I spent time at MarTech West the other week listening to keynote speakers and visiting all 80 of the exhibitors at the show.






I talked with each of these exhibitors to learn directly from them about the trends and challenges and opportunities they are facing – as well as the challenges facing marketers in this space.

While the growth of broader-reaching MarTech solutions has slowed (only up +3% in 2019 versus 2018), there are still 7,040 MarTech solutions available to marketers and marketing agencies.

In 2011, there were barely 150 firms.

What this conference revealed to me (and my recent study of the space has revealed to me) is that there are a number of things that Marketing Agencies need to be aware of as they work to stay current and move their own business and their clients’ businesses forward.

MarTech Landscape

Marketers Marrying MarTech

Marketers like McDonald’s are buying MarTech companies and turning themselves into technology-driven marketers.

McDonald’s recent purchase of Dynamic Yield puts into their hands the ability to customize and better personalize the experience for their customers.

So instead of hiring an agency to optimize that part of their business, they are bringing the expertise right in-house.

Key Marketer/Martech Stats

-52% of marketers state that integration of different MarTech platforms is limiting to their success. 

-56% of organizations report under-utilizing their MarTech stack.  21% have bought and don’t use what they buy. 

-Only 9% of companies surveyed state they they fully use their full-on stack. 

While I don’t expect Marketing Agencies to become MarTech stack consultants, being knowledgeable about platforms and helping save your marketing partner from the pains of limited utilization can go a long way in building a solid long-term partnership.

Marketers can be Techies Too

There are a growing number of no code/low code tools being dropped into the market today.

There are now open APIs that allow users to extend usage and create customization much easier than ever before.

So don’t assume that your Marketing partner automatically needs you to build platforms to enhance their business…as they can now do it on their own.

Marketing Microscope

Lastly, there’s the coming of “ecosystem specific MarTech” and niche vertical solutions for industries.

So while the growth of broad-reaching MarTech tools is slowing, the number of platforms that address specific niches in specific industries are growing.

Products like loyalty platforms specifically designed for the dental industry and CRM platforms tailored to religious communities are examples of where companies are carving out homes in areas that were once dominated by agencies.

The bottom line is: Marketing Agencies need to know what’s out there and know what’s happening in and around the MarTech world.  Clients will demand it if they aren’t already.

If you operate in a particular vertical, know what’s being developed so you can be the firm that brings the ideas to your clients (possibly as a white label), versus having a MarTech firm beat you to the punch and carve out parts of your business.

Next week we’ll talk about some of the more interesting tools I unearthed at MarTech West earlier this month.

Coming off the Small Agency Conference and Awards, Ad Age wrote a piece called Why Big Brands Choose Small Agencies.

It’s a series of quotes from agency principals on why smaller agencies are doing more work for bigger brands, and while none of them touch on new business directly, the article should stand as a reminder of the opportunities out there waiting for your firm.

But first, a few of my favorite quotes:

Smaller agencies are more likely to move at the speed of the marketplace

“I think we really like the ability for our smaller agencies to move quickly and move at the speed of the realities of the marketplace. And we really are attracted to that because we want to move at that same speed.”

—Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer, Ally Financial


Smaller agencies have niche expertise

“I think you can find agencies with an expertise that you might not, might be difficult to find at a large agency.”

—Erica Fite, co-founder and creative director, Fancy


Smaller agencies mean less bullshit

“You can be attractive to a bigger client simply by offering them big agency talent without the big agency bullshit.”

—Katie Keating, co-founder and creative director, Fancy


I saved the best for last. The majority of our clients are small to mid-sized agencies and there really is less BS.

But that new business reminder I mentioned?

One point not touched on in the article’s quotes: the fact that smaller agencies are typically hungrier for the business, and it shows.

Larger agencies don’t typically have to fight as hard on the new business front, although with smaller agencies taking more business from bigger brands, that’s changing.

And it means your firm has to be ready, specifically in two ways.  The first is summed up well in a Hubspot article on the same topic, Why Big Brands Hire Small Agencies:

This creates more opportunity for smaller firms to pitch and win more tightly defined, one-off projects, and if done well, to leverage this initial project into more work with the brand. But that requires that firms be experts in properly scoping projects and project management. You need repeatable, efficient processes that can be used to meet tight deadlines and make this work profitable for your agency.

