You need an edge in new business.

edgeThis is a response to an article I recently read in PR Week – see here

My point is you’ll never understand selling unless you understand buying.  How people buy (creative  services) is where you should take the majority of your learning from to develop a new business strategy. It is most likely what you do for you clients in many ways.

How do marketers buy PR services ?  Well if you work for a PR agency (or any creative agency) simply have a look at how you got most of your clients?  I have done this evaluation for agencies and everyone has told me that 7o% to 90% of their clients come from referrals.  So if that is how you get work that is how they must be buying work – QED.

What happens in my experience is that the client side marketers sit around a table, have a bit of a moan and a dig and  decide it is time to get a new agency.  In fact until they have all decided to change, things will start the same. Of course it should never have come to this if you were client servicing effectively.

Then they have to decide who to talk with.  This is where the top marketer may have someone in mind already – be it from a referral or the agency that is of the moment.  Or they might go and ask another trusted marketer for a referral.

Then to supplement the list other team members will go and SEO for ‘PR agency with food experience’  take the odd cold call that week or look in their inbox for a new business e-mail from an agency.

Now they have a list.  You have to have a list, right? What would procurement say otherwise. The main reason why a prospect approaches you and this may sound harsh is so you can be column fodder. That is what the stats say isn’t it?  Most of the time (70%+) you lose to the referred agency. So if you’re not the referred agency guess what?

So who do you think will win in the above scenario?  Just on that limited information who is getting this gig? No understanding of BANTS  (budget, authority, needs or timings) all still important mind. But who is going to get this win?  Kind of obvious isn’t it? The referred agency.

You’d have never come to that realisation unless you looked at it from the buyers angle. And you never get this in post pitch feed back either.  It is not like they’ll say – ” er, well we went with the referred agency you stood no chance, it is all about trust you see.” They give you the old “it was close but strategically etc…” yawn, yawn,

That is why it is so important that people who work in agencies are trained to be comfortable at  asking for referrals at all levels.  Because once you have a referral there is someone on the inside doing the selling for you.  And people buy people they trust. And if that  person is high enough up they will say things like  – “I trust them because they work for John who I have known for years and they’ve done amazing things for him.” That trust has transferred from them to the agency.  Where as when you say it, you just look like an exaggerating sales person.

In new business today you need every edge you can get. I do apologise for the corny picture, sometimes it has to be done.

Posted in Mistakes in referral marketing, myth busts, new business agency, Referral Marketing, Sales, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Are people musturbating in your agency? You’ll go blind.

abcdeAlbert Ellis the world-famous psychologist coined the phrase ‘musturbation’. And I reckon many agency people are regularly doing just that at their desks today.

Musturbation causes myopia and in severe cases blindness although it can be cured.

Musturbation, according to Ellis is the cause of anxiety and stress in general as well as other nasty mental infliction humans give to themselves. Ellis is crystal clear, you cause your disturbances, so maybe you should consider un-doing them.

So what is musturbation?  In short it is an irrational belief.  A belief that things ‘must’ go your way and if they don’t it’s an utter catastrophe.  So if you are saying I must, I must… or they must, they must… then you are musturbating. Dirty! Very Dirty! (We must win this pitch, anyone ever said that?)

And if it stresses you out you’re a serial musturbator and as Ellis states that is “unethical, for when you allow yourself to become emotionally disturbed you are being unfair or unjust – to yourself.”

Musturbation leads in modern working life to stress, giving-upitis and procrastination.  The sequence according to Ellis style thinking runs a little like this.  I must not humiliate myself, I mustn’t ever be embarrassed,  I must be liked,  I must do well, I must win this or that, I must not make mistakes, I must not make a fool of myself, I must not lose.  Get it?

When this sort of pressure is piled on a few things may happen.  The person may not start on the task at hand at all or constantly avoid it or delegate it out to a scape goat.  The potential failure is way too much to handle for the musturbator. (This would never happen in an agency would it?)

When people musturbate a failing experience becomes personal rather than just an event not going your way. Life, right? You failed doesn’t mean you are a failure.  There are lots of factors and many many of them external to you.

The other thing that happens mentally to aid procrastination is that people over ‘awfulize’.

So they believe if something goes wrong it will be a catastrophe rather than just bad.  This is the distinction that Ellis was keen to talk with people about. He invented a form of therapy called RET (Rational Emotional Therapy), which is now superseded by CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy).

He believed that an activated event (A) would lead to one having beliefs, both rational and irrational about that event (B) and there would then be (C) consequence.  To overcome these belief you have to (D) dispute those beliefs that were irrational and then arrive at (E) an effective rational philosophy.  He believed it wasn’t (A) that caused (C) but (B) your beliefs about the event. (see diagram at the top of this post)

Ellis believed that if we were more rational and honest with ourselves and others we could live more fulfilling lives.  If instead of saying we ‘must’, replace with ‘we’d like to’ or even ‘really, really, really like to’.

Or ‘we’d prefer something went our way’ or ‘prefer something didn’t happen’. But consider it may.  Shit happens right. Life is like that.  Life can be a hassle. But it’s not the end of the world and it’s not a catastrophe. A sense of perspective is required.

Ellis used to get his clients to think and talk about the absolute worse thing that could happen to them. Then he’d ask them to rationally talk about how their lives could in fact go on and still be fulfilling and fun.

His clients had been over catastrophising the event(s) due to musturbation. Things must not got bad for me, as if they’re at the centre of the universe.  Ellis hated this self obsession. “Who says you are important?” …”Who says things can’t go wrong for you?”…”Why must people like you?”…”Where does it say people must accept you?”…”Who told you that life was easy, where is that written, prove it to me?”

He’d ask – “Where is your evidence for these mighty claims.’ Or he’d ask,  “Show me the rules of the universe.”  Isn’t it more rational to say you’d like people to like you or you’d prefer things not to go belly up?  It’d be nice if my dreams come true and so on. And what if they don’t? Can’t you start again?  So what if you lost some money or someone said something horrid behind your back or cheated you in some way.  How bad is it really? Bad, right. Annoying. But not a disaster.

