Navigating the complex landscape of new business development and revenue generation poses a significant challenge to growing agencies.
Unlike startups, which often focus on establishing a market presence and gaining their first few clients, growing agencies must grapple with more nuanced issues. These include evolving their offerings to meet changing client demands, expanding their client base, and differentiating themselves in an increasingly crowded market.
Further complicating matters, they must simultaneously ensure consistent service delivery to their existing clientele, often while balancing resource constraints and internal pressures for profitability.
The following introduces a comprehensive six-step framework to help growing agencies address these challenges head-on. This holistic approach is designed to help growing agencies create a strategic Go-to-Market Strategy, offering a roadmap for attracting clients and increasing revenue.
1. Pick Pivotal Problems
The first step towards growing agency services is identifying the pivotal problems your services can solve for clients and selecting the top one to three to focus on for your Go-to-Market. A pivotal problem is a business or marketing challenge faced by companies or prospects, considered both urgent and important, and for which they are willing to pay to solve.
Agencies often struggle to distinguish between the problems they address for clients and the solutions they offer. "We need PPC ads" is not a client problem; it's a potential solution. The actual problem might be "We are struggling with sales," which could be overcome with PPC advertising.
To identify the problems you solve for clients:
Create a client inventory: Record client wins, losses, and no decisions over the past three years. Include crucial firmographic data such as industry, location, and revenue. Describe the client's primary challenge, your solution, and the results.
Determine urgency and importance: Take a close look at the issues at hand. Determine which ones are urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, or not urgent and not important. Prioritize the ones that are urgent and important and focus on them first.
Assess impact: Study the outcomes—how did your work affect the client? Were the results weak, average, or exceptionally strong? Focus on the areas you make the most significant impact.
Gauge differentiation: Evaluate your solution and establish its uniqueness and distinctiveness compared to what other agencies might have provided. Focus on where you’re solution is seen as meaningfully different.
Analyze the data: Upon completing this exercise, patterns will surface. Can you identify any recurring issues among the clients you win or lose? What are the commonalities between these companies?
Selecting pivotal problems (and showcasing a distinctive perspective on solving them) is the first step in growing agency services profitably. This foundation enables agencies to develop content and campaigns that inform on addressing these challenges, identify the target audience segments experiencing the issues, and initiate the sales process.
2. Research Audience Segments
As you identify and select your pivotal problems, you will observe recurring patterns concerning audience segments. Your agency may have extensive expertise in a particular industry, such as healthcare, or a specific audience demographic, like Gen Z, or a focus on businesses within a particular region, like the Northeast United States.
To establish your audience segments:
Create an ideal company profile (ICP)
An ICP characterizes a company that is an ideal match for your agency. To develop an ICP, refer to your compiled client inventory for pivotal problems. Recognize similarities between the clients you've won and lost, and identify the characteristics of the most profitable and long-lasting clients to shape the ICP.
Develop buyer personas
Buyer personas are representations of the most relevant decision-makers or influencers within a company to target. Review your existing clients, RFI/RFPs, inbound inquiries, and other interactions with prospects to create these personas. Examine their traits and integrate this information into the persona.
Compile a target account list
A target account list is a comprehensive collection of companies and relevant data points used to prioritize business development efforts. Use tools like ZoomInfo, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, or ChatGPT to build a list of companies that fit the ICP. Incorporate the company name, firmographic data, previous engagement history, relationships with stakeholders in your agency, and any potential intent indicators in the list.
Armed with this information, you can begin planning the content, channels, and offers for each audience segment and the tailored content for each stage of the buyer's journey.
3. Own the Journey
The path a prospect takes to obtain agency services is known as their buyer journey. This journey is not straightforward, as prospects independently investigate various channels and platforms, moving between stages without the seller's knowledge.
The buyer's journey, or path to purchase, consists of three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision.
Awareness Stage: The buyer realizes they have a problem.
Consideration Stage: The buyer acknowledges their problem and begins exploring potential solutions.
Decision Stage: The buyer evaluates different solutions and chooses the best provider to address their issue.
To create a buyer's journey:
Identify and map topics: Ascertain the questions, challenges, and objections related to your buyer by conducting customer interviews/surveys, attending events/conferences, and consulting in-house subject-matter experts. Connect these with each stage of the buyer's journey.
Audit and assess content: Conduct a content audit by cataloging your existing content and its formats (e.g., blogs, white papers, videos, slides, press releases, case studies, etc.). Evaluate each content piece and where it fits the buyer journey.
Plan and prioritize content: Determine which content can be used as-is, identify gaps, and decide which content can be updated or repurposed to fill those gaps. Collaborate with your subject matter experts to produce original, insight-driven pillar content that offers your unique viewpoint on addressing the questions, challenges, and objections at each stage of the journey.
By understanding your buyer's journey, you can engage prospects with your content at the right moment. Knowing their desires and needs will enhance the experience for prospects, foster trust and relationships, and influence their purchase decision.
