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What is business development like at other agencies in 2022?

Lee McKnight, Jr. of RSW/US joined Chip Griffin of SAGA on the latest Small Agency Talk Show to discuss his firm’s latest research into the state of agency business development.

The annual survey revealed what is working — and what isn’t — for agencies today, as well as how they perceive the current environment.

Chip and Lee explore the data along with the reasons behind some of the results. They also suggest ways that agencies can improve their own pipelines based on what they are observing.


Key takeaways

  • Chip Griffin: “For agencies that can’t find someone to drive new business…for most small and midsize agencies, the owner needs to look in the mirror.”
  • Lee McKnight, Jr.: “You’ve got to make these initial sales emails short and to the point. Understand that you are talking to another human being when you’re reaching out. And when you have that frame of mind, your emails are going to be better.”
  • Chip Griffin: “If you’re not getting through, it’s probably because there’s a mismatch, you’re selling something that they don’t want.”
  • Lee McKnight, Jr.: “I was prospecting an agency, clicking through all the fun, creative things on their site. And I’d been on this site now for almost a minute. I had no idea who you are, what you do. If you think you’re doing that for your prospects, you’re not. You’re trying to impress other agencies.”

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 Small Agency Talk Show. I’m your host Chip Griffin, the founder of SAGA, the Small Agency Growth Alliance. And I am delighted to have with me a regular panelist, an all around smart and fun guy and someone who may or may not have a prop. I don’t know. I forgot to ask him in the pre-show.

So we might have something. Lee McKnight Jr., from RSW/US. Welcome to the show, Lee.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Hello, Chip. It’s great to be back for season eight, this is awesome.

Chip Griffin: I don’t keep track of the seasons, Lee.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: I’ve got Alf with me for a prop.

Chip Griffin: Alf. We are, we are dating ourselves here.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: We are. Yeah.

The recipes, this is now turning into a cooking segment, so everybody get ready.

Chip Griffin: What are we cooking?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Lasagna. Didn’t he eat cats? I don’t know.

Chip Griffin: Oh, actually, now that you say that, yeah. I mean, this is for you young folks in the audience or anyone who’s not old as dirt, like we are, Alf was a show back in the 1980s. You may have heard of the 1980s you might even have read about it in a textbook.

Oh, wait a minute. You don’t have textbooks anymore. Wikipedia or whatever. So, anyway. All right, well thank you for bringing the prop and the levity to, to get us started. Happy Friday. It’s this is always an enjoyable part of the week when we get to have these conversations. And so, so today we’re gonna talk about some, some hard new research that you guys have. It’s your annual agency, new business report. It is a must read for anyone in the agency community, because it’s got a lot of insights into what’s going on around you. And so obviously we all can take our own temperature and we can see what’s happening in our own business, but it’s good to see what other firms are experiencing. And so that’s what we’re gonna dive into today. We’re gonna dive into some of the observations that you have, particularly some of the things that may be shifting in the agency community over the last couple of years. And, you know, we’ll just take it from there. So why don’t you share with us a few of the, the highlights of the report, actually, even before that, why don’t you explain the report to those people who may not have experienced it before?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Sure, absolutely. So we, so RSW, you know, we’re outsourced business development group. We only work with agencies, so we do this annually as you pointed out and. It’s specifically agencies throughout us and Canada, predominantly small and mid-size firms, which is, which is our target audience, if you will.

Yeah. I mean, I think this one is interesting. The past two years with this report really saw a lot of good things come out of it, which is great. But it was a lot of, you know, COVID build up, organic growth that was happening. And as far as business development, not every agency certainly, but a fair amount of agencies, business development was – easy, maybe is not, not ever the right word to use, but it was absolutely easier. And this year’s a little bit of a wake up call. And what we’re seeing is that organic growth slow. I mean, one of the first stats I’ll point out if it was that organic growth, according to agencies, we surveyed slowed, uh, 11%, I believe it was.

Yeah. Organic growth fell by 11% in 2022 as an effective way to drive new business. And anecdotally in the conversations we’re having with firms, we’re definitely seeing that. And so generally just new business is getting harder to come by. And so far in ’22 and leading into ’23. And the other stat I’ll throw out just generally it’s 28% of agencies that obtain new business compared to last year was harder or a lot harder.