All humans are fallible so things will go wrong, you might not like it and it is maybe upsetting, in fact it should be.  But it’s not the end of the world and you probably learned something from the experience too.  You don’t control the universe.  In fact you can’t control much at all but you can control (change) your own thoughts and therefore your beliefs.

Your thoughts and beliefs will determine how you feel.  Ellis wanted people to be more rational about how they viewed the annoying events in their lives. And realised other people can be right arseholes but hey ho, they are allowed to be. In fact we all are arseholes sometimes.  The problem is one may believe they must not be or how dare they and get over emotional i.e. rage, stressed, I can’t go on, depressed etc.

Ellis would get his clients to deliberately humiliate themselves to show them it wasn’t so bad…..go do a public speech and feel the failure, mess it up see what happens.  Not much in fact.  Go talk with people you are scared of, see what happens, you get the idea.

So what has this got to do with agencies?

Firstly, if my ears don’t deceive me agency’s clients can sometimes be a little, how can I put this carefully ….annoying, irritating, badly organised, pressuring and so on.  Agency people  get stressed about this – i.e. by thinking they must not be like this – how dare they, they must respect me more, they should or must respect my time too, they must not be on my case all the time and so on…that is musturbation.  Has anyone banged these ones out in your office? Or in the bar after work?

Another one that I cum (couldn’t resist) across is we must win this pitch.  Like failure isn’t even an option.  When really they could say, “We’d love to win, we hope we win it, we will do our best to win it, why not.”  But we must….there in is musturbation.

What about when prospects ask, “Why should we work with you?”.Well Ellis points out that ‘should’ is the cousin of ‘must’.  Well they don’t have to do they? How many agencies are there? Thousands, right? Why should they?

However,  I expect by now many new business people are banging on about creativity being equally important as strategy here in our integrated agency blah, blah, blah…..
In fact that isn’t rational is it? What is the truthful answer to that question?

When we get that question shouldn’t we answer  – “Maybe you should and maybe you shouldn’t, what is it you are looking for?” or “Good question – How are you going to know if our agency is a good fit for you or not?”  Isn’t that what we could be saying back?  Wouldn’t it be better to have rational adult to adult conversation with prospects?  A great way to differentiate yourself is the truth. Remember that thing the truth? Truth sells you know.

What about when clients or prospects ask us about ROI or potential future changes in sales.  A tricky one right? So what’s the truth?  Well the truth is what has your agency done in the past.

If you are like most (fallible) agencies you have done really well with some campaigns and you have fucked up too. Truth. Painful truth. Truth – nevertheless.

So tell them that you have smashed it out of the park for this brand and that brand although that doesn’t mean things always go our way, there have been times when thing weren’t always that smooth.  Truth. Rational.

What is a prospect more likely to believe, an agency that always says they over achieve or an agency that has done good work and sometimes shit happens (truth)?  This will also help you avoid taking on

a client that expects miracles.  Miracles that you promised.  So now you both believe that something or some result must happen. Mutual musturbation.  I am sure that never happened in your agency.

Look for your irrational beliefs in your head and that the agency you work for holds.  Look for words like must and should in your thought.  Then dispute them mentally or write them down.  Why must we, why should they? Where is the evidence?

Look for clients and prospects asking you for irrational requests. Then either understand they are being irrational and they are allowed to be because people are fallible and don’t get upset because of it. Or if you are brave enough rationally discuss with them about the situation / request. You might find yourself telling the God’s honest truth, with answers like “I don’t know” or “Nobody really knows.”

Agency life maybe much happier if we were more rational about what may or may not happen, even if we work hard.  Cracks appear when management musturbate and employees eventually join in the charade. If we don’t stop this filth we’ll get no work done at all.

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How comes this never happens when you go see a doctor. And yet agencies….

Dr. – Do come in and take a seat?

Patient – Thanks

Dr. – So how can I help you today?

Patient – Well I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about yourself and how you might be able to help me?

Dr. – Well what seems to be the problem?

Patient – Oh, no problem at all – I just like to meet doctors to see what is in the market place and I liked your website.

Dr. – Er, okay well I have been a GP for over 10 years and I offer a full examination service.

Patient – Interesting very similar to my current one and who have you worked for?

Dr. – Loads of people mainly old people I guess but some young patients too

Patient – Who was your favourite patient?

Dr. – Errm well I once saved a child’s life

Patient – Wow – How

Dr – Well they’d been misdiagnosed in the past and I rightly diagnosed and  then rushed them to hospital and they survived.

Patient – Have you got a case study on that?

Dr – No I haven’t. But…

Patient – Well I need one really, can you get it to me by the end of the week.

Dr. – Yes okay would you like it on power point.

Patient – Sure.

Dr. – Any other questions?

Patient – Yes can you include your prescription prices, opening hours, terms and conditions too.

Dr. – Sure – and once I have done all that will you get back to me.

Patient – Maybe I am very busy –  just leave it with me is probably best.

Dr. – Lovely to meet you have a nice day.

Dr. to receptionist – I think I have a new client we got on so well. Can you make me up a presentation please, but first call a meeting with the rest of the staff I’d like to discuss some ideas for it.




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The 9 most populars arguments for setting KPIs deconstructed

comic1This is an updated blog post from June 2013.  I love it so much for its clarity. I thought it well worth an update for 2015.

I actually have a really fond memory of meeting an MD in 2013 and she said to me that a person she met the day before quoted this blog article about cheating and targets. She picked them up on it as being from this blog.  Made my day that. Small things eh.

Anyway this post is from the utterly brilliant blog System Thinking for Girls and not me, she seems to have gone AWOL in 2015.

It deconstructs beautifully the arguments that some use to say target setting works.

