How agencies can gain a competitive advantage when selling to brands

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One of the main reasons people tend to ‘fail’ at new business is they give up all too easily. It may be very ‘un-British’ to keep on at people and sell things, but if that is the job you must do, do it with skill and energy!

The problem seems to be that people don’t know when too much is too much, so they stop too early to avoid the shame of overdoing it. This ‘shame’ is the result of two things; one cultural and one personal and both erroneous.

The cultural, as I alluded to, is to do with this idea of selling things. The shameless ‘flogging’ of things goes against the national psyche. People seem to be caught in a black and white 1950s world where salespeople are viewed as some sort of ne’er-do-well street hawker selling apples by yelling at strangers. We must ignore these stereotypes and do our selling with pride. 

The personal issue is related to the first; for some reason people are terrified of rejection, so instead of leaving that voice message or making that call, they hide behind emails and hope for the best. Anyone who has ever sold anything, to any level of success will reveal you have to get on the phone, engage and actively sell.

So be tenacious, basically, chase the prospect until they tell you to stop or ask to see you. A faint heart has never won a large account!


Keeping front of mind

Related to tenacity is frequency. It’s all well and good phoning a wide range of clients regularly, but if that means each one only gets a call once a month, you'll soon be forgotten. You need to be front of mind. How? Let me give you an example. Recently a client of mine emailed a prospect the same afternoon I emailed them referencing my client's earlier email... Low and behold the prospect got back to me and ccd the exact person who we needed to see. I then emailed them over the next couple of days and we got a presentation in front of the right team for a potentially large account.

You see, the momentum created by a joined up ‘tag-team’ approach must not be underestimated. We managed to keep in the forefront of the busy prospect's mind long enough for him to ‘pass the ball’ to the right person. Without this momentum, this energy behind the outreach, we would never have got the meeting. So it’s about a co-ordinated and continuous approach in order to hold attention and momentum towards your desired outcome.


A co-ordinated approach

It cannot be overstated how powerful a cleverly- and carefully-co-ordinated approach can be when creating a new business campaign. The application of a good idea is a vital way to get people’s attention. In a market that's becoming increasingly busy and crowded, a good way to get a prospect's limited attention span to focus on you is to deploy multiple channels in a combined and ordered fashion. Much like a military campaign, timing, teamwork and co-ordination are essential to success.

For example, plan your campaign to involve a LinkedIn message followed shortly by an email, followed the next day by a hand-written letter in the post followed by a phone call. Make sure you reference the other approaches in each message, so…

‘Dear Mr Smith, following on from my email the other day...’ 


‘Dear Mr Smith, I was wondering if you received my letter the other morning...’

This cross referencing creates momentum and focuses the prospect on your offer multiple times making them think about you more than once in the space of a few days. Also, the use of different channels, some not used often like a letter, will definitely get their attention. Sending one email after another will end up with lots of deleted emails.

Make the way you write funny, succinct, to the point and relevant. Once you have deployed the multi-channel co-ordinated approach the prospect will be far more likely to be ‘warm’ or at least have heard of you by the time it is time to pick up the phone. This turns a 'cold call' into a warm call and provides the background to a well-timed and useful conversation.



For heaven’s sake don’t just sit there and wait for an FFP or FRI to land on your desk! You may as well wait for the sea to freeze over, for even if one does, most of these ill-prepared missives from brands are little more than beauty parades and a waste of time and money for most agencies. This passive state, when it comes to the serious business of winning new business is just no use.

Think of it like trying to get a job or a date, you must ‘get out there’, there's no other way you can be in a position to win the type of work you want with the type of brand you want for the type of client you want.

It's far better to draw up a wish list of, say, 10 brands and proactively write to all of them with a clever letter explaining why you can help solve the real problems they face using whatever skills your agency has. Keep it focused and specific to the exact skills you are best at, and offer a hint of a solution, something that will hook them and persuade them to want to know more. But never lie or overcook what you do.

Make sure your outreach is continuous and forward moving; you may be surprised that it takes up to seven attempts to get any type of response from a prospect.


Foresight and insight

Knowing where the market is going and seeing clearly into it is, despite what people say, the most important skill you need to demonstrate in your work as a creative agency or digital practitioner. Why? because that's what people pay for, the bit that eludes them, either because they are too busy running their business or simply don’t have the band-width to come up with anything original or problem solving.

They may be too close to what they are doing to be able to see what is needed or what's coming down the line. Seeing ahead gives them competitive advantage which is the key to success in business whether that be through innovation or just clarity of vision and solutions and ideas that not only solve problems but open new areas of opportunity.

Best of luck!


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