What’s the Secret to Winning More New Business? Know Thyself.


As part of our latest survey report release (RSW/US 2017 Thought Leader Survey Report), we’re focusing in on specific thought leaders and the insights unearthed from the agencies who took our survey.

Jody Sutter is the focus of this post and she was kind enough to provide us with a guest post on the secret to winning more new business.  Thanks Jody!

Jody is the owner of The Sutter Company, a business development consultancy working with small agency CEOs to activate their natural talents for business development through programs that are easy to embrace and take the agency’s available resources into consideration.

You can reach her at jody@thesuttercompany.com

Have you ever found yourself in a position of being forced to do something you felt you weren’t suited to do?

My life partner has a small 4-seater airplane. He learned how to fly years ago, but his pilot’s license expired before we met. I give myself some credit for encouraging him to get current again, which eventually resulted in his buying his little Piper Cherokee, in which we make occasional trips to Newport or Boston, or even an impromptu flight to Block Island for dinner on a summer evening.

He thought it would be a great idea for me to be a pilot too, and I didn’t disagree. How cool would that be to have two pilots in the family?

After my first flying lesson, the answer to that question was, “not cool at all.” I’m not afraid of flying – in fact I love being a passenger – but I was surprisingly petrified sitting in the pilot’s chair. I was overwhelmed by all the information a pilot is required to juggle and, what’s worse, I found it all pretty uninteresting.

Fear and boredom – not a good combination.

Some people feel the same when confronted with business development responsibilities at their agencies.

After years of trying to extol the virtues of a well-rounded business development program to the different agency leaders I’ve worked with, I finally realized that I was never going to get them to do something they didn’t like to do. Instead, the shortest, most efficient way to fill their pipelines was to build a program of tactics that fit well with their talents and internal resources.

In my experience, most ad agencies fit into one of these five categories:

Natural-born Hunters

This is a rare species. Most agencies are not filled with natural-born hunters, which is why they usually fail to sustain any sort of plan that entails outbound prospecting. Neither carrots nor sticks seem to make much of a difference with these teams. I’ve seen financial incentives and promises of career advancement fail in equal measure.

For the few of you whom this does describe, put a prospecting plan in place and set your team loose. For the rest, stop trying to make your team do something that they’ll never feel comfortable doing and consider whether you fit into one of the other four categories.

Natural-born Promoters

If your agency is run by leaders with big personalities and big ideas, then give them outlets to express themselves. A great example of an agency that leverages a big personality is Vayner Media. Vayner’s success is due, in part, to founder Gary Vaynerchuk. (If you’ve never heard him give a keynote address, check out the one he did last fall at INBOUND). Vaynerchuk is the ultimate ambassador for the company that bears his name. He practices what his social media agency preaches, boasting more than a million followers on Twitter, and he’s even crossed over into mainstream media, like reality TV. Outbound prospecting may still be a component of Vayner Media’s new business strategy, but I’m willing to bet it’s the strength of Vaynerchuk’s personality that generates the most leads.

Small Team Wearing Multiple Hats

This describes a lot of the agencies I work with. They have it tough because their resources are already overtaxed. They dream big, which means they set aspirational goals (to do any less would seem limiting and pessimistic, right?).

My suggestion to agencies in this category: be honest about the one or two things that your leadership team can do both consistently and well. That may mean your plan is focused more on getting your people on the speaking circuit than it is getting them to embrace outbound prospecting – and that’s OK. Make a commitment to more achievable goals – it’ll let you build momentum you can sustain over time.

“It’s Your Job, Keep Us Out of It.”

If the Small Team has it tough, these guys have it tougher. This category is filled with agencies that are fortunate to have a dedicated new business resource. But, this poor person or team probably doesn’t have the capacity to meet the truckload of expectations put on them by the rest of the agency.

If this describes you, my best piece of advice is to start looking for a better job at a different agency. In the meantime, be honest about the one or two things that you can do consistently and well.

CEO = Chief Sales Officer

Many agencies are led by CEOs who are better than anyone else at their agency at closing business. There are a number of reasons for this but here’s a big one: the qualities that make them effective CEOs also make them effective salespeople.

The mistake some of these agencies make is trying to replicate that CEO’s special sauce in other people, especially when hiring a new business person. It’s never going to work so stop wasting your time trying. Instead, delegate as many other responsibilities that are reasonable to other executives so that the CEO can spend more time on growing the business. Tee up the ball so she can hit it well. Do what you need to keep her organized and on track.

Any of these sound like your agency? The secret to winning more new business for your agency is to first know yourself, your team and the agency culture you’ve cultivated.

Author: Lee McKnight Jr

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.