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New business: harnessing marginal gains for agency growth

Managing the peaks and troughs of new business activity, opportunity and ultimately, revenue has always been a challenge for agencies. This is far from being a new problem.

But whilst the challenge of building a sustainable new business pipeline remains the same, the variety of ‘potential’ solutions continues to grow.

There is a dizzying array of marketing channels and, just as we seem to master one, the rules of the game seem to change faster than you can say LinkedIn company page. And then there are the other online tools; for CRM, for planning, for to-do lists, for email automation… The list goes on, clogging up our minds and inboxes but bringing us no closer to a new business win. And let’s not forget, we’re busy. Busy delivering client work, managing our teams and busy trying to get paid on time.

So what’s the answer? How do we win, and remain winning?

In an ideal world, we would periodically step back, take stock of our goals and objectives and market position, review our marketing and new business plan and tailor our resource, collateral, channels and tools accordingly.

I urge everyone to do this once a year, as a matter of good housekeeping. But as well as looking forward we should take the time to look back at what worked, but even more importantly, at what didn’t work. Look at the pitches that were lost, the opportunities that fizzled away, the marketing initiatives that didn’t get any traction, the new business meetings that left us cold, the proposals that were rejected. Because as Matthew Syed states in his brilliant book Black Box Thinking, ‘failure is data-rich’. If we know what went wrong and why, we can learn from the failure and use it to fuel our success.

Then, once we have our updated goals and plan in place, including those learnings, we can focus on where we can be and do better. For example, we might not actually need any more pitches; there is only so much time any agency can commit to pitching, but perhaps we should be looking instead to increase our conversion rate, or raise the threshold on our prospects’ spend criteria. Should we be up-skilling our team with better presentation skills? Or better, improving our follow-up process? Do we simply need more introductions? If so, how can we network better to improve our referral rate? Do we need to overhaul how we write our case studies, our credentials, or even our proposals? Is our website fit for purpose? Is it simply a portfolio of work or an effective weapon in our sales and marketing armoury? Are we making the most of LinkedIn?

Delivering the best possible returns

The answers to these questions (and many more besides) provide an opportunity to make manageable marginal gains and ensure that every moment of our new business and marketing effort, often the most squeezed part of our agency time, is working as effectively and efficiently as possible and delivering the best possible return. Most importantly, by knowing where our potential for improvement lies and measuring our performance, we can gain control. And let’s face it, feeling in control of new business is a pretty good place to be.

The Small Spark Theory podcast explores the concept of using marginal gains to drive agency new business and marketing success. Available on iTunes.

About: Lucy Mann, Director, Gunpowder Consulting

Lucy has worked in agency new business and marketing for over 20 years, generating leads, pitching, recruiting, managing and mentoring teams, qualifying and measuring opportunities. This experience – the lessons learned, the tricks, tips, insights and tools have been collated, polished and packaged as Gunpowder.

The mission? To help agencies take control of the new business process. To create workable new business plans that get results. To provide the tools to measure success. To mentor in house new business teams and client service teams.

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