In ’21, mind you, now in ’22, that’s risen to 43% saying it’s harder, new business at getting harder and that’s a big jump. And it should be an eye opener, excuse me, for, for agencies. It’s not gloom and doom, but it’s time to take a step back and look at what you’re doing.

Chip Griffin: So what’s, what’s the why behind that?

Why, why is new business more difficult now than it was two years ago?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. And, and tee that off. We asked that, and it was – so top three, one is just harder to break through to prospects and that’s typically up there, but man, it, it jumped quite a bit. So that was a full, what was it? 55% of agencies. That was the number one reason why. Number two was interesting.

Just fewer opportunities out there, it’s 39%. And the third. This is an ongoing trend. It seems like every year, but it’s, I can’t find the right person to drive the new business program. And that was at 31%. So yeah, I mean, those three aren’t super shocking. But the, all three of those percentages, higher than last year.

Chip Griffin: Right.

Well, and I mean, obviously as, as we look at those, as reasons, you know, starting with the, the third one first, can’t find someone to drive new business. I mean, for most small and midsize agencies, the, the owner needs to look in the mirror, right? Yeah. I mean, you, you can hire people to support you. You can hire people to help move the process forward.

But you really have to be the driving force behind your own agency’s revenue growth, at least until you become a large firm and you have no idea what’s going on as the owner. But there are very few of those out there. And certainly they’re not listening to this show.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. I mean, you know, and it’s look, we get it.

I mean, that’s one of the reason why we exist. I mean, I’ll do a shameless plug, but I mean, the owners come to us and say, look, I just, I can’t do this by myself. But they do have to be involved to your point.

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. I mean, and I’m not advocating, they should do it by themselves. You should absolutely have help internal, external, whatever.

Yeah. But it’s just, it’s a lot of owners just want the silver bullet of being able to hire an individual or a firm and just say, you bring me new business. I’ll execute on it. Done and done.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Right. Yeah. And it it’s hiring’s, you know, we were talking about it before the show. Hiring’s hard anyway, for this particular position, it’s always been difficult.

And a lot of times, quite frankly, the blame’s on the agency. Agencies, I love you. We love you. But you know, it’s that when even when they do hire that person, they’re, they’re counting on a Rolodex that runs out or they don’t train them up. They hire someone young who presumably doesn’t cost, you know, what, what a seasoned individual might, might cost to hire.

And, it doesn’t work and they wonder why, and that’s not all on the agencies, but I think just that hiring piece understandably is quite difficult. But, but you’re right. I mean, yes, they need help, but those owners have got to drive it. And it’s, it’s hard. Mind you, but, and you know, when we talked about process and, and get into that here a little bit, but, that’s the other piece of it I think it’s just the agencies don’t take the time to even think about, well, how are we going to go about this? So.

Chip Griffin: Right. I mean, the historically, you know, agency new business processes are, oh my God, we lost a client. We need to go find a new one. And, and that, that’s always my favorite line to hear from any kind of a leader in any organization.

Oh, we just lost this piece of business. We need to go find something to replace it. Yeah. And, and, and I always just sort of, you know, just put my head down on the desk at that point, because that’s not how business development should work or does work. You don’t just say, oh, I lost A, now I’ll get B to replace it.

Yeah. You need to have an ongoing process because you’re always going to be losing pieces of business. Right? No agency, no business of any kind keeps everybody forever, nor should you. And we’ve talked about that on this show ad nauseum about the, the problem of, of long term clients and how they become less profitable because of over servicing and all sorts of stuff like that.

But, let’s look at the other two causes of this though, that, that you mentioned. So the, the first one, the harder to break through. Yeah. So why is it harder to break through?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah, I think we don’t…

Chip Griffin: And is that code for something else? Right? Because sometimes, as you and I know when someone says something, it often is code for, well, what it really means is we don’t know who to talk to, or we’re not well focused or is it, I mean, is, is there anything behind it or is it…?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Oh, I think, well, I think, yes, I think, and that’s interesting that, that you bring that up initially. Because I do. Yeah, I think it is. And we don’t always get to glean some of those and, and quite frankly, I don’t know how forthright they would be about some of that anyway, but I think sometimes you you’re absolutely correct on its face.

