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, 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.

No.

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.

Huh?

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.

Marketing Charts released an article on our latest 2019 New Year Outlook Survey titled Agencies’ New Business Worries Spike. While we always appreciate the press, it is a bit gloom and doom.  They quote our stats around agencies thinking it will be more difficult to win business this year, in-house agencies increasing and marketers consolidating agencies, all of which are (obviously) trending, but what I wanted to posit in this post is that it isn’t all gloom and doom.

Especially when it comes to the in-house agency trend.  I’ll knock on wood as I type this, but overall, we’re not seeing it affect small-to-mid-sized firms in the same manner as the larger agencies.  I am speaking anecdotally, as a large majority of our clients fall into that size range, as well as a good portion of the agencies and firms I talk to on a daily basis.

To provide some perspective from your peers, I reached out to several agencies in that size range to get their take, and three of their quotes are below:

Agency Owner #1:

My take on agency new business challenges is probably similar to that of other agency owners. More and more for us, the new opportunities come up because of changes in leadership at the prospect companies. A good share of those changes are the result of private equity firms buying up established brands and then pressuring them to hit new financials in a short time frame. Getting fresh marketing support is sometimes a fallout of that . . .  we worked very hard on a 6-month project and were successful in helping the client win additional business at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Now that project is done. The CEO who called us in originally is already on to another turnaround assignment. I guess your key takeaway from the above is that leadership changes can lead to agency changes – win or lose.

Agency Owner #2

Over the years we have seen the trends you mention and certainly been impacted at times. However, in the past year or so, our client relationships have been very stable and – fortunately – not experienced any consolidation- or in-house agency-related losses. I suppose that actually supports your thesis.

Agency Owner #3

We are actually seeing a LOT of reorganization on our client’s side the last 3 months and this is really what’s causing any uncertainty for us but overall we are seeing clients continue to look for a handful of “trusted advisors” as they strive to balance their agency resources.  We’ve had 3 major clients leave their organizations over the past 3 months and this will definitely impact our business this year ahead and into next if we do not replace them immediately.

While only a small sample, these quotes are representative of what we’re seeing agencies face.  It’s not so much fighting the in-house trend as it is consolidation, and even more so, leadership changes.

Viewing it from a new business angle, the silver lining here is the possibility of working with that individual wherever he or she lands. Suffice to say, that should always be a part of your new business strategy.

As an agency owner, you obviously can’t control client consolidation or leadership changes, but you can control your new business strategy to ensure these changes don’t negatively impact your firm.

New business should be an agency-wide endeavor, not just driven by a member of leadership or a new business director. But the question is, how does that manifest itself, in terms of the day-to-day, and for those individuals who aren’t tasked directly with new business activity? The 3 takeaways in this episode begin to answer that question and provide several big-picture ideas you can use to implement a new business culture across your entire firm.

 

It’s one of our most downloaded reports-the 2019 RSW/US New Year Outlook Survey Is Live and your help in taking it would be greatly appreciated.

You can take it here.

This short, 5-minute survey asks questions about marketer spending, data/analytics expectations of your clients, new business readiness, and your thoughts relative to the single biggest challenge facing marketing agencies in 2019.

Thank you for your time. We will send you an advance copy of the report as a “thanks” for your participation in early Q1.

We’re pleased to release our fifth annual Agency New Business Thought Leader Survey Report, particularly because this year we changed our structure by asking individuals who drive new business at their respective agencies to provide questions for the survey.

Download it here.

We asked each of them to submit questions they believed would prove helpful to agencies across the country, and ideally, this change will translate into
useful takeaways for your team.

The 2018 Agency New Business Thought Leader Survey was completed by 199 Agencies from across the United States during September 2018 and was commissioned by RSW/US.

Topics in the report cover the agency new business spectrum and include questions on pitching, prospecting tools, success metrics, and internal organization.

We’ll explore the results further in upcoming blog posts, video, and interviews with each of our thought leaders to present feedback on the responses you gave to their questions.

We would like to thank the following Thought Leaders for being a part of our survey:

Jason Parks-BARKLEY
Stephen Larkin-R/GA
Matt Weiss-HUGE
Kelly Kennedy-R2i
Jordan Wells-FCB/WEST

Taking more inspiration from LinkedIn: Lindsey Slaby from Sunday Dinner (who you should follow), threw out a great question on LinkedIn: Is a chemistry meeting more challenging than an actual pitch?

I would say yes.  Lindsey initially points out, “There’s most likely no brief. And the wrong approach quickly eliminates an invitation to further discussions.”

Both points, very true.  And I would take a step back and point out a bigger-picture issue:

Agencies who don’t view these opportunities as a chemistry meeting

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve talked to and seen firms who walk into initial meetings and claim they immediately know whether it’s worthwhile.

And they base that worth on whether or not there is an immediate work opportunity. (We discuss this in our video series actually: 3 Takeaways – Ep #8 – No Work-In-Hand ≠ A Bad Meeting.)

