Positioning and specialisation

Be clear in your purpose and demonstrate an advantage over the competition. Being a ‘generalist’ agency opens up a very competitive market and reduces the opportunity for differentiation.⁶ Even if you are capable of offering a multitude of services to a multitude of industry sectors, the chances are that you’ll be better at certain things than others. Therefore, focus on a specific ‘scarce competency’. Convince the customer that you’re the only, or best, agency who can deliver the right level of quality for that particular thing, and business development will suddenly become a lot less complicated.

This narrower focused approach helps avoid ‘spray and pray’ and makes it much easier to gain clarity on whom you want to work with and how you can make a difference to them. Start by analysing your best most profitable clients. You want to attract more of this type of client through your inbound and outbound tactics, and you can use these insights to create more targeted, relevant content.⁵

Take on clients and projects that allow you to deliver on time and under budget. Timely delivery on or under budget will position your agency as a reputable partner, and you’ll win more of the clients you want with the resources and skills you have.³

Strategic Partnerships

As well as specialising in what you’re good at, forming partnerships to expand services and expertise is just a great business strategy. Almost daily we hear examples from our partners as to how their success was down to discovering what they were good at, pursuing it wholeheartedly and leveraging their BBN partnerships to best advantage. By partnering with other agencies both locally and internationally who offer complementary services and expertise, an agency can focus on their specialisation but still provide clients with the add-on services they need. It can also open up opportunities through agencies who are already working with their target market.

However, collaboration is not a shortcut to winning new business; it still takes a lot of commitment, time and effort. If you are relying on a team outside of your organisation to deliver a service or expertise on your behalf, you must have a 100% trust and confidence that they will live up to expectations. Collaboration within BBN often goes beyond supporting clients. Our partners regularly consult each other in matters of an operational nature, for example, HR or financial issues and challenges. All this adds to building that bond of trust.


A referral is the recommendation of a person or business to someone who requires your services and is willing to connect.

Clients are usually the best source of referrals, but we often don’t even ask. They might not be as popular as inbound or as scalable as paid media, but they can still be very effective, particularly for smaller agencies. ² A number of our partners ranked asking for referrals as their top marketing tactic.

BBN offers the perfect platform to engage in referral marketing as it provides a business strategy to attract new clients through a process of building relationships, which results in a flow of on-going recommended business.

However, referrals rely on trust. Your clients have to trust you before they’ll recommend you. Simply doing great work will keep your clients happy and will get you referrals without even asking for them.²

Don’t be afraid if you have to ask for referrals. If your clients are satisfied, they’ll be more than happy to give them. You can even use incentives to get more referrals. ²


Building relationships to get new clients is less a tactic and more a philosophy. However, it takes time; you have to invest hours in talking to prospects, understanding their needs, and their problems. ²

Focus on building deep relationships with your existing clients before venturing to new pastures. Build on relationships in real life; you can’t replicate meaningful interactions online. ² Spend time at your clients’ offices; it creates serendipity to meet new opportunities. New business from existing clients is the easiest to win.

Delight both the company and the individual; they are not the same, and you need both. Many individuals were clients in other companies before and will likely move on again, so build relationships beyond your direct contact. Always be ready for the day after that person leaves so you don’t part with them.

Focus your approach on a long-term partnership. Become so familiar with their business that it makes little sense to find a replacement. Once you have a good and healthy relationship and can demonstrate your trustworthiness and dependability, then there are often lots of opportunities to up and cross-sell.

When starting new relationships with prospects, treat each of them, regardless of size or the potential short-term business, as unique to your agency. Demonstrate the best skills (differentiators) in face to face meetings when possible and challenge their predetermined ideas, therefore innovating in each proposal.

A final word on relationships - good people and their passion will make the difference. To win you have to touch the soul. The client is putting their business in your hands, so, prove to be trustworthy, reliable and extremely hard to replace.