The reality of it is yes, it is harder to break through. And in, in the sense of now coming out of COVID yes. A lot more hybrid work and, and people at home. But, you know, that shouldn’t stop you. I mean, I just, just was on a sales call this morning and, you know, one of the things that we tout, whether it’s working with us or working on your own, get so much of these junk sales emails every day.

I know you do, everyone, anyone watching gets them all the time and, and I keep them and I use it for content. But you know, one of the things certainly, and, that this, this gentleman brought up principal at this agency was, I mean, does the phone even work anymore? For example, I mean, is that even a thing?

And I’m like, oh my gosh. Yeah, it is. But the, the key there is you’ve gotta use multiple platforms that complement each other. Whoever’s doing it. You don’t know where a prospect lives. So when they say harder to break through, part of that is also because, how hard are you really trying to break through?

Quite frankly. I sent a couple of emails. I didn’t get anything back. It’s like, okay, well you gotta do more than send a couple of emails, right. Or we did X and I don’t know, nothing. It didn’t really work. Well. How much did you follow up on that? Oh yeah. Not, not that much. So I think that’s part of it, but you’re right.

Is that code for some of these agencies not having that process in place, not having the right individual that they’re going after. Or maybe even the right size of company. I mean, they’re killing themselves with these small projects and these smaller clients, when maybe they could take a step up and they haven’t even thought about what it’s really gonna take to get their team not only motivated, but being able to pay those bills and pay your team.

Chip Griffin: Right. Yeah. I mean, if, if someone says to me I’m having a hard time breaking through to prospects, the immediate thing I think about is you need to look at your ideal client definition and make sure that, that you’ve really got that nailed down and that it’s accurate. And you also need to look at your positioning to make sure that it’s really speaking to that ideal client, because yeah, the reality is if, if you can clearly define your ideal client and they have an actual need for an agency like yours and, and you can explain that you provide the solution for them, it shouldn’t be difficult to get through. And, and, and so if you’re not getting through, it’s probably because there’s a mismatch, you’re selling something that they don’t want. They don’t have the, the problem that you think they have, there’s something to it more so than just, Ugh. They’re working from home. I can’t reach them there.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. I love that. And, it’s so spot on. And I think that that’s interesting that I’m going to steal that from you, my next blog post, but, but it is, it’s so true. And I think another piece of that too, is, is just the follow up. Obviously breaking through initially is one piece of it, but we just had our president of the company, Mark, just sent out an email to everyone today. We had a client close a piece of business here recently. Now, thankfully doesn’t always take this long. The whole process took nine months, but it was the initial meeting. Now we’ve already broken through to be fair here, but I’ll finish. The principal who, who a particular client of ours that’s been with us for eight years said, ah, it didn’t really go anywhere.

I mean, it’s a company I’d like to work with, but that nothing happened. Our new business director, took it upon himself over time to go back in there and set up another meeting. It took about six months later in that process, in the process itself, we have a stat there that it’s taking longer generally for, for agencies apparently, closed that piece of business.

And he said, thank you all. Because I initially I was thinking that was going nowhere and I wouldn’t have told you to follow up on it. Right. So I think that’s part of it too. Granted, I’m, I’m getting, getting a little bit off that particular stat, but I think it ties into what you said.

Chip Griffin: And if you think about it in, in non-agency new business terms, I mean, if I come to you and, and I, I know that that you play in a band, I’m like, okay, I’ve got this really, this fancy, great electric guitar that, you know, you’ve always been dreaming about.

I’ve got it. I can sell it to you for a hundred bucks and I will hand deliver it this afternoon. You’re gonna talk to me about that. Yeah. Right. Right. If, if I, if I tell you that, you know, I’ve got a I don’t know, a vacuum cleaner that is kind of beat up and noisy, but it, it sort of cleans and I can get it to you in about three months for a thousand dollars.

You’re probably not gonna talk to me. Right, right. Because I’ve mismatched what I’m selling, who I’m selling it to and what the value of it is. So if you’re having trouble breaking through, look at the reasons why first. Don’t blame it on technology or where people are working or any of those kinds of things.