4. Provide Value
Reaching out to prospects has become increasingly difficult. Merely offering a 15-minute demo, setting up an introductory call, or showcasing your agency’s capabilities won't suffice. Agencies should adopt a "give-to-get" approach that delivers value to prospects.
The give-to-get must grasp the prospect’s attention and encourage the desired action, typically scheduling a meeting. For agencies, the give-to-get usually involves exchanging knowledge, which could encompass sharing insights, providing inspiration, generating publicity, or creating connections.
Common give-to-gets include:
Workshop/inspiration session: A free workshop or inspiration session where your firm shares its distinct perspective on addressing a crucial issue the prospect is likely encountering.
Peer virtual panel/fireside chat: An invitation to network and learn in a virtual panel or fireside chat with their peers, discussing a pressing challenge or hot topic facilitated by your firm, positioning you as an expert.
PR opportunity: Give the prospect exposure and notoriety by Inviting them to appear as a guest on your firm's podcast or contribute to a published article on a trending subject.
Audit: A complimentary or substantially discounted audit offering the prospect insights into weaknesses, opportunities, threats, or competitor benchmarks.
Original research: Sharing exclusive findings from your agency's research relevant to the prospect and unavailable to the public.
The key to an effective give-to-get is that the prospect must perceive it as valuable. It should be innovative and unique and leave the prospect in a better position.
5. Evaluate Channels
With a tailored content strategy for each stage of the buyer's journey and a value-driven give-to-give for prospects, the next step involves evaluating and choosing the right marketing channels to reach your target audience.
These marketing channels help agencies educate prospects, increase awareness, generate demand, capture interest, and foster a positive experience with your agency brand. Examples of these channels include cold email, social media, events, paid search/PPC, and webinars.
A robust marketing channel strategy is essential for business growth, as it outlines how an agency will populate its pipeline with prospects and qualified leads.
To develop your marketing channel strategy:
Define Marketing Goals: Consider your overall objectives when adopting a new marketing channel, and set measurable KPIs.
Establish a Budget: Formulating a marketing budget is crucial for responsible spending and tracking ROI. Marcel Petitpas, CEO of Parakeeto, recommends allocating 8-14% of adjusted gross income to sales and marketing efforts.
Create a Revenue Attribution Report: This report links marketing expenses and channels to sales revenue, providing insights into the effectiveness of your marketing initiatives. By examining revenue attribution, you can better allocate resources to high-performing channels.
Research Your Audience: Refer to your buyer persona and investigate their online behavior, content preferences, event attendance, and group affiliations.
Investigate Your Competition: Assess your competitors' marketing strategies for inspiration and insight into effective channels. Scrutinize their social profiles, search results, website content, and newsletters to understand their approach and identify potential channels for your business.
Select Your Channels: Equipped with a budget, buyer persona, and competitive intelligence, choose the most relevant channels for your audience, considering available resources and potential returns.
Given the vast array of marketing channels available, selecting those that best align with your target audience and your agency's circumstances is vital to selling your services.
6. Launch, Experiment & Scale
In many cases, the number of ideas may exceed available resources. As such, it's vital to determine the best mix of pivotal problems, audience segments, content types, offers, and channels based on research and experience. Your strategy should focus on conducting a series of small experiments rather than making a single, substantial investment.
There are three main reasons for adopting this approach:
Cost: Small-scale experiments are generally more cost-effective than large-scale campaigns. Testing concepts on a smaller scale allows you to identify the most successful tactics, minimizing resource waste on ineffective strategies.
Time: Small experiments enable quicker adjustments to your strategy. You can learn from the results, make necessary changes, and refine your campaigns iteratively.
Risk: Conducting small-scale experiments helps reduce risks associated with significant marketing investments. If a specific tactic fails in a small experiment, the negative impact on your business is minimal.
Your strategy demands continuous monitoring, testing, and optimization. While remaining agile, give experiments time to mature, which could take 3 to 12 months.
During this process, look for signs of success, validate through repetition, and then scale up. Positive indicators can vary, such as increased social media engagement suggesting content is resonating, target accounts visiting your website, or booked meetings with ideal prospects indicating successful outbound prospecting.
Once you've identified positive signals, try to replicate the success consistently.
If positive signals are absent or inconsistent, consider pivoting to another experiment. However, it's time to operationalize and scale if they are present and repeatable.
To sustain growth, evaluate results, pinpoint optimization opportunities, and launch new experiments.
Successfully selling services to prospects for growing agencies is a multifaceted process that requires agencies to adopt a strategic and targeted approach.
The strategy encompasses identifying the pivotal problems you solve, audience segment research, understanding the buyer journey, creating relevant content, providing value, the right marketing channel mix, and launching, experimenting, and scaling.
By following the insights and steps outlined in this guide, your agency will be well-equipped to navigate the competitive marketing landscape, significantly impact your client's success, and grow your agency profitably.