Let’s get two things out of the way: 1) Sure, there are some meetings that quickly go nowhere, wrong fit out of the gate for example and 2) absolutely, the point of any meeting with a prospect is to get the work.

Having said that, when there is an initial fit on paper, in terms of your ideal client parameters, too many firms walk into these meetings with pre-determined notions of how it should go.

Lindsey throws out a few notable questions as well:

Do you talk about your POV on the business without knowing the actual challenge (risky!)

Indeed it is-you have to close the laptop and ask some questions first.

Do we pop open our capabilities deck?

See above, answer is no, unless they specifically request it, but even then, you have to ask some initial questions.

The word chemistry is so important here.

That’s how you must treat first meetings. Of course you want the work, but are they the right fit, and are you?  Don’t go straight for the ask, find out what you’re even asking first.

Along those lines, I really like this comment on Lindsey’s post:

I Love Chemistry Meetings. It stresses the simple reality of humans hiring other humans based on thoughtful, agile discussion versus the deliverables-based methods that have become more of the norm.

I realize that ultimately you do need to get to the ask, I don’t want to get too ethereal here, but another comment from a former CMO speaks directly to the right path:

I like to see a team that asks a lot of questions, shares some other solutions they have created and, perhaps most importantly, the thought process or pathway that got them to the message or desired set of outcomes. Finally, I feel that asking what success looks (or even feels) like is critical so all parties get aligned in the beginning.

Agreed.

When you go into these meetings, keep that word, chemistry, in mind. And in some of those meetings, you’ll find out there’s not a fit.  Was it a waste of time?  I would say not, all things being equal.

Lindsey sums it up well:

It feels a bit like a place where there is less care given to set the agency up for success and yet, it’s so so important. Taking the time to explain the purpose of this meeting, expectations, and creating some guardrails to what is in vs out feels increasingly important so these meetings truly focus on … chemistry.

I own far too many t-shirts. It’s true, and I accept it.

What does that have to do with anything?  Over the course of traveling and meeting/talking with agencies, I take notes on potential blog topics.

Going over those notes recently, I saw several key takeaways that really would make for excellent t-shirt slogans.

Granted, no one would wear these shirts, with the exception of a few hipsters who might wear them ironically.

But in all seriousness, pay attention to these 5 “slogans”, as each could, and probably will at some point, be its own blog post-important points to keep in mind.

Put These On Your Agency New Business T Shirt

1. Do Not Overthink It

This is number one for a reason. It’s a new business affliction.  We see this at every stage of new business and it’s a major cause of analysis paralysis for agencies.  I’ve seen agencies agonize over their prospect lists, positioning, and messaging, to the point that the actual content creation/positioning/prospecting never gets started.

All of the above are critically important, but you must move.  Stop getting bogged down in the minutia and start prospecting.

2. Be Real

I know this comes off as wishy-washy, but remember that you are reaching out to a human. Any time you leave a voicemail, send an email or create content, take a step back and think about your reaction to what you just wrote/said.

Is it robotic?  Overly salesy and filled with buzzwords?  Are you talking at the prospect, rather than to them?

Of course, you don’t want to be too informal, but you’re legitimately trying to find a fit with this prospect-think about how might you help them solve a business challenge as you’re reaching out and do that in plain language that cuts to the chase in a respectful way.

3. Don’t be afraid of automation

You really need to be careful here, but this goes hand-in-hand with #1 and overthinking.  I’ve seen individuals responsible for new business at firms that are hell-bent on hand-crafted, bespoke emails and reach-outs.

You absolutely should create that type of outreach with a warm or hot prospect, but early on, you don’t have time for that.

I would never encourage too many email blasts, but with a fresh group of prospects, or once a month to your prospect base, a well-written email blast is your friend.

4. Follow up-You MUST follow up

Not a lot to say here, because you already know it.  But wow, it’s amazing how many opportunities agencies miss for lack of follow up.

That leads to number five:

5. Follow Up Quickly

This one is tough, to be fair.  You have a life, and I’m not positing that you be married to your phone (although you probably already are), but, along with #4 above, it’s also amazing, in a bad way, how long it takes some agencies to follow up.

I’ve been guilty of this myself and typically it’s because you’re slammed. You had all the best intentions of following up right away and then that client called.

Having said that, it usually doesn’t take that long to craft a reply, and just that simple step will put you ahead of 80% of your competition.

Ideally these reminders are helpful and maybe you’ll see one on an actual t-shirt.  I can always use more!

 

This is the second in our series of mini-infographics that highlight key takeaways from our 2018 RSW/US-Mirren New Business Tools Report.

In this infographic, we look at overall effectiveness of new business tools by category, and you told us resoundingly that there’s work to be done.

Looking at 5 of the main categories, Social Media, CRM, Marketing Automation, Target Audience Research and List Building, only Research and Lists were over 3 (out of 5) on the scale, with the others between 2 and 3.

Not stellar.