Because it’s probably not what the real problem is.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: A hundred percent.

Chip Griffin: And so, so number two, on the list of explanations for, for why people were having challenges was fewer opportunities. Are there actually fewer opportunities in, from what you’re seeing? Is it, is it that people, is it that companies and other organizations are being pickier about what they’re sending to agencies? Are they, do they have smaller budgets? I mean, so is there something to this fewer opportunities?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: That’s a great question. I mean, some of it, and I, and I’d like to dig into that more. I, I, it’s interesting. I actually think now, granted, now we did, we did this, in August, so not, not that far back. Right. So it’s a snapshot in time to be fair.

But I think now when we talk about this for the show, we’re not necessarily seeing that. And I think now, especially, and I want to steal a little bit of what you said earlier, Chip, was, you know, you have a lot of these firms who were able to get in, get some work, you know, during COVID and now some of these companies are taking a step back and really taking a closer look at some of these firms.

Are you doing what you said you were doing? And, and as you said earlier, what is the ROI here? And so what we are seeing, it’s while maybe not great for that agency that’s under the microscope, it’s opportunity for a lot of other firms. And this is the time for you agencies to be capitalizing. I mean, if there are other agencies not cutting it, here you go.

It’s a chance for you to get in that door. So we’re actually starting to see, I think a little bit, I won’t say a huge increase, but the opportunities are, are there. So, you know, I would love to get an open ended question maybe next time and dig into more. What exactly does that mean? Is it less opportunities with current clients?

Is it less opportunity just period out there? Because definitely not necessarily seeing that. I could see perhaps current clients may be pulling back somewhat, whether that’s economy based and looking to the future. So that’s the one piece that I, that I wonder, but overall I don’t necessarily think that’s, that’s the case.

Chip Griffin: Well, it’s, it’s also an easy fallback for someone, right? So that they, they’re not looking in the mirror and blaming what they’re doing, their process, their approach, their positioning. And instead of saying, well, there’s just less out there. And maybe there’s less out there because of reason number one, right.

If you’re not breaking through to prospects, you’re not hearing about opportunities, but maybe that’s because you’re not breaking through to the right prospects by default. Right. So if, if you’ve got a mismatched value proposition, you’re not gonna be getting opportunities because they have to see you as a credible solution to whatever challenge they actually have before they’ll even tell you that they’ve got an opportunity.

It’s not like, you know, most firms are out there saying, Hey, anybody, anybody wanna help us? That’s not how the world works generally speaking.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Fortunately not.

Chip Griffin: One of the things you touched on was, was process. And I, you know, one of the things I had noticed, and we talked about this little pre-show when I looked through the report was that the, there seemed to be a significant uptick in the number of agencies that said lack of process was one of their problems. So, and I sort of jokingly said when we were talking before that, geez, what is this? You know, the last couple years it’s been pretty good and, and now it’s ticked up.

Did they just throw out their process and say, yeah, forget about it. But it is, I, you know, I think, you know, process is probably another one of those proxy things, right. Because if you’re winning business, sure I’ve got a process. It’s signing contracts. If you’re not winning business, you know, process has broken down clearly.

So, talk a little bit about the process piece and, and in particular, I’m curious, you know, as you are working with clients, are you frequently having to help them put processes in place behind their business development efforts?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: The answer to the latter is, is yes. I mean, quite frankly, for a lot of firms that come on board, we are process at the top of the funnel, certainly.

I mean, because ultimately when we work with clients, we try to get them as close to close as we can. So we’re there after those first meetings to nurture, if they go dark, things like that. Ultimately though, our clients do have to close. I mean, they’re, we’re not like in the pitches with them. Right. So in that sense, absolutely.

The answer is yes. You know, I think that it’s interesting how many more agencies admitted that they don’t have a process who said that now this year they don’t. Kudos, kudos for being truthful with yourself. Right. But yeah, that was pretty, staggering is a bit much, but, but it was a little shocking to see the percentage raise.

