The Top Five Reasons Most Agencies Fail at New Business – Part Four.

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New business consultants Gray Matters have identified what they believe are the top five reasons most agencies fail at new business. They’ve written a guide on how you can start to put in place the right steps to combat them. This is a five-part series that will be released over the next couple of months, which includes:

Part One: Failure to differentiate, stand out and target a specific audience.
Part Two: Thinking just outsourcing will get you results.
Part Three: Lack of patience and consistency.
Part Four: Little knowledge or experience in sales.
Part Five: Failure to demonstrate value.

Part Four: Little knowledge or experience in sales.

Many agencies emerge from people who want to be doing more of the work they love [plus dealing with less of the bureaucratic bullsh*t they faced in their last job]. They are typically creatives, strategists or technologists who either start a business with career experience under their belts or go straight into it from University. The truth for both of these people is, most have never had any formal sales training and even the most charismatic often don’t know how to implement a sales process to build a robust pipeline.

In reality, when you decide to go independent, you actually commit to starting a business and everything that goes with that: operations, finance, legal, HR, new business, client servicing etc. I can feel the grey clouds encroaching you already. To most, these are not the most fun parts of the job, however, they are a necessary evil that will enable you the freedom to be creative and brilliant to do the work you love. And just before you think, “no problem, I’ll just outsource that to someone else” you may want to read my blog on leadership, ownership, and outsourcing.

The good news is, there are definitely skilled experts out there who can help you no matter how introverted or extroverted you are, or good, or terrible at sales. Hopefully, I’m deemed one of them! So, it’s not the case that you’re going to have to learn and do everything yourself; otherwise, how would you scale? But without understanding what’s involved in the art of new business, you won’t be able to make important decisions and grow. And the smaller you are, the more you’ll have to wear a multitude of hats and manage all of these disciplines; because nobody cares about your business the way you do.

So, sticking to new business (although I can recommend experts in all the fields I mentioned earlier), it’s important for you to get to grip with your sales process and put a clear strategy and objectives in place. So many agencies fall at this first hurdle, with many blowing in the wind hoping for a recommendation to walk into their inbox or relying on their ‘little black book’ with a short shelf life. They also fail to breakdown their financial targets into more daily and weekly manageable chunks. They don’t know where to start. Maybe you need to define what success looks like? Before you even start your new business strategy, you better ensure you’ve spent time thinking about your brand, positioning, and mission, otherwise, you’re off to a non-starter. Nothing gives you less momentum than no destination.

When it comes to sales, you should be able to answer all of these questions:

• What’s the overarching financial sales target for the year / financial year?
• How much of this target does new business have to contribute?
• How much of your income comes from projects or retained business?
• What are your lead sources and what percentage of leads come from each?
• What is your pitch or proposal conversion rate?
• What’s your average deal value?
• How long does it generally take you to close a sale?
• Why are you losing deals and what are the most common reasons?

If you can’t answer these basic questions, then you won’t be able to plan for success. Capturing data, using a CRM or spreadsheet effectively will enable you to answer these questions in a heartbeat and also evolve your strategy accordingly. It’s about taking control of new business and not relying on chance or a rollercoaster pipeline.

You should have a clear set of metrics and KPIs you can aim towards. And you don’t have to stop there. You should continue to work backward, thinking about meetings, daily activities, emails, events, content pieces, etc. that you need to do or produce in order to get you to the key numbers. It’s not just going to happen overnight or by chance, you have to be prepared to put in the hard graft and struggle every day if you want to see the results. The gym analogy works well if you think about how you’re going to achieve those killer abs.

This will take a bit of time getting into place so if you need to, work with someone experienced in sales to put in place the processes, systems, and culture you need for long term success. Don’t just leave it to chance or make panicky, knee-jerk reactions at last minute when the pipelines or the cash flows looking bleak.

Sales is a crazy blend of confidence, endurance, and emotional intelligence. It will test you in ways you never thought possible (who knows you may even grow to love it). Sales is a game and you need to know how to play it. Confidence is attractive so don’t come across desperate – hold the prospect at arm’s length, challenge them and make them realise you are the prize, not them.

There are so many personality types you will need to meet and manage but this is as much about managing yourself and how you react to people and situations. The more self-aware and authentic you are at all times, the easier you will find it to win. And don’t just think about the win if you’re looking for marriage rather than a quick shag. The boundaries and relationship you put in place now will be the foundations for you to build from.

The last point I want to make is around new business culture. There are about 20 different roles that contribute to new business and they shouldn’t all fall on the shoulders of the business owner. The sooner you delegate some of this responsibility, the better you’ll be at growing. But understanding the importance of new business, what’s involved and working with these people contributing, will ensure you stay on track. You can never entirely take your eye off the ball no matter how good your sales and marketing person/team is.

Create a vision and a positioning, share it with your employees constantly; talk to them about company objectives, and share with them how you’re tracking regularly; and remind them, that there is one important client that they should come into the office every day to service, and that is you – the company that pay their wages and the family they sit among.

For more information on how we can support you, please book in a free 90-minute workshop.

About the author

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Like Minds is a global thought leadership platform delivering world class events on business development, knowledge and insight aimed at entrepreneurs and business leaders to engage, stimulate and empower them to become global businesses of the future. We also offer a bespoke service for corporate clients and training programmes under the Like Minds U brand. For more information please email