Premature Presentation: The Ad Agency New Business Affliction

You may have it if your new business revenue is falling short of expectations
by Todd Knutson


I was doing some role practice recently and observed the following: the new business person asked a few good questions and then, thinking he'd identified the need he could satisfy, switched into presentation mode. The problem was, while he had one need, it was a soft need - not one that was going to win him any business.

Think of asking questions and identifying needs as building a stool: you need at least three legs to make it stable; four will make it rock solid.

If you ask too few questions and go into presentation mode without 3 needs in hand, you'll suffer from Premature Presentation - and will be unlikely to win the business.

When you ask a question, you need to be prepared to ask at least three follow up questions, drilling down each time to identify the ultimate need or issue.

By way of an example, I'll explain what was going on in my role practice. I was playing an agency principal and the new business person was trying to sell me a subscription to The List. I explained that we (as the agency) would never invest in a resource like that, hoping to quickly get him off the phone. He asked why that was the case and I explained that we generate business from referrals and that I didn't have time to make outbound calls or do any marketing. He jumped on that and presented why using The List would save lots of time. While that was very compelling, it wasn't enough.

Here's what he should have asked:

  1. Given what's going on with the recession, tell me about the referrals you've generated this year? To that I might have responded that they were down from normal years, but still coming in.
  2. How many have you had so far this year? That would force me to come up with a more truthful answer, so let's say the answer is three.
  3. How many wins do you need every six months to keep up with clients you lose? Hmmm. I might say, at least two.
  4. And can you generate two pieces of business from every three referrals? Nope. If we can close 40% we're doing well.

The sales person now has one need: generate more referrals. But, that's only one leg of the stool!  He now needs to start a new series of questions, perhaps coming back to my available time and unwillingness to do any marketing, in order to figure out what other needs are out there.

As you can see, the idea is to identify a series of needs that you can discuss in order to show how your agency can satisfy them. If you have three, even if one gets knocked out during the the process, you'll have two others to offer solutions for, and the odds you'll win will measurably increase.

Just be sure not to jump to presentation mode too early....

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