Why Business Development Efforts Fail For Ad Agencies

Six Reasons Why Business Development Efforts Fail For Ad Agencies

For small and mid-sized ad agencies, driving new business is always one, if not the, biggest challenge. 

And this is not news to any of you reading, however, what doesn’t always get talked about are the reasons why business development efforts end up not working for agencies. 

Starting is half the battle, but once agencies get started, they tend to throw up their own roadblocks, and are so close to the effort, and to the business, that they don’t often realize these roadblocks exist. 

So below are six reasons why business development efforts fail for ad agencies. 

If you see one of these situations happening with your own efforts, it’s time to take a step back and evaluate. 

Six Reasons Why Business Development Efforts Fail For Ad Agencies

 1. Don’t have the prospecting skill set  

 In one of our earlier 3 Takeaways episodes, I said, If you’re an agency principal and you don’t have the new business chromosome, don’t make yourself the nucleus of your new business effort.”.

And that certainly holds true today. 

Agency principals typically possess a great deal of talent, in work related to advertising agencies, but that doesn’t make them great salespeople.

And many/most aren’t, especially at the top of the funnel.

Those agency principals often apply the way they pitch to their activity at the top of the funnel, yet they are very different processes.

You have seconds to break through at the top of the funnel, and it’s very easy for agency principals attempting biz dev internally to get frustrated and see the effort fizzle. 

 2. No Manageable Plan 

“Baby Steps” should be your mantra, especially at the outset of an effort.

Time and again we’ve seen agencies take on too much initially and quickly get overwhelmed.

And that can be tough, especially if you need new clients now. 

There’s a lot to put into place before you start, but create a checklist of what you truly need initially. Which is, roughly, as follows: 

  • Email platform 
  • 2-3 case studies per vertical 
  • Updated site (if necessary, and it probably is) 
  • 2 thought-leadership driven LinkedIn posts per week 
  • A targeted list of prospects (start with 50) 

 And then block out your calendar for the next month with 1 hour a day that you’ll devote to biz dev and stick to it as best you can.

All of the above is overly simplified, but it’s where you start. 

3. Lack of Focus 

 Your positioning, site, case studies, and content all have to be targeted to the vertical/verticals you’re pursuing.

And if you’re horizontally positioned, then focus on your services, or a certain geography. 

That focus should be the driving force of your efforts.

Agencies will often pursue what they think may be interesting or helpful but don’t think about what their prospect wants to see/hear: which is, “how can you help solve my business challenges.” 

 4. Too many cooks 

With all the best intentions, EVERYONE gets involved, and everyone has to sign off.

On everything.

A recipe for failure if ever there was one.  

Involving the team is of course important.

As I’ve written before, new business should be part of your agency culture and their buy-in on major business development initiatives is also important, however, team approval for every piece of the program does not work.

You need to designate a “buck stops here” individual or put together a smaller team that can make decisions with greater speed. 

 5. Uninformed internal hire 

 New business directors at agencies last about 18 months.

Several reasons for that, but here are a few. 

  1. Hiring for that person’s network. 

If this candidate’s main method of prospecting has been networking events, local happy hours, etc., you need to dig deeper and ask questions around their inside sales experience. 

       2. Hiring green. 

At RSW, we hire new business directors that have 10-15 years of sales and marketing experience. 

It makes the process longer and tougher, but it’s the expectation we set. 

Agencies will hire green and then think they can train up. 

3. Not digging deep enough on the individual’s planned new business process. 

Always ask for a top-line version of the process and plan your new business director will carry out. 

4. Failing to define the new business position clearly up front. 

Is this person responsible for all facets of new business, from top of the funnel all the way through to pitching and RFP responses? 

Is that person purchasing prospecting lists, or expected to build those out? 

 6. Lack of Objective Perspective 

Being deeply embedded in the day-to-day operations makes it difficult for agency principals to view their market position objectively.  

Referring back to the new business chromosome, your business development mindset can’t be, “we’ll give this a few months, and if we don’t close something, we’re moving on.”  

It simply doesn’t, and will never, work that way.

Business development is a process.

And you can’t flip an Amazon gift card, or AI your way to glory. 

So get cracking. :)