I attended a presentation from new business leaders at their respective agencies, and there was an interesting dichotomy between the individuals on stage and in the audience.

The five on stage all worked at agencies that were part of major holding companies.  The audience, conversely, as shown by a show of hands in response to a moderator question, were predominantly composed of small-to-mid-sized agencies.

The leaders on stage were all driven, smart individuals (they would have to be) but at one point, one of them answered a question on how new business came in and the answer (paraphrased by me) was,

We’ve had very little success with companies where we didn’t have contacts internally.

I single this out, not as a knock in any way, but to illustrate what the majority of you reading are probably thinking, the new business strategy for small-to-mid-sized agencies is very different.

(And I realize that’s not entirely true for small-to-mid-sized agencies, two examples being a referral network or an individual/past client who leaves one company and brings your firm on at their new company.)

The fact is though, the individuals on that stage probably aren’t prospecting.

They don’t have to pick up the phone.

And they have teams of 8 to 20 people (!) handling new business in some capacity.

Not a newsflash:

You do have to pick up the phone and you don’t have a team of 20 people.

It’s a different new business world.

And I see three factors contribute up front to a lack of new business success:

  1. Agencies transition an individual from account management to handle new business, and those individuals typically don’t have the internal motor to truly drive new business. They typically have the farmer mentality. That’s not inherently bad, but it doesn’t bode well for new business success.
  2. Principals try to do it themselves, and they actually “get” new business, but there’s simply not enough time in the day-too many fires to put out.
  3. Principals, or someone in charge of new business, make the time and have the motor, but they don’t know how to put together a structured new business plan.

In the coming weeks, it’s the third factor I want to focus on in a series of posts, and ultimately videos.

I want to look at the hardest part of prospecting: top of the funnel activity, breaking through and getting in the door.

I’ll get tactical and provide steps and/or concrete suggestions you can apply.

So stay tuned, and in the meantime, keep after it.

I’m going down a rabbit hole with this one, but it’s a topic near and dear to my “sales” heart.

That is, leading sales email with “Hi, I hope you’re well.”

May seem like a minor thing, and maybe it is, but the topic, or practice, comes up more than you might think.

And a recent article in Inc., 5 Brand New, (Possibly) Brilliant Alternatives To ‘Hi, I Hope You’re Well, tackles it head-on.

I want to take a look at each of these and ideally get you to think about your use of the phrase.

Two things first-I’ve used this phrase, correction, I currently use this phrase, in my own emails.  As a rule, I don’t use it in a first reach out, or with a prospect I haven’t broken through to yet.

But I do use it if I’ve had a conversation with that person, because I genuinely do hope they’re well.  But that’s a fallback-first, I look to their Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn feed to see if there’s anything new I can mention first.

And second, my intent is not to rip on the author of this post, I appreciate that he’s offering alternatives, but I can’t help providing some perspective.

Okay, here we go-here’s the first alternative: Just Don’t Say Hi.

I don’t have any issue with saying “hi” and then diving right into the reason for my reach out.

The author gives this suggestion: It’s surely a sign of your creativity if you find your own way of saying hello. Even if you decide to spell it Hullo.


No, no, no.  I don’t like getting cutesy.  If I saw an email start with “Hullo” that’s an automatic delete.

Second alternative: Create a Greeting That Feels Custom-Made

The author goes on to say: I’m almost charmed when people write Happy Wednesday to me.

OK, I can get behind that, but then he follows with, Especially on a Thursday.


Again, no, no, no.  That’s just silly, and could possibly be confusing.

I mean, the person you sent the email to is going to know what day it is, but why would you do that? That’s not charming.

Then this is suggested: But why not start an email with This Rain’s a Pain, Isn’t It? If it’s raining, that is.


Unless you’re prospecting in the same city, and you know it’s raining where that prospect is, that’s just annoying.

But then, the mother of all sales pet peeves gets thrown out:

Or how about: I’m Going To Be As Brief As I Can to someone who you know has little to no patience?

Never, never say that.  You’re doing the opposite of that.  If you truly want to be brief, why are you wasting this person’s time by telling them you’re going to be brief?

On to the third alternative: Make a Joke About ‘Hi, I Hope You’re Well.

The suggestion from the author: The first thing that comes to mind is this: Hi, Only Read This If You’re Well.