I think it was eight or nine points from last year and, yeah, I it’s interesting. And you know, I think it goes hand in hand with hiring. I mean, what we’re seeing now is, you know, what was it only, oh, what was it? Oh, I missed – there it was. Oh yeah. So in 2021, hiring a new business director position at an agency fell to its lowest level since 2010, with just 32% of agencies hiring a new business director in the past three years. 2022, the number is once again, 32%.

That I would think that that’s gotta get kind of hand in hand with, well, we’d hired this person or, or, and it didn’t work. So now we’re not doing that anymore. And wow. What, what is, I think a lot of ’em just to be fair, don’t really know how to do it to scale. I think that’s always the biggest problem.

A lot of times with small to midsize firms, because they all wear so many hats. I’m sure required to, I know on this, but I think they get stuck with not starting small enough to where they can then scale a process and it kind of tends to fall apart. And then they’re back to square one and oh man, this client needs this now. We’ll get back to that. So I think some of it to be fair, it’s just, it’s just hard for, for a lot of these small and mid size firms to, to know exactly what to do.

Chip Griffin: Well, and the reality is I think the, the number, you know, even though it is ticked up, it is still far short of what reality is, because your experience, my experience in working with agencies would be that the vast majority do not have a business development process, at least not a, a defined process. Yeah. They may have something that they sort of accidentally kind of do on a regular basis, but the vast majority do not have what, what you or I would classify as a proper process in place for, for winning new business. And it, I, to me, I think it really is one of those things where if things are going well, you, you say you have a process, things are not going well you say you don’t. And, and that’s, that’s really. Yeah. You know, the way you can sum it up, but it, it is, it is something that would benefit most agencies to put some kind of process in place. And part of the problem is that that a lot of times when I see agencies say, oh, yes, we need to put a process in place for business development or really anything else is they then start to overcomplicate it.

Yes. Right. And, and so process doesn’t have to be difficult or bureaucratic, or, you know, excessively detailed. It just needs to be something that’s defined and repeatable. If you can do that, you’ll be in good shape.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Oh, my God. So true. Yeah. And they get inside their own heads so often and too many cooks in the kitchen.

I’ll keep throwing cliches out, but sure. Yeah. I mean, things just grind to a halt. We need, we need the team to look at this case study and then the next 12, the team consists of eight people apparently and each one and, and I laugh and I’m not laughing at them, but it’s, that’s all you can do at that point.

Because it’s wow. Yeah, it doesn’t have to be overly bureaucratic or any of the things you said. And I think that’s, gosh, that’s one of the biggest hurdles that we see.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. So now let’s, let’s talk about one of my favorite, most disturbing statistics, which is the number of agencies that have a single client that represents more than half, more than 50% of their revenue.

Yeah. And I, I believe that once again, it’s somewhere in the, the one in four neighborhood of agencies. Correct. And I always talk about how you don’t want to have a whale client that is over 20% of your annual revenue, but we’re not talking 20%. We’re not talking 30% or even 40%. We’re talking 50% or more. One out of four agencies. I’ll be blunt.

And, and this is not gonna be a popular opinion for some of you I’m. But if you have over 50% of your revenue coming from a single client, you don’t have an actual agency business. You’re an in-house agency that happens to take on a few outside clients. I mean, because you cannot make reasonable business decisions if one client completely controls your ups and downs.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. Someone’s giving you the stink eye. Several people are.

Chip Griffin: I’m sure. I’m sure the hate mail will come in and I’m, I’m okay with that. You know, you it’s look, it’s a hard truth, right? I mean, it’s a hard truth and, and look, a lot of agencies have started that way and, and that’s fine, you know, if you’re just getting started.

Okay. You get a little bit of an exemption for a short period of time to address that. If it’s, if it’s happened because you had a 20% client and then you lost two big ones because of COVID or something like that two years ago, you get a pass for some time to, to fix it. The fact that this number keeps coming up this way, every time you do the survey suggests that these are structural issues and the agencies either through intention or inertia are accepting the fact that they have this kind of a whale client.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. And I think the highest I ever heard was like 80%. And, I think they may have been fibbing a little bit there. It’s scary. And, to your point, I mean, 50% should be scary. Right. And you know, we talked about this again a little bit pre show was that, well, I’ll just say, I mean, some of it was understandable. During COVID coming out of COVID we’re we have this one client and we’re scared understandably so, we’re taking this, whatever they give us we’re taking. And I think that’s one way that it probably got a little bit outta control. It’s tough to harp on some, on an agency for doing that, but at the same time, as we just said, hard truth.

