Larry Kaul, Founder and CEO, Kaul Sales Partners

For leaders of creative shops — whether you’re a niche or broad services provider — getting revenue in the door, feeding the pipeline and still trying to find time for what you love to do is a perpetual headache.

Like I said in the setup to this article about sales traps, when you launched your business, you unwittingly signed up for a challenging, round-the-clock sales job.

If you have world-beating software with a provable business case and a razor-sharp view of your market, this gets a lot easier. But it’s a lot harder for small consultancies and creative shops. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t in outbound sales, and it’s much trickier for you. Here’s why:

 

TIMING AND INCUMBENCY

Almost everybody you reach out to cold most likely has an ecosystem of creative vendors in place that are doing quite well in your client’s estimation. A simple “Here we are and this is what we do” isn’t going to even garner a response, much less a conversation about switching. Even if one or more of these vendors are underperforming, people are people — who like doing business with people they’re used to.

This means your campaign is otherwise heavily dependent on timing — showing up in that window when review time has rolled around or hitting them in the odd moment of discontent. It is our experience that reaching out to generate FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) is a poor approach — not enough on which to bank a campaign.

YOU’RE NOT EXPERIENCED IN CONSULTATIVE SALES METHODOLOGY.

“Just get me the meeting and I’ll close them.” We hear this a lot, and sometimes it’s true. But just as often, company principals base closing ratios on measuring proposals that close.

A better measurement is first conversations that turn into tangible opportunities — and then closing those opportunities. Many of our clients couldn’t measure this because they had very few conversations with prospects who were not actively looking to hire an agency. Closing on a proposal is not the same as creating and closing on a new opportunity.

A sober look at your “hit rate” if you do create opportunities with prospects not actively looking for an agency will tell you whether or not your prospecting and closing abilities are justified.

THE REASON YOUR CLIENTS KEEP YOU ISN’T THE SAME REASON A PROSPECT WILL RESPOND TO OUTREACH.

Listing your capabilities in an introduction isn’t going anywhere. The fact is, most agencies are highly undifferentiated in the eyes of senior business leaders. Are you a full-spectrum, full-service agency that solves tough business problems with brave creative and on-point analytics? Do you “go the extra mile” to provide a fantastic experience? Do only senior leaders work on client projects? Get in line.

You worked hard on your market positioning when you constructed your own web presence, and it’s probably fine. But you can’t plug this stuff into a sales campaign and win. We have found that agencies struggle in a sales context to do for themselves what they do so well for their clients — make a message that pops and stands out from the hundreds of similar value propositions that their prospect receives every month.

So what does work? This brings us to a bit of good news and our fourth reality:

YOU MUST FOCUS ON AN INTERESTING BUSINESS SITUATION AND PROVIDE A PERSPECTIVE.

Cold sales outreach is an unforgiving game. Success is dependent on research, strategy, sales, deliverability and standout copy resources all humming together to start intriguing business conversations with prospects who would otherwise ignore you.

It starts with thinking about your capabilities and bona fides in context of particular opportunities — and presenting a perspective on that opportunity that breaks the tone of freeze-dried marketing templates long enough to make your prospect think, “Well that sounds interesting.”

It’s not easy, but when we are successful with this approach, it’s because our creative clients have partnered with us to dig deep during strategy conversations to:

  • Think about unique opportunities for the prospect: Not high-level stuff that everybody else is promising, but ways to gain strategic or incremental advantage in the face of well-defined business challenges, market shifts or inflection points.
  • Light up a very specific role and build outreach strategy to speak to that person’s world.
  • Have something unique to say in a human voice about the problem we presume they’re facing. This works way better than listing off your capabilities.
  • Ask for their time with a refined promise of value. Nobody is going to fire their agency because they saw your email. But if you highlighted a challenge in an interesting way, they might get on the phone with you if they believe they’ll walk away knowing more about this challenge than they did when they started the call.

If you had to put it in a simple formula, it would look like this:

CAPABILITY/TRACK RECORD + OPPORTUNITY + PERSPECTIVE + THE RIGHT ASK = NEW REVENUE OPPORTUNITIES

There are several other operational and sales factors necessary to crack the creative shop business development code, but when results don’t materialize, usually all of the above challenges are salient. We’d love to hear about what’s working (and what’s not working) in your world. Reach out if you’d like to talk about it.