“You don’t have time to tell a story at the top of the funnel.” -Lee McKnight, Jr.
Lee McNight, Jr. is VP of Sales at RSW/US. RSW works with small and mid-sized agencies to help them drive new business.
McKnight thinks that agency principals are bad at new business. “What I’ve always found fascinating is how good ad agencies are at the client work they do, and how terrible they typically are at doing it for themselves, at bringing in new business,” he says.
The heart of McKnight’s case for improved new business prospecting:
You have myriad opportunities to build trust with your clients, through service, quality of work, and dependability, to name a few. But at the top of the funnel you have no relationship with your prospects, and therefore no trust—not yet. So you build that trust by building on your prospecting reputation, over time. By making your efforts memorable and providing value, in some way, with every touchpoint.
His last sentence assumes that agency heads are now making deliberate efforts to land new business. A small agency can sometimes run for years on the power of its founder or founders’ professional networks. But what happens when the leads dry up? And in all but the most exceptional cases, leads do dry up.
McKnight offers practical advice to agency execs looking to move from “feast or famine” to a sustainable pipeline full of qualified prospects. To get there, he asks that we speak not in generalities but in business terms that frame our discussions for the intended audience(s).
He also suggests that we write down the challenges that we help to solve in each of the industry verticals that we serve and know well. Good idea. For example, an agency that works for high-tech business-to-business clients and specializes in providing go-to-market strategies for startups, would ‘speak’ in tech terms while consistently pointing to the successes that come from an investment in strategic planning.
Provide Value, Period
The call to make one’s new business efforts “memorable while providing real value at every touchpoint” sounds elegant, straightforward, and even simple in an article or coming from a speaker at a podium. In practical day-to-day terms, it’s not simple. It’s complex and hard to do, because one person’s valuable offering, well-written prospecting email, and downloadable industry-specific report are another person’s trash.
The question before all new business pros in all industries is where to find and connect in meaningful ways with prospects. Can you do it in person? In-person meetings are powerful and often memorable, certainly more so than an email (or blog post on the agency website). Even when the insights delivered are brilliant, funny, or timely and informative it’s still just an email and one of 100 that arrived today.
In my own experience—and I’ve won more than two dozen new accounts in the past 10 years—it’s best to meet in person first, and then point people to specific content that’s relevant to them. When a person has met you in person or on Zoom, and then goes back to the office and spends some time reading through a body of work or listening to podcasts, that sequence of events can open the doors to opportunity. Put another way, content on its own may or may not bring clients to the table, but it will help convert prospects into customers.