Organizing for the Hunt
by Joe Grant

OK, so you know the kind of clients you want and how to screen for them, but what's the best way to organize for new business?

Should you have a full-time new business director, use a "Spark and Torch" process, or perhaps create a special new business team? And if you're an agency principal, what's your role in all this?

Let's look at some typical ways agencies structure for the chase.

New Business Rainmaker

A rainmaker is someone who's an expert at netting lucrative accounts. They usually have a bag of promotional and interpersonal skills suited to cold calling and relationship building and a Palm bursting with contacts.

Hire one if (a) you have the cash, (b) you can find a good one and (c) you're sure it will pay off.

It used to be these types would command a king's ransom with fat commissions tied to landing juicy accounts. Like Old West gunslingers, there aren't that many of these guys around any more (for an enlightening read about a successful rainmaker's adventures, get a copy of Life's a Pitch Then You Buy by Don Peppers, who was a business development executive at Chiat/Day and Lintas and also co-authored The One to One Future).

The biggest plus to making one person solely responsible for securing new clients is you'll get dedicated focus unencumbered by day-to-day account exigencies. The downside is that most agencies hire ineffective new business directors or worse, appoint someone ill-equipped for the role simply because they don't know what else to do with him or her. An AE won't always a productive rainmaker make.

New business directors from the outside can be expensive. You can burn through lots of cash waiting for even a little drizzle from your rainmaker. How long can you afford to fund an unbillable salary for someone who's picking up a lot of lunch checks?

I'm not saying you shouldn't have a new business beagle - they can pay off big time - just make sure you understand what you're getting into.

If the new business person is primarily an appointment-getter ("She'll get us in the door and then our best people will do the rest"), then you've actually got a "Spark."

Spark & Torch

An eager-beaver assistant who's good on the phone (maybe an intern?), makes cold calls all day to a database of leads. When there's a "spark" i.e. a little interest on the other end of the line, an appointment is made for the "torch" (a senior staffer) to introduce the agency's skills in person.

Spark and Torch is basically a numbers game - you start with a huge amount of potentials, put them in the hopper, and they funnel down into legitimate leads (we hope) which you make appointments to see. Not much different really than running down the phonebook.

Many agencies try it, exhausting both sparks and databases. It's easy to confuse activity with meaningful results and though this is a relatively inexpensive approach, if the spark is too much the go-getter and the leads aren't properly qualified, the torch will spend weeks driving from appointment to appointment with little to show for it but gas receipts.

There's another issue. With junior level sparks making the first contact, if you were a marketing VP, business unit GM, or CEO/owner of a business, wouldn't you be a little miffed if the president of an agency desiring your business didn't take the time herself to call?

But hey, if Spark and Torch delivers the results you want, be pragmatic: if it's working - delivering accounts right for your agency - keep doing it.

New Business Teams

Many agencies use a team approach.

There are several positives to new business teams. Peer pressure can keep the process moving, the work gets divvied up, the team understands the agency's unique attributes and can present them with clarity and passion, and it may be easier to keep things on the front burner when several people are involved.

On the other hand it can distract from "regular" work. And when a new account comes in the boat, hand off from the pitch team can get sticky - who has the new client been told will guide their business? As you know, sales folks have been known to over-promise. . .

Don't automatically make the senior team the new business team. They may not be the kind of organizers, pushers, and take-no-prisoners types to get the job done. Or they won't have the time to do what's required. If you want results, stock this team with only your most effective people regardless of rank.

Something else to remember: they've got to meet frequently. Don't expect much from this group if they gather only once a month.

We helped an agency dramatically turn things around once by demanding the new business team meet DAILY at 8:00 am for thirty minutes five days a week. You should have heard the whining and moaning! But it was like turning up the gas under a pot, and soon the water began to boil. Things like a PowerPoint capabilities presentation, a direct mail campaign, and collateral sell pieces came rocketing from the shadows.

Yes, some good accounts materialized. I'm convinced they wouldn't have if they continued to mumble along in those ineffective once-a-month meetings.

What's Your Role?

If you own the place or your name's on the door, you are the ideal person to lead the new business effort.

Who knows the place better than you? Who can get things done faster, authorize expenditures, or quickly mobilize resources when the heat's on?

Surprisingly, a lot of agency honchos purposely avoid new business. Excuses range from "I hate selling" (isn't our business all about persuasion?), "I'm too busy" (what's a bigger priority than growing revenue by adding new customers?) or "I've got to run the inside things." Without new accounts, what's going to be left to run?

If you want new business to be a successful ongoing effort at your agency, make it your priority. Demonstrate its importance with your active involvement. If you have a new business director, he or she should report directly to you. If it's Spark and Torch, you're the torch. If you have a new business team, either lead it or play a very assiduous role.

What We Know For Sure

After reading this far you may be disappointed indeed that there are no new business magic bullets. Well, actually there are few new business principles which we believe are inviolable:

  1. Whatever you're doing to attract new clients, keep doing it even if it appears not to be working.

    Why? Because you'll never know for sure what works and what doesn't. Ask any agency coming off a successful run of signing up new clients and they'll tell you they didn't dare stop anything they were doing. Questing for new clients is fundamentally synergistic with the combined efforts being greater than the parts.

  2. Perseverance is more important than using the "best" method.

    Like playing the market, having a system and sticking with it pays off better than trying a series of herky-jerky experiments. Think of it like piloting the QE2 - making the decision to turn is easy but holding steady until the ship comes around takes courage and conviction.

  3. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    If you wait to get everything just right, you'll lose the race. You're better off sending a series of intelligent letters on plain stationery than stressing over crafting the perfect and expensive capabilities brochure. Who reads those things besides you anyway? We know an agency that completely stopped marketing themselves for more than a year because they couldn't complete their agency brochure! That's dumb, but I'll bet they aren't the only ones. It's not so much what you do as it is that you're doing.

    Which brings us to a final and perplexing axiom.

  4. Concentrated efforts yield unrelated results from unexpected areas.

    Most new accounts materialize not because of a specific mailing or collateral piece but instead - because you're doing those things - the universe somehow rewards the effort with an opportunity from an unanticipated quarter. You're pushing in one direction and amazingly something pops up from an entirely different place, like squeezing a balloon at one end and seeing the other grow larger. It's an energy transfer of some sort. I can't say with impunity that this phenomenon is as immutable as gravity, but ask anybody who's been in the business long enough and they'll say it comes pretty close.

If you consult the Agency Owner's Manual you received when you started your company (!) you'll find there isn't much there about how to get new clients. Yet the reason you're in business is to have clients, right? Without them you're out of business.

So as we like to say:

New business is not a life or death matter -
It's more important than that!

Joe Grant is President of Grant Consulting Associates - a firm focused on helping marketing agencies and service-oriented companies grow. Since 1992 he has helped dozens of mid-sized companies sharpen management team focus, improve client services, develop better new business approaches, intensify employee commitment and tighten organizational efficiency and profitability. He has personally interviewed over 1700 agency clients about their expectations, and is the author of Understanding and Protecting Agency/Client Relationships, in association with the American Association of Advertising Agencies. You can subscribe to his monthly e-newsletter - Grant's Client Brief - by visiting the website at or by calling Grant Consulting at (239) 394-8220.

Many more articles in Sales & Marketing in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2006 by Joe Grant. All rights reserved.

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