System thinkers are adamant that targets make performance worse not better. Please re read that. Worse not better.

It’s written by an anonymous person. Below is how she describes herself on her blog. And by the way she tags her blog Britain’s funniest blog on system thinking. And I think it is.  Well done you Ms Anon.

I think it helps to have a sense of humour when you start to examine Systems Thinking.  Mainly because it draws on the irrationality of management and organisation structures.

System thinking drives you bonkers for a while.  It seems akin to taking the red pill in the Matrix but really it is just a lesson in critical thinking which there is way too little of today, especially in management.

If you are in middle management and  you are brave enough you may allow yourself to admit that you may be causing problems by the way you manage people in your agency or the way you’re managed.

You may be acting on people rather than the system.  The bold claim by system thinkers (like William Deming) is that management should be acting on the system (the way the work is done) 95% of the time and only 5% on the employees. All employees want is the chance to do a ‘good’ job. Managements rules and targets rob them of the chance to do this.

“People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.” W. Edwards Deming

Just look here at how expensive lead generation gets. Lead generation is notorious for setting targets that must be hit on pain’s of death,

About our guest blogger…

I’m a feminist and an amateur systems thinker – officially the two best world views.

I worked in local government for several years, read John Seddon’s Systems Thinking in the Public Sector’ and this changed the way I thought about work.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people. I recommend ‘The Myth of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus‘ and ‘The Gender Delusion’. Both authors demolish the ‘science’ that reinforces gender stereotypes.

I’m also inspired by Dan Pink’s work on motivation (my insert here – remember this doing the rounds in 2013 – everyone lapped it up –  have you changed your agency accordingly – have you altered the way you use targets and monetary rewards?) and Seth Godin’s blog on marketing.

I have strong views on organisations and stereotypes. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say boo to a goose.


Why I love the post below is that although I expect it is aimed at the Public Sector it is my belief similar issues exist in new business departments and board rooms of creative agencies and between agencies and their clients.

Agencies set targets for sales, profit, meetings, briefs and pitches for examples as standard.  Although today they may add in likes, RTs, opes, CTR, views and so on. All which  lead to cheating, arguing, stress, wonky pipe-line reports, politics,  lack of quality control and ultimate under performing, oh the irony.

And then  agencies with their clients (especially in social media) set targets for sales, market share, likes, hits, views, follows, reach,  interactions, up-loads, engagement, thumbs ups, klouts and so on.   None of these measures could be cheated could they? See Ben Kay’s blog post on Santiago Swallow.

Targets could and should be replaced with purpose and principles more on that here.

Guest blog starts here…Take the red pill

Okay, so we know targets are bad

Hundreds of researchers, academicsbloggerspsychologists, managers, more bloggers, statisticians  authors have written about the damage caused by targets. It isn’t an abstract problem, targets can kill. But politicians, civil servants, managers, HR people, consultants and pundits all over the world think they know better.

People continue to argue targets have their place.

What are their arguments?

The 9 Most popular arguments deconstructed

Arguments used by your Nanna

This is what anyone would say – your mum, dad, aunties, uncles, people down the pub, journalists, politicians, think tank people and civil servants.

1. It’s common sense

Setting targets is common sense. But, as Julian Baggini says in this book on bad arguments, appealing to common sense is a sort of exasperation, something seems so obviously true to us that we don’t think it is worth explaining why. It’s just lazy. Invoking common sense is really a shorthand way of saying we think something is obviously true or false. It is misleading because it implies a universal standard of rationality. Saying it is just common sense is a way of shifting responsibility for having to explain why we think what we do onto some mythical judge of ordinary reason. And yet we know that science repeatedly confounds common sense.

2. I don’t believe it

Some people just don’t believe that targets always make performance worse. This argument basically says that because you can’t imagine something is true, it isn’t. As Julian Baggini says, someone’s inability to imagine that something is or is not the case, is not in itself a reason to think it is or not the case. Some true things are simply unimaginable.

The fact that we have strong convictions does not mean that something is true. When you are confronted by the belief argument, you should give up. You can only counter this argument by allowing the other person to see and experience the effects of targets.

3. Yes, but you have to strike a balance

You have to strike a balance between having too many targets and no targets at all. A happy medium. People love to be reasonable. Striking a balance makes the person who is attempting to strike it appear a reasonable sort of person. Who wants to be unbalanced? After you have looked at the pros and cons and understood the competing arguments, you should balance them out, yes?

But when someone strikes a balance, they rarely say what balance has to be struck and why. Instead, they throw this phrase in as the final justification. It allows someone to come into a discussion and own new midway territory between two competing positions.

Talk of balance can be reassuring when actually, what is needed is a radical rebalancing of priorities. No balancing is required when the scales come down firmly on one side. In short, striking a balance is woolly and platitudinous, neither ideal when you are dealing with a statistical reality. Fewer targets, just like a little bit of ham for a vegetarian, is still the wrong thing to do.

Arguments used by experts

These arguments are made by the people who reckon they know something; the HR people, managers, consultants, management journalists, performance management officers and the armchair pundits. I’ve paraphrased the list below from this book.

4. Targets motivate people

Correct, they do, but they motivate people only to meet the target, not achieve the purpose. The target becomes the de facto purpose, regardless of the consequences for the rest of the system.

5. Targets make people accountable

Yes, they do, but for meeting the target and for doing whatever is within their means to meet it or be seen to meet it,  including cheating and lying. 

6. The alternative is ambiguity and fudge

Systems thinkers know that using real measures to understand whether purpose has been achieved is anything but ambiguity and fudge. It is the height of clarity and utility. Imposing targets on people will encourage the fudging of results and increase ambiguity because no one has a clue what is really going on.

7. Targets enable comparison

Yes, if  comparing one lot of lies against another floats your boat.

