Mastering Agency Sales: Ben Potter’s 3 Pillars of Success

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In the competitive world of digital agencies, achieving sales success is a complex puzzle that requires a comprehensive strategy and a deep understanding of client needs. Industry expert Ben Potter, with over a decade of experience in agency business development, shares his insights into the three fundamental pillars that can elevate an agency's sales process: positioning, lead generation, and the sales process itself.

The Crucial Pillar of Positioning

Positioning is not just another buzzword in the marketing dictionary; it's the cornerstone of any successful agency's strategy. The ability to stand out in a market saturated with similar services hinges on a clear and unique selling proposition (USP). Agencies must focus on defining their niche, which, contrary to some fears, does not restrict opportunities but rather clarifies their target audience and services offered. Effective positioning paves the way for more targeted and productive lead-generation activities.

Lead Generation: The Art of Drawing In the Ideal Client

Many agencies cast a wide net hoping to catch as many leads as possible, only to find that many are not a good fit. Ben Potter argues for a quality-over-quantity approach where understanding the target audience is essential. A well-crafted business development and marketing plan that speaks directly to the ideal client profile can yield far more meaningful engagements than a generalist approach.

Refining the Sales Process

One of the most critical stages in an agency's relationship with a potential client is the sales process, which needs to be consultative and understanding of client needs. Agencies should take the time to challenge briefs and engage in deeper conversations to unearth the real challenges their clients face. A rushed proposal is seldom the answer; patience in developing the relationship and a focus on what the client actually needs can result in more lucrative and lasting partnerships.

The Role of Warm Outreach Over Cold Methods

The digital age has seen cold calling give way to more relationship-focused approaches such as social selling and warm outreach. Establishing a "know, like, and trust" rapport with potential clients should precede any sales pitch. Buying cold email lists and making unsolicited calls not only yields lower success rates but can also damage a brand's reputation. Instead, agencies should engage in warm calling and other pre-engagement methods to foster more positive client relationships, respond better to resistance, and counter objections effectively.

Conclusion

Selling an agency's proposition requires patience and a focus on value first and foremost. Before scaling up with outsourcing, due diligence is critical to ensure that the partnership aligns with the agency's strategic goals. By adhering to the principles of good positioning, selective lead generation, and a consultative sales process, agencies can set themselves up for sustained success in the digital landscape.

Questions and Answers

Q: What is the benefit of specialising as a digital agency?
A: Specialising allows an agency to focus on a specific market or service, making it easier to identify and attract ideal clients. It also provides clarity for lead-generation activities and marketing strategies targeted at a particular audience.

Q: Can narrowing down the market hurt my agency's growth opportunities?
A: Contrary to some beliefs, narrowing down the market can lead to growth. By becoming specialists, agencies can differentiate themselves from competitors and offer more value to a specific set of clients.

Q: Why is understanding the target audience critical for lead generation?
A: Understanding the target audience is essential because it informs the agency's marketing strategies, messaging, and channels of communication. A deep knowledge of the audience helps in creating campaigns that resonate and convert.

Q: How should agencies approach the sales process?
A: Agencies should adopt a consultative sales approach that emphasises understanding the client's real needs. They should challenge client briefs, engage in meaningful conversations, and avoid rushing proposals to foster stronger and more successful client relationships.

Q: Is it viable to outsource business development in an agency?
A: Outsourcing can be a viable option if the agency has firmly established its positioning, assets, and expectations beforehand. However, agencies must perform due diligence to ensure that any outsourced partnerships reinforce their sales strategy and maintain brand integrity.

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 Full Episode Transcription

Rob Da Costa:

Hey, everybody, and welcome to this week's Agency Accelerator podcast. Now, this week we are talking all things sales with my guest, Ben Potter. And this is another super practical, pragmatic episode where you will walk away with an action plan of things to start doing. And also, you'll be thinking about your sales process in a slightly different way. We are digging into three core pillars of sales, starting off by talking about why positioning underpins everything you do. And if you don't have your position right, then everything else is going to fail. Then we're going to talk about your lead generation system. So this is your business development plan and your marketing plan.

