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The role of your team in selling agency services

On this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip and Gini talk about business development, sales responsibilities, and the importance of defining the roles your team members play in contributing to the growth of the agency.

They discuss how giving important growth tasks to other employees, like taking the lead on a pitch for example, can boost morale and lead to happier and more driven employees, among many other benefits. Other topics on the table include finding the right balance between sales staff and content creation personnel.


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

CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

GINI: and I’m Gini Dietrich,

CHIP: and we’re here today to talk about new business. One of the favorite topics that we know all of you have for us to ramble on about for 20 minutes or so with you each week. And I think this is this is going to be a very focused portion of it, though this is not a general new business discussion, and I’m gonna let the genie kick it off more directly.

GINI: Well, there was a conversation in a Facebook group about this and what the question said was, my PR pros hate selling even though we do it all day, every day with our proposals, ideas, etc. Is your sales function always part of the account managers duties? Or do you have team members specifically tasked with business development? We’re a small agency and we get bottleneck because our account managers always tend to prioritize account busy work over uncomfortable networking and lead development, advice experience training and consulting tools available. Question mark

CHIP: So just the question mark mean that we’re supposed to answer it. I guess that’s that’s probably Yeah, we’re supposed to answer. If we just share the question. Probably people will tune out very quickly if they haven’t already.

GINI: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you did say we ramble on for 20 minutes. So they may have already tuned out.

CHIP: Fair enough. But I think I like to think that some of the charm of this show that we’re not,

GINI: I would like to think

CHIP: that that’s our story, and we’re sticking to it. Right. So, I mean, this is a great topic, because this is this is something that I talked to a lot of small agency owners about. It’s something that has frustrated me over the years in agencies that I’ve owned and run and said cheese, you know, why? Why is the team not, you know, stepping up to the plate and helping to grow the business. And what’s the answer to that, Jenny? Why aren’t Why aren’t they doing that?

GINI: Because it’s not their business. Wow, there

CHIP: you go. Ding, ding, ding. Yeah, I think that’s a tough lesson for all of us as owners to appreciate. Nobody cares nearly as much about the business as we do.

GINI: You know, when I worked at Fleischmann and I think about this a lot, actually, that we had business development training, and they brought people in to teach us and there was a partner, Ron ARP, who would consistently help us along and help us understand what networking and all that kind of stuff was. But when you’re in your 20s, or even early 30s, you just don’t have the relationships. You don’t have relationships with the buyers yet you just don’t your your group of friends are the people that you go out drinking with are not people who are making decisions in business every day. And I think a lot about that, and especially as I started my own agency and had that same frustration, and then very quickly realized, and I certainly have hired business development people and I’ve hired salespeople, and I’ve tried it all. I very quickly realized that if I wasn’t going to make it part of almost my sole job, then it wasn’t going to happen because nobody cares about the business as much as you do. Nobody’s as good as added as you are and nobody has the relationships yet to be able to In business, nor do they see the advantage to them personally if they do.

CHIP: Yeah. And I think in my experience when someone, again, myself included, says, you know, why isn’t the team you know, helping? You know, why aren’t we growing? You know, the team needs to pull together on this, it’s really a cop out, because what it really means is that you, as the owner don’t have a specific plan. And your plan more or less was to sit in a staff meeting and say, hey, can everybody you know, work your network and see what you can come up with? I mean, that’s, that is not a plan, you actually need to sit down and figure out you know, this is this is this is who we’re targeting, this is how we’re going to do it. You know, and you really need to think about your business development plan it big picture, you know, what, and it’s business development is not just the sales piece, it’s sales and marketing. It’s how are you presenting yourself? It’s how are you? You know, how do people think about you, and if you’re not focused on all of that, you’re in trouble. So, you mean it really comes back to you don’t have a plan. And so instead of blaming yourself, you’re You’re trying to put it off on your team. But that’s just that doesn’t work.