8. The alternative is anarchy

No, replacing targets with measures allows much better control. Performance becomes visible to everyone. There is nowhere for people to hide. Anarchy exists with an absence of authority. If you use measures that relate to purpose, the new authority becomes the customer and what matters to them. The individual worker is freer, yes, but freer to use their ingenuity to solve problems instead of to cheat the system.

9. Targets are okay if you do them right

Impossible. All numerical targets in hierarchies, without exception, cause jiggery pokery, make liars and pretenders out of good people, tell you nothing about reality, waste money, make staff  focus on the wrong things and give the customer a properly bad service.  No human has yet discovered a way to set a numerical target in a hierarchy that improves performance. See Chapter 7, ‘An Irrational Belief in Targets’ of this book for more on why the common methods used by managers to set targets are all flawed and will lead to poor performance. If you are going to set a target, you might as well use my random target generator. It would be exactly as scientific.

Ring any bells my new business friends – do you ever cheat to keep management happy?  Ever bigged up that short-term lead to make the status report look more robust and in-line with expectations??  Ever shoved your way on to a pitch to get a bonus or hit a target?  Ever booked a meeting that didn’t really exist to bump the numbers up?  Ever dialled the phone so you looked like you were calling another prospect when really you weren’t?

Ever hit a proxy target and still been fired? I have.

Conversely, I have made an agency money and been fired because of not hitting the proxy KPIs set by mod management – figure that out.  “We were impressed by the amount of new business you bought in but we (middle management) thought you should have been hitting our proxy KPIs too – so on that basis you’re fired.”  They went on to hire an agency that could hit their proxys but not win a new piece of business for toffee.

Is that what the new business role is today to cheat? Of course not.  If you didn’t have to cheat couldn’t you be more innovative in how you went about generating opportunities? Couldn’t you save your agency time and money by qualifying leads better rather than hitting targets? Sure you could.

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Would you read this book? KYO New Business Development

imagesI am writing a book on new business development.  In fact it’s written.  A printed copy is sat next to me right now. Staring at me, covered in red ink.  How did that happen? Nobody told me editing would be so much fun.

I need some advice on the introduction which is below.  Apparently the introduction is important – all these bloody rules. So I need to ask would you read the book from this?  Do you read books on new business / sales anyway?  Why bother eh?

Or perhaps there is something you think the book must cover.  Perhaps you know the real secrets to business development. Any feed-back most welcome.   I’m mickey mouse – all ears.

Know Your Onions – New Business Development


Have some of your new business leads taken you on a wild goose chase? Ever been guilty of wearing rose-tinted spectacles, chasing the ‘glittery’ made to measure prospect and yet you didn’t win the  business? Ever felt like a headless chicken, or that you were chasing your own tail with new business?  You’re not alone that’s for sure.

Do you fancy stepping off the hamster wheel? That’s the aim of this book. I hope to provide you with plenty of evidence for doing new business in a different way.  Far, far away from metaphors containing animals.

This book is aimed at helping independent creative agencies bring in new clients and growing current ones.   There is some intellectual scaffolding I need to put up to show you where I am coming from. So later when I  show you some counter intuitive thinking later on it makes sense.

I have met many owners of creative agencies who have become frustrated with how they approach new business. Hiring and firing new business managers and  lead generators over and over and going round in circles trying all forms of PR and marketing to generate qualified leads.

The book takes some learnings from particle physics, obviously, the trend for gourmet burgers, of course, Aristotle, how couldn’t it, and poker players, pretty standard –  but one thing it definitely is not and that’s rocket science. But you will need some moxie (balls) to do what I am suggesting.

I have made my advice as practical as I can without being sat next to you like when I train people. It is step by step at times and maybe, just maybe, I should have allowed the reader to  be more deductive like Sherlock Holmes (who also pops up through the book) but I didn’t want to mislead anyone. So forgive me when I spell it out for the fifth time.

One of the key premises of this  book is that new business development  in parts is like poker.  Poker is a strategic game and so should new business be.  In poker (and please don’t worry if you know nothing about the game) you have to make decisions on  probable outcomes with imperfect information.  You can’t simply react to a situation emotionally. You have to have some reasoning to your decision-making and think a few moves ahead else you’ll go broke.

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Agencies stuck being dysfunctional with new business and pitching

einsteinTo Pitch or Not to Pitch  published in The Drum – misses a key piece of evidence on whether an agency should pitch or not. Maybe your own evidence will confirm this.  Of course what an agency is (should be) really deciding is if they are likely to  win or not.

If you are going to pitch at least know your chances of winning are good.  Of course you might not need to pitch at all to win.

Before I tell you the key piece of evidence let me explain why agencies pitch even when they are unlikely to win and why they might not be able to ever stop.

The chances are that agencies know they need to be proactive to gain new clients. Rule #1 – Be Proactive from Mister Stephen Covey.

The easiest way to do this is to contact marketers directly.  Makes sense, right? How hard can it be? Get a list – and get bang on it. Call them, e-mail them, send direct mail to them, update your CRM package, repeat till fade.

Some agencies spend a vast amount of time and money on these activities. And often the time and money spent increases over time as they chase increasing new business targets set by management. With new business managers being hired and fired like a bottom of the table premiership manager, round and round they go.

Quite often there is a target in place to hit in terms of quantity of meeting per month and pitches per quarter.  And these targets must be hit by hook or by crook and so qualifying slides or  goes completely out of the window. Targets cause dysfunctional behaviour that doesn’t best serve the agency. What we call cheating.

In fact all pitches invariably look like a good fit when an agency’s target is at stake, especially to the ones who have to hit the target. And most standard qualifying metrics (budget, authority, needs, chemistry, experience, growth potential etc) don’t help because they are easily fudged in favour of hitting the agency meeting or pitch target.

So even if some people in the agency knew the pitch was very, very, very unlikely to be won – hitting the target becomes more important because their job is on the line against the target.  It is how they will be appraised.  They’ll be forgiven for not winning the expensive and time-consuming pitch but not for not getting them on it. They’re stuck being dysfunctional.

