Ad Agency New Business: Know Your Sales Averages

6a00d83451d49569e2010535dab46d970b-800wi Adam Whittaker is a well-known and highly-respected expert on business development for marketing service firms. He is the Chief Executive of Business development consultancy Reardon Smith Whittaker (RSW). RSW is a leading provider of outbound business development services for marketing service companies in the UK. 30 percent of the ad agencies in the U.K. outsource their business development. That trend is becoming more popular among American agencies fueled by the current recession.

Guest Post: Adam Whitaker

New business, business development, agency marketing … call it what you will, it’s sales. Get over it. If you run an ad agency new business unit your role is to sell your agencies services.

I liken the sales process to the oil business; There is the upstream stuff and the downstream stuff. With the refinery sitting in the middle. The upstream stuff is the down and dirty business of prospecting. You have leads, suspects and prospects and you use the telephone (principally but not exclusively) to move people along the path. Leads are snippets of gossip you hear that lead (hence the name?) you to suspect (hence the name!) that someone may be in the market for what you sell.

You then get hold of them and, if your suspicions are true, they become a prospect. Your next job is to convert them to a face-to-face meeting so you can discuss their requirement.

This process can be excruciatingly time consuming and all the tools you need to be able to do this job properly will cost tens of thousands of dollars per year if you’re going to do it properly. Which is why many agencies outsource this upstream activity to new business agencies.

But NEVER outsource the downstream bit. That’s from the first meeting onwards and you need to concentrate on these guys, which is why ideally the two roles should be divided. They take very different skill sets.

Here’s how the upstream works. You have your database of 500 suspects and leads. Before calling each one you need to research them to become more up speed with their activities. You then need to access all the trade press and search for their name to make sure they haven’t just appointed someone (that would make you and your agency look very foolish!). You then need to check you have the name of the right person and do a quick Google search on them to try to get some background info to inform your discussion with them. You then need to very quickly check you have all the most relevant case studies to hand and familiarize yourself with the stats to throw into the conversation.

You then make the call. And they’re on holiday. Repeat.

Until you speak to someone. On average you’ll need to make ten such preparations and calls before getting to speak to a marketing director. Depending upon how well you have done your research and how hot the lead, your conversion to a meeting and then a pitch opportunity will vary greatly. That’s all the downstream stuff.

But all that upstream work, as you can see, takes such a lot of time and resource; you really need to determine how best to handle it. You can either get an in-house person, do it yourself or outsource it. But like it or not, unless you’re one of those lucky agencies who have clients queuing up to use them, it does need doing.

You can do whatever else you like, but there is one truth in truth. The more people you meet, the more business you do.

Connect with  Adam through Twitter

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About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. “…unless you’re one of those lucky agencies who have clients queuing up to sue them, it does need doing.”

    Was this supposed to read, “queuing up to use them…”?

    Anyway, great post. Concisely but specifically states the exhaustive legwork that goes into the sales cycle.

    Thanks much!


  2. Luke, thanks for you comments and pointing out the typo, which I’ve corrected.

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