Agency New Business Frustration: Selling The Invisible To Your Prospects

Agency New Business Frustration Reason #38: What do I mean by selling the invisible? The notion came, as many solid post topics do, from a conversation I had with an agency team on how the industry has changed, relative to new business.

More specifically, one of the principals asked me how our world of new business development had changed in our almost 13 years of business, and framed the question by discussing their own experience. The overlap was interesting.

I’m paraphrasing, but the gist was this:

When we started our agency almost 20 years ago, and pursued new business, or referrals came in, it was much easier to show that prospect our work, or describe what we did succinctly.  Today, with the evolution of the industry, so much of what we do goes beyond a print campaign.  The work now involves more and more digital work, with varying degrees of complexity, that the client, and certainly a prospect, will never see.

I imagine many of you reading this are in the same position.

What struck me initially, was that selling advertising services has always been about selling the invisible to some degree.  You’re not selling a product, you’re selling your services, which is inherently difficult. (To be fair, any form of selling is never easy.)

But this agency team hit the nail on the head, and I’m preaching to the choir when I say, it really is harder now that it’s ever been, because so much of the work your firm is doing can be taken for granted, or altogether missed because a client or prospect isn’t even aware.

So whose fault is that?  It’s yours.

OK, “fault” isn’t quite the right word, but like it or not, only you can make prospects (and clients) aware of all the value you bring to the table, and agencies truly struggle with how to do that.

So-a few things to think about if you find yourselves struggling with it as well:

Agency New Business Frustration: Selling The Invisible To Your Prospects

Get focused.  While you’ve heard it before, I’m not necessarily talking about specialization.  While it could mean that, I mean take a step back and look at your current portfolio and case studies. As you do that, do you see a logo block, and corresponding case studies with no real organization or focus?

If so, you need to start by finding commonalities: in verticals, in the specific services you offered, in the business challenges you solved.  When a prospect comes to your site, which is often the very first thing they do, they need to know immediately who you are, where you play, and what you do. And you need to show them with concise, clear copy and headings that provide them direction and calls to action.

Speak the prospect’s language: You’ve heard this before as well (I hope)-but you need to have tight copy that shows you “get” the vertical, that you understand their overall challenges.  That language may not be front and center on your site if you play in multiple verticals, but it certainly needs to be at the forefront of any case study section. Lead with the end result-if you can show an increase in sales, for example, fantastic, but if you don’t have hard numbers along those lines, you can still show an effective result.

OK, these first two were bigger picture, and set the table for how to tackle the problem of selling the invisible to your prospects.  Once you’ve tackled these, the next two drill down to address the invisible more specifically.

Do a better job of telling your story. The real problem agencies face in selling the invisible, and showing prospects all that went into a particular project?

They start off a conversation, or write a case study, by telling the ENTIRE story out of the gate.

Prospects don’t have time, and you haven’t earned the opportunity to do that so early in the process. It’s why your case studies have to be so carefully planned.  And once you have a template, the hardest work is behind you.  You need to have succinct summaries of challenges, services and results.

You can, and should, include all the “invisible” pieces your prospects need to read/see, but do that initially in bullet form, or short copy points.  Then, when you do actually get in that first conversation, rather than throwing up your capabilities slide and rattling those capes off, you can use that case study as a reference point to tell a story and bring the invisible to life.

And lastly (for this post):

Take advantage of projects.  The industry trajectory is focused on project work (as you know).  And the “crumbs” that your clients use to throw your way aren’t as prevalent or are being taken in-house. Once you do get that project,

You have to continue prospecting the client.

You worked too hard to not land and expand after that one project. If you don’t help the client understand all you do, your odds of another project are lessened.

I realize it’s easy for me to say-trying to achieve this can be hard for all kinds of reasons. But if you don’t try, you’ll likely get labeled by your prospect as an agency that does this “thing”.  They’ve now put you in a box that may not account for all your firm can do.

You start by being up front, with clear language: “We’re excited to work on this project, and want you to know, if we do it well (and we will), we would love to continue working together.”

Obviously the timing needs to be right, and you can’t come on too strong, but you treat it like a prospecting drip campaign.  Put together some other examples of work, and get in front of them.  Send over a short, to-the point email on an industry trend or new tech that could be used in a future project.

Ask to take them to lunch or dinner, or happy hour if it’s more convenient. If they accept, you can’t make it all about you wanting another project, but you can slip in some language around the current work, or some other work you’re doing now, and again, try to tell a story, and relate something funny, or awesome about the process or outcome.

Selling the invisible is tough, but you can make it work.

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 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.