Why don’t we ask for help?

In conversations I’ve had over the years one thing stands out that has never made sense to me. So many times I’ve heard, I don’t want to ask for help because my boss, colleagues, subordinates will think I can’t handle it myself. Let’s imagine for a moment if that attitude applied to everything. Where would we be today? Almost no single advancement, or innovation, or individual accomplishment happens solo. The Olympics is a great example. Each one of the athletes has help from their team, from their coach, from outside experts, consultants, and the list goes on.

Imagine if it applied only to advertising agencies. Great ideas, clever strategies, amazing media plans, awesome mobile experiences, and all the other cool things that agencies deliver would never get done without help. So why can every other department seek help, rally the troops, engage a team, pull in resources, hire outside support, but not business development? What is it about business development that is so often condemned to the fate of Sisyphus?

The agencies that I have met who are most successful at business development do so as a team. Read agency best practices here. Their culture empowers everyone to take part and share the load from the top down and bottom up. A win is a team effort as well as a loss, and everyone willingly gets involved when needed. I’ve also met agencies whose BD person or team is off on their own, isolated from the people and resources needed. When an opportunity comes knocking, no one can be found. It’s all left to the BD person to sink or swim. The old model of the sales person being all things to the prospect is no longer effective. Where else can you find this kind of organizational thinking? Nowhere.

It used to be that business development people were thought of as a necessary evil. Their reputation was suspect and their tactics often beneath the lofty creative egos or high-minded account team. I guess it was well-deserved way back then. Today, ad agency sales isn’t selling at all. It is aptly named business development because that is what it takes to be successful — the development of a relationship that leads to new revenue. It is matchmaking, trust building, evangelizing and facilitating. Agencies aren’t selling commodities, exclusive media time, hard to get placement, volume discounts or audience access. Agencies are selling smarts, creativity, innovation, and service. All these are the result of the people at the agency, and the prospective new clients want to hear it from them.

The nature of selling today has changed — it’s a team effort. Changes in technology, changes in how clients select their resources, the need to personalize the approach to diverse prospects have driven huge changes in the way we must go to market. Unfortunately, in many agencies, the customer is merely an afterthought. They approach business development in a way that suits their needs, without taking into account the customer and how they want to be engaged. Today’s marketers are getting better and better at solving that problem–they find resources that engage them the way they prefer, and that won’t include you.

In today’s chaotic and complex marketing environment not asking for help is in fact, weakness, a disadvantage, a new business killer. Not seeking input and support from people around the agency is undervaluing and underselling what the agency is and does. And, not asking for an outside objective customer perspective is not serving the agency in the best possible way. It seems ironic that this is one of the reasons clients hire agencies, for that outside perspective, but agencies so often think they can go it alone. In this uber competitive environment, outside expertise is invaluable for every aspect of the agency, most importantly for new business.

If you struggle with business development as a team sport or see your success rate declining or are not sure of the best resources to improve your business development process, I can help. I would be delighted to talk with you about what I have learned from years of experience and hundreds of agencies. And, what I’ve experienced actually running business development for a variety of firms. I have a pretty good sense of how it might apply to your circumstances. You can learn more at www.jheenan.com.

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