Once you have established your brand and service proposition the next step is taking it to market. Agencies are notoriously crap at marketing themselves, due to either a lack of time, lack of resource or an inability to make the critical decisions on the construct and ownership of their new business strategy - everybody is an expert and everyone has an opinion on what should be done!
Referrals are generally the easiest place to start and can be the most cost effective and valuable new business opportunities. So it's important to create a culture which encourages and rewards employees to seek out and actively pursue referrals. Ultimately everyone in the business should have a vested interest in promoting the agency, after all it's the lifeblood of the business. However, creating an entrepreneurial agency culture is easier said than done.
We are connected socially and professional via LinkedIn and our social networks, it's a small industry and we've all worked in other agencies on a variety of accounts, so it makes sense to tap into our database of clients and media contacts. However, it's not enough to ask your employees to refer you, they must believe in what you are trying to achieve and feel compelled (not obliged) to actively promote the agency for the benefit of themselves and the business. Chucking a few financial incentives around never works!
When agencies ask their staff to provide referrals they are asking them to potentially place their personal reputation at risk. Therefore agencies must recognise that their staff are mini businesses in their own right who have a personal brand and a career to protect. Strong leadership, employee engagement with the business strategy, and an inspiring and empathetic approach to people management, will have a big impact on your employee's desire to want to further your business objectives.
If staff are to be effective in generating referrals they must have the necessary tools at hand. You would be surprised by how many agencies struggle to develop even the most basic sales tools e.g. a personalised letter of introduction; a well established, content rich and regularly updated website; a 60 second elevator speech that can be tailored and confidently delivered by everyone; agency credentials and examples of work that can be quickly and easily distributed; a process in place for what to do when contact is established.
Another obvious source of new business opportunity is client referral. It is by far the best endorsement of your work and carries huge credibility with potential prospects. However, asking clients to actively seek out new business referrals on your behalf must be approached as a two-way street i.e. there must something in it for them or why would they bother. Keeping your client's business in mind when servicing your other clients, attending events, networking or chatting with your mates, will often throw up potential business partnership and client referral opportunities.
Establishing a PR function which is tasked with promoting both your agency and your clients' business is another effective way to incentivise clients and encourage them to provide referrals. Everyone loves free PR and it also allows the agency to develop client centric content, which in the client-side marketing press is essential to ensure publication. It also provides the opportunity to develop case studies and testimonials for inclusion in your marketing material and for distribution direct to prospects.
Another great way of encouraging your clients to spread the word is to develop thought provoking and relevant content that your clients will find interesting, relevant and useful, and feel compelled to share with their business network. Implementing a content marketing strategy with a clearly defined editorial plan and encouraging everyone within the agency to contribute, will help you to develop engaging content that can be distributed via your own media, direct to clients, via industry platforms and the trade press.
In my next post (getting on the client radar - part 3) I'll expand on the importance of agency PR, content creation, reputation building and thought-leadership, as well address other sales and marketing activities which I have found to be effective in getting on the client radar and generating new business opportunities.