You're selling stuff every day, whether it’s coaxing your kids to eat breakfast or convincing your team to try new collaboration software.
Selling puts us in a vulnerable position. There’s always a risk that you’ll be unable to persuade the other party to buy what you’re selling. When it comes to your kids or your team, you’ve got the leverage of your authority on your side.
When it comes to a prospective customer, you’ve got the leverage of your expertise.
The problem is, in many cases, the client doesn’t know that yet. To them, you’re just one of dozens of agencies that she’s already heard from this week, none of which did a persuasive job of convincing her it was worth her time to meet them.
We don’t like feeling vulnerable or being rejected. In fact, it’s a deeper feeling than dislike. It's closer to straight-up fear.
To avoid the fear, we might convince ourselves to stay in our safe place and keep doing whatever it is we’ve been doing (or not doing), no matter how unsatisfying or unproductive it is. The devil you know…
Here are four fears that might be getting in the way of committing to a business development plan to grow your agency -- and some strategies to address them.
Fear of Missing Out on Revenue
This is probably the most common fear I hear expressed: “If I narrow down my potential customers I might miss out on revenue opportunities.”
Revenue from any source is compelling when you’ve got payroll to make, but you usually pay in other ways when that revenue is from the wrong kinds of clients.
The first thing to think realistically about is how many revenue opportunities you can pursue at one time and how much work you can afford to invest in those efforts. If you’re running a small agency in which each leader (including you) wears many hats, you need to be selective in how you allocate your time to stay profitable and keep existing clients happy.
Plus, when you’re selective about what new business you pursue, it’s easier to tailor your sales pitch and your marketing messages to that narrower audience. It has the effect of prequalifying prospects so that by the time they come to you with a real opportunity, it’s likely you’ll work less and close deals more.
I also remind clients that serving a targeted market and attracting clients outside of that market are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If you’re a busy firm serving the luxury housewares market, for example, and a spirits brand knocks on your door, there’s no reason you can’t answer.
However, opportunities outside of your zone of genius can dilute your focus and distract your team, devaluing what you offer. Once you see how rewarding it is to do business from a focused position, you may find yourself turning those clients away.
Fear your team will be unmotivated
The next most common fear I encounter is the fear that saddling your team with work from within the same category or discipline will render them unmotivated, which will torpedo morale and prompt some of them to polish up their résumés.
I’m a pragmatist so I’m more likely to adapt to the reality of a situation than to stand my ground based on an ideal. My point of view on this might rub some the wrong way.
You’re in the services business, therefore you have to have a happy, motivated team to churn out your product. But, if you shape your business based on what motivates your team rather than the value you provide to the marketplace, you end up trapped.
An all-things-to-all-people new business strategy is inefficient. It takes more time and more money and is less likely to have positive results. In the worst case, you pitch yourself out of business, in which case you’re going to lose your team anyway.
You have to step outside this sticky issue and go back to figuring out what kind of agency you want to run. You can still have a happy, motivated team that works in one discipline or category – I know because I’ve seen them—it just may not be the same team you have right now.
Fear of New Patterns in Your Business
Noticing new patterns in your new business cycle can be alarming, especially if those patterns don’t look so rosy.
Here’s an example:
For the first decade or so of the 21st century, unbridled growth was the norm for a lot of small digital agencies. Digital advertising was a powerful yet unknown force for many marketers. They scrambled to find qualified experts who could help them.
Demand exceeded the supply. Life was good for digital agencies.
As with any market trend, things level off after a while. Supply caught up with demand and these agencies were faced with something they never had to do before—actively pursue new business.
This is daunting stuff, especially if it contrasts with a decade during which little effort was required to get new clients and grow revenue.
Despite the relative newness of their discipline, the problems these agencies faced were classics that can be addressed by getting back to the basics:
- Figuring out the agency’s ideal client profiles
- Getting the positioning and marketing message right
- Setting up systems to ensure new business efforts were more efficient than chaotic
Fear of Being an Imposter
I was talking to a former digital agency owner recently about new business and he surprised me by saying that “imposter syndrome” would sometimes get in his way.
Imposter syndrome, for those who aren’t familiar with it or have been lucky enough never to experience it, describes an inability to internalize one’s accomplishments resulting in a fear of being exposed as a "fraud."
I’d never considered the effects of imposter syndrome on an agency’s new business efforts, but it made so much sense, especially when I thought about the smaller agencies I tend to work with where business development is led by the CEO, not a dedicated biz dev expert.
Feeling like a fraud is a pretty powerful de-motivator!
The antidote is to get comfortable with stepping into your role as an expert. Sounds easier said than done, but it starts with a simple shift. I do an exercise with my clients designed to initiate that shift.
When I first tried it in one of my workshops, I was more than anxious (I guess I’m not immune to imposter syndrome myself). It came on the heels of another exercise that explored the qualities that could differentiate the agency from its competitors. That exercise was agonizing for them.
But, once the focus was taken off them, they were freed of self-doubt and the answers flowed. We were left with dozens of insights that could be converted into compelling sales or marketing messages. Now, stepping more confidently into the role of an expert didn’t seem so farfetched.
So that’s one strategy – stop making it about you and make it about them – or, rather, what you know about them, which is probably substantial.
Get comfortable with the idea that your knowledge is valuable to your prospective clients. When you begin to doubt, make a list of at least 20 things that you know about them – the category they do business in, the way they’re structured, their business cycle.
You’ve probably solved numerous marketing challenges for them by harnessing your expertise. Own it.