New business talent

New business. The loneliest job of all?

I originally wrote this post for Mental Health Awareness Week in 2020. We were two months into the pandemic and the majority of agency conversations that I’d had focused on the founders; understanding their scenario planning and navigating client and prospect conversations against a backdrop of balancing finances, resource and new working practices. Fast forward two years and for any business leader this is still an immensely challenging time.

As the theme for Mental Health Week 2022 is ‘loneliness’ I wanted to revisit this post to draw attention to what, in my view, can be one of the loneliest roles in an agency. New business.

For those agencies of a size that warrants in-house new business resource, the effectiveness of that individual or team is the difference between a robust pipeline of opportunity and growth potential and a rollercoaster of feast or famine. 

Even in ‘normal’ times (whatever they are, let’s not forget the impact of years of Brexit uncertainty before the pandemic) the new business role can carry a degree of ‘otherness’ from the rest of the agency. Whilst client teams, creative teams and technical teams collaborate together on billable projects, in many cases the person responsible for generating new opportunities ploughs a more solitary furrow.

And whilst agency new business has in the most part, evolved into a broader sales and marketing exercise, the function can still be seen as a dark art, carrying the burden of all our bad sales experiences. 

But here’s the challenge. Effective new business performance requires exceptional and sustained motivation. Putting yourself out there every day, starting new conversations, finding and making opportunities is exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. When motivated, we perform. And whilst there is a degree of built in motivation with many who take on this role, there are a number interwoven factors that can easily erode this:

  1. Confidence. In yourself, the agency (the product / service, creative, pricing, leadership) and the market
  2. Skills. Personal development in these roles can be a challenge. Often there isn’t anyone in the agency to learn from and the leadership team may be unable to recognise the need for training and development. 
  3. Process. Sustained new business development needs process. And a clear plan, process and KPIs allow us to manage expectations. And let’s face it, mis-matched expectation is the most common (underlying) reason for people leaving or being terminated from these roles. 

When one of these factors fail, one by one they fall like dominoes and motivation is gone. 

But here we are in May 2022 and for many, we are still facing an uphill struggle. I’m no economist. I cannot quantify the scale of the recession ahead but I do know that a highly effective new business function will be essential for agencies to continue to thrive. And protecting and supporting these talented individuals and teams is more important than ever. 

They will be feeling an enormous pressure of expectation. Confidence in the market is still shaken, and the the last two years have seen many carefully laid strategies and plans torn up and redrafted on repeat. Any sense of that ‘otherness’ can be magnified with remote working. Unless we continue to provide the right support, we could risk losing the very talent that can drive agencies to calmer waters.

How can agency leaders help?

  • Work together to create an interim plans and set smart objectives. Focus on activity, not just results.
  • Provide a regular forum for check-ins which are separate to pipeline status updates. Talk about the market, confidence and motivation. Get personal.
  • Make sure everyone in the agency is on board with the plan and knows how they can contribute and support the new biz effort.
  • If you can, invest in training or mentoring.

To any agency new business or marketing manager/director, my (Zoom) door is open. If you want to talk, in confidence, please get in touch.

“Even the smallest spark can be the thing to light the way when someone’s world feel’s dark” 

“Together, we can make change happen”

Mental Health Foundation