GINI: It doesn’t work. And it’s frustrating for them too, because they would, most of them, not everybody, but most of them would very much like to help grow the agency, they would like to be there with you for a long time. And they would like to have some investment in that. And they would like to have the, I mean, there’s pleasure in new business development and in closing a client, there’s great pleasure in that. So I think they’re definitely to your point, there definitely has to be a plan and it has to be both marketing and Biz Dev. And it has to it has to be more than you need to network and work your friendships. It’s it’s things like you know, perhaps they are taking the lead on proposal development or they’re in a new business meeting with you and they understand and then they take the lead in a new business meeting, which is very hard for an agency owner to give up, it’s very hard, near so giving them baby steps where they have wins along the way. So that Eventually, they get to the point where they’re like, Oh my gosh, I was out with my friends on Saturday night when we could go back out with our friends on Saturday night. And so and so, those are the days and so and so mentioned that their company is looking for a new PR firm or no SEO firm or whatever happens to be, and we had a conversation about it, but it’s not for it’s not top of mind for them. It’s not part of the process. And truth be told client work is always going to take precedence always. Even for us. It takes precedence.

CHIP: Right. And I think I think it’s you made a great point that you need to understand what the roles are for each individual because everybody has a role in the new business. But it’s understanding what those are and frankly, what they should be. Because if you’re expecting an account executive to go out there and and do lead generation, that’s probably not going to work. It’s not their skill set. They don’t have the network, as you pointed out, and it’s really I mean, that’s your job as the agency owner, their job is typically going to be to do the things that you talked about helping to put the proposal Together helping to do the presentation or pitch, you know, trying to try to work through the details. And if you think about it in those terms, then you’re much more likely to succeed because you’ve, you’ve defined it and you’ve given them some direction around it, so that they can actually help because just we need more clients. That’s not really direction

GINI: is that direction. And I, you know, one of the things that I think a lot of us think about too, is how do we compensate that? So let’s say that they do bring in somebody. And I mean, for me, personally, I am very, very, very motivated by money. I’m very driven by money. When I was 27, I brought in a $2 billion account to fleischman Hillard and they didn’t pay me for it. You know what they did? They made me the lead on the account and I got to it was a $2 million account. So I got to work with other offices. I worked with the New York office and built relationships there because they were doing the media training. I got to work with the media relations. Team and work with them on getting, you know, big interviews, like 60 minutes, I got the experience of working and leading a huge account. And that was my reward. It wasn’t financial. And, you know, I mean to this day, that kind of experience at that age was huge. It was huge. And it got me into places where, you know, I probably shouldn’t have been at that age yet, but because I had brought in that kind of account landed that kind of account. All because it was a friend who was running the, the association. I mean, that’s, that’s what it was. But, um, you know, the money would have and like I said, I’m very driven by money, it would have been nice, but it wouldn’t be long gone, and I wouldn’t have that same experience. So think about that, those kinds of rewards as well, because it doesn’t necessarily have to be financial. And not everybody is motivated by money.

CHIP: Ya know, and I think from previous discussions, I think, folks, no, I’m not a huge fan of commission plans or things like that, you know, Most agency, right because, right they they are not, they, they generally don’t have the intended effect. But you do need to think about how you reward people for the the actions that they’re performing to help grow your business. And that can be on the revenue side, it can be on the cost side, it can be on the client performance side. So you absolutely need to have some sort of a reward system in place. And you need to recognize that, you know, perhaps by giving folks additional responsibility, or title improvements or cash or, you know, understanding what motivates them and putting those things together, and if you do that, you know, that will certainly help drive that train forward.

GINI: Yeah, and I think that figuring out what motivates individuals to we’ll help you get there too. And, you know, I mean, this is a gross generalization, but young professionals today tend to be more of motivated by Pat’s on the head and trophies and being told that they are doing a good job they just are and that kind of stuff is free. mean. So giving them the opportunity to, you know, we typically what will happen is a call will come in and somebody will say a prospect will say, we’re interested in this, this and this, and the agency owner will have that conversation, right? So instead of that, when a new when a new business call comes in or a prospect calls, then let’s give it to somebody on the team and give them that small win of saying, Okay, the next step then is your, your job is to qualify them, right? Are they qualified, are there any red flags, all those kinds of things, and then we you can come to me with a recommendation on whether or not we pursue it, that’s a win. And that that so giving them those kind of tiny steps to have those Pat’s on the head and get those wins really will start to motivate them to do to improve and do more.

