Three missing pieces in the prospect puzzle

Before you ever think about who to put on your prospect list, you have to know what your agency has to offer that’s different from your competition because that has a big influence on who should be on your prospect list. I know this sounds overly simplistic but nonetheless critical to your business development success. I’ve written at length about the importance of this and urge you to check out these posts first.

Why did I pick that agency?

Why don’t more prospects respond?

So many ad agencies, so little difference

Many agencies compile their list based on broad categories such as any company marketing destinations or any bank above $5 billion in assets or any snack food above $100 million in sales. Whatever your criteria, it is likely to represent a broad and diverse spectrum of people, some who will like what you offer, some who won’t, others whose priorities don’t align with yours, some who will never consider you and those who will never change their current agency. There are three pieces in the prospect puzzle that can help you sort out the winners from the rest. So often in conversations with BD people, these pieces are missing.

It is tempting just to charge ahead toward all prospects. Many BD people rely on the age-old practice of playing the numbers. The more people I can reach the sooner, I’ll get to a good one. And while it is true, how much time and effort are wasted? In our haste to churn through the numbers sometimes responses go unanswered, follow-up is sketchy, and future opportunities are lost. Sales statistics show that it takes 8–13 attempts on average to connect, almost 60% of leads aren’t followed up, and only 3% of prospects have an immediate need. It’s easy to see that a churn and burn strategy actually inhibits success in the long term.

Put these pieces into your decision making, and your results will improve. Not a silver bullet by any means, these will help you separate a broad group of prospects into a more manageable segment of better quality opportunities.

1. Past agency relationships

In conversations with BD people, I rarely hear anyone talking about the history of a prospect’s agency experiences. There is debate about the current agency and how to unseat them but what about previous agencies that have worked with the company and previous agencies that the prospect has worked with? Do they indicate any pattern of the type of work the decision maker will approve, the type of relationship the agency might have, the kinds of services they prioritize? How do those behaviors align with what your agency offers, how you work, and what you do best? If they don’t, chances are they won’t be in the future. If history is prolog, will they value what you offer? If you look at their past and cringe, It’s more than likely you won’t win. So often we are optimistic and expect things will change only to find out otherwise.

2. Appetite for change

How often do we hear the prospect say the reason they are looking for a new agency is that they want change? How often do they end up doing the same thing? Look at the past work the marketer has done, and you may see a pattern in what they have bought and approved. Does that work look like work you’ve done? If that pattern shows consistency, It’s a higher likelihood that they will feel more comfortable with an agency that does similar type work, even though they say it’s time for a change. If your work or creative style is very different than what they have approved in the past your odds of winning are less.

3. Company behavior

I’ve had the big disappointment of winning a pitch only to have the CEO overturn it and give the business to a local. But how would you know that ahead of time? Look at the company’s history. Who have they worked with in the past? What can you find out about those relationships in news reports, press releases, case studies, or business success? Have they always been with locals? Are they heavily entrenched in the local community? How likely is it that they will pick an outsider? The more information you can gather about the company’s history with agencies the better you can assess your probability and the faster you can decide if it’s worth pursuing or not. How many times have you talked yourself into going for it under less than encouraging circumstance?

These decisions are never black and white and often a gut call. Most of the time you’ll have only partial information, and it becomes a lot like reading the tea leaves. You won’t always be right. However, over the long term, with the discipline to choose who fits and who has too many red flags, you will be chasing and pitching opportunities that are better and a higher likelihood to win. Once you win, the relationship will be stronger and longer.

How much time should you spend doing this kind of homework? As much as you can. I approach it in parallel with my normal prospecting funnel so that as I get further into the list, I’ll be identifying higher quality prospects that I can shift my attention to. My goal is to turn each segment of my list into a small more manageable group of priority prospects so I can spend less time on unknown or low-quality opportunities. As I get through one segment, I refresh a new group, and the process starts all over again.

As you go through the process, you may also learn about key opportunity drivers like budget cycles, product cycles, agency contract cycles, and other events that you can plot on your prospect opportunity timeline. This establishes your future pipeline while you are working on current opportunities and allows you to develop individual strategies to elevate awareness and demonstrate value until such events so that when their time comes, you will be in a much better position to win. But that is a topic for another day. You can read more about the prospect opportunity timeline here.

If you want help fitting these puzzle pieces into you prospecting strategy, email me or spend some time on my website If you liked this post and want more new business advice delivered to your inbox sign up for my monthly newsletter. LetsGrow!

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