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It’s been a challenging 12 months for business development professionals. The playbook for winning new business went flying out the window as face-to-face chemistry meetings and creative pitches moved to Zoom. Hard earned pipeline opportunities fell out the funnel as client requirements dramatically changed. Lead times got longer and budgets tightened.

Agencies have had to innovate at speed and adapt to new ways of working and approaching new business. For many, this overhaul was long overdue and now is the perfect time to embrace new targeting, tools, channels, tactics and ways of doing things.

Solve, don’t sell

One of the important lessons for many during 2020 is that under pressure marketers want solutions rather than sales calls. Clients now ignore obvious sales emails or uninspiring content and are annoyed by insensitive approaches (such as when they are in the middle of restructuring the department). A lot of potential new business conversations therefore ground to a halt at exactly the time marketing decision makers most needed help, guidance and inspiration to deal with the new challenges that had erupted.

Marketers have limited time and are more difficult to reach, so any new business approach needs to be personalised and highly relevant not just to the company you are targeting, but the person you are contacting – with a key focus on their priorities and challenges.

Taking this a step further, insight into the changed needs of marketers should inform your agency positioning, value proposition and how you tell your story. Clients are buying capability, collaboration, creativity and culture when they choose an agency, so the new business process needs to be developed to clearly communicate the agency’s excellence in these areas in our current virtual world.

Use content to start conversations

Having strong content to start conversations is increasingly important, be it owned, earned, paid. An agency’s insights, opinions and tone have to be honed for maximum impact and regularly delivered via the right channels.

Propeller Group’s recent survey of leading Business Developers revealed that 37% of teams are now looking to produce new content every week and 49% at least monthly – this puts a firm focus on aligning your marketing and sales activity.

A switch in prospecting tactics with a greater focus on creating useful content tailored can really help bring your agency’s expertise to life and demonstrate where you can add value and drive leads. For instance, we worked with MassiveMusic to produce a series of articles about 2021 being ‘the year of the sonic brand’. After being published in Creative Brief BITE, this generated leads with top targets in fashion and with a very well known drinks brand. Sharing the article with their network also generated more conversations and led to work with another client.

Invest in the right tools

The importance of using digital tools to optimise business development processes and operations was also reflected in our survey, with 44% of agencies confirming that they are looking to increase investment in digital tools in 2021. Note – Google sheets and post it notes are no longer good enough!

Sales intelligence tools such as Winmo, Cognism and LinkedIn Sales Navigator help to identify and keep track of the latest decision-makers and prospect insights. These platforms are rapidly increasing the range and volume of information they provide to feed into the intent data, spend shifts and latest brand insights which inform future opportunities.

Additionally, there has been an increase in the adoption of marketing and sales automation platforms such as Hubspot, Kulea and Salesloft to help drive and capture new leads and manage prospect touchpoint journeys across email, LinkedIn and phone. These tools provide great potential to take your BD activity to the next level, although keep in mind that it will take time, expertise and investment to really get the most out of them.

Make business development everyone’s business

Championing great business development was one of the main reasons why I launched The BD100 with Richard McHardy. We’ve been delighted to see increased recognition for the vitally important role that business developers play in driving our industry forward. The BD100 provides an opportunity for individuals to shine, but equally it highlights team performances and how agency teams can win together.

The idea that business development is everyone’s business is truer than ever. We’ve seen a trend developing; more people contributing to the acquisition and growth of agency client bases and a removal of boundaries between departments such as business development, marketing and account handling. Going forward, agencies will need to factor in how they can maintain this movement thus allowing others to continue to commit time, expertise, contacts and ideas to the new business effort.

The road back to pre-pandemic levels of profitability is a long one for many client brands and agencies but the initial turmoil and disruption has been addressed and growth is very much back on the agenda.

Investing time now to get your new business strategy right and gathering commitment from across the business will help shape your future reputation and growth. With a fresh approach to prospecting, a genuine understanding of client needs and a growth mindset, there’s every reason to believe agencies will start to flourish once more.

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