Anyone who works in sales, advertising, or media knows that referrals are worth their weight in gold. In the continual slog for new business, a referral from a colleague is often the door opener to real opportunity.
Mark Sneider, president of agency business-development firm RSW/US, writing a guest piece for Adweek, argues that referrals in the agency business are fast sliding into oblivion.
In 2007, 94 percent of marketing agencies we surveyed selected “referrals” as one of their three primary sources of new business for the firm. In 2011, the number of agencies listing referrals as a primary business source fell to 71 percent. And in RSW/US’s most recent Marketer-Agency Survey, the importance of this source dropped to an all-time low of 64 percent.
Sneider posits that in-house agencies and project-based work are to blame for the changes. He recommends: “Be like a PR firm and define your practice areas where can you call out your expertise and convince marketers that you are expert in their space?” He also says, be relevant, be polite, be persistent, and be yourself. All great points.
Better Portfolio = Better Clients!
There’s a cadre of agency execs who like to believe it takes better work to open the doors to new business. “The work, the work, the work,” they chime in unison. We’re so used to hearing this it may fall on deaf ears today.
Another new business consultant to agencies that I like to hear from is David C. Baker. Here’s some of his heretical thinking on the topic of better work:
I can usually get through most consulting arrangements without a client asking me what I think of their work. When I don’t…when they ask me, usually toward the end after we’ve gotten along splendidly…I feel duty-bound to tell them. If it’s better than average, I say that. If it’s not, I say that it’s plenty good enough. In about 2% of the cases, I’ve recommended wholesale changes to the quality of their work because it’s been lame.
Plenty good enough is all that matters. Clients don’t even recognize great work, so who are we fooling? They recognize bad work, but not good work. Good work is just good enough. If you wrap good enough work in great customer service and project management, you’ll get away with a whole lot.
It may pay to re-emphasize the above point: great customer service and project management count for A WHOLE LOT.
New Business Is A Tough Puzzle
Agency rainmakers are notorious for failing to meet their numbers and losing their jobs, which is an indication that the people assigned to new business are struggling for answers.
– Referrals are down.
– The agency’s portfolio, while solid, isn’t a deciding factor.
– The digital funnel mostly nets poor quality leads.
– The agency’s thought leaders are too busy to blog or speak at events.
– Sales cycles are marathons, not sprints.
What’s a rainmaker to do?
Up The Agency’s Appetite Appeal
Clients are under the same kind of pressure that the agency’s new business team is under. Sales are not nice to have. Sales keep the operation alive, and marketing must feed sales, or else.
The problem, it seems to me, is all clients have an appetite for work that moves the needle, but not all agencies are prepared to demonstrate their impact on a current client’s business.
Last April, I interviewed, Joe Losen, the CEO and founder of Rova, a software platform for client service teams that promises to improve an agency’s ability to track their own pipeline, build out client dashboards and more. Olsen said that agencies (who don’t want their work to be commoditized) know they need to do something, but they’re not sure what to do.
This I do know…when an agency successfully draws a direct line from bold creative work to greater client profits, they’ve on the high road to newfound respect for themselves and for the way marketing is practiced today.