You can, that’s not as, as you laid it out already. I mean, that, that, that can’t and shouldn’t be sustained.

Chip Griffin: And look, I’m not saying go fire your whale client. I’m not saying don’t take additional business from them that increases the percentage. What I’m saying is you need to double down on finding additional business, additional clients to diversify your client base, because otherwise what you do is you become so beholden to that whale client, you start making really bad business decisions. and, and then you start hating your own business and you sit there and you look, and you’re like, ah, I’m generating all this revenue. Why am I so miserable? Why? Because you are forcing yourself to over service this one giant entity that decides whether you succeed or fail.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. I mean, you nailed it. And, you know, I know there are gonna be folks that are watching or, will be watching that are in that position and you nailed it again. Diversification. You have to.

Chip Griffin: And it’s not an overnight process. It’s gonna take time. It’s it’s not like you just wake up and say, okay, I’m, I’m gonna get, I’m gonna get down below 50% by adding these other clients.

Right. You can’t do, it’s gonna take time, but if you don’t even have a plan, a process in place to get you there, I guarantee you won’t get there.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Totally. And you know, here’s the good news. Okay. At least you’ve got that revenue coming in, right?

Chip Griffin: Absolutely. I mean, kudos to you, you’ve got a giant client, who’s doing a lot of work with you, right.

I mean, that’s, that’s great. You know, I applaud that. Sure. It’s a stepping stone.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: It’s a perfect time to diversify, you know, it’s just like what I say with new business. Right. It’s when you, when you got it coming in, is when you should be working just as hard to keep new, new business coming in.

Chip Griffin: Yep. The busier you are with clients, the more you’ve gotta focus on business development.

It’s, it’s a lesson I learned 20 some years ago when I was first getting started. It’s the reason why so many small agencies will complain about, oh, it’s such a roller coaster of revenue. It’s a roller coaster because you’re not focusing on the business development a hundred percent of the time. Yeah.

Which what’s happening is you’re getting busy with clients and you’re saying, oh, I don’t have time for this. I gotta focus on keeping my clients happy. Then you lose a client and you’re like, oh, crud. I gotta go replace them. Right. And, and that’s why you have a roller coaster of revenue.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yep. Yeah. A hundred percent.

Yeah. And, and I think, you know, we didn’t want, well, the stats are what they are with this, this year’s report. Right. And I think that this one, you just brought up with the gorilla client, is probably the scariest, right? I think all the other stats are, Hey, okay. We’re back to where new business is hard again. It’s always hard. And you know, I said in one blog post I wrote last week. I mean, agencies have been here before, just in terms of new business being harder to get. The very nature of our industry is cyclical and we’ve been here. So I think agencies, what, what I didn’t want to have happen – and AdWeek picked it up, which is great.

But they love those juicy headlines of, oh my God, you know, the sky’s falling and it’s, you know, generally it’s not. But this particular one, especially is a, should be a wake up call. Other stats too, but that’s one that you, you gotta address that now. Yesterday.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And I, I don’t think that it’s necessarily just become harder anyway. I think it’s really that the froth has gone away. Right. And, and, and there was froth in the agency industry from those clients who either were so overworked that they needed to farm stuff out. Yeah. Or they were so desperate to change their business model and, and generate new revenue sources that they were willing to, to overspend in an attempt to get themselves there. And so it made work for a lot of agents, particularly, you know, in the digital space or, you know, folks who were helping businesses make transitions. There was a lot of opportunity there. Yeah. That, that doesn’t exist today because today people are making much more rational decisions about how to invest their organization’s funds when it comes to marketing, advertising, PR, et cetera.

That’s agree. So the, the last thing I wanna touch on before we run outta time here is. the list of things that work. So we we’ve talked about what doesn’t work, we’ve talked about the problems, but, but now let’s talk about the things that work. And what struck me is that they’re the, the three top things there by far are the three things that most agency folks will tick off, off the top of their head when they talk about how they get new business: organic growth, referrals, and networking, and which is great.