Agencies rarely reward people for saving them money or averting danger. Imagine  a new business person saying – “I just save out agency £50K plus hundreds of hours in time by declining a pitch we’d never win, and gaining the  good will that goes with that, like the teams not having to  work weekends – any chance of a bonus?”

So what can be done? If we look at how marketers actually buy they rarely say we wait for direct approaches from agencies, do they?  Of course not. In fact many senior marketers who have spoken at The Art of New Business events say they bin DM, ignore agency cold calls, emails and rarely use social media let alone read trade press.

My experience is that most marketers buy from either a referred agency that was recommended to them or they go to an intermediary for advice.

Agencies tell me circa 70 to  80% of their business comes from referrals.  So if that is the case doesn’t that mean buyers buy from referrals the same amount of time, QED? Buying = Selling.

Yet most agencies don’t have a method to pick up referrals. And yet over 70% of their work comes that way?  Oops.  I think (objective) client servicing should dove tail with new business development see here

Let me introduce you to  what I call Column Thinking. I reckon being the referred agency on a marketers pitch list puts you in columns A or B –  the most likely to succeed agency with a 70 to 8o% chance of success.

This is the key qualifying metric that is missing in my opinion that I alluded to at the beginning of this post. The question to ask actually (internally) is –  “Have we been invited to pitch because we have a strong referral verses have we barged our way on and are really in column fodder?” “Are we there to make up procurement’s numbers?”

Column fodder are columns C and  D and sometimes further down the alphabet, they share 20 to 30% chance between them. The columns are often required by procurement but marketers aren’t averse from getting some free consultancy too.

In these columns might be the incumbent that is getting the push and agencies that have been added to benchmark on price that the client found via google searches or an agency that barged onto via DM or cold calling maybe or even a weaker referral from a less senior person client side.

Lots of cold channel marketing that agencies do, simply fills their pipeline with column C and D opportunities, which look great on a status report but cost a small fortune on time and money. And causes more issues than it solves.

So if an RFI comes out of the blue you are likely column fodder in my experience. If you have a strong referral you stand much more chance of winning that pitch.

Agencies need to learn how to ask for referrals within a comfortable client servicing frame-work, if they want to know which piece of business they are most likely to win.

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You don’t like it, tough, go to another universe.


Have you ever had a well planned out idea?  One where you feel organised and in charge from the very beginning?

Well, here’s mine.  I recently bought Bob Hoffman’s book ‘Marketers are from Mars Consumers are from New Jersey‘. Buy yours here, it’s less that £6 and it’s piss funny.  If you haven’t read Bob Hoffman’s blog called The Ad Contrarian have a look here. Once again piss funny and very astute.

He don’t pull many punches baby when it comes to marketing bullshit, often in the cross hairs is branding bullshitters and digital zealots. Few escaped unscathed and I hope better for it too.

So when it arrived I thought I’ll read it with the intention of reviewing it, rather than just ploughing through it. It’s a plan of sorts isn’t it?

My plan was that I’d review just one chapter, my favourite chapter. Okay, okay, so it’s a simple plan.  What I’d do is I’d turn over the corner of the page that started the chapter that I’d enjoyed the most.  I am a page ruiner by the way be warned, my wife will never lend me a book for this very reason.

So I made it. Here I am, doing the planned review, looking at the book with pretty much every other page turned over in the corner.  I simply can’t choose my favourite chapter.  Which is annoying. And a testimony of this amazing book.  Funny. Poignant. Sarcastic. Angry. A sort of manifesto for busting the delusional thoughts of marketers versus those of consumers, which the title gives away I suppose..

Here’s the first page that I cornered, page 3 – Bob writes “Today you need to be at least a sidewalk sociologist and even better, pseudo-psychiatrist to be taken seriously in marketing today.”

In fact, you need to think and speak in ways that no consumer in the history of civilisation has ever thought or spoken.  How marketers think and how consumers think couldn’t be more different.

On Page 19 is a great example of brand babble – “Co-creating with brands and people in the Phygital (if that word doesn’t make you taste sick in your mouth what does – my add) world.  Modern consumers are ‘connected protagonists’ They are the heroes of their own stories and, thanks to technology they now have access to an audience of unprecedented size…It gets worse stroke funnier but I just sicked and laughed at he same time – Bob does that to you. 

He’s right isn’t he?  How many agency sites or creds have you read and thought – I really have no idea what you are banging on about citing some cognitive scientist work done on students? Or using made up words to elevate themselves in some way.

Bob explains why on page 34 titled – Fear of Selling. I agree, people in many agencies and client side want to be anything others than salesmen.  As the scientist Richard Feynman, who is one of Bob’s heroes, once said “You don’t like it go somewhere else, to another universe, where the rules are simpler, philosophically more pleasing, more psychologically easy…”

This is Bob’s point, he writes referring to people in agencies – “They’d rather make-believe that what they’re doing is some form of social intercourse. It makes them feel better.They are not here to sell you something. They just want to have a conversation and form a relationship.”

But in the end they will be judged on whether they sell or not, that’s business. That’s the way it is.  You don’t like it, go somewhere else. To another universe. Mars maybe?

If you don’t like the book that’s too bad, this is the way it is. Or at least it should be.

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The Wason Task and new business

wasonPsychologists or Behavioural Economists as they now like to be called have used a logic task called the Wason Selection Task as a measure of people’s reasoning powers.

It is one of those pesky little tests that ‘they’ use to prove we are not rational thinking beings. And then extrapolate from there…QED people are not to be trusted and so on.

The task works like this: imagine there are cards which always have a letter on one side and a number on the other.

You are shown, flat on the table, four cards. Their up-facing sides show

“E”, “G”, “7”, “6”

And you are told that you need to test this rule: “All cards with a vowel on one side have an even number on the other side.”