CHIP: Well, not only that, but the you know, client retention starts before someone becomes a client. So that means I need to set expectations correctly. And oftentimes, that means making sure that you’ve got the people in the room During the sales process, who will actually be doing the client service? Because this is one of those mistakes a lot of agencies make? Yes, the owner goes in the owner is the Rainmaker, but the owner really doesn’t have anything to do with day to day after they become a client. And that’s appropriate, right? I mean, as an owner, if you are involved with the day to day of every client, guess what, you’re not going to be able to scale that’s just that doesn’t work. So you need to make sure that the the people who are involved in the client service are in during the prospecting stage and the relationship is already being built and the client or the prospect understands what they will get and who they will get when they become a client.

GINI: And I will add to that, that when you do that with your team, they become more invested in the success of the client with versus and I’ve made this mistake where I was the Rainmaker, I sold the business, and then I sold the plan the whole thing and then I went and I handed it to my team and my team was like, Okay, great, more work. I mean, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t understand it, but when they’re when they are a part of the process, They become invested in the client, they want to do good work, they have built a relationship with the human beings versus being told what to do by their boss.

CHIP: Right? Well, and it also helps you identify any potential issues early on, right? So do you know is there? Is there an oil and water effect between the client and the client service? Sure. You know, you want to know that as soon as possible. Does your team have concerns about the business and that’s, I think, becoming increasingly important, as you know, you know, social issues and other things start to become more deeply ingrained in every aspect of everyone’s life. And so, you know, if someone’s going to have an issue, you kind of want to know that soon. Because if you’ve got your team rebelling after you’ve signed the client, you’re in a world of hurt because then how are you gonna fix that? And I, and even before this year, I have had that happen to me where I’ve brought on clients and people I can’t believe that you actually signed them. I was like, I didn’t even think I mean, he doesn’t, you know, they’re they’re sort of harmless. You know, But not everybody shares the same point of view. And so you need to make sure that your team is on board and spots those red flags early.

GINI: Yeah, I really think I mean, the whole idea that you expect your account managers to sell is a mistake we’ve all made. Yeah. And it certainly starts at the top, you know, your job, at least 50% of your job, if not more is, is business development. But bringing them bringing your team along, for those small wins is what’s going to help is going is what’s going to help you win, but also give them the confidence to be able to start to do it on their own.

CHIP: Right. But and the other part of the problem here is that, you know, if you’ve got six people and you’re saying, you know, we all need to be responsible for business development, we all need to be responsible for growing this business. That really means nobody’s in charge. And because anytime you’ve got more than one person in charge, nobody is in charge because nobody’s accountable. Because everybody else can point their finger at somebody else. And if you’re, if you’ve set up that dynamic, You can’t succeed. So you know, defining the roles, understanding what people are going to do, and what they should be doing is important. But I think that the other thing, you know, to touch on here is, you know, should you be on the owner? Should you have a dedicated salesperson or somebody who is primarily responsible for business development? And, you know, you mentioned that that’s something that you’ve done. It’s something that I’ve done. I’m curious, I think we’ve touched on this a little bit on on previous shows, but certainly, you know, given given the environment that we’re in now, you know, would you hire a salesperson for your agency or is that really the owners responsibility?

GINI: I would not been there done that many times over. I’ve tried different models. I’ve tried, I’ve tried everything, and nobody’s as good at it as as I am. And it has nothing to do with me. It’s just because I own the business. And I if there’s a way to make it work, I have not figured out what it is.

CHIP: Yeah, I would agree with that with the sort of the asterisk that if you are more of a high volume agency, so, you know, if you are a digital agency doing a lot of web projects, a lot of logo design those things, you have a product, right, you know, so you’ve got something that’s more defined, and you’re talking about signing far more clients. I mean, the vast majority of agencies, you know, they’re only signing maybe a half dozen new clients a year. Right? I mean, it’s, yeah, and, and so, you know, having a sales rep that’s focused on on that kind of volume. First of all, it doesn’t usually work out from a cop perspective, because you’d have to give them so much compensation for each win, that it almost dissuade you from wanting to do JSON net write that check who you know, yeah. So, you know, I think it creates issues there. But you know, if you’re in a high volume environment, I think that does change the dynamic because simply, you know, the all the paperwork that you need to do to get that many new clients on board if you’re selling, you know, five to 10 new websites a month or something like that. As many digital agencies, do, you know that that becomes a whole different dynamic. But if you’re the typical agency in the PR marketing space, and you’re assigning maybe a half dozen clients a year, I think it really is on you as the owner or some someone else who has an equity stake in the business. So you could have, you know, a executive vice president has been with you forever, and you could put some on them if they’ve got an equity stake. But I think I think anyone in that typical type of agency that doesn’t have an equity stake simply can’t have primary responsibility for business development, because they’re, it’s just it’s not likely to work out.