I do think that’s funny.  But what if that person has been ill, or a child or parent or friend currently is?

You may be thinking, “Lighten up, Lee” and that’s fair, but why roll the dice on offending or hurting someone unnecessarily?

And the fourth: Don’t Have Any Greeting At All.

Bingo!  I like this one.  The post goes on to say:

A little abrupt, you might think. But if you’re writing to someone you already know, why bother with the formality and the accompanying banality? Why not show them that you’re all about the business?

Whether you know them or not, get to the point. You can do it in a way that’s personal and non-salesy, but don’t waste someone’s time.

Your prospects are busy-skip the cutesy, creative wordplay and get to the point.

And the final suggestion: Just Start With An Emoji.

The author goes on to say, I confess to astonishment at how many people actively prefer emojis to words. It’s almost made me want to write a whole column in Emoji and see if anyone understood it.

For the love of all that is holy-NO. That’s all I’ve got for that one.  Ugh.

To repeat-get to the point, while showing your value/expertise and that you’ve done a little homework, whenever you can.

I had a conversation recently with one of our new business directors, and she reminded me of a critically important new business fact.

Our conversation was around a story one of her clients told her, and it’s a story I’m betting most of you have also experienced.

This agency had a great first meeting with a prospective client and found themselves in the running to replace this marketer’s current agency. In further conversations, this prospect shared some very frank thoughts (perhaps a bit too frank) on the incumbent agency.

Essentially, they were not doing a good job, weren’t providing any particularly fresh ideas and this prospect was excited to move on.

You’ve already guessed the end of this story-even after gushing about our client’s agency and badmouthing their current agency (!), they stayed with them. For the love of all that’s holy, why?

Because change is painful.

And change is hard.

I know I’m oversimplifying here, but ultimately that’s what it boiled down to.

And as you prospect for new business, or even in referral situations, you have to keep this fact top of mind.

Because you’re asking your prospects, who are all most likely currently working with another agency, to uproot that relationship and make what is sometimes a drastic change.

Now, it’s not an insurmountable challenge of course, as marketers and your other prospects make those changes, but it’s not something they welcome or really want to do in most cases.

It’s why agency new business, and sales generally, is such a difficult job and why agencies tend to give up too easily on prospects.

You cannot take any first meeting with a prospect for granted, as the new business director I was talking with pointed out,

They may love you on Monday, but they’ll forget about you by Friday.

This is where it gets hard, I know, because you also don’t want to jump down their throat. Here are a few things I’ll leave you with that you definitely shouldn’t (or should) do:


Leave the same scripted voicemails over and over again

Take 2 weeks to follow up

Send a 60+ page PDF attachment as your first next step


Specifically define your positioning

Send a thank you note

Keep your site and social media platforms as up to date as possible (or ditch those platforms you aren’t updating)

Pick up the phone to prospect.  So many agencies don’t do it, as their emails are being ignored, or potentially not getting through.

As you remind yourself that change can be painful, do everything you can to make it easier for your prospect to remember you and see the real value in a potential change.

An agency principal asked me a really interesting question recently: Would you ever hire a telemarketing firm?

Obviously, I had to set aside the fact that we’re a new business development firm and he meant of course, if I were in his place.

I’d never been asked it before.  In our 13 years of business, we’ve always worked to set ourselves apart from the myriad telemarketing firms out there.

So I had to think about it, objectively, for a moment.  And ultimately, I said no.

Now you may be thinking, well of course you did, Lee, why would you advocate for a situation where an agency doesn’t use your services?

I’ll get this out early-this will not be a self-serving post, nor a commercial for RSW/US.

It really is an interesting question, because I can understand why an agency would consider it.

Many of them talk a good game, and they’re typically low cost, all things being equal. And agencies so often struggle trying to handle new business internally, they tell themselves that having a telemarketer handle the very top of the funnel will allow them to do the rest. Better than nothing, right?

Well, I would say, no.  I’m not badmouthing any one firm out there, if you’re reading this and have had a positive experience with a telemarketing firm, I stand corrected, but in my own experience, I’ve only heard regrets over the decision from agencies.

A few reasons why:

They typically use only one platform.  Interestingly, I get the same emails all of you do from telemarketers, and almost all of them promise results by blasting away emails, or making hundreds of calls, or cold reach outs through LinkedIn. It doesn’t work.  You have to use every platform in concert with each other to break through effectively.

