Broaden your role, be sensitive and be helpful to clients

How should new business teams be approaching their remit in these difficult times? What skills and knowledge should they be drawing on to help their agencies advise current clients and to nurture relationships with prospects?

These questions were at the heart of our latest The BD Sessions event – Upfront’s regular Zoom gathering designed to bring the BD community together to hear from both agencies and brands and to share insights, experience and advice.

Speakers for the recent session were drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and included Laura Vipond, Managing Partner, Karmarama and also co-chair of the IPA New Business Group, Simon Callender, Creative Planning Director, Initials, Anastasia Innes, Head of Business Development, OMD Worldwide and Luke Williams, Digital Marketing Manager Farrow & Ball. The session was chaired in inimitable fashion by Propeller’s own Alister Heyward.

The BD role is changing at speed 

The remit of the BD practitioner is fast-evolving. They inhabit a central position whereby they can supply skills and advice across the agency – vital in the pandemic-driven circumstances we find ourselves in. Anastasia pointed out BD teams adapt all the time to changing challenges and conditions.

She pointed out that management can be too busy fighting daily fires to focus on the medium and long-term future and will welcome any advice on how the agency should manoeuvre for growth when clients start spending again. “As business developers it’s important we add value to the business and its future right now.”

Her overriding message was that BD specialist should not “limit ourselves to what we believe a business development role is” and they have a an important role in examining what the agency promise is and will it still be fit for purpose in the ‘new normal’ in which clients are set to operate. 

Keep to best practice for lead generation 

There is still an imperative to look for potential business right now and some areas and categories are doing well, from DIY to consumer electronics and entertainment. BD teams will be researching and prospecting the opportunities.

But the pressures to deliver revenues should not mean the usual nuanced approach to nurturing relationships in an empathetic and intelligent way go out the window. Luke from Farrow & Ball, gave firm advice based on his own recent experiences of cold emails and said: ‘Please be mindful when approaching brands, people are going through difficult times and you need to be sensitive with how you’re reaching out.”

He said the number of emails he received from service vendors was increasing and some were inconsiderate and lacked thought, holding up as an example a message that began “now you have extra free time…” This could offend either someone who was overworked, who had been furloughed or just struggling to balance their work from home and their domestic situation.

His recommendations to ensure your agency isn’t marked down but gets a fair hearing include:

  • Avoid clickbait style subject lines such as “Urgent: Re Online Revenue Web Conversion.”
  • Consider what situation your prospect is in. Check out their website and if they have messages about pressures on order fulfilment and delivery they are going to be very busy.
  • Be sensitive and conscious of the individual circumstances people may be in.
  • Don’t automate your first approach – a one-size template will not fit all in the current circumstances (if ever).
  • Offer a multiple choice answer of responses from ‘I’m not interested’ to ‘I’m busy but might be interested in a conversation in two weeks’.

The pitch refined for a new era

If prospecting leads to pitching, then what’s the ‘new normal’ for trying to win in the current circumstances? 

Laura quoted IPA President Nigel Vaz’s words after he said “This is a once in a generation environment to experiment and work to challenge legacy assumptions.”

These assumptions are across the board for business – but in the pitch arena specifically Laura said it was a chance to reflect on how much the ‘pitch theatre’ and the surrounding performance will be required in the future. 

Sometimes showing the creative work could be tricky via video call but can be easier for the client to just see the work straight on a screen, though this may mean having to send over a presentation in advance of the pitch and not being so easy to guide the client through the process.

Simon added; “Keep the pitch simple. Don’t have too many players chipping in – we’re reducing the cast and that makes it easier for clients.”

Offering advice to clients

BD practitioners can help the client facing teams right now in numerous ways.

Anastasia stressed: “We need to ensure clients have the latest information in key businesses areas – especially in those areas that may be taking more of a priority than they did before. For us, the hot topics now are around dynamic creative and ecommerce.”

Simon explained that researching and keeping on top of consumer behaviours was essential as they are changing all the time. Consumers post-Covid behaviours could differ in some respects and agencies should be helping clients collate as much helpful information as possible. 

Simon said that the agency was working with an advice framework of ‘ Ambition. Permission. Resource’ – looking at where a client could extend their product or services, evaluating if they have consumer permission to enter the new space and then if the resources exist to execute or implement. An example this week being Mulberry switching handbag manufacture to gowns for the NHS.

He added: “We’ve found that brands that are going to do well are those who personalise their business and offering rather than those who try to just capitalise on short term sales opportunities.” The same can be said for agencies and their approach to new business. As business developers we are very close to what is going on in the market and should be helping to shape your agency offer to ensure it meets changing client requirements.

Join us for the next in BD Session on Thursday 14th May. Sign up for more information here.

In the meantime, we have set up a LinkedIn Group to keep the discussion going, click here to join us.

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