It’s not uncommon for agencies to expect their new business leads to excel at both business development and sales. And they’re frequently disappointed when that doesn’t happen.
Sales and business development are essential for generating revenue, yet they require paradoxically different skills.
But, let’s pause for a moment. For the purposes of this article, let’s establish basic definitions for both terms.
Let’s assume “sales” refers strictly to transactional activities. You have a service the client wants. You both agree on a price. The service is delivered to the client in exchange for money, and, ideally, value is created.
Business development describes a longer-term and strategic relationship-building process, which also ends up in an exchange of value. But, in our idiosyncratic world, an agency business development lead is typically the manager of the pitch process.
There’s nothing wrong with this! In fact, it’s a crucial job as long as marketers and agencies continue to take part in the pitch mating dance. However, it requires specific strengths, like acute attention to detail and strong team management skills.
In contrast, true salespeople are more like lone wolves, tracking the scent. They may be charming and fun to have around on drinks night, but they’re inherently self-interested and not necessarily great managers.
I admit, these are generalizations, but think about some of the people you’ve known in each of these roles and see which applies:
New Business – a storyteller
Sales – a persuader
New business – a writer
Sales – a talker
New business – follows through on instructions
Sales – makes her own rules
New business – good at juggling a lot of tasks
Sales – doesn’t like to be distracted from generating leads
New business – has too much to do to spend time outside the office lunching or attending conferences
Sales – thrives on networking
New business – known for the high production value of her leave-behind materials
Sales – known for the quality of her data in her CRM database
New business – is accustomed to supporting everyone so that they can perform at their best
Sales – expects to be supported if she is to do her best
So, which one does your agency need? It’s a tough question when resources are limited and the sales cycle is long, but here are a few of the recommendations I’ve made to some of the agency CEOs I worked with:
1) Don’t delegate relationship building.
The CEO is often an agency’s best salesperson. This is especially true of the smaller agencies I work with. Think about it: most agency CEOs wouldn’t be where they are without a combination of charisma, chutzpah, and passion.
The push-back I usually get from agency leaders is that they’re also strapped for time, making it near-impossible to add business development to their long list of responsibilities.
But, take a moment to think critically about your workload and weigh that against the importance of agency vitality. Aren’t there other responsibilities that could be delegated more effectively than the building of relationships with ideal prospects?
2) Do delegate the blocking and tackling.
A significant amount of work comes before and after any contact with a prospect. With their attention to detail, good new business people are exceedingly well qualified to do the research and follow-through that is so important to proactive outreach.
3) Don’t hire a salesperson…
…unless you intend to support her in the right way. Give her the materials and support she needs to be persuasive and the freedom to do her job in a way that works for her.
Do take responsibility for managing her. Better yet, go beyond that and commit to two-way collaboration to ensure she thrives.
And understand that the sales cycle is going to be longer than you want it to be, especially if she is chasing new leads.
4) Do continue to support your new business director.
If your head of business development is better suited for pitch management, then let her focus on that. Don’t expect a salesperson to replace her.
If I were building my new business dream team, it would be a triumvirate of pitch management, sales, and marketing (which requires a whole other set of skills), all collaborating. But most agencies are expected to do more with less these days and don’t have those kinds of resources.
How do you prepare yourself to compete as aggressively as you need to? Try running this sales-versus-new business diagnostic tool on your employees.
You may find your dream team is already in place!