert More Meetings to Revenue

10 steps to win more new business from first meetings
by Todd Knutson  |   published on July 09, 2009


Too often ad agency principals and new business people approach their first meeting with a prospect as an opportunity to "show up and throw up". I've seen it happen repeatedly over the last ten years, with the result that a hard-won meeting is a bust, the opportunity lost. The good news is that a more successful approach is within reach.

All it takes is practice.

As I mention in my post on converting more calls to meetings (read it here), The key to improvement is practice, and the easiest way to do it is "role practice". I spoke to an agency new business person yesterday who, when we touched on role practice said, "So it's like practicing my Yoga positions!" I've never thought of it that way, but I've read that some Yoga practitioners claim perfection is illusive, which is a good description of a first meeting with a potential client.

Perfection may be hard to achieve, but you can dramatically improve your conversion to new business projects or accounts won if you practice.

Here's how to conduct a first meeting role practice:

  1. Set up a one-hour meeting twice a week for three weeks to improve your skills, and then at least twice before each first meeting.
  2. Conduct the practice session in person, in an office environment similar to what you"ll encounter meeting a prospect.
  3. Ideally, you should have three participants, each of whom regularly attends first meetings. During practice, one person will be the prospective client, another will represent the agency, and a third will be an "observer" (this is a key role).
  4. During each role practice session, the participants trade roles, each playing each role once.
  5. As the new business person, identify questions you want to ask your prospective client. Focus on questions that will engage them, build rapport, and help you learn about their company. This is not a time for you to present your credentials! It is about you identifying opportunities for your agency.
  6. As the prospective client, identify who you are before you begin (e.g. VP Marketing for 3M), and then play the role that's been assigned to you. Be sure to vary your degree of "toughness". For example, sometimes be nice and let the agency representative engage you in open, comfortable dialog; other times, be more elusive. Your goal is to replicate the type of marketers you've encountered, making the practice session as real as possible.
  7. Initiate each practice session. I like to have the agency representative enter the office just as they would a prospective client's, shake hands, and begin.
  8. The practice conversation should last about 15 minutes, and then you should switch roles.
  9. After each 15-minute role practice, the person in the new business role should critique their own performance, the prospective client should critique the new business person, and then the observer should critique both. Focus your critique on what was done well (e.g. How the agency representative quickly established rapport and chemistry), and where they can improve (e.g. What questions should have been asked, but weren't).
  10. The observer is in the best position to critique the overall dialogue, to push the agency and prospect players to try new approaches, to suggest different types of questions, and to point out where the new business person missed key details due to not listening carefully. Improving your listening skills is the fastest way to improve your win ratio.

If you think about it, six hours isn't much time to dedicate to practice, but it's enough to bring your skills up a level. And, if you're disciplined and practice before every first meeting, you'll both get in your prospect's head (remember you'll each play the prospect during practice), and identify really good questions to ask.

As always, let me know if you have questions or other ideas about how to improve your first meetings.

» New Business Skill: Convert More Calls to Meetings

Role practice will dramatically improve your results
by Todd Knutson  |   published on July 08, 2009


Listen to a gifted proactive new business person: their ability to engage a prospect on the phone and move the conversation forward will appear effortless. What you won't see are the hours and hours of frustration, mistakes, trial and error that made them successful.

If you are an ad agency or marketing services new business person whose job it is to set up prospect meetings by phone, and you want to improve your skills, this post can help you improve your telephone skills. You can't eliminate the hours of frustration you'll experience, but you can reduce them.

One of my favorite sayings is,

It's better to practice with a co-worker than make mistakes on the phone with a prospect.

The key to improvement is practice, and the easiest way to do it is "role practice". The idea is that you practice the skill - daily - the same way an athlete does drills over and over again to master a particular technique.

Role practice is easy, it just requires two people who are interested in improving their skills. If you can't find another person inside your agency, you might ask a colleague at a non-competitive firm.

Here's how to conduct telephone role practice:

  • Set up a 20-minute meeting 3-5 days a week.
  • Conduct the practice session over the phone or in person. If you do it in person, I strongly encourage you not to face each other. You want to simulate an actual telephone conversation. Learning to "see" the other person through the phone is an important skill; sitting face-to-face eliminates that learning opportunity.
  • During each role practice session, the participants trade roles as the new business person and prospective client.
  • As the new business person, identify scenarios that are tough for you - for example, engaging the prospect when they first answer the phone, or talking about your firm's social media capability, or trying to get a toe-hold in a new category. You want your telephone partner to play those tough roles so you can practice.
  • As the prospective client, identify who you are (e.g. brand manager for Tide detergent), and then play the role that's been assigned to you. Be sure to vary your degree of "toughness". For example, sometimes be nice and let your practice-partner easily engage you; other times, make it much more difficult.
  • Initiate each call - I like to kick it off with "ring, ring" to represent the phone ringing, and then the "client" answers and the call begins.
  • Each person should practice for 10 minutes and then switch roles (new business person becomes the marketer and vice versa).
  • After each 10-minute role practice, the person in the new business role should critique their own performance, and then the person playing the prospective client should critique the new business person. Focus on both what the new business person did well (e.g. specific questions they asked to create rapport), or where they slipped up (e.g. not listening carefully enough to a potential pain that the marketer revealed, and not asking more questions about it).

