Monday, March 10, 2014

Six Tips for Building a Better New Business Prospect List

Interestingly, I have gotten two calls in the past week from agencies asking for advice on prospecting.  Both are facing similar situations of being a smaller niche player within a larger organization, and were seeking advice on how to be more effective in their prospecting efforts.

I started by discussing a basic re-definition of the role agencies can play to differentiate themselves.  Many clients today are simply overwhelmed by the increasing complexity and fast pace of change.  They know they need to be doing more things like social media, mobile marketing, content marketing,  SEO/SEM, etc., but they need help in figuring out how to manage their marketing programs.  The winning agencies today are ones that can help their clients sort through and identify where to focus their efforts.  And then, give them the insights and solutions to build a bridge between their product or service and their customers.

The challenge many agencies face are to develop a prospect list to pursue.  In addition to the basics of understanding your strengths and weaknesses, here are six tips I gave to those agencies on how to develop that list:

1.  Focus on business categories to identify insights and work the category, not the individual company.  Insights don't just happen, they take work.  So my advice is to identify a category to pursue, and then work multiple clients within that category.  That way, you can scale the effort you make to understand issues, trends, and pain points within a category.

2.  Become known as a thought leader in the category you want to develop. I am a big believer in the power of white papers, but other tools like developing a blog on that topic and guest blogging are also helpful,  Try to establish a relationship with a trade publication or local newspaper columnist to write articles, or comment as an industry expert to gain some notoriety as a category expert.

3.  Get noticed - develop a research study and/or write a speech and present to business audiences.  A tried and true PR tactic has always been to develop a survey and then publish it to gain notice.  A few years ago, I developed a presentation on customer service and titled it "Seven Ways to Piss Off a Client".  I'm sure the unique focus of the title helped, but it was based on findings from a study I did on why clients fall out of love with their agency and eventually fire them.  Even though the speech was written specifically from an ad agency viewpoint, the principles held true for any service business, and I gave that speech to more than twenty-five ad clubs, but also to Kiwanis and other business associations around the South. 

4.  Get involved - volunteer for a leadership position in a marketing or local business association. 
A great way to add to your awareness as well as your expertise in a particular category is to get involved with local business clubs and associations.  When I moved to Seattle a few years ago, I did not know anyone in the business community.  Now, as president of the Puget Sound American Marketing Association, I am visible as a host for our events, write and edit the association blog, and am building awareness for me and my consulting company.  And, I'm getting calls for new business projects.

5.  Become an active participant on social media - LinkedIn groups are great for this.
  A great way to establish awareness and build a reputation for you and your company is to become an active participant in social media.  I write for two blogs, but I also comment regularly on other blogs.  I often start conversations on one of my LinkedIn groups, and always link to an article or blog post (not always my own, by the way).  A great way to build followers is to curate industry articles and post or re-tweet them.  My only caution here is to make sure you are providing legitimate information, and not just plugging yourself or your company.

6.  Re-purpose your speech or research content - Slideshare, LinkedIn, blog posts, commenting on other blogs.  Is great content really great if no one reads it?  Make sure they do by re-purposing as many ways as you can.  If you develop a presentation,you can take that same material and post it on Slideshare, link to a blog post. re-write as a white paper or Tweet with a link.  Be sure to use keywords in the title to improve your SEO, because anything that is published can be found by somebody at some point.  I still get comments and questions on pieces I wrote years ago.

Now go out there and get some new business!