They don’t do any homework.  I’m a great case in point.  As I mentioned above, I get those emails every day.  If these companies spent 2 seconds doing any homework at all, they would see we’re a new business development firm. We are not their potential client.

They don’t typically reach out with value.  These companies usually count on volume, and they spray out messaging that is generic or is overly dependent on sales clichés.

What all this adds up to is harm to your agency brand.

This ineffective and generic outreach is usually done in your name.  How will your prospects view that? The answer is not well.

You’re better off investing that money into a balanced internal effort that doesn’t overwhelm you or the team.


In our latest report (2019 RSW/US New Year Outlook Survey), one section delves into Management and Effectiveness of New Business Programs, and we asked agencies the question, “How Are You Managing New Business at Your Agency?”

Per the graph below, 45% of agencies told us they managed the process without a new business director and 41% said a new business director within the agency leads the effort.

In our 3 Takeaways video series, we discussed the topic (Agency New Business Directors-The 18th Month Curse) of just how difficult many firms find the process of hiring a new business director.

I don’t bring this up to be self-serving, it continues to come up in discussions I have with firms.  I had a conversation recently where an agency principal relayed her experience of a new business hire they made, where the new business director sat at his desk and literally waited for prospect calls to come in.

There are many reasons why new business directors fail, but the lack of earnestness, of purpose, is a trait I see often.  These individuals are afraid to pick up the phone, and their success, or lack of it, becomes evident fairly quickly.

It’s an interesting barometer, because the phone is obviously only one of several platforms that should be used in the agency new business process, but look out for that trait.  Too much emphasis on email or LinkedIn, to name two examples, typically results in an overall lackluster performance.

Let me be clear, I am not saying email and/or LinkedIn are not useful, they most certainly are, but as old school as it may seem, if your new business director is not picking up the phone as part of a methodology, they will most likely be gone within that dreaded 18 month window.

So what are you to do?  How do you find that salesperson with “true grit”, for lack of a better phrase?

If I could answer that question, I would probably be hanging out with Jeff Bezos.  (OK, maybe not Jeff, but at least Larry Wilcox.  Of Chips fame.  Look him up.)

In all seriousness, sussing that trait out during the hiring process is very difficult.  Yes, you can and should call on references, which will most certainly help, but I know many of you reading did just that as part of the hiring process and it didn’t work out.

I’ll make two recommendations to you, and I don’t see agencies do these enough:

  1. As part of the interview process, ask to see an outline of his or her prospecting process. What platforms will they use, what does the cadence/timing look like, how many touches do they foresee until they break through, what content will they use/will they need?

Understandably, this is partly based on conjecture, but the goal is to see that there is the shape of a plan ready to be put into place.

2. Give them a writing test. This can take many forms, but let them know before they come in they’ll be asked to create 2-4 sales emails (with a computer available) for example, that will walk the reader along the prospecting path. You’ll gain many things by this: how well they understand your firm at that stage, how well they write and how well they research on the fly, to name three.

Neither of these guarantees a new business director that lasts longer than 18 months, but they will definitely help you hedge your bets.

As you’re thinking about next quarter and your new business efforts, I want to issue a challenge to you, and it’s one you’ve heard before:

You need to create content for your new business efforts.

Before you stop reading (because you’ve heard it all before), let me give you a few key stats, followed by two suggestions I truly think will help.

First stat:

Websites with blogs get 55% more traffic.

If that’s not enough impetus to get you on the content train, I don’t know what is. But there’s more!

Second stat, from R2i’s Kelly Kennedy, in our 2018 RSW/US Agency New Business Thought Leader Survey Report:

42% of agencies tell us they either only have a lead gen effort in place and do very little marketing to support it, or don’t do much lead gen or marketing at all.

Yikes.  But not surprising, and we’ve heard all the reasons why.  Time is at a premium and you’re wearing a lot of hats, as are others in the agency or firm.

Our Director of Marketing, Miguel Trejo, has a post coming up specifically on the topic of blogging, so I’ll let him delve deeper, but from a prospecting perspective, it is a mistake not to back up your effort with marketing.

Otherwise, you look like every other agency, and sure you may have good work examples/cases studies (and you should!) but some form of content helps in so many ways.

