Published: Thursday 24th April 2014

Writing this blog presents itself as a challenge. Honing new business skills, that’s so much territory to cover, like undertaking an expedition (and making sure you don’t forget the compass).

Like all great expeditions, there’s planning, there’s process and there’s a team. If new business is the beating heart of any agency, it can never be a solo effort – “we’re all in this together” (yes, really), is the mantra of the successful company.

Let’s start this journey at the beginning, with your company proposition: who you are, what you are, and where you want to be. Nailing the proposition is not always easy, but the payback is immense. I’ve recently completed this exercise with a client, and the feeling is liberating, what’s more, it’s like cracking your genetic code, so you fully understand what and who you are. I coupled this with work drawn from the mighty marketer Jim Stengel, with the aim of defining the greater company purpose – a unifying principle that informs the company’s strategic direction and culture. Thinking about why your company exists certainly focuses the mind.

Establishing your proposition requires input from the senior management team; everything then flows naturally, providing a clear direction of travel for the new business and marketing effort.

Charged with new business, you’ll need to know how much revenue is required to secure a financially healthy bottom line remembering, of course, that with skilled account management there should be significant growth opportunities within your existing client portfolio. Equipped with the organic growth targets and those for new business, you’ll be able to plan your campaign accordingly.

New, new business, that’s your focus – along with upwards of 20,000 other agencies all with prospects in their sights. When you look at it this way it seems, well, a little daunting, which is why you need to take a considered approach. No one’s going to thank you for repeatedly hurling your agency into the pitching maelstrom, only to emerge exhausted with no guarantee of success. Remember, the pitch conversion rate is roughly 35% and that’s after you’ve made it through the creds stage.

So, why not think of it this way. Map out what your ideal client looks like, because not all clients are the same and some will fulfil your company requirements better than others. There are many considerations, including not only the revenue contribution they could make, but also whether you have existing expertise in their market, or wish to enter it – is the sector attractive to you?  Will it be motivating internally, can you ensure client satisfaction, does it present a growth/profit opportunity? Examine the brief, weigh up your chances given who else is pitching – in short, think before you act.

Marketing materials – you’ll need to take a critical approach, well not just you, this is surely the time to get your creative team involved. Do they look good, read well, provide information succinctly?  

A few words about your website – the window to your business, often the first contact a client will have with you and your work. I’m always banging on about design, it’s really important, as is ease of navigation and user experience.  And of course you’ll need to consider SEO and search rankings, CTA, data-capture, (listen up – we’re talking potential leads), and linking to your social media communities. I’m often surprised when clients don’t make use of analytics as they provide valuable insights into how your site is performing. They’re available and they’re free!

If I mention the words ‘RFIs’ and ‘Tenders’ I can almost hear the collective, weary sigh of the battle fatigued amongst you. It’s a hard grind, and that’s a fact, because the number and standard of RFIs has grown meteorically over the past few years. The tough news is that there is no generic RFI, you’ll need to interrogate the brief and craft your answers accordingly. Take advice from the intermediary and remember, reading it can be a chore for clients. Make it easier for them, sorry to bang on again, and get design input.

Next to the sensitive issue of post-pitch feedback, two pieces of advice: do it and act on it. Same rules apply, win or lose, although the truth in defeat is often hard to bear. You’ll gain the most benefit if you use an experienced, impartial person to undertake the research and you’ll need to communicate findings to the team with sensitivity and care. The obvious benefit is learning; what you did well, what needs improvement – and the prize? Improved performance and conversion next time around.

So, how are we doing on our expedition? Well, we’re making headway, but we’re not there yet. The load of the new business director is a heavy one, spotting those opportunities and developing them. It requires networking and making contact with intermediaries, journalists, procurement and more besides; it requires leadership skills and well-tuned antennae for a business opportunity.

Finally, importantly, a word on marketing, as new business and marketing are as one. The now and the future is about creating an inbound marketing programme, creating quality content, which attracts clients towards your company offering. It offers a great opportunity for creativity and intellectual rigour, and executed well, can help your company secure a competitive edge.


Join us on our next New Business Skills Dayon 23rd October for the journey. For novices and veterans alike. 

Or for help with navigating, we can run a dedicated New Business Academy for you


Janine Abrahams – April 2014