And I, so I wanna talk about that, but I also wanna talk about why it is that when you talk to agency owners who are struggling with new business, they immediately talk about how they need to be doing other stuff. Well, you know, we really, we really need to get an email program going. We really need to be working on our SEO.

We really need to be, you know, getting more speaking opportunities. And, and what I always fail to understand is why when you look and you say, these are the things that are, that we’ve proven work for us. Yeah. Why don’t you lean into that instead of saying, you know what, I gotta go teach myself how to do email marketing properly for my agency, or I gotta go buy Facebook ads and build a funnel that way.

Why don’t you lean into the things that work?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean that, and you brought that up pre show and I was like, ah, I mean, it’s an excellent point. And what we always say, quite frankly, when an agency comes on board with us, it’s like, don’t – yes, we are here to help you drive your business. Of course.

But the referrals, the networking, I mean, those pieces are still critically important and don’t stop doing those. And/or if you weren’t doing that, why not? For god’s sake? I mean, right. We would never be one to say you have referrals? No, of course they work, they’re fantastic. But to rely on those on their own, you know, is not, is not necessarily dependable.

So it’s all about having this again, process in place, but you’re a hundred percent right. Yeah. I mean, double down on what is working. It doesn’t mean that, yeah, if you haven’t updated your site in X amount of years, if you’re driving prospects there, it should be presentable and they should know what you do and who you are.

But ultimately, I would agree with it, why, why aren’t you leaning in on those things that quite frankly are easier, won’t say easy, but they’re, that’s in place already, or, you know, or you certainly can kick that into place. Versus as what you said, now, we’re gonna start this new thing that we don’t know about, and it’s gonna take X amount of time and money.

It’ll work. It’s like, what?

Chip Griffin: Well, and, the work that you do, or the work that an in-house biz dev person is doing should be complementary to these efforts, right? Yeah. Because, because you are targeting or the in-house targeting should be related to the network that already exists. Getting referrals from the people that you’re talking to, because referrals don’t just have to come from existing clients.

Referrals can come from anyone who is aware of the, the work that you do and the value that you provide. Right. And so if you’re out there talking to more and more people, whether it’s directly or through your biz dev person or through a firm, like RSW, that all helps. Yeah. And, but focus on that, don’t say, oh, you know, we’ve gotta put together a committee to look at building a website and let’s tweak this or that.

I mean, frankly, so many agency websites are overbuilt. Yeah. They focus too much on being fancy and cool for their peers instead of actually just saying, Hey, here’s what we do. And here’s who we do it for. Yep. I cannot tell you how many times I look at an agency website and I have no idea what services they actually provide. Or who their ideal client is. Your website needs to scream that does from the rooftop. And it needs to just look professional. It doesn’t need to look like, oh wow. They spent a hundred thousand dollars on this or a million dollars on this. I mean, that’s not why clients are choosing their agencies.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah. I think it’s a hundred percent on the sites not to get too off of where we were. But as an addendum, let’s say to what you just said. It weirdly even today, good Lord, in the year that it is, I was just prospecting an agency yesterday. And then I stopped though for a second because I was clicking through all the fun, creative things on their site, where we had, you know, things going this way and that way.

And like, I’ve been on this site now for almost a minute. I had no idea who you are, what you do. I mean, I know your name. But I was like, God, aren’t we past that yet? Cause to your point you’re if you think you’re doing that for your prospects, you’re not. You’re trying to impress other agencies.

Chip Griffin: Who are not hiring you by the way.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: You’re right, exactly.

Yeah. It, it immediately does have to scream this is who are what we do and, and not over engineer and not over build it. And there’s still a lot of ’em that are that way. I tend to think it’s gotten a little bit better. Maybe I’m just telling myself that. But yeah, as far as sites go.

Chip Griffin: I mean, I think sort of the gee whiz nature has improved a bit.

Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Not as much as it should though.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Yeah, no. And you know, when you talk about those three, those top three that you mentioned, what’s also interesting about that question was the same thing the last couple of years too, is you’re seeing that they’re doing no outbound at all. I mean, because like phone – email was like 14%.