And the second, (you know what’s coming)-you have to stay on top of your new business efforts.  The cobbler’s children story still applies to most of you: clients have to come first, so new business comes last.

Don’t let that happen, there are some game-changing opportunities waiting out there.

An agency new business topic that consistently comes up is proposal timing, and how soon is too soon.

It’s a question we get asked, and the answer is not straightforward.

The answer depends on a number of factors, like vertical, service offering and prospect size (in terms of revenue). There are certainly situations where the prospect need is simple and after an initial round of questions, your offering looks to be a solid fit, and you move to proposal fairly quickly.

That’s not a bad thing, but also not the case for many of you.

So now is a good time to reflect on when you typically move to proposal. And in thinking about it, I wanted to do a bit of research myself.

I found a handful of posts that helped put the question, “how soon is too soon”, into context.

The first comes from the Target Marketing site, and it’s titled How to Win Your Next ‘Cattle Call’ Proposal Bid.

Although it’s worth a read, I don’t agree with the entirety of the post. For example, the author states: “Next time you’re invited to bid, consider declining; instead, present upside implications of ideas your client may not be considering without discussing price.”

While I appreciate where he’s going, in this specific example, if you’ve already been invited to bid, it’s typically too late to present upside implications, and then you risk the entire opportunity.

But the post delivers helpful advice:

By giving prospects what they ask for too soon, we lose the opportunity to present ideas your client may not be considering.

Replace “client” above with “prospect” and it’s a point you should consider.  Another solid point from the post:

Too often we give in to temptation … start talking about ourselves. After all, the prospect just asked us to pitch. They’re ready.

But are they? Are they truly ready to buy? Is this the decision-maker? Are there others involved? How mature is the need … where are they in the problem-solving (not vendor selection) process?

Absolutely-and so it’s important you think about those early stages of the conversation and when you’re typically sending over a proposal.

Often you’ll encounter the situation described in How to Keep Your Sales Prospect Talking from LinkedIn’s sales blog, when:

. . . prospects haven’t given you enough information to properly determine their needs. . .For example, it’s common for prospects to ask, “How much does it cost?” In this case, you could answer with, “What else do I need to know before I put together a detailed proposal to solve this problem?”

I like this technique, because you’ll encounter this situation often.

(But a note when this happens (and it’s really another separate post topic): if they ask the cost question very early on, that’s a potential red flag.  It’s been written on countless times, and so I won’t go into it, but maybe they’re not the type of client you want if they immediately go there.)

When price does come up early, it’s not always a negative, however, if you still don’t have all the information you need, be direct and tell the prospect:

“Absolutely, but I do want to make sure I quote you for your specific needs, and while we’re almost there, could I ask you a few more questions?”

Obviously this needs to be true of course, and they’ll likely appreciate it, however, you need to be prepared, generally, with those questions, because the prospect will have only so much patience before you need to give them an idea of cost.

One further post is Expectation Setting is Key, from John Barrow’s The Make It Happen blog.

In terms of timing, in this scenario, you have all the information you need, but John brings up two very solid points to consider:

Here are some simple things we can do to help set and meet expectations internally and externally:

When a client asks to send them information or for a proposal don’t tell them when you will get it to them, ask them when they want it and push back if it’s unrealistic

I like this advice quite a bit and it’s helpful to know the background from the post:

It’s a story about a guy who was caught in the rat race and could never catch up because he always felt like he had to respond to everyone and everything immediately which ultimately made it so he never got anything done. He ended up putting an auto response on his voicemails and e-mails saying that he checked his voicemails and e-mail 2x a day and told the person listening to the message that if they had an emergency between those hours to call his cell phone. Low and behold no one called his cell phone.

Verry interesting, if not a little scary to put into practice.

A final piece of advice from the post you should absolutely follow, if you’re not currently:

Ask clients if they will treat your initial proposal as a ‘first draft’ and ask for a meeting to walk them through it.

