Growing Your Company

To Win More New Business, Try Focusing On Fewer Prospects
By Brian Shea

One of the most common business development mistakes that agencies make is trying to keep in touch with everyone: every prospect, colleague and connection that's ever interacted with the agency. While the intentions here are good, trying to personally keep in touch with a large number of contacts (say, hundreds and hundreds of contacts) often results in an unfocused, unorganized new business program. In addition, this can really stretch an agency thin, lead to burn out or giving up entirely on proactive new business efforts.

One-to-Many vs. One-to-One

For the purposes of this article, let's break all new business activities down into two categories: one-to-many activities and one-to-one activities. One-to-many activities are tactics like blogging or writing a newsletter. These are content strategies that are intended for an audience of many. The more people who read them the better (all things being equal).

Obviously, there's no substitute for one-to-many tactics, but developing a successful new business program requires more than that. It also requires effective one-to-one outreach. And when it comes to one-to-one outreach, it's just impossible to effectively stay in touch with everyone. We need to choose who we're going to keep in touch with (and who we're not). That means prioritizing a concise list of contacts for high-touch, personalized outreach. For most agency owners this means two dozen or so contacts, and keeping in touch about once a month, with activities like:

Wait a Second? Aren't I Just Going to Annoy People With All That Outreach?

Sometimes agency owners respond to this kind of highly focused, high-touch strategy by saying "that seems like a lot of attention (and time) to lavish on just a few people." Or "won't I just end up annoying these people by contacting them all the time?" Here are my responses to these objections:

  1. The purpose of this outreach is to help, not to sell (really): Your outreach to these people is just to help. No selling. No sliding in a pitch at the end. No disguising self-promotion as being helpful. This is outreach that is personalized: it's based on your relationship with that particular individual. What challenges is that person having? What goals is that person trying to reach? Listen carefully and then help.
  2. If they're annoyed by you, they're not the right prospect: One of the biggest objections to this high-touch strategy is "people are going to get annoyed hearing from me so much." If you're genuinely trying to help, and the person is getting annoyed and not seeing the value, then the person isn't a good prospect or partner. Better to know that now, and build relationships with people who are a good fit.
  3. You're being a good community member: For me this is the most important piece. As an agency owner, you're part of a community. You have a certain audience that you've chosen to serve. And most likely (or at least hopefully) you've chosen that audience in part because you like them. You share their values, you believe in their work, you want them to succeed, and on a very basic level you simply like them. The happiest agency owners I know are the ones that genuinely enjoy working with their target audience and have found a way to contribute to that community not only through the billable work that they do, but through individual interactions, volunteering and the content that they produce.

Tips For Creating Your Outreach Program

Here are a few tips to develop your targeted outreach program.

1. Prioritize

If you're going to focus your outreach on a limited number of contacts, you want to make sure you pick the right ones. And have a process for continuously adding and removing people from the list to keep it current.

First things first, consider your goals for your agency. Is your primary goal for your agency to increase income stability? Try focusing on clients that have a high likelihood of signing retainers. Is your goal to move into a new vertical? Make sure you have prospects who could provide case studies for that vertical. Is your goal to get larger organizations and higher revenue projects? Make sure you have prospects that are larger organizations.

Most agencies are constantly in a process of redefining themselves. Striking a balance between the kind of work they've established themselves for in the past and the kind of work they want to do in the future. Make sure your outreach list has a mix of both: prospects who will allow you to reap the benefits of your established expertise and prospects that will enable you to get to where you want to go.

2. It's Not Just Prospects

Don't just limit your high-touch outreach to prospects. Here are some of the types of contacts you'll want to consider for your program:

3. Make a Plan

Your plan should include how often you intend to keep in touch as well as the mix of information you plan to send their way. A few thoughts:

4. Keep Everything Organized

Your desk is probably covered with post-it notes of todo's and people who you need to reach out to. (I know mine is and I develop CRM systems for a living!) The hand-written todo lists are unavoidable: scribbling notes is just how many of us process and make sense of information. But make a point to take that information and get it into your CRM system. At minimum, your CRM should clearly identify who is on your high-touch outreach list, notes about past conversations, and tasks scheduled for future outreach. There's no reason for lack of organization to scuttle your outreach plans.

5. Be Honest About Your Schedule

Here's something that happens all the time: an agency owner creates an outreach plan, but after a few weeks falls behind and the list of todo's begins to pile up. Before long the agency owner gets discouraged and gives up.

If after a few weeks of trying your new business program you find yourself falling behind, there's three things you can do: (1) invest more time, (2) find a way to be more efficient with your time or (3) plan to do less. Choose any one of these (or some combination of them), but it's important to build a program that is sustainable for you. The silent killer of new business programs is the cycle of setting unrealistic goals, falling behind and then giving up.

Take the time to build an outreach plan that fits your goals and your schedule. You'll find that in 2016 you'll be building strong professional relationships and winning more business, rather than just scrambling to keep prospects from going "cold."


Hat Tips: There are a few colleagues who's ideas have influenced my thinking on this topic:

Drew McLellan (his Macro, Micro, Nano framework)
Jules Taggart (her "You Don't Need More Social Media Followers" talk)
Tim Grahl (his book Your First 1000 Copies where he uses the concepts of one-to-one vs. one-to-many communication)
Pam Slim (her writing on Ecosystems and Communities)

Thanks for the inspirations friends!

This article has been written by Brian Shea (@thisbrianshea). Brian Shea is the founder of Shea Consulting, LLC, a company that helps agencies cultivate new business consistently and painlessly. Shea Consulting puts systems and processes in place to help agencies keep their new business efforts organized, focused, and consistent over time. Since the early 2000’s, Brian has helped organizations improve their business development practices through CRM, sales process improvement, and marketing automation.

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