#CoronavirusSA: Building the prospect pipeline #masterclassnotes
by Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) Staying afloat and servicing existing clients is bound to be the priority for ad agencies at present, so there may be less focus on new business as a result. While quite understandable, I also think that the idea of “upskilling” during a lockdown might be a bridge too far for many of us. Here’s some advice from the April 2020 masterclass, which had 46 agency participants. I’ve also add some covid-19 relevance to the 10 tips that follow.
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#1. Make sure that there is an annual plan
- Properly constructed
- Measurable goals
- Regular evaluation points
- Up-to-date data base — preferably your own
- Profile-building marketing campaign — cobbler’s children
- Sales kit — credentials with a point of view
Also think about some short-term adaptations around covid-19. I was on a webinar recently with one of my UK colleagues and a CMO and an agency head of strategy, and the attributes around tonality were considered very important eg
This applies especially to building these into your credentials or culture reel. In fact, this is a great time to look at the agency culture reel and have everyone involved in that process.
#2. Think about your message and mail
- Don’t send out so many mails that you can’t then follow up within a week. Reduce the quantity.
- Avoid non-personalised mail
- But, if you do send personalised mail, make sure that the recipient’s title is correct. Don’t guess it.
- Don’t criticise the client’s current advertising — remember that they would have approved it
- Don’t ambulance-chase
The idea of these tips is to help agencies avoid a competitive pitch process with the RFP process etc etc. If you’re ahead of the game (or ahead of the curve), then you’ll be coming up with ideas — especially now — that could help marketers.
In listening to marketers and their input over the past few weeks, while they have no intention of changing their agencies at this time (they rely more than ever on their agency partners), they’re open to receiving ideas for short-term projects that might help them cope during covid-19. Short-term projects may lead to longer-term commitment and are definitely a way in to the marketing department. Even via procurement!
#3. Make an intelligent guess at the marketer’s business problem
- Identify a possible problem relevant to that particular industry
- Relate back to something you may have read in the media about the company or its competitors
- Talk about that particular problem and your possible solution in the email/letter
- Follow up with a conversation
There’s probably more time now than ever before to read up and do some homework on your prospects and their respective industries. Use that time now to be able to make constructive comments about the industry or sector that your targeted client is in.
#4. Don’t send unsolicited pieces to prospects
- WeTransfers/DVDs/flash drives by mail don’t work; prospects rarely look at them and often don’t have the security settings that allow them to
- Avoid expensive-looking mailing pieces — might look careless to clients
- Large boxes or mailers don’t work to clients — no storage space
Spending lots of money on expensive mailers isn’t appropriate; rather tell the prospect that you have donated funds to a suitable charity such as Gift of the Givers instead of creating a mailer for them, and explain why your agency felt that this was the right route during the pandemic.
#5. Avoid announcement mailings
- Clients are interested in your new staff
- But not in other new clients (“How will this affect my service levels?”)
- Nor awards — unless they are based on effectiveness/case-studies
- Nor any other internal changes unless there’s a direct impact on or relevance to their business
Of course, if you’ve done something really special during the covid-19 outbreak, then by all means share that but I would avoid the “how well our teams are working remotely”. It’s old news now.
Talk more about how you’re intending to come out of the lockdown and what your strategies are for your people. Empathy. There’s also never been a better opportunity to have a ‘quick catchup’ with a prospect. Remember that marketers will also be in back-to-back meetings but that a ‘coffee catchup’ over Microsoft Teams might create a welcome break for the marketer — if you manage that, don’t try and sell them anything! Just chat and let the prospect get to know you.
#6. Don’t diminish your work
- Small versions of big campaigns look small
- Don’t shrink your campaigns to fit a mailer
But do show your prospects the work you’re doing for other clients around covid-19. Marketers are looking for help; it might create an opportunity for a short-term project.
#7. Keep your messages crisp
- We are in a time-poor world
- Keep your messages short and to the point
- Prospects have little time to absorb long content. Use Twitter to follow and be followed.
One of my colleagues has commented that “everyone is online” at the moment and I think there’s a danger of LinkedIn fatigue. It’s a great platform but keep it short and sweet, with a good introduction, so that the marketer might be intrigued enough to open the whole post.
#8. Find out more before you make contact
- Try and find out more about the business before you send a mailer — look for relevance
- Start at the top: aim your contact at the top marketing person — they will send it down the line. The lower levels will not send up the chain.
- Test your pieces among friends or existing clients before you send to prospects. If a friend or existing client doesn’t understand it, a stranger or prospective client won’t.
#9. Work out the best time to follow up
- Time your phone calls when the prospect will be quiet in the office — early morning, late afternoon, Fridays
- Make friends with the gatekeepers
- Don’t leave voice messages
- Make sure your teasers or mail pieces are low-cost and entertaining — avoid the throw-out factor
If you do decide to be active with new business at this time, be careful not to keep chasing up a prospect; be mindful that they’re under pressure, too, and that their marketing departments might’ve also been reduced.
#10. Never give up
- Keep modifying
- Evaluate what works and what doesn’t
- Test before you spend
- Keep going
- Some prospects take two years or more to convert — smaller projects might lead to a major pitch
You can do a lot of preparation at this time; thinking ahead is best of all now. And, if you have a bright idea for a prospect at this time of covid-19, don’t be disappointed if they don’t go for it straight away. Go back with another idea if you have one; marketers will be open to them. They have told us so.
Finally, no matter what, if you’re called by a prospect and asked to do some work urgently, do your homework first:
- What’s the budget? You don’t want to waste time putting a big proposal together for a very small budget. Ask the question.
- Is the project short-term or long-term?
- What is the deadline? Ideally?
- Is it competitive? Has the prospect asked any other agencies to pitch and, if so, how many? Don’t ask which agencies — that just does not work.
- Is there an intermediary managing the process? Hopefully there is and then it’s more serious and not a ‘fishing exercise’.
- Be prepared to decline the invitation to pitch or present a proposal if the above criteria aren’t met. Don’t be desperate.
- Columns | Masterclass Notes – Johanna McDowell
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Johanna McDowell (@jomcdowell) is MD of the Independent Agency Search and Selection Company (IAS), which is partnered with the AAR Group in the UK. Johanna is one of the few experts driving this mediation and advisory service in SA and globally. She also runs the IAS Marketers Masterclass, a programme consisting of 10 masterclasses (up from eight) held in Johannesburg (now at GIBS). Twice a year she attends AdForum Worldwide Summits; however, the April 2020 New York summit has been postponed (optimistically) to 21 June. She contributes the regular column, Masterclass Notes, which aims to help marketers and their agencies, to MarkLives.com.
This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.