This is not always easy, to ask for or to make happen, but you should strive for it every time you send a proposal. You work too hard to get to that point, and on the proposal itself.

It’s a step that can make all the difference in closing the business.

An Adweek article and a conversation about clients who favor tactics versus problem-solving gave me inspiration for this post.

Starting with the article: it’s titled It’s Time for Brands to Go Back to Basics and Entice Consumers With Strong Design and Copy, and it I think most agencies need to read it in order to help their new business program.

Why?  Well, first of all, we’ve said before that your site is a visual elevator pitch.

It’s the first thing your prospects’ see, typically, and while agencies have come a long way, generally speaking, there’s work to be done.

Per the article:

See your site the way shoppers experience a brick-and-mortar grocery store. Without aisle signs guiding them around, visitors are forced to wander until they find what they desire, which is inconvenient. Content that isn’t easy to access or understand makes visitors frustrated; they’ll click off your site in search of another site that gives them what they want.

And another pertinent quote:

To that end, content formatting is critical. If users land on a service page with a wall of text, they are more likely to leave because no one has the time to sift through all that content. When your content is easy to scan with clear headings and sections, users can skim to find what they want rather than bounce.

It’s time to take a look at your site, and before you do, I recommend reading this article fully.  It’s always important to go back to the basics.

And if this is what you do for your clients, you may be thinking, “Yeah, Lee, we’ve got this.” The author has you covered there:

If you’re thinking to yourself that these tips are obvious, think again. Most people who say this are making these exact mistakes on their site. Common sense is not common. Check your site out from an objective perspective and see what can be improved.

Now, on to the conversation I mentioned and how it connects with the article above.

The conversation occurred at one point in a new client kickoff meeting and revolved around the two different types of clients our client tends to work with.

The first client type is focused on tactics and execution. They don’t really care about the strategy behind it, just get it done. (Sound familiar?)

The other, our client described, and the more ideal, are those clients that are problem-driven.  They start with the business challenge and focus on the strategy the client can employ to help solve it.

I know many of you reading can relate, and as you’re thinking about your own agency site, think about these types of clients.

Then ask yourself this: Does your site resonate with the first type of client-all tactics all the time?

Or with the second, a strategic, problem-solving mentality?

If your site language consistently speaks to the tactics you use, that’s how your prospects will perceive you, and you’re putting yourself into that box.

That’s not to say tactics aren’t important of course, but if you prefer the types of engagements that are more strategic, and focused on solving business problems with a more “tactics-agnostic” mentality, include that type of language in your site.

Unless you want that first type of client of course.

While the beautiful machinations of Cannes continue to flood Twitter (brands need to find meaning and purpose!  Apparently brands are human beings?), you’re taking care of your clients and working hard to grow your agency.

But many of you are getting in your own way. Time to get back to basics.

You need a more effective way to drive new business.  One of these three situations is slowing you down:

  1. Your agency culture is important, but it is not the first thing a prospect wants to hear about

Not much more to add here-you’ll get to that once a prospect becomes a client and, no sarcasm at this point, your culture is important, but it is not an up-front selling point. Do not start there, because a prospect does not care in that early stage.

2. A deep knowledge of your vertical/verticals does not make you a good salesperson.

It goes without saying that in order to win business you need to speak your prospects’ language, BUT-I have witnessed agency principals/new business directors bludgeon prospects with their knowledge. Ask good questions and let your prospect talk-give them breathing room.

3. You have a solid team. The entire team should not hold sway over new business

Too many cooks in the kitchen. ‘Nuff said.

In all seriousness-there is valuable input coming from your team, but the team shouldn’t be involved in the day-to-day new business activity.

Appoint one person to that task, and she/he should engage team members as-needed.

Now get back to the beautiful people at Cannes and that awesome panel discussion on virtual programmatic content AI culture memes that will change everything.


Coming fresh off the Mirren New Business Conference, I always come back with several solid takeaways I like to share.

This year more than others, we had agencies ask about the efficacy of pursuing search consultants as part of a new business strategy.