Rob Da Costa:

And finally, we're going to talk about your sales process. And process is the important word here, because you don't just want to be doing random sales, but you want to have a process that is replicatable and scalable. So, a super practical episode, and let's jump into today's episode.

Rob Da Costa:

I'm Rob Costa, and this is the agency accelerator podcast. As someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown, and sold my own agency, I know just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable business.

Rob Da Costa:

Okay, great. Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to this week's agency Accelerator podcast. I'm really excited to have with me a guest this week who is an expert in agency sales, and that is Ben Potter. So, Ben, welcome to the podcast. We're going to talk about everything from generating leads to closing the deal today. So welcome to the podcast. And why don't you just quickly tell us a little bit about who you are and your journey in the agency world?

Ben Potter:

Yeah, sure. First of all, thanks for having me on, Rob. Very much appreciated. Yeah, I spent 13 or 14 years working in agencies, predominantly down in Brighton. Kind of earned my agency stripes down on the south coast, helping to kind of set up and run an agency called Leapfrog there. Over that period, for better or worse, I was the first face that somebody tended to see when they wanted or were interested in working with the agency. So over that period, learned a huge amount about business development. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Ben Potter:

Made many, many mistakes over that time, but that's how you learn, right? And then I kind of exited that agency in 2016. We sold off a portion of it to another agency in Brighton, and then that was a good time for me to kind of step back and think about my next move at that point, I questioned whether other agencies face some of the same challenges we did from a new business point of view. And it turns out they do. It's continuously cited as the sort of number one or number two challenge that agencies tend to face. So my work now is to try and make that whole process of winning new business just a little bit easier for the agencies that I work with.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, fantastic. And I definitely agree with that. Most of the conversations I'm having with clients are around generating enough new business so they don't lurch from feast to famine or finding a way of getting work off their plate so they can step off the client service hamster wheel of doom and actually focus on the future of their agency. Now, you talk about the three pillars of sales, so why don't you just quickly tell us what they are, and why they're important, and then we'll dive into each of those three in a bit more detail.

Ben Potter:

Yeah, thank you. Yeah, this probably sounds overly sort of simplistic, and obviously, within each of these pillars, there's an awful lot of detail and sort of nuance to each of them. But in the work that I do with clients, we're kind of looking at kind of three key areas, and they kind of stack on top of one another. And actually, they become somewhat easier if you get the foundations right. And those foundations are really around positioning. We call it positioning in agency land, but what we're really talking about is the strategy of the agency. So what they do, who they do it for would be kind of classic kind of market positioning and so on. So I'm sure we'll dig into the details of that a lot more because it's a topic I'm very passionate about I firmly believe if you get that layer right, then all the other things we'll talk about today become a lot clearer.

Ben Potter:

There's a lot more clarity around the second pillar, for example, which would be around lead generation. So once you're very kind of clear about who it is you are trying to target, it becomes a lot easier to start making decisions around where you spend your time and money in order to create opportunity. So the second pillar is really building that kind of business development and marketing plan and then executing against that on a consistent basis of which there are lots of challenges in and around that, which I'm sure, again, we'll talk about. The third pillar is the sales process. It's actually what happens once you actually get a lead comes in from the very first conversation, which tends to be a sort of a qualifying type conversation if it's an inbound lead all the way through to hopefully onboarding that lovely new client you've won, and all the steps and the conversations that happen from point a to point b. So it's really those kinds of three key areas that I usually advise clients in and around. And there's kind of a layer of sort of almost cultural piece that kind of sits in and around that as well, in terms of how do you build that kind of new business culture around having people involved, wanting to get involved, feeding back, reporting, all of that kind of stuff? That kind of sits alongside all of that.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, a good shout really, because everybody's got a business development responsibility of some kind, even if they're the office manager who talks to a client every now and again. So culture is definitely an important part. And I think no one can be thinking, that's not my job, it's someone else's job. But let's go to the beginning here. Now let me just put a pause.