Everything else was like 3%, right. You know, phone, email, mail, whatever it might be, the tools that you would need to do some outbound. It’s not a big shock because we talk, you know, we see in the other stats about lack of process and lack of hiring and things like that. But, that’s, I mean, that’s always a little bit disconcerting and again, agencies get scared, you know, again, it’s all about scale.

You don’t have… if you don’t have time, then don’t go outta the gate and think that you’re gonna be doing it 24/7. Because if you’re the owner, you’re not gonna be able to do it that often, but you can make it work.

Chip Griffin: And, and the mistake that people make with outbound is, is as you well know, is they just start going out completely cold when they do.

Yeah. And then they say, well, why didn’t this work? Yes. Cause you’re just, you’re going and, and banging on random doors. Yeah. That doesn’t work. You have to know who you’re trying to reach and, and you have to reach out to them as humans. I mean, I, you know, you talked about early in this conversation, and it’s probably a good way to, to wrap up here is, you know, all the bad emails that we’re getting.

And, and I have to tell you, I get an incredible amount of just poorly targeted, poorly written, poorly positioned emails from agencies. They don’t have any idea, even who they’re reaching out to. It’s just, they’re clearly just blasting away and trying to sell me stuff that I have absolutely no need for.

And they could find that out in about 15 seconds of research. If they just brought up my website or looked at my LinkedIn profile, they would know they don’t need to sell this to me. They need to move on somewhere else. And so if you’re gonna waste your resources, you can’t complain about the fact that it’s not working after the fact.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Oh my gosh. A hundred percent. I just, I’ll do another shameless plug for this video series that we do, 3 Takeaways. So we’re at episode 99, just released it this week. And this was – I get agency principals, because we’ve done enough of these on that subject that they will send me like the sales emails are like, oh my God, you gotta, you need to put this one in your next video, which is cool that they do that.

I don’t necessarily wanna be the guy who slammed and we don’t slam anyone, like literally we never mention companies or names, but the first one and the first takeaway it’s – God’s sake. You gotta make these initial sales emails short and to the point. And I had our cameraman over my shoulder scrolling through this one email that literally is the longest sales email I’ve ever gotten in my life.

It’s insane. And so just things like that. I had a sales call again, the same one this morning that they were asking me about email. Oh my God. Are, are these prospects aren’t even paying attention to email anymore. I’m like, well, no, they are, they’re not paying attention to the crap, which so much of it is.

So, yeah. And they’re like, well, that makes it harder for us as salespeople. I’m like, yes, you’re right. It does. But that’s why, and I love that you said it and, and it sounds cheesy. Like you have to understand that you are talking to another human being when you’re reaching out. And when you have that frame of mind, your emails and we’re focusing on email at the moment, they’re going to be better.

And it’s not, I’m not trying to kumbaya. We’re all human, you know, that’s an overused phrase, but you’re talking to another person. So if it reads like an ad or what, the junk that, that most of it is, why would they care? Why would they open it? It is just more clutter. .

Chip Griffin: Yep. Well, I, I think I’m getting the wrap it up signal for my producer.

So we have gone over of our usual allotted time, but the beauty is, I mean, this isn’t broadcast, so I don’t have ads that have to run at a particular time or something like that. So I can, when we’re having a good quality conversation like you and I are having, Lee, we can run over a bit. If someone would like to, to learn more about RSW/US, learn more about you, connect with you, maybe get a copy of this report so that they can look at all of the things we didn’t have a chance to talk about because we’re not gonna make this a three hour show as much as I would like to.

Where should they go?

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Uh, RSWUS.com. And you can just go to the resources, drop down and you’ll see survey reports and all kinds of other good content there too.

Chip Griffin: Excellent. Well, thank you, Lee, for joining us. Thank you for bringing along the, the prop to make sure that we get to have a little bit of fun here. I’m gonna go have some lunch now. I will not be eating cats though. So, with that, that wraps up this episode of the Small Agency Talk Show. Thank you all for tuning in. And I look forward to seeing you all back here again, real soon. And Lee, I look forward to having you back on.

Lee McKnight, Jr.: Absolutely. Thanks for having me as always. I love it.

Chip Griffin: Have a good weekend, everybody.

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