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Agency business development approaches that work in 2021

Chip and Gini know that you love to hear about business development. So we’re fulfilling that wish with a look at what agencies can do for business development in the reality that is 2021.

Despite continuing challenges, there’s a lot of opportunity to be had. Lots of agencies are getting creative — not just with their clients, but with how they are generating new leads and closing new accounts.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello and welcome to another episode of the agency leadership podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And today we’re going to talk about business development because we know that all of you hate thinking about business development. But you all want it, correct? And so we’re going to talk about how you do business development in 2021.

Right after this.

Gini Dietrich: So for those of you who can’t see Chip’s face. that he just gave as he was trying to figure out how to do that intro.

Chip Griffin: Because I wasn’t smart enough to have my, my mouse pointer over, which is what I should have done. But we’re, I’m still getting used to this new approach of recording a show where I’m trying to minimize post production by putting all of these little Tidbits in as we go.

And I, I, I did, did not occur to me that I should hover over it so that I could just click it. And so I had to look down and look for it. And then I realized I couldn’t remember which video and audio thing I was trying. You got it.

Gini Dietrich: It was a split second. It was good.

Chip Griffin: Yes, but I, I could feel my face making.

It did. A face, yeah. Yeah, it did. Thank you for pointing that out. You’re welcome. I do, I do really appreciate that. And I’m sure all of those listeners out in audio land really appreciate that.

Gini Dietrich: I wish I’d gotten a screen grab of it so that we could accompany it.

Chip Griffin: You know, the good news is we actually published the video.

So I’ll just take a screen grab of the video. You can always go back and listen. I mean, I go back and listen to us all the time. Why would you do that? Because I love listening to the sound of my own voice, Gini.

Gini Dietrich: I say it’s painful enough the first time.

Chip Griffin: But Some people say, oh, you must love listening to the sound of your own voice and they think it’s an insult.

I don’t. I actually enjoy listening to the sound of my own voice. I know I’m weird. What can I say?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I do not enjoy listening to myself at all.

Chip Griffin: But I learn a lot from listening to me. Because I’ll often say things and not even realize the gems will come out of my mouth. I do have to apologize to everybody in AudioLand though, I’m not using my fancy microphone today because I forgot to plug it in and I didn’t want to delay this recording so that I could actually plug it in, so.

You sound fine. I’m sure. Okay. Anyway, all right. None of this is at all relevant to doing business development for your agency, except that, you know, one of the tools that you can use our podcast. So, you know, maybe we’ll talk about that at some point over the next 15 to 20 minutes as far as things that you can be doing for business development.

And I recently had a webinar where I talked about some of the things that those of you who absolutely hate sales, hate to do. Can do, to, do some business development. Gini, I know you just had a post not too long ago on spin sucks, where you talked about business development. So this is, this is clearly been on our minds.

It’s on the minds of most of you out there. I know that generally speaking, when I have a business development episode of the videos, the podcasts or articles, those tend to be the most popular. So we’re going to cave in to what’s popular and we’re going to talk about it.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I would agree with you.

I actually, like you said, I published a blog post and aired an episode of the Spin Sucks podcast about business development. And I had two different people email me and go, so I don’t have a business development plan. Guess I should get one. And I was like, yeah, you should, you should get one. You should do that.

Chip Griffin: You should. Yes. A, a, a plan would be ideal, doing something. Would be the next best alternative. I mean,

Gini Dietrich: yeah, don’t just have the plan. You certainly actually have to execute the work as well,

Chip Griffin: right? Right. Yeah, but if I had to choose between having a plan or Just doing it again. Just jump in just I totally agree because doing something is better than nothing cuz nothing Is very unlikely to generate business.

It sometimes happens. Sometimes we get that call out of the blue and really that’s, I mean, honestly, I think that’s one of the things that makes many agency owners a little bit complacent because you get those out of the blue phone calls just often enough that you can convince yourself that, well, you know, I, I just grow by word of mouth and referral, I don’t really need to be out there and being proactive.

Gini Dietrich: And you know what? I would agree with that statement. If you, you are a solopreneur and your, your capacity is at your limit. If you don’t have any intention of growing an agency or hiring more employees, if you don’t want to make additional income, like there’s a lot of reasons that that’s probably okay if you want to do it that way.