Which cards do you need to turn over to test if this rule is true? The answer is further down the page, have a stab at it.

Most people fail at this test – 80% (I did).  But what is interesting to me is that when the same test is put to a group the pass rate goes up to 75% as described by Tom Stafford in his brilliant essay – titled ‘What is the evidence of using rational argument to change people’s minds?’ He writes,  “But what is often held up as a testimony to our irrationality can also be a laboratory for examining our rationality. Whilst the selection task is normally completed by individuals, you can also ask small groups to try and solve the task.

When you do this, two remarkable things happen. Firstly, the success rate jumps massively so that most groups solve the task correctly (75% or more, compared to a success rate of less than 10% for individuals). Secondly, we can observe the process of discussion that generates the correct solutions, enabling us to discern something powerful and encouraging about group reasoning.”

Firstly that is interesting to me because of the question  – What is it that new business people need to do today? Can they provide any logic in their proposal, is there any need to build an economic case for example for the prospect to change?

And secondly the process that buyers of creative services sometimes go through to select an agency. The way I see that process in short is that there are a  group of people client side sitting around a table discussing the need to change their agency.  The conversation might have occurred a few times before but no action was taken.  This time it is different.  They have all agreed on the need for change.

It is not a conversation we (agencies) are privy to but we could imagine it, right? What was said, what they were annoyed about etc. Boy don’t they moan!  What do they want the moon on a stick?

So someone client side is sent out to speak with agencies.  Who do you think will be sent out?  And who will they be sent out to meet?  This is the issue in my opinion that agencies don’t think about enough.  They need to imagine this situation more clearly to understand their chances of winning new business.

Who has been sent to meet your agency in the past? My experience is the Marketing Director goes to meet his favoured replacement to talk with them.  Most likely they were referred to him or he loves their current famous work or met them at an event where they presented etc.  The Marketing Director then gets their Marketing Manager or another exec go get proposal from other agencies.  Agencies they are aware of because they’ve been direct mailing them, cold calling them or they find them on google.

These agencies are what I call column fodder, occupying columns C, D… They’re needed for benchmarking – be that on price or ideas.  It’s all free why wouldn’t you go get some free consulting?

Just from that scenario above who did you think will win the business? Without even seeing the pitch or the prices who do you think will win any why? The one met by the marketing directors team or the one met by the marketing director?

Back to the Wason Task in experiments using this task, over 80% of people test the rule by picking the cards showing “E” and “6” and they are wrong. I am in this group by the way, were you?

The correct answer is that you need to turn over the “E” and the “7” cards. If the “E” card doesn’t have an even number on the other side, the rule is false – a vowel did not lead to an even number.

Similarly, if the “7” card has a vowel on the other side, the rule has also been shown to be false – a vowel led to a non-even number.

Turning over the “6” card doesn’t tell you anything, since the rule doesn’t say anything about what even numbers cards ought to have on the other side (i.e. it doesn’t say that non-vowels can’t lead to even numbers too).

Now consider a second situation: Another version of the Wason Test

You are serving at a bar and have to enforce the rule that if a person is drinking beer, they must be over 20 years of age. The four cards below have information about people sitting at a table. One side of the card tells you what a person is drinking and the other side tells their age. Which card or cards must you turn over to see if the rule is being broken?

beer    coke     25    16

The correct answer is the cards with beer and 16. About 75 per cent of people get this one right as individuals. Why is this so when only one in four get the previous version right? How is that people are seemingly more intelligent with drinks and ages of drinkers than with letters and numbers?

It is  because of social intuition isn’t it?  It is a situation we are familiar with and we can imagine it clearly and understand the why of the test.

Let me tie this together, back to new business, when I spell out to agency owners who buyers most likely buy from which tallies with the way agencies actually get new business in – i.e 85% buy from a referral, QED 85% wins are via a referral , they can see who is most likely to win as in the new business scenario example above?  It pricks your social intuition doesn’t it?  You know who is in column A straight away – based on who went to meet the agencies and why the went to those agencies.

But if you simply weren’t aware of that scenario you’d write a proposal etc or answer an RFI  because your logic is faulty and you are not focusing on how buyers buy but how you want to sell.

Now how do we move from column fodder to column A – is there enough info in this post to know what to do? What else do you need to know? Who would know it? Or would you bail out of this opportunity?


Posted in new business agency, Referral Marketing, sales training, System thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How expensive is lead generation? Stop beavering around.

I recently met up with an agency head.  We’d met before, when he was looking for help with lead generation. Alas we didn’t win his business then.  All water under the bridge.

However, he did tell me what had happened with his lead generating over 3 years. And I doubt his story is that unusual, here it is.

He’d met a new business agency full of promises and they worked together for a year.  He got on well with them and they worked hard, they generated over 24 meetings and two pitches but no business wins – total cost in excess of £30k.

They got tempted by another lead generating agency similar to the one before, making cold calls and doing e-mail marketing etc.  Same thing give or take – £30k cost.

One more try, for another year, with a lead generation agency – that would also help with the agency’s positioning first then do the lead generating –  and the cost would be higher.  In fact they got less meetings and one pitch the cost was £36K p/a.

That’s over £96k in just fees, not to mention the true cost of going on all the meetings and dealing with the pitches and the briefs that came their way too. Add that on and we’d be embarrassed, wouldn’t we?

Lets do it anyway –  70 or so meetings that cost 500 pounds each in time, say 3 pitches that cost – I don’t know – say £20k in time each.  What’s that another £35k + £60K  = £95K and that is being kind no second meetings even added in – That’s a combined cost of £191k – how much revenues does an agency need to make that profit – 3 times i.e. £570K at 33% gp?

The truth was that most of their work, about 80%, came from referrals because they did great work and yet they had no practical system in place to get more referrals. And clients buy from a referred supplier more often than from any other source.  It is the most commonly used heuristic to judge an agency by a buyer – ‘do I know someone who already trusts them.’ It makes life so much easier.