Rob Da Costa:

On here and jump in quickly to introduce you to our free bimonthly 45-minute agency workshops. These sessions are packed with value, focusing on the critical challenges you as an agency owner might face. From defining a clear niche to setting the right pricing, from preventing feast or famine to team building. We've got you covered. Each workshop includes an in-depth exploration of the week's topic, along with a Q&A session to address your pressing concerns. And remember, these are providing you value with no sales pitches. So head over to live events. That's agencyacceleratorliveevents and save your seat.

Rob Da Costa:

Okay, back to today's topic.

Rob Da Costa:

So let's talk about positioning in a bit more detail and tell us why that is. I mean, it's obvious really, but tell us why that is the first thing people should do. And perhaps some tips and advice for agencies trying to find their kind of unique position in the marketplace. And if you've got any kind of thoughts about what happens if you skip that step and you go straight into the lead gen and the sales process? So maybe that's lots of questions there, but I'll hand.

Ben Potter:

I'll start with the last one, actually first, because I think it kind of helps in highlighting, I suppose, the problem here first and foremost, and I suppose the problem here is that first of all, there are an awful lot of agencies just in the UK alone, or various different sizes and guises, but something like 30 to 35,000 agencies in and around the UK, and some of those will be kind of micro businesses of one or two people all the way up to the big kind of global agencies. And the one thing that is fairly consistent across the board, particularly at the smaller end of the scale, is that most agencies look pretty much the same, both visually and also in terms of their messaging. And I think we've fallen into a bit of a trap of assuming that what we consider to be USPS, they're not really USPS at all. So when you go to a typical agency website, they talk about transparency, they talk about honesty, they talk about passion, they talk about being results-focused, they speak about being award-winning. You could cherry-pick 20 agency websites at random, and you would see these words and phrases dotted about fairly consistently, I would say, across the board. And the problem is that it kind of masquerades as positioning. And it's not really positioning. These are kind of table stakes, really.

Ben Potter:

I mean, if you're turning up to an agency and they're not honest or they're not passionate about wanting to work with your business, if they haven't won an award or two, then they would be very much the exception. So all of these things that I think kind of masquerade is positioning are not positioning at all. So that's the first problem. And what that means is for an agency is it means that the competitive landscape for the typical agency is very broad. They are effectively competing against hundreds, thousands of other agencies. Whereas the goal of positioning, I suppose, or business strategy, is to try and reduce that competitive landscape down to 2030, 40 agencies, rather than potentially four or 500 agencies who all look very similar. So that's the problem on where we're trying to get to. In answer to your last question, the issue that has, from a lead gen point of view, that second pillar, is it doesn't provide clarity around where we should be spending our time and money.

Ben Potter:

Because if you're trying to target everyone, then try and build a business development marketing plan out of that. It's very difficult. Whereas if we're saying, right, this is our target audience, this is our sort of discreetly defined target audience, this is what we do for them. This is the problem we solve. It makes it a lot easier in terms of the decision-making around where you should be spending that time and money.

Rob Da Costa:

And what would you say to the agency owner that intellectually understands what you've just said, but is really fearful about narrowing down their market? They're scared about having a clear niche because they think they will lose opportunities or they'll find it harder to win business, or, I don't know, whatever these other beliefs that they're running their head, that keeps them in the kind of more generalist space.

Ben Potter:

Yeah, and you're absolutely right to highlight that. I think the number one barrier or reason why an agency owner won't want to go down the specialisation or the niche route is often that fear of what they're going to miss out on. I think if we look at the typical agency owner, they tend to be quite entrepreneurial and they tend to be the kind of people that look at an opportunity, even if it's slightly outside of their area of expertise, and think, kind of, we could do that, we could do that. Let's bring that in and we'll design a new service offering around it and we'll give it a go type approach. So there is this kind of fear of when you narrow your focus, fundamentally, what you got to start doing is saying no a lot more often. And I think often we're quite fearful of that because it might create a certain degree of scarcity and we might not be able to build our businesses in the way that we want to. I would kind of take the opposite view, that actually narrowing your focus, being more specialised in many ways, should create greater, better quality opportunities over time. But I think another reason why people don't tend to want to go down that route is maybe an assumption that when we talk about people like you and I talk about specialisation or niching, I think the default assumption is, well, that means we need to narrow right down to maybe a specific sector.

