It’s my pleasure to introduce a guest post by Brian Shea, founder of Shea Consulting.  Brian helps agencies improve their new business efforts through CRM, sales process improvement, and marketing automation. He’s been working with organizations to build their business development practices since the early 2000’s.

While I was aware of his work with agencies, I first met Brian recently at the BOLO conference in Arizona and I’m excited to have him on our blog. Thanks to Brian for the excellent content-look forward to potential future projects with him.

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One of the challenges I often hear from agency owners is this: “We know what new business activities we should be doing. We just don’t do them consistently.”

And that makes a lot of sense. New business involves lots of unglamorous and, frankly, unenjoyable activities.

Stuff like: sales meetings, staying in touch with prospects, and applying just the right “nudge” to prospects who are making a buying decision. (aside: Peter Levitan’s discussion of “nudges” and “smart sales pressure” on a recent episode of the Build a Better Agency podcast is a must-listen.)

In addition to being not a lot of fun, many agency new business programs are pretty disorganized: leads falling through the cracks, missed handoffs between agency team members and details from prior conversations lost or incomplete.

So if new business is unenjoyable and disorganized, is it any surprise that agencies aren’t executing their plans consistently?

This post lays out a few ways that agencies can build a process for new business that’s organized and consistent. I can’t promise that this will make new business your favorite thing to do, but it will help you execute and get better results. And that’s pretty fun.

1. Create a Plan

First things first: you need an overarching plan for new business. Before you invest in tactics, content, technology or anything else, create a plan. New business strategy and planning is a blog post all its own and there are lots of great resources out there to help you on this front, so I’m not going to dig into the details on this topic.

But think about this: when you work with your clients, you probably help them build a strategy and a plan before you start going into tactics and execution. Take your own advice, and invest a little time to create a plan for your business.

In addition to an overarching plan, I recommend to clients to create a plan for new business activities each week. The purpose of this is to consciously choose your highest priority leads, opportunities and activities for the week and execute those.

We all know the feeling of always being behind; that’s usually a symptom of not planning and prioritizing. Set a realistic plan for each week, and you’ll find that you gain confidence and momentum in your new business activities.

2. Get a CRM (and Use It)

There are a ton of technology options for agency new business. There are the big marketing and sales platforms like Hubspot and the Salesforce suite, there are stand alone CRMs like Zoho and Nimble, there are marketing automation tools like SharpSpring, ActiveCampaign and Infusionsoft, and there are new business modules built into agency platforms like Workamajig. And there are new tools coming on the marketing all the time. It can be pretty overwhelming.

Here’s the thing: the fundamentals of almost all CRM’s are the same.

And the fundamentals are a great place to start. When agencies are struggling it’s usually because they’re not doing the basic stuff right, not because of a lack of advanced technology. Here are few key fundamentals to focus on:

  • Leads: In an average week you probably come across a handful of new potential prospects. For instance, you come across an interesting company when reading an article, or a colleague at a networking event mentions a thought leader who you should get in touch with, or you discover a promising organization while doing a Google search. You need a place to park these leads while you research or reach out to them. Your CRM process should have a central place where you can store new leads while you’re in process of qualifying them.
  • Contacts: Once you’ve qualified a lead as a good prospect or partner, you need an organized way to keep in touch with them. That may involve “one-to-many” communication like newsletters or nurture campaigns, or “one-to-one” communication like personalized emails or phone calls. For each contact that you’ve qualified it’s important to have them categorized (or “segmented”) based on criteria like their industry, and their quality/potential. You probably have hundreds or thousands of contacts in your database: to create a personalized outreach plan for each is impossible. So we identify a few segments and then create an outreach plan for each. This allows for efficiency and organization. (More on the topic of focus in Section 4 “Set Priorities”.)
  • Opportunities: Opportunities are the active deals that you’re working on. An Opportunity involves a specific piece of work: a project or a retainer, and generally goes through a standard set of steps (for instance: initial meeting, proposal, negotiation, and close). A CRM can give you an overview of all the potential business on the table to ensure you’re proactively moving all of them towards wins, and to find trends in process after the fact.
  • Clients: Do you have a plan for keeping in touch with existing and former clients, and cultivating new business opportunities? Remember, new business doesn’t just mean new clients.
  • Activities: Your CRM should provide you a dashboard of all your current activities. All your new business TODO’s in a single place.

Before you worry about automation, advanced metrics or new technology, get the fundamentals right: a simple system for managing your leads, contacts, opportunities, clients and new business activities.

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3. Translate Your Goals Into Simple Metrics

What’s your primary goal for the year?

Is it to grow? Increase the number of ideal clients you work with? Move into a new vertical?

When you create your new business plan, you’ll of course spend time defining or refining your goals. Another smart technique is to define some simple business metrics to make sure your new business activities are on track to reach those goals.

For example, let’s say your goal is to grow revenue by 20% this year.

The next step would be to answer these questions:

How many new clients would you need to increase revenue by 20%?

And how many well-qualified prospects do you need to land a new client?