Chip Griffin: See, I would, I would argue it’s never okay. I would argue, even if you’re a solo and even if you’re at capacity, you still need to be out there. Doing business development activity. You may not need to push as hard. The problem is that it’s very difficult to foresee when you’re going to have a dip in your business and when a client is going to go away.

And if you, if you try from a standing start to replace that revenue, it’s going to be very difficult. So I think that, that, that’s a good point. Even if you’re at capacity and even if you’re solo, you still need to have a low level hum of business development going on at all times.

Gini Dietrich: And I think the, when we talk about business development, it’s not necessarily going out and doing pitches and, you know, Correct.

RFPs and all that kind of stuff. I mean, business development.

Chip Griffin: Right, because we hate those things anyway, and so we don’t, we don’t, we don’t care who you are. We don’t, we don’t think you should waste a lot of time on RFPs or elaborate pitches or, you know, incredibly detailed proposals or all those kinds of things.

I mean, that’s, that’s not useful in any time in my view.

Gini Dietrich: No, I totally agree. We just had a conversation about it in the Spin Sucks community where somebody said, I signed the NDA, and then they got, send a form letter and said, Thanks, but no thanks. And I was like, what?

Chip Griffin: Right. Right.

Gini Dietrich: Great. All right. but I do think there’s, to your point, a low hum of activity in terms of blogging, podcasting videos, live streaming, the cut, you know, that kind of thing that you can do weekly.

That is going to help build your expertise in your thought leadership both online and off and it will increase the Ability for those one off calls to happen out of the blue, but they’ll happen more often So even though it’s not necessarily you’re going out and cold calling and it sells and that kind of stuff.

It’s It is helping with the inbound marketing for sure.

Chip Griffin: Well, yeah. And I think the first thing is that, you know, agency folks need to stop thinking about it as sales because it’s not, it’s business development. And so fundamentally, when you’re talking about business development from an agency perspective, it’s about building relationships.

It’s about educating people and it’s finding the right match, the place where what you provide intersects with what someone actually needs. And we talked about this on a recent episode that, that agencies do a Frankly, fairly poor job of really understanding what their prospects need and are looking for.

Yep. And, and so, but you need to find where those matches are. And it’s, it’s not, it’s not about, you know, always be closing, right? I mean, this is not Glenn Gary, Glenn Ross, with all due respect to Alec Baldwin’s character, you know, you do not need to always be closing it. And I cringe when I see agency folks talk about the importance of, you know, having a sales process that leads to a close and all that kind of, you know.

because there shouldn’t be any closing. What you should be doing is you should be leading the horse to water. You should be helping your prospects understand, you know, how you can help them. You need to give them the touch points so that they have an opportunity to say yes, but you shouldn’t be twisting their arm.

You shouldn’t be, you know, doing things that sort of are forcing them into making a choice to use you prematurely or Or when they might not otherwise have done it because it will feel good in the moment to get that revenue But long term you will not keep those clients They will not speak well of you and there’ll be a pain to deal with So you want you want them to close naturally not because you’ve become, you know an ace salesperson.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think When you think about it that way and you make that mindset shift in your own brain, it becomes a lot easier to handle because so many of us are relationship people and it, you know, the, the, the quote unquote sales process feels really yucky. So the idea that you would have to go out and do cold calling and, or sit on the phone, you know, for eight hours a day, trying to get somebody to answer your call.

That’s crazy. It feels really yucky, but when you think about it, it should feel

Chip Griffin: yucky because it is,

Gini Dietrich: yeah, there are people who are great at it, but sure, that’s not, that’s not my cup of tea. So I think it’s just a shift in your mindset in terms of, you know, I’m, I’m providing value. I’m building relationships and.

If it’s the right prospect for me and we can do the work for them, then let’s find a way to, to make it work. But it’s, I totally agree with you. It’s not a let’s close, close, close, close, close.

Chip Griffin: Right. So if it’s, so if it’s not closing and it’s about relationships, then that really means that you need to find excuses to have conversations, both with people who are already in your network, but probably as importantly with people who are not in your network.

Immediate network, right? People that you’re, I mean, you know, one of the things we all fall back on when it’s business development is, you know, we probably all got the, that list of 10 usual suspects that have been really good about referring business to us or, you know, and so, you know, when we’re, when we’re sort of in that crunch, those are the first 10 people we’re going to call.