Ben Potter:

And that can feel quite limiting, I think, for a lot of people, and I think particularly coming out the back end of COVID for example, where if you were a specialist within certain sectors, potentially that meant the end to some agencies, if they were travel focused or hospitality focused, for example, that was a tough old ride to get through that. So I absolutely understand the fears and the concerns that people have, but I think it's thinking about this in a slightly broader sense, that specialisation or niching doesn't just mean a sector. There are actually numerous different ways in which you can position an agency, and some quite creative ways as well, which allow you to experience all the benefits that come with specialisation, without maybe narrowing the focus too much.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, and I completely agree with that. I would wholeheartedly say to my audience that the more specialist you are, the easier it becomes to find your ideal target client. And perhaps more importantly, the easier it becomes for your ideal target client to find you because they're looking for the specific service that you offer. Let's assume now that all our listeners have done this work on their position. They've got really good clarity around who they serve and what they offer and all the rest of it. Let's move on to the second pillar that you talked about, which is all about lead generation. So this is that business development and marketing plan. Tell us about that.

Ben Potter:

Yeah, well, I think first and foremost, as you rightly reinforce the point there, what good positioning should do. One of many benefits, but certainly from a legion point of view, the first thing that it should do is provide that greater degree of clarity over where and how you should be spending your time. There are certain activities which are almost kind of a given, for example, that regardless of your positioning, you should be doing. So a good example of that is having a sort of proactive referral strategy in place. So rather than just waiting for people to refer you are actually having a system in place where those referral requests are proactively built into your processes and you are identifying those happy clients and you are going and asking them to be referred. And of course, there are many different types of referrals, but that's just one example. So that's an activity that, regardless of your positioning, of course it works more effectively if you're well positioned. But that's an example of an activity that you should be doing regardless.

Ben Potter:

But in terms of everything else, in terms of what you should be writing about, what you should be talking about, which events you should be going along to, to network, all of that kind of stuff, once you've got your tightly defined target audience nailed down, I call it an ideal client profile, and it's one of the outputs of a positioning project. And it talks about maybe the sectors you operate in. It talks about things like culture and mindset and certain traits, be that kind of size and spend and all of that kind of stuff. So you're really kind of clear in who it is you're trying to reach out to. Once you've got that down on paper, all the things that I'm talking about there just become that little bit easier. Right. We should go to that event because we know there are going to be people there that we want to speak to. We don't go to that event because it's too broad, it's too generalist.

Ben Potter:

It doesn't make sense to go and exhibit that big exhibition when actually our audience is not necessarily going to be there. So the big benefit of tighter positioning is that clarity in where and how you spend your time. Now, what those specific activities look like is going to vary from agency to agency, and it's going to come down to things like your budget, and your level of in-house resources. But fundamentally, it has to come back to that target audience piece and understand who your audience is and where they spend their time, what are their key problems, and what are their challenges. That influences the sort of stuff that we're writing about, the webinars we're hosting, the things we're speaking about when hopefully we're standing in front of a room of prospects. So as I say, it brings a great deal of clarity to all of that stuff, whereas I think the opposite is true when you're talking about we work with everyone from one-man bands to multinationals. Well, try and build a marketing plan out of that. It's nigh on impossible in my view.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, it is. In a scenario like that, you would end up needing to have a tonne of money to throw down the drain to try and reach some of these people. But I think we can all agree that that's a very poor strategy.