It’s tricky, because there are obviously some very effective consultants out there, but I look at it the way I do about RFP’s: courting them too often, or making them a sizable percentage of your new business strategy, is time-consuming, often frustrating and unreliable.

Our Owner and President, Mark Sneider, also runs RSW/AgencySearch, a search consultancy focused on the small to mid-sized agency, and in a recent post on the conference, he provided some perspective around the question:

One of the sessions I attended was called “The Next Generation of Search Consultants: The Change Ahead for Agencies”.

The “change” discussed centered primarily on what we have known for some time, that full-on AORs are going away and more marketers are either finding specialized agencies to meet specific needs (like digital, PR, media) or they are using project work to satisfy specific initiatives central to their business.

There was one moment during the panel discussion that was quite amazing.

I wish I had captured video of the stunned silence that occurred when this group of high profile agency search consultants were asked the question, “How can you help small and mid-sized agencies find their way to the C-Suite?”


Big time search consultants are great at helping big spend marketers.  But when it comes to marketers spending at lower levels, these smaller spend marketers only have a few choices if they want to formally look for a new marketing agency for a project or a full-on assignment:

-Get referrals from friends

-Take meetings with agencies that reach out to them

-Hop on Google and spend time digging around for a new firm

This approach can be limiting and time-consuming for marketers.

The takeaway: you should be doing your homework on a potential fit with consultants, but if you’re a small to mid-sized agency, it’s more important than ever to make sure you have a solid mix of referrals, search consultant relationships (that make sense) and new business outreach driving your new business strategy, with a strong emphasis on new business outreach over the others.


HubSpot released a report I was happy to be a part of (Marketing Agency Growth Report 2018), and while I provided a few thoughts in a previous post on the report, one topic I thought was handled deftly was referrals.

We’ve spoken to the topic on a few occasions previously, but Jason Swenk brought up a point we hadn’t touched on, and one that an agency brought up in her experience recently.

When HubSpot asked agencies the question “What are your main source of leads”, a whopping 57% said referrals and/or their personal network.

Jason points out the inherently troubling nature of that stat:

Don’t get me wrong. I love referrals, and referrals mean that you did a good job so someone is endorsing your services. Here’s the problem with referrals: Usually, referrals are the same type of lead, with the same budget you are working with now or smaller. Which means you are going to have to keep your pricing the same, even as your experience and expertise improves.

An important point, and Jason finishes with this:

You get better and more efficient yet the smarter you get, the more profit you lose. You’re stuck charging the same prices because you’re working with the same types of clients who are a network of referrals.

Jim Darcangelo’s section followed Jason’s and he carried the thought further. Essentially, with that 57% of leads coming from referrals and networking, Jim points out an agency could probably expect these opportunities to be reasonably strong.

We saw how that often isn’t the case, per Jason’s quote, and as I mentioned earlier, I had an agency principal call me specifically because, while she was awash with referrals, they weren’t the right clients, and typically didn’t understand why this agency wasn’t cheaper. Ugh.

Jim brings up another good point as well, those same agencies,

. . .noted that only 52% felt that they could attract the types of clients they wanted. And 60% stated that getting new clients was their biggest pain point. In other words, they are not sure they can attract the right prospects. . . To make matters worse, when asked what was preventing their agencies from growing as quickly as they would like, agency leaders noted that they believed they needed more sales and marketing. More sales and marketing to fuel wobbly new client value and return?

Referrals should always be a part of your new business program, but because they can be unreliable, and even more importantly, because they can sometimes be detrimental to your bottom line, they should only be one part of your new business strategy.

Building quality marketing lists had always been the bane of our existence at RSW/US.

Not any more.  Not since our launch of RSW/Lists, the first guaranteed accurate, self-service list sales website in the country.

Beautiful lists

We would subscribe to different services and no matter the service, the quality of the marketing lists we’d buy were never up to snuff.  Email addresses were wrong, people were no longer there, and addresses were incorrect.

Agency clients that would sign on with our outsourced lead generation service would come to the table with lists they had purchased from groups like The List or Hoovers or other list resources and more often than not, they would prove not too terribly useful for our programs.

