Take a minute and count how many pitches you participated in this year. Now, how many did you win? I'm guessing that you lost way more pitches than you won. So why is that? And what can you do to change those odds next year?
I think you'll find the source of the problem is your approach to business development. Your business-development teams aren't leveraging the power of data-based strategies. They're marketing more aggressively to prospects already in your database, in an effort to move them farther down your sales funnel from unqualified lead to new client. While the approach does work, it's painful, expensive and not particularly fun.
But if you'll augment your database mentality with a data-based one, you'll pitch less and win more. Moving to a data-based method -- one that relies on tracking data derived from content your agency creates and shares on the web -- you overcome three key hurdles to efficiently winning more business.
You don't know what you don't know. Agencies stuck in a database mindset are still prospecting as if it's 1999. Agency management decides which companies they'd like to work with and then the business-development folks locate the appropriate contact or contacts at the target company and place them in their sales funnel, where they are assaulted over time with a highly orchestrated series of unsolicited calls, e-mails, clutter busters and so forth.
These efforts are designed to do one thing: help the prospect learn how awesome the agency is. Unfortunately, these efforts do nothing to help the agency understand the prospect's marketing needs and challenges. Thus, they don't help the prospect send the agency buying signals.
For instance, if your agency produces a webinar on using social media to prospect for new customers and a client-side brand manager visits that web page or better, registers to attend the webinar, he's sent you a buying signal that he might need social-media strategy help.
Without such buying signals, your agency is wildly pitching in the dark, hoping to hit something -- anything.
While traditional database efforts do work, they are grossly inefficient. In my days as a vice president of business development, I once had to call on a prospect 52 times over two years before our agency was invited to pitch for anything. Conversely, the last client I picked up at my current firm, Converse Digital, took one call and a meeting over beers, which occurred after the prospect submitted a "how can we help you" contact form from our website. Exact same result. Far less effort and expense.
Why? By the time the prospect contacted me via our website, he was pretty sure we were the right firm to solve his problem. Our meeting wasn't about me proving the firm, but about solidifying chemistry and confirming timing and pricing. He already knew we could help him because he had read numerous blog posts, listened to keynote presentations posted on our website and read white papers we authored. Each time he performed one of these actions, he appeared on our sales radar, resulting in the creation of a buying signal in the form of trackable website clicks.
You can't see the invisible prospect. This is the company that desperately needs your services and is actively seeking someone to provide those services. Today's prospects are increasingly invisible. They're hiding behind the anonymity of a Google search and their ability to consume a plethora of digital information, versus contacting an agency and requesting a capabilities kit. In fact, three-fourths (according to a 2012 Demand Gen Report) indicate that they do online research before contacting any vendors. That same report noted that 51% of those buyers claimed to go all the way to short-list development before contacting vendors.
While that is only one source of information, ask yourself how many of your agency's prospects are online right now trying to find information or agency partners to help solve a marketing challenge. And that is the power of data-based approach. It helps your agency see the invisible prospect.
I'm not advocating that you abandon your traditional, outbound business-development efforts completely. Inefficient as they are, they do work. But also harness your agency's intellectual capital and share that helpful information online, where an invisible prospect can find it, consume it and send visible buying signals to your team's sales radar. Then use these treasure troves of buying signals to craft custom outreach plans for each prospect that are designed to position your agency as the best possible solution. I think you'll pitch less and win more.