Ben Potter:

Yes, that classic kind of throws enough mud at the wall and hopefully, some of this is going to stick type approach. And I think that's the problem that agencies, more generalist agencies sometimes find themselves in, is that they almost kind of try a little bit of everything and then they go, well, that didn't work, so we won't do that again. Actually, those activities can work if they're more focused and targeted and given the right amount of time. But often I find agency owners will try something for three months, like outsource lead gen and go, well, that didn't work, we're never going to do that again. Or they were bringing a BDM. And if the strategy and positioning aren't right, then the BDM is almost starting with a blank canvas. They're given three months to close a deal. They don't do it.

Ben Potter:

Well, let's bin them out. And actually, you've got to get the foundations right to make any of these things more effective.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah. So there are a couple of points I wanted to pick up on there. One is that all the really robust business development and marketing strategies deliver in the medium to long term, and yet we are seduced by shiny new objects in the world that we live in at the moment. So people get, don't get. They want immediate gratification, they don't get it and they move on to the next thing and then they wonder why things don't work. So that's one piece I wanted to say. The second thing you kind of started answering my next question, which is, what is your view on outsourcing the business development function to somebody else? It's almost like I've got a problem. I don't have enough new leads or new, new business.

Rob Da Costa:

Let me give this problem to somebody else. What's your advice to the audience, if that's what they're thinking?

Ben Potter:

Yeah, I think first and foremost, in terms of that kind of proactive, some people call it prospecting or outbound. But in terms of that activity, I do believe it should always be a part of an agency's kind of business development and marketing plan. You need to be out there building nurturing relationships in a proactive way. You can't just sit there and rely on kind of inbound and what comes into you. Now, some agencies can. If their marketing is absolutely exceptional and is driving a good number of high-quality leads on a consistent basis, month in, month out, then perhaps you don't need to do as much of that kind of outbound type activity. But I don't find there are many agencies where that is the case. You need to be doing that kind of proactive activity first and foremost.

Ben Potter:

So I'm a big believer that that should be part of the remit, as it were, first and foremost. The problem is agencies don't often have the resources or skill sets to be doing that kind of activity internally. It needs probably a dedicated person, and that person is unlikely to be the agency owner because again, going back to the point earlier, they tend to be more creative, and entrepreneurial. I know that's a massive sort of a bit of a stigma in describing the typical agency owner, but they're probably not the detailed person that's going to get down in the weeds and do the research and do the crafting of the messaging and send those messaging out on a consistent basis. So it needs that type of person. So coming back to your original question, should you outsource it? Yes and no. If your positioning is good, if you've got the right assets, if your expectations are there in terms of, as you were alluding to earlier how long it's going to take to start to see some results from this kind of activity, then I do think potentially outsourcing it or working very closely with an outsourced lead gen agency or partner can work. But in all the conversations I've had, I would say nine times out of ten when I speak to an agency owner and they talk about past activity and the fact they have farmed it out, and I say, well, how did you get on? They'd say something like, well, I gave it three to six months.

Ben Potter:

It didn't work. So we got rid of them. Now, it'd be very easy to then blame the lead gen agency and say, well, they didn't do a very good job. But a lot of these lead agencies have been around for a very long time. They've got to be doing something right. They've got to be delivering results meetings ultimately, and I suppose new business wins for their clients, otherwise they wouldn't be around. So I think often what tends to happen is the agency, as in the client of the Legion agency, isn't quite ready. They're not at that metaphorical start line to make their outbound activity as effective as it could be.

Ben Potter:

So it goes back to the fundamentals of getting the positioning right, making sure we're really clear with the audience, making sure that we have something of value to offer when we're reaching out to people. That's a really critical component of good outbound. If you're just reaching out to people and saying, hi, it's us, we're brilliant. Can we have a creds meeting? All that information is on your website. If I want to have a look at you, I'll go to your website and I'll see your clients, your case studies, your awards, et cetera. You've got to be providing or promising more value with respect to people giving up their time to meet you than just a creds meeting. You've got to have assets in place and you've got to have patience. And if you've got all of those things, then there are some really good examples of where outbound, and I'm seeing at the moment with one or two of my clients that are working with kind of outbound partners that it does deliver.

