The Top 4 Agency New Business Challenges & the Solutions for 2017

At the end of last year, Linkergy surveyed over a dozen agency leaders for our 2016 State of New Business Survey. While not a quantitative study, the depth and consistency of the feedback makes the conclusions pretty compelling. Added to that, if you’re looking for the quant side, we captured some of the results of HubSpot’s recent Agency Pricing & Financial Report to pull together our take on the top 4 challenges that agencies (continue!) to face, and how to solve them once and for all in 2017.

Here are the 4 major new business challenges:

  1. It’s not about quantity – it’s about quality

Many agencies state that they “have a decent pipeline of leads, the problem is there are not enough of the RIGHT leads”.  Most agencies do have a “game-changer” kind of account (accounts) they want on their roster.  However, they don’t always have a connection or referral to the right decision makers at the brand; nor do they have a proactive plan for engaging them. This results in agencies responding to more RFP’s for brands that are not as good of a fit. Hubspot found that:

  • 65% of agencies submit at least 1-10 RFPs per year, 28% submit 1-10 proposals per year
  • Just 27% of agencies actually track leads
  • The top source of new business leads for 90% agencies – referrals

Driving the right kind of referrals is challenging. The Hinge Research Institute says the best way to drive more referrals is through visible expertise and marketing of that expertise: “Publish content that showcases the firm is at the forefront of industry trends.” By improving the diversity of lead sources and brand building, the agency can generate more referrals and more new business with the right brands.

  1. Not winning the kinds of clients that excite the team

Part of the challenge, and a critical ingredient, to sustained agency growth is employee retention. Agency leaders know that winning the kind of new projects and clients that energize your creative and account teams means – attracting and keeping the staff you want on your team.

The executives we spoke to admitted that the direct result of challenge #1 above is that they are responding to RFP’s, and signing clients, that are not necessarily on the “game changer” bucket list. Which puts them at risk of losing their top people, or not being able to attract top talent when needed.

  1. New Business resources continue to be limited

For many smaller sized agencies the CEO is largely responsible for leading new business. Our interviews confirmed this – for the most part, the CEO/President or a VP/Director are filling this role. And all freely admit that they don’t have the time to do it properly. The Hubspot survey results underscore this problem: 66% of SMB agencies do not employ a full time new business executive, while only 34% hire a Business Development Director. Either way, the results show that 43% of CEO’s are not satisfied with their sales process. Some additional stats:

  • 44% of agencies do not have a CRM system, creating a lack of info on who to target, when they were last contacted, with what message, and what the outcome was.
  • 42% of agencies have not created “buyer personas” for their New Business.
  • 50% of agencies spend less than $5K per year on tools to market their agency.

  1. The agency is undifferentiated

Many agencies know they need to carve out a focus for business development purposes. The agency leaders we spoke with are acutely aware of their competition – increasing in numbers, and increasingly coming from unexpected areas – with much of the competition saying the same things about their agency, their people, their mission. Most agency execs agree that there is little in the way of true differentiation, which makes it that much harder to attract and develop relationships with the game changer clients mentioned above.

And the stats confirm this: 43% of agencies report they do not have a strong positioning, and only 4% are satisfied with their positioning.

Hubspot findings show that while 90% of agencies rely on referrals for leads, the other key sources include:

  • 39% drive leads from their web site
  • 37% from attending/exhibiting at the right conferences and events
  • 17% from speaking at events
  • 14% from creating emails that focus on your target’s needs

So how can your agency can learn from the challenges that all seem to agree on? Read on for our tips on how to solve them once and for all in 2017, and win the right clients for your agency.

We have been in agency new business for more years than we can count on our fingers. What is so striking is, while other B2B industries have evolved from the idea of relying on networking to drive hopeful referrals, agencies are still stuck with the same challenges — largely, in our view, because they are doing the same things over and over and expecting to get a different result.

Here are our recommendations for a better New Business Plan for 2017 to change things up and create more success:

  1. Make it all about quality
Be sure you are continuously, and proactively, targeting your “game-changer” prospects. Follow their content, their leadership to learn what their needs and interests are, and continue to use digital to provide high-value content to engage them. Use the technology and resources available to create and nurture a solid pipeline of the kinds of prospects you want to win, so you don’t have to rely on referrals and RFP’s.

Attract them first with a unique POV so they want to engage with your content. The quality and relevancy of the content is the key to unlocking the door and getting to those crucial first meetings and proposals. It’s a process, and it takes time, but the reward comes when you can circumvent the RFP process and be THE choice of agency for that prospect, all because you took the time to cultivate the relationship.

  1. Set the agency up to win the kinds of clients that excite the team
Start with a proactive new business plan that everyone at the agency can get behind with enthusiasm. Setting a game changer client goal can create focus and purpose for all your new business activities.

Specifically, focus on a high-value, Middle of the Funnel list of key brands. This approach leverages the principles of Account Based Marketing and focuses on your agency consistently targeting the ideal brands for your agency’s growth.

  1. Commit to the new business resources required for success
A dedicated new business person – internal or new hire – ensures that someone has his or her eye on the new business ball all the time. That said, they need content, lists, and technology to support their efforts (we spoke with one BD exec who told us that the agency had not allocated any funds beyond his salary for new business – not for list purchase, for CRM, for marketing automation, or content development … which left him with little to no way to achieve his goals in a reasonable time frame). And of course there are agency new business outsources that can provide the people, tools and strategy so you can get up-to-speed, faster.
  1. Make sure your agency is truly differentiated in the sea of competition
Maybe this should have been flipped to be point #1. After all, developing a strong positioning that will differentiate your agency to your growth verticals is the foundation for all new business success. It can and should become the core for your thought leadership. Develop unique intellectual capital to provide credibility and the visible expertise to attract and engage the clients you want. Need insight into how to develop or elevate your intellectual capital, click here for our whitepaper.

The content created for your key lead sources can then be used for smart inbound and outbound lead generation (A real sales process). And with landing pages, blogs, portfolio sites and social, your sales campaigns can be focused on one vertical, while the agency web site can still provide content for your other agency needs, including creative positioning, culture and employee engagement.


In conclusion, the best advice we can give (and it’s been the same since day one at Linkergy) is: BE PROACTIVE – pick a positioning focus, market the agency, generate and manage leads from multiple sources, and nurture the heck out of the lead pipeline to generate conversion with your ideal game-changer prospects.

Take control of your sales process and you will take control of your future growth.

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