A referral is the ‘Money Ball’ stat of new business, it is what I call here ‘column thinking’. We all sort of know that referrals work best but rarely qualify leads by it.  If you are referred your chance of winning the business sky-rocket. You can even be a lousy salesman and still win referrals. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Let that story be a lesson to all of us.  Lead generating is a very risky business and often, in fact more often that not, leads to an increase in the agency’s cost of sale rather than revenues. And can be destabilising across all departments too as planners and creatives get sucked into the processes generated by the cold leads – be it attending meetings, writing creds etc.

Agencies need to sell the way buyers buy and in the majority of cases that is from a strong referrals. Most lead generating from cold introductions just lead you up the garden path.  It is so tempting to put the rose-tinted glasses on – but before you know it you are on a wild goose chase. Go on enough cold meetings and you’re down over £190K.  Agencies spend too much time as free consultants working in columns C and D – otherwise known as canon folder.

Be careful being a busy beaver and throwing good money after bad.  It’s not the sales method it’s the buyer’s system – but you may have already guessed that by now.

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Clients need agencies with happy ears.

Somewhere there is a meeting going on. Shut the front door, no way!  In a boardroom. Wow you’re so on it today Jim.

What I am trying to say is that there is a meeting going on for sure,  but not this one I am  about to make up.  Or maybe it is – who knows – I am beginning to wonder why I even started this.

Let’s move on shall we? I am about to paint a picture of  a pretend meeting that will show you how many decisions are made when it come to hiring agencies.  Have I exaggerated? Of course , why bother otherwise?

Although it is made up to prove my point I’d like to know if you think it hold some water so to speak.

Let’s begin – Six people are sat around a board room table – it could be 4 it could be more, they are talking about one of the current suppliers, I mean partners.

It could be any of them really but let’s pick on advertising, they’re a soft target and if they’re good enough for stand up comedians to pick on they’re good enough for us.

Someone in the meeting, most likely the marketing person says something along the lines of – “Enough is enough, we need another one.” – don’t quote me on that btw – make up your own pretend meeting, if you’re going to be fussy..

Perhaps they say “I think it’s time to think about getting a new agency.”

The others continue in the conversation saying they agree for various reasons – lateness, changing account teams, no sales, blah, blah, blah. Don’t like this, don’t like that… Then the CEO, who is chairing the meeting,  says something like “Okay we are all agreed let’s find a new one.”

(That’s the important bit you see. Until they all agree they need to change for reasons they discussed in that meeting they’ll be no change.)

So what do they do next?

Well they could go to an intermediary – not un-common is it?  The Mkt Dir or CEO says I’ll get on the phone to the intermediary and book us in.

Or the discussion could continue a bit like this. Marketing Directors says –  “I’ll get my marketing manager to go meet some potential suitors?”

The attendees nod.  Then one of the c-suitors says have you got any agencies in mind already? “Yes I think so?”

“Who?” the CEO asks.

“Well I was out with another Marketing Director last week who I have known for ages in fact we used to work together and the work he is getting from his agency sounds perfect for us, so I have booked to go out for lunch with them both next week.”

Lots of nodding and smiles “Great, good luck” says the Opps guy and then the Procurement guy quickly pipes up remember protocol – must have at least 5 agencies involved. The marketer nods respectfully and the meeting ends with a chat about AOB and they leave.

The Marketing Director calls in his marketing manager and says “You’ll be glad to know that we are going to look for a new agency at last, I’ll put Mint Jelly on notice. I need you to meet some potential new agencies, cool?”

“Brilliant I have some great ideas already.”

“Really – who were you thinking?”

“We’ll I’ve been in contact with an integrated agency for over a year now they have some great work and we always get on really well he’s sent me creds, case studies, he’s called me  every other month for  year so he’s nothing if not persistent. I am sure they’d work well with us too.”

“Perfect – do you want to go meet them at their office and check them out?”

“Can I? That would be great – I’ll book them in for next week?”

“We need some more too?’

“Well I like the people who did that TV ad with the monkey and the motorbike?”

“Find ‘em and book ‘em perfect.”

“Err, I could google top ad agencies to fill the gaps?

“Nice one good old google, do them first will you?”

“I’m on it”

The marketing manager returns to their desk.

Types in integrated agency in London look at a few websites – finds one that has some experience in their sector. Eventually finds the telephone number hidden in FAQ’s and surrounded by wacky pictures of  ‘The A-Team ‘talking about their favourite fruit and their most embarrassing antics.  Apparently one of the account directors once got some toilet roll caught on her shoe. Mad.

Picks up the phone, dials and gets to reception  “Hi can I speak with Top Tim please?”

“I’m afraid he’s busy today can I help you?”

“Err not really it’s Tim I need to speak with.”

“He doesn’t take cold calls I am afraid – you can send an e-mail to”

“Thanks but no thanks.” And hangs up.

Returns to google finds another suitor – same agency give or take just a different name and their Team had to make funny faces on their profiles – whatever. Their work looks so-so and they have some experience in the required sector too

He makes the call “Can I talk with Mister Big please?”

“Can I ask who is calling?”

“I’m the marketing manager at All Kinds of Stuff.”

“Just putting you through.”

“Hi Mister Big I am from AKOS and I have looked at your agency and I really like your take on advertising and especially keen on your work in our sector.”

“Thanks very kind of you to say so.”

“I’d like to send you an RFP – I think you’d be a good match for what we need, would you be okay to pitch?”

Mister Big punches the air and try to keep cool –  “Of course but we’d be keen to see the RFP and the brief etc before we commit?”

“Of course, no worries, will be with you next week, all the best – bye now.”

“Quickly before you go – how many pitching?

“Just 5.”