Today, we hire people that not only know how to track down contact information for marketing prospects, but they know how to dig deeper into the contacts they build for our agency client programs, so they are not only accurate, but great fits.

So now, rather than worry about how clean or not clean lists from other list resources are, our Account Execs on our list team know lists are industry-leading 90 day verified.  This gives them the ability to actually think about the companies and prospects they are selecting – and determine if they are right fit for their agency clients and their agency new business programs.

For those agencies building their own program and managing it inside, you too need to start your programs with well thought out lists.  Buy big bulky lists from other list providers and you risk send suppression if lists are bad.

And when you buy big bulky lists or sign on with high monthly subscriptions, you’ll often get a lot of garbage that really provides no value to your marketing program.

Our experience at RSW/US is that sending out huge numbers of emails to a large database of unknowns doesn’t get you very far.  In fact, more often than not, big email databases often perform at lower levels than a more controlled outreach to prospects that are fine tuned to meet the needs of your marketing firm.

So next time you’re in the market to build up a very targeted, very precise list of prospects, give RSW/Lists a try.



We’re big believers in celebrating along with our clients when we help them close business.

As part of that, we’ve created our latest case study and accompanying win video to highlight the path to success.

Agency New Business Case Study: Corporate Responsibility and Purpose-Driven Marketing Brand Strategy Agency 

You can read the entire case study via the link above, but a bit of background to lay the groundwork: This agency employed a horizontal positioning across multiple verticals in both the B2B and B2C space with a focus on corporate responsibility and purpose-driven marketing.

In the first few months of prospecting, we connected the Client with prospects that generated numerous proposal and RFP opportunities.

Our client has closed two pieces of business. One with a global leader of IT, Technology and Industry solutions, with four additional projects in planning, and another with a multi-national professional services firm.

I’ve had prospects and clients alike question the efficacy of blogging for new business.  Or just blogging, period.

You should be doing it, and here’s why.

I spoke with an agency prospect this week who told me about a client he lost the previous year who represented 45% of the agency’s business.

You know the story, and unfortunately, many of you reading have been there.

The happy ending is the agency was able to survive and put themselves back on a path towards profitability.

A big part of building back their client base?

Creating content around their specialization.

Two things we know from the agency/marketer survey reports we create:

1) 57% of marketers read agency newsletters and 43% read agency blogs.

That’s a fairly compelling reason on its own, but the key here is: your prospects have to know your content exists.

This is, understandably, where agencies fall down, because like many new business efforts, content creation tends to fall by the wayside when client workloads pile up.

2) In 2013, only 47% of marketers stated they were looking for “specialty agencies”. At the end of 2017, 71% of marketers in our survey said they needed help from specialty firms.

Marketers are looking for it and that means you have to focus on it when creating content.

We do not have time for content creation.

That’s the ongoing agency mantra. Well, the hard truth is, you need to make time.

Because at least one of your competitors is doing it, and chances are they’re benefitting from it.

Here’s the thing-content creation doesn’t have to be an impossible task.

A few ways to make content creation easier:

You don’t literally have to have a blog on your site.  As you know, there are many outlets to post content.  Unless you can truly sustain an active blog, I actually think it’s better to post on LinkedIn, for example, where you can post not only your own content, but third party content easily and it’s not as easy to tell if you haven’t written a post lately.

You don’t have to post multiple times a week.  You don’t even need to post every week.  That would be ideal, but you want to maintain this content consistently.  Start with one post a month. And then use that in multiple forms of outreach: your blog, LinkedIn, Twitter and especially in the email reach-out you’re sending to clients.

Write what you know.  Agencies always agonize over what to write and whether a prospect will even care.

They will care, and they will read-if you speak to their challenges.

And if you’re consistently writing on your specialization, whatever that might be (vertical or service offering), the writing will come much more easily.

Write on the challenges you help your clients solve.  You’re living it every day, so write about it.

Not in an overly salesy way, but in a way that shows your prospects you understand their world and you solve problems within it.

And finally, it doesn’t have to be blog, it can be various types of content, most important is that you actually do it.