Every person I've seen who has practiced this way, who does it with a desire to improve, has shown a dramatic increase in their telephone skills.

If you have questions as you do your own role practice please reach out to me. If you have another way that you practice that has worked for you, I'd love to hear about it.

» 4 Steps To Never Forget to Call Your New Business Prospect

Use a CRM system for new business advantage
by Todd Knutson  |   published on July 07, 2009

imageA sales guy from a well known payroll services company has been calling me on and off for months, trying to get me interested in their service, even though we're very satisfied with our current provider. I've been successfully 'missing' his calls when I've been in the office, so he's been leaving me voicemails. Three weeks ago I mistakenly answered and he got the live person he's been hoping for.

Once on the call, he did a good job of asking open-ended questions to engage me. If I have time, I actually enjoy listening to the types of questions sales people ask, while evaluating how successfully they guide me through their sales process.

In this particular case I didn't, so I cut the conversation short. However, I threw him a bone and offered to speak with him the following week. I waited to see if he would offer a specific date or time for our next call, but he didn't. This was a big error on his part (to read more about the importance of doing so, you might like this post).

Amazingly, I haven't heard from him since.

I suspect that he committed an incredibly common mistake, one made by every salesperson: he forgot to enter the call into his CRM system and schedule his next call. The thing is, it's very easy to forget! You get off a call, good or bad, you get distracted by an incoming call or you start checking your emails, and you don't make the notes and set up the reminder that you know you should.

Here's the four-step plan to never forget to call when promised:

  1. When you're on the phone with your prospect or client, always specify a date and time for your next call.
  2. Immediately after you hang up the phone, enter your call notes and set up your next call in your CRM system.
  3. Don't check your email until you've done so.
  4. If someone calls you before you've entered your information, either ask them to wait a moment while you do so, or come up with a hand-written system that allows you to jot down notes very quickly. By all means, enter all notes and next steps before you leave for the day. If you wait to do so until tomorrow, you'll forget important information.

It takes rigid discipline to do this everyday.However, if you do so, you'll find that:

  • The quality of information you have at your finger tips will improve;
  • You'll impress your prospects with your professionalism (and your memory); and,
  • You'll develop a reputation for always doing what you promise to do.

» Sometimes Even Ad Agency New Business Needs a Vacation

Recent survey reveals the stress associated with trying to take a vacation
by Todd Knutson  |   published on June 24, 2009

With many agencies having trimmed staff, and the pressure to win new business extreme, it's hard to even think about taking time off. Yet, we all need to recharge our batteries and in stressful times it's even more important to do so.

But then there's the additional challenge of trying to look forward to taking time off, while dreading the process of leaving and returning to work. If you feel this, join the club - you share the stress with most of your coworkers.

Since summer is upon us, I decided to look for a survey that sheds some light on this issue, and found one released in March by the staffing company Ranstad (click here to see it). A few highlights of what stresses us out the most...

  • The last day in the office: 46% of Gen X and 44% of Gen Y workers state this is the hard part of taking a break.
  • The first day back: 84% of both Gen X and Mature workers find this the stressful day; 74% of Gen Y feel the same. And, women feel it more: 80% versus 74% for men.
  • Giving up control in order to go: Interestingly, Gen Y find it the toughest to give up control, with 35% having a hard time, versus only 19% for Mature workers.

The report then looked at how workers prepare their boss or co-workers for their being away. Roughly 50% of workers meet in person to get everyone ready, with 64% of Gen Y preferring this method of communication. While 43% communicate what needs to be done via email, there's a lot of variation: 54% of Gen Y use email compared to 28% for Mature workers. And while 55% of workers provide a contact number where they can be reached, 64% of Mature do so.