And that’s fine. You can certainly do that, but you’ve got to go beyond those 10 people. You’ve got to find ways to talk to people that you either don’t talk to very often or that you’ve never talked to at all. And. The beauty is that in the environment that we’re in today, particularly post pandemic or, or, you know, not post pandemic, but post start of pandemic, let’s put it that way.

you know, who knows what will be on the actual other side of the pandemic. But, you know, but it, but it has created opportunities for you to, to network more efficiently. And I don’t mean network in the smarmy kind of way. I mean, have, you know, Meaningful conversations, there are, you can do podcasts and interview people.

You can do research where you say, look, I want to do some industry research. I want to reach out to you. Can you, will you take 20 minutes to talk to me? A lot of people will say yes to that. There are great services now, like Lunch Club that I started using not too long ago. That can be an opportunity for you to connect with like minded people that you’ve never talked to before.

So there’s all sorts of these different excuses that you can use to have a conversation, even if you’re not into cold calling and just saying, Hey, you know, can we talk about capabilities? Nobody wants to talk about your capabilities. Anyway, they want to have a meaningful conversation, right? Now, as part of that, it’s natural.

I mean, I don’t know about you, but the first time I talk to someone, you know, the first thing we usually say to each other is tell me a little bit about yourself. Hey, that’s an opportunity where you get to share a little bit of that, but in the non salesy kind of way.

Gini Dietrich: So you mentioned Lunch Club. Talk about what that is, because I think it’s pretty interesting.

Chip Griffin: Yeah, so, so Lunch Club is a service that my understanding is started a couple of years ago and was originally designed to be, to set up in person lunch dates. So not, not social lunch dates, but business lunch dates. there are, there’s actually a service, I think it’s called. It’s just lunch or something like that that I’ve heard of that that it does actual social matchmaking, but in this case it would connect two people and bring them together so that they could have lunch.

It’s pivoted as many people have in this environment so that they’re taking place over Zoom or Google Meet or those kinds of things. And so what you do is you go in and you fill out your profile, what you’re interested in, what your background is, you upload your contacts so that it can sort of figure out, you know, the kind of people you’re already connected to.

And then it tries to find similar people. So, in my case, it’s been, very useful as far as finding folks who were in the agency space generally, or in an entrepreneurship. and basically what happens is every Tuesday, it says, you know, pick up to three times that you’re available later this week for an introductory.

30 minute conversation. you pick, you know, however many of those slots you want. I’ve been doing one. And then later that evening it says, okay, you two are connected and scheduled to meet at this time because it’s someone else who said they were available. In that same slot, and so I mean, to me, it’s been a pretty cool way to just meet people that I probably wouldn’t have come across in any reasonable time frame.

Otherwise, you know, I’m not going to tell you that there are all going to lead to business. Many of them may not, but there’s still there’s still valuable additions to the network. And frankly, they’re great learning experiences, because as we’ve talked about, You know, a long time ago, when we had the pick your brain episode, I am a huge fan of having these kinds of serendipitous conversations where you may, you know, pick up little bits of facts, you know, little market research, an idea here or there.

so, you know, I, I think it’s a great way to do it. certainly you can, you could create your own thing. You could, you know, you could create a, you know, I do a monthly meetup for saga members. You could create something similar for whatever industry or space that your agency is serving and just do, you know, a free meetup.

You know, once a month where people have a chance to share amongst themselves, and you’ll meet new people as part of that process. So, you know, fundamentally, you just need to to create the excuses, the pattern interrupts that allow you to have these conversations with new people.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I think that especially in a situation like that, you might meet somebody who’s like, Oh, you know, not not the right fit for us.

But I can think of two people who are. Sure. On a note similar note. Related note. I have a, a friend in on the East coast who runs an agency and, and he has a podcast and one of the things he does is he sits down every quarter and he says, who do I want to meet? And who’s on my prospect list that I haven’t yet met.

And then he invites those people to his podcast. And I think it’s, I mean, nine times out of 10, they say yes, right. Because people will show up for podcast interviews and they have a conversation and he probably. I would be putting words in his mouth, but I would venture to guess he half of them become clients and it’s just because he’s really, he’s really specific about who his target market is, what type of prospect he’s looking for and the type of company he wants to work with.

And then every quarter he does his research to figure out. Who am I missing? What have, who have I not talked to yet? And then he invites them to the podcast and some of them become clients. So there are lots of ways, I think, to your point that you can do this without it feeling like you’re shouting to the world that you’re, that you are willing to work with clients and that you have capacity to, to bring more.

