New business programmes can be destabilising for agencies. Quite often new business programmes are put into action because a client has been lost, targets have not been hit and someone upstairs is not best pleased or perhaps it is your personal bank account that is getting upset and tired.
Agencies chose different methods to go about new business and this is where I believe many agencies make bad choices that will cost them money, time and destabilise their agency system.
A system in short is the relationship between all the parts of the agency and the written and un-written rules of the people in that culture that keep the agency working in the same way it always has done. What system thinkers would call homeostasis.
Systems often try to get back to homeostasis when they are altered, challenged or changed in some way. In short systems and the people in them often prefer to stay dysfunctional or not behaving optimally than change the system, similar to cognitive dissonance. We are all a bit dysfunctional, don’t you know.
I believe that some unlikely aspects of new business programmes are more destabilising than others. That doesn’t mean they shouldnt be done or they don’t work. It means that you need to go into them with your eyes open. If you are to employ someone to start prospecting for example by phone, DM and e-mail whilst dealing with incoming RFIs you need to be aware of a few things.
You are going to have to get a few things in line first – like your website, your blog, creds and so on. So you are most likely going to need some time from the creatives for example. Not to mention meeting after meeting talking about the agency positioning, elevator pitches and the like. I’ve seen this topic drag on for 2 years.
Then you may need a data base / CRM system and data, right? So thinking you will short cut the process by just employing one person is far from the truth. The system will be affected much more than that. And you can’t start the process until collateral etc are in place. However, many do start without it with the old ‘we’ll get you that stuff asap, just crack on’. If ever there was a set-up to failure that is it.
Then once your prospector / new business person is in place (that a few people in the agency had to take time out to find whether it was via a recruitment agency or a selection process of lead generation agency) and of course contracts had to be checked and altered by HR and POs raised with accounts and so. All this before we even start! The system is pulled in all directions and people have already began to neglect their duties to clients. Let’s hope it’s worthwhile aye!
The prospecting begins in earnest, working through the data base, sniffing out the mythical low hanging fruit and easy meeting takers. Status meetings are held to discuss what is and what isn’t working, taking more people away from their client duties and what have you.
Eventually meetings are set. And so the agency now needs to get time from the suits be it the new business director , CSD or MD to attend them, maybe two people go. Then when they return from said meetings they may then go into ‘we need a proposal or a presentation‘ mode, which then takes more time from creatives and or planners etc. Perhaps there is a standard one that can be rehashed to suit the purpose? That will work , won’t it?
And who knows eventually there is brief or a pitch. How much does a pitch cost and how many people in the system will get pulled in for that – and what if you are in dreaded columns C or D rather than A or B. Column A typically consists of the incumbent and the favoured agency – either a referral or the agency bought with the in-coming Marketing Director or the hot agency of the moment and they share a 85% win rate in my experience. So C & D share 15%, so 7.5% each – so a long shot at best. All that time and money pulling the system hither and tither to win 1 in 12 times. Can you face doing that 12 times?
Cold leads generated by e-mail and DM close roughly 1 in 12 although you’ll soon add up those hours and distractions. And as people get pulled out of their client roles to aid new business so client servicing attention can slip and the situation can get worse rather than better. So it doesn’t take long for people to want to return to old ways and drop the programme and return to homeostasis. “We’d rather have no new business than go through that regularly.” My point is not that you shouldn’t start – it is to take a long-term commitment to changing the system and making sure the system has enough slack in it to give the new business programme a chance.
So what new business programmes can be put in place that is less stabilising and has a higher chance of winning new clients. Well referrals of course.
If everyone in the system was trained to ask for referrals which close 50 – 85% of the time no big changes need take place. The system functions as normal just with people with more skills – i.e. knowing how to comfortably ask for referrals. In fact if anything the system improves because your ability to ask for referrals and receive them is dependent on doing good work. What is good work? Well of course we all know that but if we client service in an organised and systematic way we get to know what is and what isn’t according to the client.
Here is the article I wrote last year for the IPA on how agencies can client service their way to referrals and easier new business wins.
Then add to those the trained skills to win business without a pitch (that are getting noticeably more common these days) the system barely shudders to win a piece of new business. If you don’t have those skills which will help the agency deal with staying functional then you may end up losing to your competitors who do – while you are running around like a headless chicken wearing rose-tinted spectacles.