Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How to win new business: five expert tips

By Sam Wheatman, managing partner, The Future Factory  

There’s no doubt times are tough for creative agencies right now. Brands’ budgets are being squeezed, they are trying to do more with less, and that means pitching and new business opportunities are few and far between. 

But there’s good news – there are strategies that savvy agencies can employ to not only survive in this environment, but thrive. As managing partner of a new business agency, I know these tactics work not just because we use them to grow the creative agencies we work with but because we use them to win our own clients. And you know what they say – practice what you preach. 

Stay ‘on’

The natural human response to this kind of environment is to batten the hatches, hunker down, and wait for the drought to end. But if you stop reaching out to new leads now, you’ll miss out on opportunities for the future.

Businesses need to adapt to the market as it is today. We’ve been keeping all of our cylinders firing, and likewise, creative agencies have to adopt an always-on approach to their cold outreach and lead generation. Be proactive, get in front of your target clients, and continuously engage with them so you stay front of mind. That’s how you position yourself ahead of the competition, no matter what market challenges come down the line.

Nurture existing relationships

It’s not all about cold outreach; there are usually opportunities within your own network to tap into. Who do you already know? Who have you worked with in the past? Which relationships can you nurture further? The hottest leads often come through people you’ve already built a strong rapport with, but you have to stay top of mind to benefit.

In fact, I would estimate that around a quarter of Future Factory’s client base consists of agencies that have worked with us previously and returned. At least a third were won through referral.

Account development is also key. Where can you expand the work you already do for a client? If you’re working on one PepsiCo brand, for example, how can you leverage that relationship to win business with other brands in their portfolio?

Leverage opportunities for recognition

Though it can feel scary to take any focus away from direct pipeline generation, other opportunities to gain recognition within your target market can be extremely valuable in the long term.

We win a lot of business from design agencies, for example. There are a few reasons for that, but one is that the company which built our website put it forward for an industry award. That gave our brand a lot of airtime in front of that community, and now we naturally come to mind when these agencies need new business support.

Leveraging opportunities for recognition can be even more powerful for creative agencies. Whether it’s PR activity around your latest work, participating in conferences and events, or striking strategic collaborations with partners, these avenues help build a healthy long-term pipeline.

Take a personal approach

For some agencies, lead generation is all about mass mailing and automation, firing generic messages into the inboxes of hundreds of prospects at once. And what usually happens to those emails? They end up either deleted or flagged as spam. 

People want to feel important. They want to feel like their individual needs are recognised and understood. Every email should be written as if it couldn’t have gone to anyone else. For us, that means communicating with the founder of an agency differently than its head of business development. Likewise, a creative agency’s outreach shouldn’t be the same when approaching a brand’s CMO versus its content lead. They might work for the same business, but different stakeholders have different needs.

Of course, the personal approach requires heavy research into individuals, and you can’t do that if you’re contacting thousands of people at once. When so many agencies are vying to win the same accounts, focusing on 30 or 40 key prospects is far more effective.

So turn off your mass mailers and fine-tune your targeting so you can focus your efforts on directly engaging the select few brands who are most likely to give you their business.

Fail forward

 When growing a business, rejection and setbacks are inevitable; success doesn’t come overnight. What works with one prospect might not work with another, and you’ll likely have to kiss more than a few frogs. It’s all about test and learn.

Sometimes, you’ll get that meeting with the perfect stakeholder at the perfect brand and still not come away with work immediately – and that’s okay. Often, you’ll have to pursue multiple points of contact to get a contract over the line.

What’s important is not to become discouraged. You’ve got to be in it to win it; ultimately, new business is a game of persistence. However, you can be more confident in your chances of success if you keep the ball moving, nurture your relationships, build your recognition and take a personal, targeted approach.

It’s a rough road out there for creative agencies seeking new business right now. You’re time-poor, you don’t have big sales teams, and this stuff is highly complex, but there is a proven path to follow. So, let’s not hunker down; let’s rise to the challenge and thrive.