Business development used to involve a lot of in-person networking. We spent time attending conferences and meeting clients and prospects for drinks or meals. While many of those relationship-building events will return, and we have already started meeting clients out of the office, business development is a discipline that has changed forever post-COVID-19.
Today we think about business development in terms of how it impacts three core elements of a business: reputation, retention and discovery.
Reputation: Raise your agency’s profile to increase awareness. We’ve always believed that an agency becomes more famous when the people who work at the agency become famous.
That means it’s in the agency’s best interest to help their people raise their profile. Help your staff write and publish thought leadership articles in the major industry trades. I also think it’s important for staff to be a source for journalists who help you participate in the industry conversation.
Don’t be afraid of junior staffers talking to the press -- after all, if you think they're smart enough to talk to your clients, why can’t they share their perspective on OTT with a journalist? All these industry conversations help improve your brand reputation and increase brand awareness of the agency.
Posting thought leadership pieces to LinkedIn and other social channels encourages prospective clients to reach out. People appreciate your generosity (sharing information widely for free) and enthusiasm for the industry.
Retention: Ensure healthy client relationships for great referrals. Current clients are the most important and profitable sources of revenue, so it’s vital to ensure that all of your current relationships are healthy. Organic growth is a financial barometer that Wall Street eagerly reports on, and it’s also a predictor of agency health. Clients who grow their business with an agency are likely to recommend them to their CMO friends.
You can deploy several programs to understand the health of the relationship, including formal check-ins, surveys and celebrations of great feedback (we call them client victories). We also have documented client service expectations and instructions that everyone gets in their new employee handbook. That’s important to do if you have a particular way you want your clients serviced.
Discovery: Make every interaction count. Not everyone feels comfortable writing in or talking to the press, and not everyone can easily build deep business relationships quickly. But everyone can show up for a meeting with a media partner in a respectful and professional manner. Everyone can return phone calls quickly and show up for meetings on time. Everyone can represent the agency’s values and demonstrate curiosity and passion in every conversation.
These kinds of encounters lead to referrals from media partners, who often meet with more clients than any agency business development person could hope to meet with on any given day. Each interaction with a salesperson helps you discover new opportunities simply by teaching your staff to ask their partners about the opportunities they are hearing about as they jump from one client meeting to another.
The pre-COVID way of conducting business development has changed. In its place is a new kind of structure that leads with brand reputation, ongoing great service and spontaneous inquiries.