We asked agencies for open-ended responses as to the reasons why effectiveness ratings were mostly average, or below average-her are a few key takeaways:

We got burned

We have not been proactive in sourcing new, new biz tools since our disastrous experience with a few key, well-known tools.

Lack of Time And Resources

We can improve our process and improve our output. Agency time and resources are always at a premium due to existing business. Easy to rally around RFPs and Pitches. Difficult to make progress on prospecting tools and resources.

Underutilization

We only use 10% of the functionality of our HubSpot subscription, and we know it could be far more valuable in qualifying inquiries and leads online.

Multiple barriers

One part is lack of awareness of what is out there. There are also barriers for adoption of new systems, typically resulting in not wanting to pursue or invest in alternatives.

You can download our full report here: RSW/US-Mirren New Business Tools 2018 Annual Report

We’re seeing/hearing more recently about marketers bringing work in-house.

We’ve spoken to it on this blog and Digiday has a piece you should read titled Agencies see change ahead as clients take more marketing in-house.

The article kicks off with a striking declaration from the P&G marketing chief:

“We are now seizing back control”.

Oh my! It’s an odd quote-have the marketing folks there felt powerless at the hands of their agency overlords?

OK, on a serious note-P&G, obviously, has the resources to do it, and as the article points out, the outcome of the move could be disastrous to agencies’ bottom lines.

They really should have inserted “larger” before “agencies’ bottom lines”. Per the article, WPP Group’s share price, for instance, is down 14 percent from the start of the year.

A quote from Josh Kelly at Fine sums it up:

“This is going to shrink the size of the outside agency pie because agencies are often not set up to keep pace with the range of tactics and navigate organizations in the ways now required.”

The small to mid-sized agency is actually perfectly set up to keep pace and navigate organizations, or at least, should be.

The article goes on to cite a trend that we’re seeing with our own agency clients:

Client control will end up benefiting nimbler agencies over massive ones and project work over retainers.

Please excuse the self-promotion for a moment, but we’ve seen direct evidence of the trend in Q1 of this year, breaking a company record with 24 client wins.

The majority of those wins were project-based.

A thank you to Digiday, as they used a stat from our New Year Outlook Report to underscore this:

One winner: agencies that have a structure to accommodate project-based work. Agencies are already seeing an uptick in requests around shorter, specialized projects. According to a survey released in January from development firm RSW/US, 35 percent of 115 agencies surveyed said a majority of their assignments are now project-based, while 16 percent said over 80 percent of their work is now project-based.

Embrace this as a positive trend within your agency as you pursue new business.

This quote from the article also rings true:

Marketers believe specialized boutique agencies, which already thrive on individual assignments, will benefit the most from the in-house movement. “Brands will start looking toward niche agencies who really understand their craft and have deep expertise,” said Quynh Mai, founder at Moving Image & Content.

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I point out the cyclical nature of the industry and agency new business in particular, but this is a trend that’s not going away quickly, in my opinion.

So it means you have to hone your positioning to show your expertise, be open to project opportunities (that make sense) and make sure you’re actively driving new business-marketers are obviously spending right now-take advantage of it.

And I leave you with his final quote, which also rings true:

Chris Mele, managing director of creative studio Stink Studios, said building an in-house agency means brands will have more knowledge around the overall creative process, how much talent can cost and how difficult talent is to find and retain, which might just open their eyes to how much they need agencies in the first place.

Amen.

I was pleased to be a part of HubSpot’s latest Marketing Agency Growth Report 2018.

They asked me for thoughts on new business and what follows is my submission:

One of the questions asked was, “What Are Your Agency’s Biggest Pain Points?” and I wasn’t surprised at the top two answers: finding new clients (60%) and not enough free time to focus on new business investments (43%).

In working solely with agencies to drive new business, we also create a fair amount of new business content, and in one of our previous reports, 69% of agencies described their biggest challenge as being able to break through to prospects — in keeping with the findings in this report.

So why is it so difficult for agencies to find and break through to new clients?

Here are a few of the main reasons:

They don’t have a new business process to find new clients. Agencies often start out with the best of intentions, planning out the initial few weeks with some email blasts, buy into a CRM, purchase a list and write a blog post or two. And that’s about it. Rarely is there a value-based, repeatable process aimed at multiple touches through a variety of channels.

They don’t give the process a chance. You do have some agencies who actually follow a process, but who give up far too quickly when prospects aren’t breaking down the door. They won’t. It will take anywhere from 7 to 12 touches to break through on average, which leads to the third reason.

They don’t have solid positioning. It may seem very obvious to point out, but the majority of agencies have ineffective positioning. So even when they are targeting the right prospects, those prospects don’t see the value in what they’re offering, or even worse, don’t understand the agency is even a fit.

Agencies say it’s hard to find new clients, and they are absolutely correct, it is hard. There is no magic bullet to find them, although agencies often think there is. Unless you truly have an inside track to a prospect, no software or methodology will know the exact moment a prospect is looking for a new agency. Which is why agencies need to be on a prospect’s radar consistently, effectively, and with value.