Deep understanding

First, you need to correctly identify your target audience, and who your ideal clients are and make sure they are aligned with your agency’s business objectives. Account-based marketing is a great way to formulate a contact strategy.³

Then, it’s all about intelligence. You must understand the client, the client’s business and their industry sector. If you can demonstrate your knowledge of their market, target audience and competitors, then you are at a significant advantage. If you can also show them how you can insightfully differentiate them within their competitive landscape, then you are going to leave a lasting impression. Better still, tell the client something they don’t know about their brand.

Immersing yourself in the target client’s industry helps you understand their problems and challenges. The better you know their pain points, the better informed you are to present a winning solution and will put you in a more favourable position as an advisor while demonstrating how your agency can add value to their business.²

Get to know their target audience inside and out; the specific roles they are targeting; the challenges they are likely to be facing; where they spend their time and how they tend to consume content.⁶

If possible, request access to the client’s Google Analytics account, which will allow you to dig into their data more deeply.⁴ Live in LinkedIn. You can learn a great deal about what your clients, prospects and competitors are doing in real-time. Moreover, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. It demonstrates your desire to genuinely understand them. Here are just a few examples⁴:

  • What is your primary marketing objective?
  • Where have you seen success in your past marketing efforts?
  • Have you worked with an agency before?
  • What is your monthly lead and sales goal?
  • Have you determined your KPIs?
  • Who are your top competitors and what is the number one differentiator from them?
  • Who is your primary target market?
  • What is your budget?

Compelling content

Creating content to educate and attract clients is not new in the agency world, and yet it’s surprising how many agencies don’t do it well for themselves.²

It is crucial that you are continually publishing great material for your agency's channels, making sure it’s hyper-targeted content that addresses the decision makers and gets your entire agency involved in its creation. Your goal should be to demonstrate expertise, introduce your agency to prospective clients, build your reputation as a thought leader, but at the same time be creative and innovative. ²

In addition to thought-leadership content, fame and notoriety also come in the form of other newsworthy content including client wins, launches and new initiatives, new hires and internal agency events.

At BBN, we regularly host initiatives to pioneer great content. A central content team comes together to identify key trends or themes for our B2B clients, and then content development teams prepare a series of thought leadership pieces. By bringing all of these excellent sources together, BBN can collate and produce an outstanding database of content filled with international expertise as well as local insights.

Events and awards

If your creating excellent work for your clients that people are going to be wowed by when they see it, then the next step is to enter that amazing work into awards. ² A number of our agency leaders list these as their top marketing tactics for landing new clients.

Many of our partners are awards veterans, and they work hard to enter their work into some of the most famous B2B awards programs around the world. Many B2B awards should at least be on your radar, and that you should be considering entering with any campaigns or material you think has got a shot at winning. Remember that even nominations will get you seen in areas that will garner serious attention from the industry on an international level.

BBN has done exceptionally well in B2B focused awards, and we often publicise this news however we can. Together, our partners are becoming the most awarded global agency when it comes to B2B marketing with over 160 awards in 2017-18.

Winning awards not only helps you establish a leadership position (and attract clients); it also enables you to charge a premium for your services. You’re not just any other agency; you’re an “award-winning” one. ²

Speaking at conferences can help establish yourself as a thought leader before your target market, therefore is worth investing the time and effort. If possible, try and host your own events. These could be roundtables, think-tanks or networking events. Invite clients as well as prospects as you will create the ideal opportunity for your clients to provide live testimonials to your prospects (see section 3: referrals)

Own the process

To increase conversion rates and reduce the amount of time spent on pitching and proposals, your agency should follow a tried and tested process for qualifying prospects.⁵ This process will help you establish what clients the agency is best equipped to work with and why. Not every organisation in your chosen market is right for your agency. You need to profile your ‘ideal client’ in terms of company attributes and the type of people with whom you want to work. Stay true to your ideals and take the long-term view over any short-term, financial benefit.⁶