So I wrote that I would give you two suggestions to help ease that effort:

One: Consider video

This may seem daunting, and it is an initial investment up front for equipment, if that doesn’t exist, but you can do some pretty amazing things with your phone these days, in terms of quality, and post-production software is getting consistently less expensive.

I can speak from experience: it works.  We’re 14 episodes in the can in our video series 3 Takeaways, and I can point directly to two clients who have come on board because of it.

Sure, it takes time, as we do our best to stick to a release every 3 weeks.  I can tell you though, writing a script is easier than a post, at least in my opinion.  We’re still learning a lot, but once you get into a repeatable rhythm, it gets more manageable.

A simple Google search will provide voluminous stats on why you should (here’s one), but another good reason?

Not a lot of your agency peers are doing it.

Two: Simplify your content process

Specifically when it comes to blogging. We had a client who, once a week, would take an article specific to their vertical and the first part of every post would be a paragraph synopsis of the main points.

And the remaining paragraphs would be their take on it, based on their expertise in the sector and specific knowledge of the challenges inherent to the vertical.

Not rocket science, but agencies don’t tend to stick with a content strategy.  It worked for our client and it was, and is, a great way to get started, or restarted, without having to spend time creating original posts ongoing. And it provides a snapshot of your thinking and knowledge-exactly what your prospects want to see.

It also gets you in the habit of writing, where you might eventually create original posts.

Take the plunge.  Start with a post like the above every 2 weeks, or a video once a month.  Get it on the calendar and get your team involved as well.

It will pay off.

In our 2018 Agency New Business Thought Leader Survey Report, Jason Parks, EVP/Managing Director at Barkley asked the following question:

Are you satisfied with the success of your new business plan/program?

As my post title points out, 64% said no. And Jason also asked, “Why do you feel the program has been a success or not been a success?”

In our report we listed some of the responses to this question from your peers, and as a bonus of sorts, I wanted to include a few more that weren’t in the survey:

Not deliberate, no one dedicated to it

Unfocused outreach

Becoming harder to drive opps at the necessary rate to fill the pipeline for Sales.

Not sure we are using the best approach. Identifying the right prospects is a challenge.

In the tech age prospecting has become difficult, very few people respond to emails sent out and even fewer pick-up the phone when called. It’s become more difficult to make connections to the right decision makers.

The last quote bears a bit of examination.

Undoubtedly the influx and pervasiveness of technology have changed the way we prospect, but here are three points to focus on, to make your new business “life” easier and process more effective:

  • You Need To Plan For Multiple Touches: I know, broken record, but you must understand that sending out an email or two is not enough. Minimally you’ll need to plan on 6-8 touches. And while the phone is as challenging as ever, it absolutely still works. You need to plan your process out so that you’re not truly cold calling, which isn’t effective.  Instead, focus your first 2-3 touches on awareness (and value), rather than selling, so that when they’re aware of who you are.
  • Use Every Channel In Concert With Each Other: Don’t focus on only one platform. You must use the phone, email, social (where it makes sense-don’t spin your wheels on Instagram if your prospects aren’t there) and yes, direct mail-which leads to #3. . .
  • What’s Old Is New Again-Yes, snail mail is your friend. Sure, it’s old school, but the interesting thing is, with all the new technology that’s out there, the realm of letters and phone calls have become a more uncluttered space. Use them to your advantage.

And you can hear more from Jason Parks in this YouTube interview on the importance of content segmentation when prospecting, the most effective channels/platforms used to help drive new business programs, and the metrics that determine prospecting success.



I was privileged to be a part of a series of new business roundtables recently, and the topic that came up more than any other was the struggle agencies have in breaking through to prospects.

Not a new thing-in our 2017 Agency-Marketer New Business Report, 69% of agencies told us breaking through to prospects was their biggest new business challenge.

Without a doubt, it is a formidable challenge, but at the very start, quite a few agencies buy into convenient fallacies that undermine their prospecting efforts.

I want to dig into several of these:

-We’re amazing, prospects should inherently understand that

A little over the top, I know, but far too many agencies have this mindset, and so they think they don’t need case studies, content or a site built for potential clients. Doesn’t work that way. You can be the most amazing agency in the world, but-

New business osmosis is not a thing. 

You need to lay it all out on the table for prospects to see.

