Agency Growth Tips 3/21: Oh. I didn’t know you do that.

Published 06.03.2019

Here we are – day 3/21 of my #AgencyGrowthTips – as I’ve said before. This is all free. No need to sign-up, turn-up, attend or high five. I am sharing some of my best tips for growing an agency – things I have learned from both my successes and failures. Things I wish I’d known – and if I did know three, things I wish I had acted on more.

Nothing I share is rocket science. But they are disciplines and principals that, if embraced, will help you grow your agency – whatever size.

Usually dyslexia warning applies. I can’t splel. And I am cool with it.

So far we’ve touched on 1/21 value creation as a strategy and 2/21 stronger relationships with your clients. Today, it’s high back to basics. When you read this you will nod. You will think “I know this”. I am sure you do.

Everyone says that. And if it wasn’t a problem that I encounter everywhere, I assure you, I wouldn’t be writing about it. This is a reminder. It’s on of my agency basics. But one of THE most important growth drivers in agency world.

This is a problem I have had in my agencies. I have sat in meetings with brilliantly capable account handlers, and been utterly dismayed when their clients say ‘I didn’t know you did that’, when they tell us they have just appointed another agency to handle something that we did every day, won awards for it, and had dedicated teams doing it.

This is super basic. But absolutely critical.

Tomorrow we have a spicy one… but this one while simple, is serious business.

So, let’s get to it.

3/21 Oh. I didn’t know you did that.

Some thoughts on client development. Cross selling. Organic growth. Call it what you will. I’ll just call it common sense.

If you’re looking to drive profit… you have two things you can manipulate. Your sales. And your costs. Obvious really… and good practice is driving your sales ongoing, and managing your costs to their lowest but most comfortable point, allowing you to deliver a high quality service and product. Now, that’s usually an ambition, not just business as usual – but both are key.

An aside: I implore you – watch your costs. Never take your eye off them. And never let your commercial team obsess over turnover only.

Today’s focus is relevant for the first point… manipulating your sales. Selling more. You have two ways to do it. Grow the clients you have. Or win new ones. No point winning new ones, if you’re losing existing ones all the time. The key to agency success is one of retention, as well as winning new clients.

The most important client or clients you’ll ever have, are the ones you’ve got. When you forget that, whichI have to admit at times I was guilty of myself, you are creating problems for yourself. It’s far easier to grow your sales by 20% with your existing clients than winning a client that represents the same turnover increase. The latter also has associated additional costs, which the former doesn’t to the same extent.

Making it good business to drive the business you have already.

That, by the way, is how certain agencies get away with a no-pitch policy. If you’re haemorrhaging clients, or you or your team are good at shrinking them then you have to keep pitching, keep winning, keep driving – and that’s awfully tiring for the agency. It’s not sustainable growth. It’s unsustainable.

I think probably 7/10 clients (maybe more) I have worked with over the years didn’t know everything the agency did. And that’s insane. It’s growth and profitability within reach. With the heavy lifting already done. The client is one. The pitch is consigned to the drawer.

With any piece of new business or any ongoing client – you have to ask what does success look like. It’s growth in terms of sales. It’s control of margins. It’s retention without re-pitch. It’s recommendations.. Them becoming your sales people. You know, that advocacy thing that we’re all talking about all the time. How good is your agency at winning business via recommendation from your own clients? Sobering thought isn’t it. If you’re not getting recommendations and winning business that way… I assure you, you’re not doing it in your campaigns either. As always, if that stings – it’s you I am talking about. Take the pain and do something positive with it.

It’s critical that your client contacts know what you do. Sell-through is your low hanging fruit for growth. And not just with your day to day contacts. As I talked about in 2/21, you need deeper contacts throughout your client contacts – and they need to know what you do to. Because the marketing team may know, but what about the annual report that accounts do? The CSR content that comms do? The recruitment that HR do? The product innovation that the board want to see?

All work that’s ready to be talked about – if they know exactly what you do and how you work.

I have been totally frustrated at times in my agencies – finding out that we missed opportunities because clients didn’t know what we did. However, memories are short. As are tenures. It’s vital that we stay engaged with our existing and new contacts – somehow letting them know what we’re doing. It doesn’t mean brutal selling – it can through agency articles, introductions to other teams, newsletter, contract negotiations – the opportunities are endless.

What’s certain is your client isn’t responsible for finding out. They’re a consumer. Stay proactive… keep them up-to-date. Make them a fan of the agency. Get inside their business, and them inside yours. Let them work from your office. Work from theirs. Here the conversations. Drive them. Keep them going.

For every single client I suggest two things: 1. Client development plans and 2. Pro-actvitity at all times.

The client development plan is an agreement between the owner of the client in the agency and the commercial team or leadership of what they will do to develop the client – the actions, timings, who they will meet, when, how introductions can be made. And this should be reviewed regularly. If all you are doing is managing a to do list of work from your client, you are failing to run your business. And a shit-storm is in the post. Run the client. They’re a piece of business and need a commercial approach. Failure to develop a client is exactly that. Failure. Yes, some things don’t work out, naturally. But there can be no excuse for not managing a client properly. None.

The second is pro-activity. Walk into meetings with ideas. Maybe ideas from other teams. Or case studies. Run events that educate clients about trends and new innovations or disciplines. Things they can get from you. Soft-selling but with purpose and with benefit for the client.

The number one reason an agency loses a client? Lack or proactivity. Believe it. It’s true. So stay hungry.

There is another possibility why clients don’t know what you do.

And this may be worse than simply not educating your clients about what the agency offers in terms of services. Sometimes account handlers are scared to talk about other services. Not wanting to cross sell content production to an advertising client. Or brand strategy and innovation to digital client.

Because they think it will kill the relationship. Because they don’t think areas of your offering are strong enough.

That signal couldn’t be louder if it had a mushroom cloud attached to it.

It tells you that you either have a product or service problem. Or someone that lacks confidence in the rest of the business. Neither are good. Sometimes its ego. More often it’s fear. And like it or not, it’s a signal you cannot ignore.

It’s criterial to remember that behind every behaviour whether it’s action or inaction. There’s a reason. I’ve been too hard on people at times, and not thought beyond what’s the reason this has or hasn’t happened.

I encourage you talk. And ask your team to be honest and direct. It will take you forward, faster.

You work hard to win clients. They’re easier to lose. And you’ll know when you’re running your agency, not a to do list because the back door will be shut. Your clients are growing. And you’re winning new ones.

You can’t do all this overnight. But today, if you’re proactive, one of your clients could be told about something else you do. And it starts there.

Growth can be as simple as that.