“Thanks for that have a nice day – bye now”

Mister Bigg calls an emergency meeting – “I’ve just a call from a defining piece of business – all hands on deck – let’s smash it.” Excitement ensues.  “This is right up our alley and the marketing director has already told me how much they love our website – great work Jon and Fanny on that site – and they really love the work we did for Most Stuff People Use.”

Err RFP and brief thinks the marketing manager.  I’ll just use the last one it’s only two years old add after all what has changed – we still make stuff,  we are still looking to sell stuff – job’s a good ‘en.

He moves on to his fav agency that has been romancing him for a year or so. He starts to dial reception and quickly remembers he has his direct dial on an e-mail.

“Is that you Lovely Larry?”

“It is – who is this mystery caller – you’re not showing on my caller ID?”

“Well….today could be your lucky day?’

“Are you from the Lottery?’ And snorts.

“Nope – better than that, it’s me from AKOS we’d like you to pitch for our business next month.”

“Thats amazing news! – Thanks so much!”

“I knew you’d be pleased, all your hard work has a paid off – and I look forward to meeting you, I’ll send you a brief etcetera is there anything else you need to know?”

“How many are pitching?”

“Just 5”

“Cool – can I just say thanks so much for including us we here at Relationships Inc are very grateful and we can’t wait to meet you all at a tissue meeting. bye now?’

“Bye now.”

Bloody hell he thinks – I forgot about those tissue meetings – well that’s easy enough 2 hours slots provide sushi and sit it out.

Larry goes to see his boss with they good news.

“You know that company I’ve been prospecting for a year?”

“Which one?’

“AKOS – well we’re in – we’re pitching next month – brief etc about to hit my inbox – I knew they’d come good.”

“Good work fella, fill me in over lunch.  That’s your target hit for the quarter hit isn’t it. Reckon your hit target again next month?”


“Good job – well done – onwards and upwards.”

The day at AKOS progresses pretty much but not exactly as above as I said I am making it up.

But does any of it ring any bells so far? Taken any of those calls before? Sure you have – but does it look different now you can see behind the scenes potentially? Let’s continue –

The Marketing Director calls the Marketing Manager up and say “The incumbent (Mint Jelly) was distraught and wants to pitch too. How many agencies have you booked in so far? “

“Err – We have Monkey on a bike agency that I did by e-mail,
Relationship Inc and Mister Bigg’s ”

“Well done – so 3 and with the incumbent that’s 4  and I have one in mind so that’s 5. But can  you just get us 1 more please, just in case someone drops out, you know how procurement are these days?”

“Don’t I just! Sure easy? I’m on it, in fact I have a great one for us.”

Feeling lazy and slightly revengeful and wanted to give his favourite agency a lead he phones back that agency with the receptionist who fobbed him off earlier at Top Tim’s place..

The receptionist answers “Top Tim’s place, good morning.”

“Can I speak with Top Tim please I’d like your agency to pitch for our account I am not a cold caller.”

Cringe – “Yes certainly just putting you through.”

“Hi Top Tim here.”

“Hi Top Tim, we’d like you pitch for our account. I am calling from AKOS and me and my boss think the work on your website is simply outstanding and I’d like to  send you a RPF and a brief to pitch for our account.”

“Great news – I’ll get the creatives straight on it I know exactly what you guys need.”

“Perfect – look forward to meeting you all bye now, bye.”


Top Tim high fives himself, pick up the phone and books his fav restaurant with his lead creatives to celebrate the win. Job’s a good ‘en.

Meanwhile – the Marketing Director from AKOS arrives at the latest Tapas bar to meet his old pal another Marketing Director and his current agency’s new business director Steve from Rain-dancer’s.  After small talks – the AKOS Marketer Director asks “So my pal here says you do good work for him?”

“I like to think so.  And he told me you maybe thinking of moving away from Mint Jelly.”

“Pretty much.”

“Pretty Much? You’re not sure?

“No we are – I put them on notice already?”

“So do you think you could handle an account like ours?”

“Well you are probably the same size account as his – why don’t you ask him?” Does that laugh thing.

He turns and looks at his pal and smirks knowingly.

“I have already told him you’d be perfect for him but maybe he’d like to know more?”

“Sure – what would you like to know that Tim hasn’t told you already?”

“I guess not a lot really.”

“Can I ask you some questions?”

“What did Mint Jelly do that is making you leave them?”

“In short they are not up to speed?”

“Which means?  Delivering late?Bad account management?”

“All of the above,” And laughs

“How has this impacted the business?”

“We’ll at our last board meeting everyone was pretty annoyed with them for various reasons and KPI’s have not been hit.”

“Which KPIs in particular?’

“Sales mainly?”

“And you’re out by how much?”


“And in money terms that is how much?

“8 million pounds”

“So there is plenty of work to do then?’

“You could say that.”

“Do you see that as a big number to turn around or a small one, ever turned that corner before?’

“It isn’t a particularly big number and yes it is doable ,if that is your question – we have had fluctuation like this before”

The meeting ambles on with business conversation…where Steve gets a low down on the business issue and the hurt it is causing our Marketing Director at AKOS (consultative selling)

So who is going to win this pitch, readers?  And why?

Have you ever been the receiver of one of the phone calls earlier in the story and had happy ears?

The marketing team are putting together a list with clear columns A – B – C – D & E right?

So who is in A column, that will share the spoils with column B about 85% of the time? You know who is in B – don’t you? Column B has got some work to do though mind – don’t you reckon?

And who is in C , D And E?  Would you know when your agency is in columns C,D or  E – would you be able to fold? What if you were chasing a KPI and that pitch helped you hit a target or earned commission even, could you turn it down then?

Do you know those three agencies (C,D and E) share about 15% between them?  We know who is the rank outsider right? No chance at all – pure column fodder.  Would he know that though?

Clients are more likely to buy from a referred supplier than any other source by miles. Mind your happy ears when a buyers calls you out of the blue saying nice things, especially marketing managers.  You maybe column fodder just to keep procurement happy.


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