-We’ll start prospecting when we have all the tools we need

This one may sound odd, but my point is, stop waiting for all the things you need and just get started.  Yes, you need the right tools and content to prospect effectively, but it also takes time to and money to acquire all you need.

In the meantime, that simply becomes an excuse to avoid the work you need to do.  Work on those tools and your content and case studies, and while you’re doing that, find a convincing third-party article akin to your vertical/verticals and get it out to your prospects.

-Phone/email/social/mail are no longer effective channels/tools.

Wrong. I always find it amusing when we get pushback that mail is no longer a viable prospecting tool, or calling a prospect no longer works.  You have to use every channel.  Period.  Because one prospect, fair enough, may be virtually unreachable by phone.  So send a letter, use LinkedIn, send an email.

Agencies give up too easily.

That’s really what it comes down to.  It’s a not a knock, to be fair, it’s generally not in the DNA. However, the sales axiom that it takes 6-8 touches rings true today.  And we’ve done internal number-crunching on all our verticals, sometimes it takes as many as 12 touches to break through.

Another reason why you have to use every channel available to you.  12 phone calls will just annoy your prospect.

-Creating content is a waste-prospects don’t read it

Don’t buy into that.  From our own research: 57% of marketers read agency newsletters and 43% read agency blogs.

It is disheartening when you work on a piece of content and you initially hear crickets.

But that’s why you minimally have to use a piece of content at least 5 different ways.  You have to milk it.

And I’ll leave you with this: the roundtables I mentioned at the beginning of this post occurred at an AMI network conference, and during a presentation, Robert Rose, from The Content Advisory, said at one point (and I paraphrase):

The Cobbler’s Children can’t be a thing anymore. It just can’t.

The opportunities are out there, but you have to put the consistent work behind it.  Simple but true.

A big thank you to AMI (Agency Management Institute) for my guest post, Be Wary of the New Business Development Director With the Legendary Prospecting Network.

You can read it below in its entirety.

There is a great dilemma many agency owners face time and time again: Do you hire an internal new business development person for your agency with solid sales experience (and a price tag to match), or an inexperienced individual that’s cheaper, but seems driven/teachable?

The former example is certainly a potentially sound investment, although not always feasible, and the latter doesn’t traditionally have a great success rate unless an agency is willing to put real work behind their training and possesses the requisite patience to see the process through.

That’s probably why the average new business director at an agency lasts about eighteen months.

In my first example, you have likely experienced this in some form or another. That person with experience in one vertical and an abundant network of prospects within that vertical; or the other kind, that person with the fabled “ultimate agency new business Rolodex.” And sometimes, you run across someone with both deep experience in a vertical and an abundant network.

These kinds of hires occur often and I don’t blame agencies for it. They can work but, in far too many instances, that new business director with the legendary prospecting network hire ends up flaming out. In fact, I recently spoke with an agency principal on this very topic, and she gave me permission to share her less than desirable experience with you. So, here goes.

The Legendary Prospecting Network

When my agency owner friend initially hired this new business development guru with the “legendary prospecting network,” the big draw was, of course, that huge network.

There were assurances, apparently all in good faith, that success would result from that network.

It sounded promising, but unfortunately, it was not in this case. A couple of things didn’t work out the way she had planned.

Hitting Up Your Friends Is Not a Business Strategy

Turns out, hitting up your friends is not the easiest thing to do when it comes to new business and it’s definitely not a viable business strategy.

The new business director had plenty of contacts within the industry, and they were at the “right” companies, but where this failed as a business strategy is simple. The majority of those folks were simply friends who were doing her a favor by meeting with her.

Sadly, these favors didn’t translate into business. There’s certainly something to be said for initial conversations and networking—it’s important—but it became obvious after several of these initial conversations that these prospects were considering the meetings a favor, rather than a meaningful consideration of the agency’s services.

The new business director found it much harder than expected to approach and prospect these personal contacts after that.

At Least She Has Experience In The Vertical, Right?

The next problem was a bigger one: The agency had bought into the network, but that was losing steam.

The good news: The new hire’s experience in the vertical. The agency felt reassured this individual would be able to speak the language and sell the agency with value. However, though this new business director was a vivacious and charismatic networker, that didn’t translate into an her being an effective salesperson once she was outside her network.