GINI: Yeah, and I think that’s a that’s a really good distinction because we certainly have the side of the business where we sell online courses and professional development stuff like that, and and the sales team works really well for that. But for the typical agency side, if it works, I have not figured out the right formula, for sure.

CHIP: Yeah, no, I certainly have not not seen it myself. Like, I do think you know it when you’re thinking business development, I think it is reasonable to have someone on your team who is perhaps in charge of the agency’s marketing communications, right. So sort of the demand generation side. So that that is a little bit different. So I do want to make, you know, clear here, as we’re talking about agency growth, as I said earlier in the show, there are the different buckets that go into it. And I think it is okay to have someone on your team who is, you know, who takes the lead on that, in fact, it’s probably a good thing to have someone who takes the lead on that, who is not you as the owner, because a lot of what they do, ought to be building you up as the agency owner and taking advantage of you and your reputation. And my experiences. Most of us are really bad at self promotion. Yeah, most of us are not Gary Vaynerchuk. Okay. So even Gary has people on his team who work on you know, building him up. Yeah, right. So if you know, it’s helpful to have someone who is that third party a because it works better for talking to third parties and saying, Hey, you know, you should talk about To my boss, right? That’s, that’s a little bit easier conversation than, hey, you should talk to me. Most of us are not super comfortable with that. And and it’s often not as well received on the other end. Whereas if someone is pitching you or pitching your thoughts or those kinds of things that can be helpful. And it also allows them that, you know, they can take that broader view and say, hey, you’ve got this whole pocket of knowledge that you’re not leveraging well, and it’s much easier for someone outside of your own brain to tell you that to figure it out on your own.

GINI: Yeah. And I will add to that I do have one client in Denver who she has a man on her team who that’s what he does. And it’s been interesting to watch because she she kept saying yes to everybody because she’s a people pleaser, even though she knew it was gonna be a client that wasn’t right for them. She just she kept saying yes, and she kept winning all this business that she chooses. I mean, galore, business galore. But it was the in some cases was the wrong type of client. So what he does is he’s sort of protecting her from herself. And he does all the qualifying. So he has the first conversation. He asked the questions, he looks for red flags, he actually looks for ways to disqualify them. And then he comes to her and he says, Okay, I talked to this prospect, this is what they do. This is what they’re looking for. This is what their budget is, he gets all of that down. And then she comes in and does the business development. So he’s not doing the sales, he’s not doing the business development. He’s doing the qualifying.

CHIP: Yeah. And that’s a great way to use your team to try to, you know, particularly if you if you’ve got a volume of whether you call them inbound leads or potential prospects, or you know, those kinds of things that have your team help do some of that vetting, because as important in business development as finding the right people is getting rid of the wrong ones. And so the sooner the sooner that you can move people off of your prospect list who are not good fits for whatever reason, the more you can focus your energies on those that are good fits. which will help you grow faster. So, you know, and I think that particularly in times like these, you know, that there is that that tendency to be a little bit, you know, desperate may be too strong a word, but overly aggressive, shall we say in pursuing things and so everything that even looks like it might have a pulse you’re chasing, and and that is that is not likely to get you the kind of business that you need to grow. And so if you can disqualify the bad fits and focus on the other stuff, I mean, that is a fantastic use for your team. And and if you can use them for that in whatever way possible, you’ll be better off.

GINI: Yeah, and I think that the relationship works really well too. And he gets a little he gets five or 10%. I can’t remember of whatever they they do bring in for doing that, but they’re very qualified and by the time they get to her, she doesn’t feel like she’s wasting her time or having to, you know, having to say yes, just because that’s what we do is especially as community We’re people pleasers.

CHIP: We are people pleasers, and, you know, most of us like money. And so, you know, if we check those likely to clear, we have a hard time saying, Yeah. They’re done that more than one more time. So I can count on Yes, actually. So yes, me too.

GINI: unfortunately.

CHIP: But in any case, any final thoughts here before we wind down?

GINI: I think the gist of it is business development really belongs to you, but you can parcel out pieces of it.

CHIP: And so I guess then, with that, that will bring to a close this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

GINI: and I’m Gini Dietrich.

CHIP:  And it depends.

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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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