Let’s say the answer to those two questions are 2 and 10, respectively. Assuming you don’t lose any existing clients (I know, big assumption), you’ll need about 20 new well-qualified leads to reach your goal. Obviously this isn’t an exact science, but it’s extremely valuable to give you a general benchmark for the number of new prospects (or leads, or opportunities, or whatever) that your new business activities need to be generating.

If your analysis says you need 20 qualified leads to hit your goal, but you’re currently only generating 1 or 2 a month, you’ll need to adjust your new business efforts to achieve your objectives.

4. Set Priorities

There are a few truths about new business: relationships are king, timing is everything, consistency is important, deals don’t close themselves/selling is required. Another key point about new business is this: You can’t keep in touch with everyone.

Sure, you can add as many people as you want to your One-to-Many channels (e.g. your newsletter or your automated nurture campaign). But when it comes to the One-to-One high-touch, personalized communications that are critical for agency new business, there’s a limited number of prospects you can keep in touch with.

Every agency should have their “Top-20” (or Top-12, 15, 18, whatever) list of ideal prospects that they proactively keep in touch with on a monthly (or more frequent) basis. AMI’s Drew McLellan has a great description of this strategy in his Macro/Micro/Nano framework). This strategy works because the communications are personalized and extremely relevant. You just can’t do that with everyone…you’ll end up being generic and/or inconsistent (which defeats the power of the strategy).

And on the topic of priority, once again, I want to stress the importance of breaking down your overarching priorities into weekly priorities. If your goal is to keep in touch with everyone your Top-20 list once a month, that’s about 5 personalized contacts per week (or one per day). When you build that into your weekly or daily gameplan that’s how you develop consistency.

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5. Delegate and Define the Handoffs

I loved this tweet by my buddy Chris Conrey from the Sales Stack 2015 Conference:

Sales Enablement is the support structure for the agency leadership’s new business activities. It includes not only systems, but the people and processes that support new business. You can almost think of sales enablement as your traffic person for new business.

Large companies are generally comfortable with the idea that sales requires lots of support: administrative help, systems people, process definition to make sure that their sales team has clean, accurate data. Unfortunately, at small companies in general – and agencies in particular – sales enablement infrastructure often starts and ends with a CRM (or a spreadsheet). And that usually results in:

  • inaccurate, incomplete or out-of-date information about prospects.
  • wasted time as the agency owner and leadership struggle to use or fix systems that aren’t working.
  • prospects and new business falling through the cracks.

The purpose of agency sales enablement is to take work off the plate of the agency leadership so they can do the new business work that only they can do: building relationships and closing business. It’s a big topic that deserves more space than I can provide here, but there are a few questions you could ask to start thinking about the sales enablement process that you need:

  • What Is the Work That only I Can Do?: What are the new business activities that only I – the agency owner – can do effectively? What other new business activities am I doing that someone else could do (e.g. assigning tasks, struggling with systems, recording notes/manually entering data, searching through Sent mail, manually sending boilerplate emails, etc.)?
  • What Can I Delegate?: Who else in the agency (or outside of the agency) could take over the non-required tasks listed above? Is there someone in the agency who can be responsible for sales enablement (i.e. a single person who is responsible for making sure the systems work, the data is up to date, the manual activities are getting done, the process is being followed)? This doesn’t need to be someone’s full time job, and it doesn’t need to be a senior person in the company. For instance, there could a junior account management person who has an interest and aptitude for process/systems work who would be great for the role of managing the CRM and sales enablement.
  • What Are The Handoffs Between Me and My Team?: Once you know the roles and responsibilities, it’s important to define the process for how people will execute their tasks and communicate. How will lead/prospect/opportunity ownership be assigned among the team? How will tasks be passed between team members? What are the criteria for qualifying a lead? What happens when the lead is qualified? What are the stages of your sales process and how are opportunities moved from one stage to the next?

An effective new business process doesn’t just get the agency more new business, it also takes work off the agency owner’s plate.

Agency new business efforts often fall short because of lack of consistency. It’s the classic story: Agency A diligently keeps in touch with a Prospect for a few months, Agency A loses track of Prospect for 6 months, Agency A gets back in touch with Prospect only to find that Prospect just hired Agency B. That’s no fun.

The agencies that are able execute their new business program consistently over time have built processes to ensure that activities are planned out, prioritized, organized, delegated and measured. The process doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be clear and followed by everyone at the agency. 2016 is just around the corner. Make it the year that you achieve the new business results you know you can.

Brian Shea is the founder of Shea Consulting, LLC, a company that helps agencies consistently execute their new business efforts. Shea Consulting puts systems and processes in place to help agencies keep their new business efforts organized, focused, and consistent over time. Since the early 2000’s, Brian has helped organizations improve their business development efforts through CRM, sales process improvement, and marketing automation. Find out more at http://sheaconsulting.biz

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Lee McKnight Jr
VP of Sales at RSW/US
I'm the VP of Sales at RSW/US. We specialize in working with services firms to help drive and close new business-if you need help with that, email me at lee@rswus.com. What I actually do: drive sales efforts to bring ad agencies and services firms on board with RSW, create content around successful new business tactics and help drive RSW/US marketing objectives, including social media channels, blog content, webinars, video and speaking engagements. Dig it.