It quickly became evident that her network had been her only new business plan.

Yes, she knew the industry, but had no real sales skills beyond her personal contacts and face-to-face networking (primarily at social events). She wasn’t adept at translating her knowledge of the industry into a sales strategy that worked within any medium (email, social, phone, etc.).

Not surprisingly, this new hire was gone within a year.

Make no mistake: A potential hire’s personal network is valuable, as is industry experience, especially for a position focusing on new business development. However, as an agency owner hiring a new business development person, that network should not be the driving force behind the hiring decision without a clear understanding of the level of sales acumen that person has as a foundation to leveraging their network to bring in new business. If an individual can’t sell, chances are overwhelmingly good that that individual won’t succeed in a new business development role.

What has your experience been with hiring new business development team members? I’d love to hear whether you’ve experienced the situation I shared above in some fashion or another and/or tips you have for other agency owners for success in hiring for a new business development role.

I always find it interesting when some agencies start working with us and tell us they really don’t find themselves in a pitch situation very often, or at least traditionally haven’t needed to.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although more and more firms are finding themselves having to pitch more often.

Generally, I find that positive, because the team gels together, hones their creative and presentation chops and reinforces the culture (when it goes well, of course).

A recent article in The Drum, and Ad Age from a few months back, raised a few questions/comments on the pitch process, and incidentally, gave me some validation on our own new business process.

From the Ad Age piece, The New Pitch Process: Shorter, Faster, Better, an initial quote:

Giampoli [former global director of agency relations for Kraft Foods and Mondelez] advises cutting the RFI step because clients can easily do their own research on agencies. And rather than asking shops to formulate full-blown creative executions, clients should spend more time meeting agencies at their offices and quizzing them about their strategic visions.

A few things to unpack here-it’s promising to hear a marketer advocating for more face time with agencies at their offices, but the reality is that’s very tough in practice at the early stages.  A worthwhile goal, but not always practical.

The take I found most valuable was potential clients easily doing their own research on agencies. Absolutely true, and happening more and more.   Where’s the first place they go?

Your site.

Here’s where I stress your site needs to be easily navigable, clear on positioning and reflective of your work.

From the same piece:

Jill Baskin, chief marketing officer at Hershey and a former Kraft and Mondelez marketer, says she tries to avoid paperwork, including RFIs and RFPs, in favor of conversations.

Yes! And here’s the validation part I mentioned.  I understand it’s a bit self-serving, but we’ve been preaching this for quite some time: have a conversation.

Talk to your prospect, not at them.

Returning to the first quote above from Deb Giampoli, the piece continues her quote:

Questions clients should ask, she suggests, include:

— What challenges or opportunities are most pressing for our brand?

— How have you solved similar kinds of challenges for other clients?

— What does the agency think the fee range should be?

Absolutely, BUT, when you can, get to questions like these (with the exception of the third on fees) as early as you can.

Those first two questions, and more like them, should come in out in the very first meeting, so you can ideally avoid the RFI and pitch process altogether. That’s the goal.

Then Ad Age drops the following line:

Some clients are using project work, not formalized pitches, as a way to test agencies.

Yes they are, and it comes off in the article, to me at least, as being a newer trend.  This has been happening for a while, and is continuing.  It’s an ideal opportunity to get in there and land and expand.

One last bit of validation that’s good to hear from a CMO, in terms of new business process:

Michael McGoohan, chief marketing officer at Biofreeze owner Performance Health, says he never used an RFP for the original project, choosing 360i among a handful of agencies. His process included informal conversations and asking 360i to share case studies on how it dealt with similar brands.

Absolutely-and the point is not validation for us, but instead because those informal conversations and case studies are so important to any new business process.

Lastly is a quote from Ditch the Pitch: ‘Battle weary troops never win’ says AMV BBDO group CEO Cilla Snowball:

Best to be ruthlessly selective about whether you pitch in the first place and then give it your all. Spreading agency resource too thin on pitches is a recipe for disaster.

I would have liked a viewpoint from an agency smaller than AMV BBDO, but the point still stands-you do need to be selective, not only in a pitch situation, but in your decisions of which prospects to pursue up front.

You can go too far the other way and self-select needlessly, but early in the process, going after clients that aren’t the best fit given your experience, or who are too small, will ultimately work against the health of your team.