Growth is not optional. It’s essential to the survival of your agency. As the landscape continues to change and become more competitive for agencies of all sizes and stripes, the challenges to growth are increasing at a rapid pace.
With 15+ years of agency business development experience, I can safely say that most if not all of the challenges faced today are much the same as in years past. Whether your agency is struggling with where to focus your business development efforts, whether or not to do proactive outreach, or how to position your agency for accelerated growth, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are solutions you can implement to impact 2019 growth.
Here are the top 4 agency growth challenges with actionable solutions:
1. Lack of Bandwidth
Hubspot’s 2018 Agency Growth Report found that the number one barrier to agency growth was lack of time/money to spend on their own sales and marketing efforts. It’s a fact that as the agency space grows more and more competitive, sales and marketing are an essential element to standing out. And yet, most agencies are working on extremely thin margins and have their employees doing twice the amount of work they were doing a few years ago. This leaves agencies with very few resources to market or proactively sell the agency itself.
The report also indicated that agencies have limited time to focus on tasks such as staffing plans, new business investments and finding top talent. Without these resources, leadership is busy putting out internal fires and scrambling to find employees. The old adage of a disproportionate amount of time spent “working in the business vs. working on the business” rings true.
The solution? If time is the biggest challenge, invest in the right tools and hire the proper people to handle growth channels such as marketing and business development. If hiring is a problem, consider outsourcing the tasks to a qualified and trusted company. That way these areas aren’t getting pushed the backburner and you can begin creating an inbound and outbound strategy that will drive leads and eventually revenue into your pipeline.
If budget is the challenge, make the time (and consider an outside perspective) to develop a strong strategy that clearly identifies the optimal allocation of the budget you have to the tactics that will net the best return.
- A strong, differentiated positioning that will resonate with your prospective clients.
- An investment in technologies and/or training that will streamline effort and investment.
- A communications plan across multiple channels (ex: email, social media, cold calling, etc.) with clear KPI’s and budget allocation.
- A resource plan to execute on all of the above, whether internal assignments or external resources.
2. Challenges Maintaining Consistent Lead Generation
One of the keys to successful lead generation is a sustainable, repeatable and scalable effort over the course of many months, especially if you’re are using inbound marketing tactics. In Hubspot’s 2018 State of Inbound Global Report, 40% of respondents said getting a response from leads was more difficult today than it was just a few years ago. While outbound efforts should also be included in your business development program, inbound is crucial to staying top of mind at the beginning of the buyer journey as well as in the final stages of decision making, when prospects are looking for confirmation that they’re making the right decision.
And yet creating a consistent pipeline is difficult without a structured process. The solution that works best is when the agency aligns both marketing and sales tactics as core elements of the business development strategy. Marketing content attracts the prospects considering or ready to make a purchase. Sales tactics convert and nurture by providing more customized content to demonstrate your value.
As you build your strategy, create an account based marketing approach that builds campaigns around your right-to-win clients, or clients where your services best provide an answer to their problems. For example, if your agency has a portfolio that primarily consists of successful retail work, retail brands might be right-to-win clients for your agency.
Here are a few tips for attracting your right-to-win clients and fuel your pipeline with more leads:
- Create targeted landing pages around long tail keywords
- Offer content based on search intent (side banners on certain pages of your website, pop-ups, etc.)
- Update heavily visited web pages to increase search traffic
- Offer value through free tools and consultations to get prospects on the phone
- Automate your outbound efforts by building email and cold call templates and investing in technologies that will make research more efficient and identify prospects at scale.
3. Working With Clients That Don’t Excite The Team
Every agency has a “bucket list” of clients they dream of working with, and agency leaders know that winning these kinds of projects will energize their creative and account teams. But when agency leadership stops pushing to win those dream accounts and begins responding to any and every RFP, top talent tends to lose morale and walk away.
Most agencies have experienced this at some point or another. They take on clients for the sake of a check and soon realize that they aren’t a great fit for your agency. Maybe these clients constantly made changes, had roadblocking projects, or even poor communication. Either way, working with even one of these clients can make someone not want to go to work on any given day, so it’s crucial you try your best to keep your employees from dealing with these types of clients.
So how do you attract the kind of clients you actually want to work with?
1. Be clear about your culture and values
Only choose to work with clients whose values align with yours. As Buffer said, “Your values tell the world what you’re about. They give your employees a reason for what they do—and your customers a reason to cheer for you.”
2. Create personas that clearly identify your ideal clients.
Some questions to consider while creating these personas include:
- What type of business is my client in?
- How big is their business?
- What is my client’s role there?
- Where is my client located?
- What are my client’s pain points and how do I solve those problems?
3. Get comfortable with the term “no”
Saying no the wrong clients is as important as saying yes to the right ones. Develop a robust onboarding process so that you and the client can get to know one another and determine whether the relationship is a good fit. Sort through the terms of any agreements so that you have a full understanding of what the client expects while outlining the scope of work.If they turn out not to be a good fit, advise them that it’s in their best interest to find an agency partner who can better fit their needs. And help them find that partner with introductions and referrals.
4. New Business Resources Continue To Be Overlooked & Limited
In 2016 Hubspot reported that only 66% of SMB agencies did not have a full-time new business executive. For many smaller agencies, the CEO takes on the responsibilities of driving new business. When C-level officers are asked, many admit they do not have enough time to properly be dedicated to new business efforts.
At Catapult, we can’t stress how important it is to set yourself up for new business success. We’ve seen it many times where an agency only relies on referrals and when their largest client leaves, they are desperate to quickly crank out a new business plan. Unfortunately, this is a one-way street to failure. Setting up your new business resources is a lot like trying to get in shape. It takes consistent work over the course of many months before you have the engine up and running.
Stay out of this cycle by setting up your new business process sooner rather than later. Start by hiring or promoting a dedicated new business person or an outside resource to help you set the correct strategy. And make sure you have the proper resources in place that will enable proactive business development to be successful.
Setting up a new business process is a journey that takes a great amount of time, resources and dedication. Your agency’s growth is dependent on it so it’s not really an issue of if, but rather when and how. Hopefully, the above tips are helpful.