The study confirms the stress we all feel, and recommends a few tactics to help alleviate it. Here are four:

  1. Get a Head Start – go through your email inbox the day before you return to the office. After deleting the junk mail, scan for emails addressed to you from your boss and clients, assigning priority for follow-up upon your return to the office. This will create a more focused environment once you arrive to work the next morning.
  2. Ask for a Status Update – if you work on a team or have staff that reports into you, ask someone to send you an email updating you on your projects. By doing this before you get into the office, you’ll have a head-start on your first-day priorities.
  3. Be an Early Bird – arrive before normal office hours to ensure you get some quiet time to prioritize your to-do list and review and return voicemail messages. Once co-workers begin arriving, chances are you’re more likely to engage in conversation and be met with distractions.
  4. Take Your Boss To Lunch – taking your boss to lunch on your first day back gives you time to catch up on projects and discuss important matters in a one-on-one atmosphere.

So, while your new business efforts need to take a vacation sometime this summer, know that others share the stress you feel both leaving and returning. Hopefully, one or more of these tactics will help make the transition easier (for what it's worth, over the years I've found #1 and #3 to be very effective).


» Call Sheet to Improve your Ad Agency’s Proactive New Business Program

Tracking what you do is the best way to determine how to improve your prospecting
by Todd Knutson  |   published on March 10, 2009

Here is a very simple call sheet, which you can reproduce on a single sheet of paper and use to track the effectiveness of your outbound prospecting efforts. Using this form let's you see at a glance whether you're hitting your daily goals. I know new business people who track their calls this way, whether or not they have a CRM system.

  Attempts Voice Mails Conversations Meetings Set

Use this as follows:

  1. Set weekly goals for yourself: number of attempts (dials) and conversations.
  2. Record each call with a hash-mark. If you leave a voicemail or have a conversation, check that in addition to your attempt.
  3. Daily: don't leave until you hit your daily goals.
  4. Weekly & Monthly: calculate the following ratios:
    • Attempts / Goal
    • Conversations / Goal
    • Voicemails / Attempts
    • Conversations / Attempt
    • Total Attempts / Total Goal
    • Total Conversations / Total Goal
    • Meetings / Conversations
  5. Interpret your results:
    • Attempts and Conversations / Goal: what % of goal are you achieving? How does this change over time?
    • Voicemails/Attempts: what % of the time do you leave a voicemail? If your rate is greater than 25%, you are leaving too many.
    • Conversations / Attempt: how often do you get your prospect on the phone? If you’re great the phone and leave terrific voicemails your “connect rate” will go up. If you’re in the single digits you need to work on your technique.
    • Total Attempts /Goal: are you achieving what you set out to do during the week/month? If so, great! If not, what are you going to do differently next month to catch up?
    • Total Conversations / Goal: This is all about technique – improve your telephone skills and your number of conversations will go up.
    • Meetings / Conversations: what % of your conversations result in meetings set? The higher your rate, the fewer calls you’re going to need to make.

Your metrics (in this case totals and ratios) are essential to building your sales funnel. You'll find that the more metrics you track, the better able you'll be to forecast your new business pipeline.

» Information Providers to Drive your Ad Agency New Business Machine

Agencies can be good at new business without being an expert at every part of the process
by Todd Knutson  |   published on January 29, 2009

Consider this rough list of the many pieces of an effective new business program:

  • Clear understanding of your agency's strengths and weakness
  • Account service managers who generate organic growth
  • A true agency sales person
  • Agency positioning
  • Existing and new industry categories
  • Specific companies and contacts to pursue on a prospect list
  • Collateral materials (on-hand): HTML and text emails, creative work, case studies, testimonials, website(s), blog(s), etc.
  • Written list of smart questions - to ask prospects at every step of the process
  • CRM program
  • First meeting person/team
  • Pitch team (one team, who all like each other)
  • Research
  • Appointment setting
  • Presentation skills
  • Researching and writing RFPs
  • New business strategy
  • Inbound marketing - get found by clients

If nothing else, the list of everything that an agency needs to be good at to generate new business is daunting. And this isn't even supposed to be an agency's core competency!

So, it's not surprising that few agencies are good at all of these, and why many get help with different pieces.

Just the way an agency might bring in a freelancer to help prepare creative for a pitch, many of the above can be outsourced.

Here are some companies that can provide help with different parts of the process (full disclosure: * indicates I have a business relationship with the company).

Prospect Lists

The List* - marketing
Hoovers – C-level

Lead Generation, Appointment Setting

Catapult New Business*


The List*

Strategy, Positioning

Ingition Consulting

Organic Growth

Ignition Consulting


Louws Management

Presentation Skills

Louws Management

Inbound Marketing

Michael Gass – social media
Marketing Mine*

Competitive Research

Adforum – new creative
The List – client/agency relationships, media spending



I'm sure there are other resources that you like - let me know and I'll include them in this list.

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