Last week the most experienced agency expert I know confirmed my worst fear about the industry.
If you own an agency and don’t know Drew McLellan, you should.
Drew is the founder of The Agency Management Institute and host of the Build a Better Agency podcast, and I was honored to join him for episode 76. Saying that Drew has a finger on the pulse of the industry is an understatement: he’s got a stethoscope on the heart.
Drew dropped an email knowledge bomb, recounting a recent “What keeps you up at night?” exercise he performed, and he backed up what we’re seeing at Sales Schema.
|“Most of our clients and prospects need to generate more qualified leads and they admit that they don’t really have the tools or know how to do it…
The truth is, many business leaders and many agencies (maybe you?) haven’t yet embraced the 2017 version of driving leads for our clients. There are lots of reasons why (cost, complexity, lack of content, etc.) but the truth is — if our agencies don’t figure out how to deliver on this need, someone else will. I don’t believe it’s optional today.”
-Drew McLellan, Agency Management Institute
Drew’s findings were in reference to what agencies should do for their clients, but when it comes to driving business for themselves, the roadblocks are the same.
My response to Drew:
This is timely, given the conversations I’ve had with agency owners this week. The biggest problem we observe is not so much fear or misunderstanding of the technology (most are excited to embrace it), but resistance to adopting a sales mindset. Agencies are glued to the warm pillow of what worked yesterday: warm, referral-based opportunities, not leads.
Opportunities are few and far between and dwindling further every day as competitors spring up and companies bring marketing services in-house.
Leads require you to maintain a sales pipeline and work on it with the same consistency and intensity as you would go to the gym, and unfortunately, many agencies are not willing or able to do that. They’re too busy with client obligations, when they should be prioritizing new business, or they’re scared to be persistent and do what salespeople must.
Curious, how closely does this map to your experience?
Drew’s response (bolding is mine).
I see the same thing — I don’t think it’s a question of not able (as a general rule). I think it’s a lack of discipline. They CHOOSE not to because they really don’t want to. Which of course — is a great opportunity for you!
But — we are seeing the same reality/trends for sure.
Soon I’ll get into what rocked me about Drew’s response, but first this:
Agencies are hungry for leads, and we’re an agency-focused lead generation company, so this is sunshine and rainbows for us, right?
Yes and no.
We solve what, in our experience, is the hardest and most time-consuming part of the new business slog: getting that hand raise from an extremely busy and skeptical marketing leader. Many agencies need help solving this problem, and we’re in an excellent position to help them succeed.
But leads are a means to an end. They are seeds that grow into saplings that grow into fruit-bearing trees. It takes a salesperson to make that transformation happen. Like all great agencies, we thrive when our clients stick around for the long-haul. Without a committed sales process, leads don’t close, and our clients churn.
Whether you hire a lead generation company like ours or a high-commitment outsourced sales firm, the harsh reality is that sooner or later you and your team will have to sell.
The mindset-based agency death trap.
If Drew is to be believed, and I think he is, the problem is bigger than I expected. It’s not that agencies are too busy or knowledgeable, but rather, they do not want to be salespeople at all.
Drew’s feedback hit home when I remembered a recent coffee meeting with a savvy business development leader at a big agency in San Francisco. She had a stellar rolodex and she was well-informed about the industry as a whole, but when I asked her about her commission structure and sales training, she told me she had neither. Her new business approach was reactive, assisting on proposals for inbound referrals and other inconsistent opportunities sourced from her agency’s personal network.
Unfortunately, her situation is common. Compared to almost every other high-end B2B enterprise, agencies, by and large, do not empower their salespeople people to win.
Are you game for the smooth cruise AND the uphill slog of sales?
Maybe you’re thinking, “This is not MY agency.” You’re proud to be a salesperson and you think highly of your skills (or your team’s). That’s awesome, but first double check that on the Tour De France of sales, you’re prepared for both the smooth downhill cruises and the arduous uphill slogs.
The smooth cruises are warm inbound opportunities from referrals and your personal network, which is what you’re probably used to if you come from a traditional agency. New business of this sort is increasingly sparse, and chances are it won’t keep your agency afloat.
You have to grit your teeth and attack the uphill slog of sales. Here’s what that entails.
A non-exhaustive list of sales requirements.
- Maintaining a pipeline.
- Continuous training and learning.
- Demonstrating proof.
- Showing results.
- Consistent prospecting.
- Leaning into fear.
- Hearing “no” a lot.
- Picking up the phone.
- Dispersing with excuses.
- Common offenders: “This is not the right season”, “Reaching out to this ideal buyer will hurt our brand”…
- Selling a legible product or service.
- Specializing on specific verticals and problems.
- Asking questions that make you feel uncomfortable.
- Asking directly for what you want.
- Developing and fine-tuning a sales process.
- Using scarcity to win deals.
- Being effective without hard-selling or closing tactics.
- Creating and maintaining incentive structures for your sales team.
I’m making this mission sound pretty intimidating, aren’t I?
You bet, just like the Navy Seals and the CIA do when they’re looking for new recruits.
Whether you’re in an agency sales role yourself or you’re building a sales team, this will be one of the most challenging and worthwhile undertakings your agency takes on.
Are you game for it?
If not, what’s the alternative?