Ben Potter:

But if you haven't got all of those things in place, then you're not at the start line, and you should really take a step back and get those foundations in place first.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, and I completely agree with that. I think also I'd almost take it one step further and say, you have to have demonstrated that you can sell your proposition. It's a valuable proposition that people are interested in. Then you can scale it up by outsourcing it. What you can't do is have a problem that I don't have enough leads, but don't have any of those foundations you just outlined in place and then try and give that problem to somebody else. I guess a good outbound agency would probably kind of put the stop sign up and say, hang on, a second. If you want us to be truly successful, you need these things. Unfortunately, there'll also be quite a few outbound agencies that will just take on the work.

Rob Da Costa:

And so I think the other thing I'd say about this is that you need to do your due diligence with the partner that you're looking for.

Ben Potter:

Let's move that.

Rob Da Costa:

I just want to ask you one really quick question. You have to see if you can answer this in 1 minute because I'm conscious of time and I want to make sure we do. Pillar three, what's your view on cold calling in 2024?

Ben Potter:

Oh, interesting. It seemed to have a bit of resurgence during COVID I think because people were at home and alone and probably quite bored in many ways. What I saw quite a lot were people reporting back that actually cold calling worked pretty well during the height of the pandemic. People were quite happy to kind of take those phone calls. There are a couple of schools of thought here, and I've seen arguments and counterarguments around whether it's part of the armoury, as it were. I almost prefer the idea of kind of rather than cold calling, warm calling. And we have all these great ways in which you can almost kind of pre-engage a prospect before you actually pick up the phone. LinkedIn is a great example of where you can follow somebody.

Ben Potter:

You don't even necessarily have to connect with them. You might just follow them. That might be enough to put you on their radar. You can comment on their content if you want to, maybe tag them in a piece of content you're sharing to kind of put it in front of their eyes. So there are ways in which you can almost kind of create. I think you've called the micro-commitments in our conversations previously where you start to build up a bit of a picture of somebody's level of engagement. And through automation tools, you can do lead scoring and that type of thing, but you don't necessarily have to go to that level of complexity just to start to build a picture of how engaged or otherwise somebody is within your agency. So when you do pick up the phone, they are perhaps already aware of you and therefore more likely to take the call.

Ben Potter:

But I do think if you're literally going from, I've never had any correspondence with you, you're not going to know me from Adam. Cold calling might work, but I think you're more likely to get some resistance. And you've got to be really. I used to hate doing cold calling in my agency days, and I really resisted it because I wasn't sharp enough on my feet to be able to kind of counter the objection and keep people on the phone. There are others that are really good at that, and if you are really good at that, then you should utilise that as part of your kind of toolset, as it were. But I certainly wasn't back in my agency days.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, I think my view on this is a bit more black and white than yours, because anybody who says they want to go down that route, I say it's a really bad idea because it kind of flies in the face of everything we've been saying. You have to build, know, like and trust with someone before they're going to buy from you. I always use the example of two bottles of water. So you can buy a bottle of this unbranded water from a corner store, and next to that is a bottle of Evian. And the Evian is twice the price as the unbranded one. And a lot of people are going to pick the Evian over the unbranded one because Evian, through their brand and their advertising and their sponsorship, have built know, like and trust with their audience. Whether it's any better is relevant in a way. So people will spend more money buying the branded bottle because they've made the effort to build that knowledge, like and trust.

Rob Da Costa:

We have to do that with their audience. So social selling that you were just describing where you're connecting with your ideal target contacts, you're commenting on their posts, you're building some kind of relationship with them, so that when you are reaching out to them to make the ask to phone them up, it is a warm. I'm completely. I completely think that's a smart thing to do. I think cold calling is a really bad thing to do. People ask me that. I'm a massive fan of email marketing. It's how I get most of my business.