Chip Griffin: And I’m a huge fan of podcasts as a, as a tool for this, it is a great way to meet new people eventually. So obviously, if you’re thoughtful in your targeting, you can start to meet people that you really want to get to know, because as you say, almost everybody says yes. You know, in all the years that I’ve been doing podcast interviews, I can think of, you know, one or two situations where someone straight up turned me down.

There have been ones where you haven’t been able to find a good time to schedule, but that’s different. You know, they were still willing. And so it creates those opportunities for conversations. But eventually, you start getting people who will pitch to be on. Your show now, a lot of those pitches are frankly horrid and I, and I can say this because, because I’m not insulting anybody who’s actually listening to us now, because I can guarantee you most of the bad pitches that I receive are people who don’t actually listen to the show.

We get a ton of pitches for this podcast for people to be on as guests. For those of you who have been listening more than two or three weeks, how often do we have guests? never. We’ve never had a guest. We’re never going to have a guest. Well, I won’t. I’ll never say never. But we have no plans to ever have guests.

This is an opportunity for Gini to ridicule me each week. There’s no need for someone to get in the way of that. It really is. Yeah.

Gini Dietrich: Okay. Although Karen Swim did a very nice job on your live stream last week.

Chip Griffin: Yes, Karen. Yes.

Gini Dietrich: We did it. We were a good team on ridiculing you.

Chip Griffin: That is true, and I’m very much looking forward to having you both back on that show.

It’s actually, for those of you who have not seen the new Friday Small Agency Talk Show, noon eastern time on YouTube, on the SAGA YouTube channel. It’s worth watching. It’s a good, entertaining discussion. Some weeks are a little more serious than others. Some weeks, I just turn into the punching bag. And that’s fine.

I’m okay with that.

Gini Dietrich: It was amazing. If you wanna go back and watch it,

Chip Griffin: but there’s also useful stuff in there, so don’t, don’t think that it’s, you know, it’s sort of like, sort of like this show. We have a little jibber jabber at the front and the back, but in the middle we try to deliver some actual quality content , but no po But podcasts are, are a great way to do that.

You know, I’m a, I, I often talk about how I like people to have a nifty 50 list, so 50 people that they want to deepen their relationship with. Yep. Either someone that they, that they don’t know at all yet, or people who. Maybe you know a little bit, but you, you’re like, well, you know, I worked with them 10 years ago.

I really, you know, they’re doing something now that would be really interesting to talk about. I need to. to strengthen it. There are all sorts of little things you can do. You can leverage social networks to have touches and appear on someone’s radar. You can like their posts, you can retweet them, you can reply, you can comment, you can endorse them on LinkedIn.

I mean, there’s all these little things that you can do that just, you know, it gives you an opportunity to be in front of people because, you know, part of good business development is being in the right place at the right time. So you have to be known. You have to be credible, but you also have to be in the right place at the right time.

And so that means finding ways to just show up on people’s radars on a regular basis. So that when they say, Oh, you know, I need a digital agency or a PR agency or an SEO agency or whatever, you’re there. Oh yeah. I just, you know, I just talked to chip. I, you know, I should go have a conversation with him about this.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I would even add in there that, you know, in the spin sucks community, there are, they’re not, there are not many non communicators, but there are a few videographers, web developers, search experts. There are a few in ancillary businesses. And so when I, whenever somebody has a question about those types of things, Those people pipe up, or I will say, Hey, I’ll text somebody and say, Hey, Greg, can you talk to this?

Or, Dave, can you talk to this? You know, whatever it was to be. And they’re, they’re able to find business that way too. So they’ve joined a community where it’s not necessarily their people, but it’s in an ancillary business where they might be able to find clients. So I would venture to guess that some of those guys in our community, in those ancillary businesses have probably gotten three to five new clients.

In the last year, just from doing that. So there are things like that that you can do as well.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. And, and looking to other agency owners can be a good way to generate new business. So finding these connection points in the spin sucks community and the saga community. You know, I know from the first meetup of the year that we did in January, that several of the agency owners, talked together with each other afterwards.

And some of that has already led to new business less than a month later. That’s great. yeah, because you have to keep in mind. That there’s value in talking to other agency owners because nobody has the exact same focus and specialty that you do. I mean, even if you’re two PR agencies, you serve different customers, maybe different geographies, you know, maybe one’s got too much on their plate.