Eager to win the business, agencies will quite often allow the prospect to set the terms of the pitch process, which range from unrealistic deadlines to wildly unfair expectations for comprehensive design concepts. Agencies who stand their ground and set realistic expectations will be more respected in the long term.⁶

Being aware of potential red flags when speaking to potential clients and listening to your intuition if those flags surface is excellent practice. For example, if at the beginning of a potential agency/client relationship, the client is telling you how their marketing should be done and is trying to run the relationship, you may want to re-evaluate. Another red flag example is if your contact doesn’t know what the budget is. Rarely does a prospective client not have an idea what the budget they have to spend is. If they don't, they might not be senior enough in the organisation to make the decision, or they are fishing for the lowest priced provider and might not value the expertise you bring. Being ‘red-flag aware’ means you are less likely to end up as ‘pitch candy’.

So, let’s say you’ve successfully landed on the pitch list of your dreams, now what? One of our partners recommends that you must have a ‘point of view’, that is one which is supported throughout the process of vetting, courting and winning new business. Moreover, that point of view needs to be clear and a bit provocative, in a good way. Too often there is a tendency to go “safe”, and if you do, it’s much more challenging to be memorable.

Pitch day arrives. Ensure you are thoroughly prepared and rehearsed. How you present your ideas is also extremely important. Be natural, conversational, engaging – it’s all about connecting with the people in the room, so bring some personality to the table and show some enthusiasm for your subject. A good mindset for a presenter: “I’m now going to share a fascinating story with these people …”

Our BBN partners have found huge benefits in sharing their best practice and pitching experience over the years and collaborated in producing a ‘Pitch to Win’ guide. This now provides all our partners with a rigorous process along with best practice tips that help our partner agencies identify and win new business.

Listen, don't sell

The objective here is to evaluate the client’s needs and qualify if the opportunity is one you can bring value to and conversely benefit from yourselves. Only once this information has been gathered do you try and present a solution.⁴

Never try to sell anything over email and after securing an appointment, don’t walk into a room, get your laptop out and present your creds (unless they specifically ask you to). Instead, it is best if you focus on the prospect first. Email can be used to share relevant and timely insights. Face to face meetings can then concentrate on insightful and often challenging questions that help you uncover what the prospect is trying to achieve, the challenges they may be facing and what success would look like for them.⁶

It's a team effort

Winning new business must be a collaborative effort, whether it involves different members of your team or strategic partners. When you look at the breadth of skills, experience and behaviours that are required to win business, it stands to reason that everyone should play a role. If an agency chooses to hire a business development manager, it should be considered part of the solution, not THE solution.⁶

Great ideas for pitches and identifying new and promising clients can come from the most surprising places so to involve more people within your agency in new business think about incentives for those who helped win accounts – whether it be contributing an idea or identifying a lead.⁵ Make the most of everyone’s networks and encourage your staff to attend industry networking events.

A final word

A final and important thing to remember is that business development never stops. It’s a continuous cycle of review, learn and improve. A winning streak does not necessarily mean you have a robust business development strategy. ⁶

In addition to all the great advice gathered above, there are also a few other things you can do to win favour. When appropriate you could offer something free of charge, such as a marketing audit that can help you get a foot in the door. Sometimes it’s best to start small, and once you’ve proved yourself worthy, the client is more likely to allocate further budget for additional campaigns and projects.

The rest is timing, be in the right place at the right time with the exact solution to their problem, and you have a deal!

Sources / References:

  1. 2018 Benchpress agency survey by the wow company
  2. 39 Agency Leaders Share Marketing Tips for Winning New Clients by Sylvia Moses
  3. Eight Ways Small Agencies Grow Big Business by Aaron Henry Forbes Council
  4. How agencies are winning clients in the ever-changing world of digital marketing by Stef Reid
  5. 8 Best Practices of Agencies That Win More New Business by Jami Oetting
  6. Agencies, do you win business by accident or design? By Ben Potter, E-consultancy