Rob Da Costa:

And people say to me, Rob, I don't have a list, can I buy a cold list? And I'm like, yeah, you can buy a cold list, but it's hard work. It seems like an easy fix, but you're actually in danger of damaging your brand by cold emailing people because they're going, I didn't give you permission to email me. And who the hell are you? This is spam and I'm going to report you and all the rest of it. It's not the smartest thing to do. But you know what? It comes back to what we've been saying earlier. Buying a cold list seems like a really easy fix. I can spend 500 pounds and buy 1000 contacts and my God, it's going to take me five years to build an organic list of 1000. So I'm going to shortcut the thing.

Rob Da Costa:

But the truth of it is, of those thousand people, there might only be two on that list that are of any interest. Whereas if you're building the list yourself anyway, that's me off my hobby horse about that. Let's move on to pillar three. And pillar three is all about the sales process. So talk us through that. We've got our positioning right, we started to generate consistent leads. What's the next stage of pillar three?

Ben Potter:

I think getting those other two things right offers the opportunity to kind of change how you go about selling, fundamentally. So I suppose when you're a generalist and you're kind of almost fishing after everything and you're almost willing. A caveat to that is when you first start out as an agency, that probably is how you're going to be. You're going to do lots of different things. There's almost this kind of period of a few years where it's kind of trialling different service offerings and working with different types of clients, et cetera. And that's perfectly fine. But I think for most agencies there comes a point in their journey where they begin to realise there are downsides to working across lots of different types of clients, doing lots of different types of services, et cetera, et cetera. And in terms of things like profitability as a part of that, being able to kind of charge a premium, those things are much more difficult as a generalist.

Ben Potter:

So I think once you get the foundations right in terms of positioning and taking kind of an expert position, in terms of generating good quality opportunities that kind of fit that ideal client profile, you have a lot more opportunity to pick and choose which opportunities you start to pursue. And what should be happening at the beginning of the process is you should start to find yourself saying no a lot more often because, okay, thanks for the inquiry, but you're not quite the right fit. But here's an agency that might be better. What I tend to find happens, irrespective of whether you're well positioned or in my view, perhaps not as well positioned, is that there does seem to be this mad dash to get towards writing a proposal. This is an exaggerated example for kind of not quite a comedy effect, but this is often what an agency process looks like. The lead comes in half an hour, phone call. Get very excited, and gather some information. Yes, we'll have a proposal.

Ben Potter:

Mr. Prospect, to your desk by Friday, get the team in, and write a proposal. There's a lot of second-guessing that goes into that. Maybe there's a shopping list for different options and ideas in there, zip the proposal over by email and then never hear from the prospect again. As I said, there is this kind of mad rush to get to the proposal and almost use that document to do the selling rather than actually slow the whole thing down, start to introduce a few more steps and key conversations into our process, so that when we get to the point of writing a proposal, and this is the fundamental rule that I teach my clients to adopt in their sales process, is that your proposal or presentation, whatever format it takes, should be confirmation of what you have broadly agreed verbally already earlier in the process. Now, if I challenge my clients to just apply that rule and do nothing else, I would set them a task of telling me about how they would change their process if they had to adopt that philosophy or that rule, and how would change your approach to the sales process? And there's a bit of arming and ring, but eventually, everybody gets to the point where it's like, yeah, we'd slow down, we'd converse more with the prospect, we'd involve them more in how we're coming up with our ideas or our solutions. And we wouldn't rush, we wouldn't commit to writing a proposal until much later in the process. So for me, a good sales process is slow, not fast, and it's more steps, and fundamentally, it's more conversations above anything else.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, I so agree with that. I've got a feeling that a lot of listeners will be nodding their heads to the scenario that you shared because I think we've all been there. Right? As you say, we get excited that this brand that we'd love to work with has contacted us. They've given us this ridiculously short timescale. We don't really know why, but we drop everything, work long hours, get this thing done, send it off, and then never hear from them again. So I think, as the listeners will know, slow down to speed up is one of my favourite expressions, and it applies super well to this particular scenario. I always say to people, that when you're pitching or you're writing a proposal, you need to learn as much about the client as you can, and you need to learn about what they haven't put in the pitch or the proposal brief because that's the real juicy stuff that's going to help you win. Also, if you're being very consultative at the very beginning of a relationship, then it sort of sets the tone of how your relationship will be with a client if you win them as a client, as an equal partner, and not as an imbalanced kind of customer-supplier, where the customer beats the supplier up, because it's easy to do that.