And so, you know, they’re, you know, they need to find a solution. There’s all sorts of different ways that you can collaborate with different agencies. Other agencies. And so, you know, walking away from the idea that they are competitors and instead looking at them is as potential collaborators can be a very good way to generate new business.

Gini Dietrich: Totally agree. And I think I think that’s we’ve talked about this before, but I think that’s a really good things to keep in mind is that other agency owners are not necessarily competitors and you can get a lot from working with them.

Chip Griffin: 99. 9999999 percent of other agency owners are not true competitors to you.

I would go so far as to say almost a hundred percent. Yeah, I would agree with that. and, and, and even to the extent that that folks are competitors, there’s, you can still sometimes have some coopetition. Yep. You may, you may still find yourself forced to partner with them on certain projects. I know when I’ve worked for some larger agencies, you know, we’ve had circumstances where we have people that we do view straight up as competitors, but sometimes you still have to work for the, the same client.

Yeah. and so you need to find a way to play nice in the sandbox. And at the end of the day, if, if you do that. The client will respect you and you’ll do better in the agencies that suffer are the ones that, you know, view their competitors on those kinds of things as someone they need to try to steal business from.

And again, that’s one of those things may feel good in the moment, doesn’t pay off. Bad idea, bad idea, because it’s, you really, you have to approach business development in agency world in particular as a long game. It’s a relatively small community of communicators, and so, you know, if you engage in bad behavior, it’s going to be remembered.

And, and so And people will talk about it. People will absolutely talk about it. I mean, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Sometimes Ginny and I gossip in the pre show or the post show about some of the bad behavior that we’ve seen. I mean, hopefully it’s not you, because if you’re listening, chances are you are one of the better actors out there.

Oh boy. Well, we love our audience, don’t you, Gini? Come on.

Gini Dietrich: We do love our audience. But you also, you’re, yes, pandering.

Chip Griffin: Well, I mean, you know, a little, a little pandering is okay. As long as, as long as they understand that I’m pandering. So, so therefore it’s not as bad. Fair.

Gini Dietrich: Fair. All right.

Chip Griffin: Fair, fair. I mean, the smarmy ones are the ones who are pandering and you’re like, Oh my God, does he actually believe this or is he Is he really just putting on, you know, I was, I was at a, I was at an event, online a week or two ago and, and someone was that one of the presenters was becoming very emotional during a sales pitch.

And it was one of those ones where you’re sitting there wondering, is this a show or is this individual really emotional about what they’re talking about? And it was difficult to tell, which is not really good, right? Yeah. Anyway, so

Gini Dietrich: I can’t wait to hear the backstory on that. So on that note, let’s go. So I can hear it.

Chip Griffin: Well, then, okay. So, we’ve given you all of our, no, no, that’s, that’s, that is the tip of the iceberg on business development. go ahead and, and let us know if there are specific areas of business development that you’d like us to talk about on future shows, because we know it is certainly on your mind and we’re happy to do deep dives on, more narrow focused topics here within the business development space.

So you can reach me at, chip@smallagencygrowth.com. Gini, do you want to give out your email address or just tell them to go to your website so that you don’t get inundated with spam? Like I did. spinsucks. com. So you’re, you’re much more protective of, of your email address. I don’t really care.

I mean, I get so much spam anyway. What’s a little bit more, my inbox is out of control. Yeah. On that note, I’m Chip Griffin

Gini Dietrich: and I’m Gini Dietrich

Chip Griffin: and it depends. for listening to the Agency Leadership Podcast. You can watch or listen to every episode by visiting agencyleadershippodcast. com or subscribing on your favorite podcast player.

We would also love it if you would leave a rating or review at iTunes or wherever you go to find podcasts. Be sure to check out Gini Dietrich at Spinsucks. com and join the Spin Sucks community at Spinsucks. com/spin-sucks-community. You can learn more about me, Chip Griffin, at smallagencygrowth.com, where you can also sign up for a free community membership to engage with other agency leaders. The Agency Leadership Podcast is distributed on the FIR Podcast Network, where you can find lots of other communications oriented podcasts. Just visit www. firpodcastnetwork. com. We welcome your feedback and suggestions, and look forward to being back with you again next week.

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The Hosts

Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agency owners build the businesses that they want to own. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur to share the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

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