4 New Rules for Handling Business as the Pandemic Changes Everything We Once Knew

As the landscape shifts drastically, we need to alter our approaches to it


New business is the lifeline of an agency. This is even more true during the pandemic when everything that worked in the past flipped upside down. And now, to win new business, it requires a new approach and new way of seeing things.

Business development is full of energy and excitement, headaches and heartbreaks—a lot like dating. It’s part chemistry and timing, part smarts and instinct. Passion wins every time.

How can agency leaders create a repeatable process that works both virtually and in person that their people want to be part of and potential clients want to experience? To do that, there are four new rules to new business that agency leaders should embrace.

Pursue, don’t pitch

Maybe one of the biggest problems in business development is that we call it a pitch. A pitch is something you’re trying to get past a prospect. You’re throwing a fastball—or worse, a curveball.

In a pursuit, you work together with the brand to solve their challenges. You’re not singularly focused on which tool or skill to throw toward the brand. When you change your mindset and think of it as a pursuit, you see the opportunity as a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand.

Kill the pitch team

Now that you’ve eliminated pitching from your new business vernacular, it’s time to let go of the pitch team concept. When was the last time a brand asked to meet an agency pitch team? Never. So why do so many agencies keep sending the same people to every single presentation?

Gone are the days of rehearsed senior executive pitch teams. This last year required a more authentic and nimble approach, and now, with a little effort, agencies can find confidence in assembling 30 people, 100 people or even a 1,000-staff pursuit team. Every single employee should be and can be game-time ready.

But not everyone is comfortable courting a new relationship. The reason is that most people don’t have the structure they need to succeed. They are smart, fit with the agency culture and are great people—after all, you hired them. So why wouldn’t a potential client fall in love with them, too?

It takes work to bring the entire agency along for the journey. First you have to document your pursuit process, get it out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Then spend quality time training your staff. The payoff is game-changing. Before you know it, everyone will know how to support a pursuit.

‘We,’ not ‘me’

Have you ever been on a first date and all they do is talk about themselves? It’s an immediate turnoff. It’s no different in a pursuit.

Marketers don’t want to buy agency services, yet agencies spend precious time talking about just that. Brand leaders have real business challenges they need help addressing. If you don’t know their core business challenge, stop everything you are doing and pick up the phone to figure it out. It is the single most important piece of information that should guide every decision an agency makes during a pursuit. Spend your time together talking about that, not about yourself. There is a time and place to share your capabilities and awards, but the window is small.

The best relationships are built on chemistry, so ask questions, share your perspective and go all-in on them. When you stop thinking about “me” and start thinking about “we,” the conversation and connection become mutually beneficial for both agency and brand.

Show your superpower early

All agencies need to know their superpower, the one thing that sets them apart from everyone else. Maybe it’s proprietary technology, maybe it’s part of your strategic process, but no matter what it is, you have to find a way to demonstrate your superpower during the pursuit.

And that’s not just sharing slides on a Zoom call. Facilitate the process or use the technology to reach your solution. Offer them a glimpse into your superpower early and often so they experience what it’s like to work with you. Holding it back only for clients holds you back from winning.

If the pandemic taught us anything about new business, it’s that our process needed to be flipped. When you stop reserving business development for only your most senior executives and train and trust your staff to use their skills and passions to grow the agency, your business development team expands. When you stop thinking about it as pitching and start thinking about it as building relationships based on vulnerability and authenticity, you see meaningful change.

When these four new rules are mastered, agencies can revolutionize their business development team, process, content and ultimately improve the ever-important close rate.

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This story first appeared in the July 12, 2021, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.