In the same way that building a home without the proper foundation is a bad – if not dangerous – investment, embarking on a sales campaign without some basic tools in place is inefficient and likely to leave you disappointed.

I usually get calls from agencies and marketing firms at the point when their pain is most acute – when they’ve lost a big client, their pipeline is empty or when they can’t seem to get in the door with their best prospects. They need to start selling themselves better and they need to do it now.

But rarely are they ready for it and often we spend the first few weeks (sometimes months) of an engagement putting the right tools in place to do the job well. How do we know what the right tools are?

I start out by asking a lot of questions and they’ve turned out to be so valuable that I’m in the process of formalizing them into a series of diagnostic tools that will soon be available to all my clients.

They’re questions that you can easily pose to yourself, but the positive shifts don’t happen just with the asking. They come with the answering and, more importantly, the doing. That is, figuring out your priorities and making a plan of action to address them.

Can you answer these questions confidently and compellingly? If you can’t, you’re not ready to proactively pursue new clients.

So here’s a preview. Can you answer these confidently and compellingly? If you can’t, you’re not ready to proactively pursue new clients (and you should consider calling me for a consultation).

What are you selling?

  • What do you do best?
  • Why are you in this business? What’s the problem you see your clients facing that you are compelled to solve?
  • What makes you different? (And don’t dareanswer with the vague blather you used in your last RFP response...) 
  • What can you say about your agency that, at most, only two or three other agencies can say?

Can you prove it?

  • What is the evidence to support the answers you’ve just given to the questions above?

Does this proof exist in a form that is easily communicated to others?

  • Do you have an “elevator speech”?
  • Do your website, case studies and all your other marketing material reflect what you’re selling?
  • Are you consistently generating the right kind of messaging in the right places in a way that reinforces your authority?

Who are you selling it to?

  • How do you define your ideal customer (size, philosophy, geography, etc.)?
  • Why do they need what you’re selling?

I won’t deny that answering these questions will entail some time and hard work, but not answering them is more likely to put you in a position of always chasing short-term gain. There are many agencies that manage to generate revenue that way, but it’s ultimately inefficient and unsatisfying.