Ben Potter:

Absolutely. All of that kind of advice and counsel and sort of consultative approach that you described there. I think agencies are very good at kind of talking about being consultative. But actually, when you look at what consultative really means, and I lean into books like The Challenger sale, for example, if you really lean into what that kind of means and what that looks like, it's not an order taker. It's actually not taking the brief at face value. It's often challenging that brief. It's often having clients think in new and different ways. It's understanding that what they think they want and what they actually need can often be very different things.

Ben Potter:

And as an advisor, as an expert, which is born out of everything we've spoken about already today around positioning, you shouldn't be taking those things at face value. You should be willing to kind of, right from the offset, almost set the tone for the relationship with regards to how you look at that brief how you challenge it and how you question it. And I love what you referred to there in terms of going deeper than what is written down in that brief because all of those things are normally about the business. And actually what we should be doing is thinking about, okay, what individuals are we speaking to here? What are they trying to do? What are the little micro-challenges they're facing? And those are the sorts of things that aren't going to be in that brief. They might not even be things that you reflect back in your written proposal because they might be quite personal to those stakeholders, but they're definitely things you could be talking about in and around your commentary with respect to that proposal or presentation. A really crude example, you find out that your key contact is looking at a promotion. Well, how can you as an agency help them realise their personal ambition or goal? Again, you won't talk about that in the proposal, but you can absolutely be talking about that separately in your conversations with that person. But that's only going to come out through conversation.

Ben Potter:

It's not going to come out through taking a brief at face value, writing a proposal, firing it over, and hoping that you get the win off the back of it.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah. Okay, great. I'm conscious of time, so I want to sort of wrap things up now. I know you and I could carry on talking for another hour but have you got any parting tips? What's the piece of advice that everybody should take away from today's episode? What's the one thing they should go and do?

Ben Potter:

The one thing it's going to depend on where they are on their journey. But I think, as we've kind of alluded to today, I think often people jump into lead gen, for example, they are looking for those silver bullets. And unfortunately, in my many years, probably 20 years or so now in kind of agency business development, both in an agency and externally advising others, I'm really sorry, but there are no silver bullets. There is not one single thing that I could say to you today that you go away and do that's going to fundamentally transform your ability to win new business and win the right new business. And I think that's a word that I use a lot, is it's the right new business for your agency. If you don't know what that right new business looks like, what that right client, that ideal client looks like for you, I think you need to start there. I think you need to define that and get that right. And that is wrapped up in that kind of broader positioning piece.

Ben Potter:

I think you've got to start there. As we said earlier, that will then bring clarity to everything else that we've spoken about today with regard to how you generate opportunity, and how you take greater control and ownership over the sales process. Rather than being that order taker, you can start to be that more sort of consultative advisor, which is modern selling. So I think I'd probably wrap up and say, unfortunately, no silver bullets. Go back to the basics. Get the strategic elements right first, and then, in my experience, everything else becomes a great deal easier. That follows.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, and I completely agree with that. And I just add two things, really. One is to make sure when it comes to a pillar. Two, that you actually have a plan. You're not just doing random things, but you actually have a marketing plan, a business development plan that you're delivering. And when it comes to the sales process, again, make sure you have a sales process. You're not just reacting to opportunities and jumping because the prospect is saying jump, but you've actually got a process that you follow, which means that you can put the brakes on a little bit and dig a bit deeper. So let me ask you the question I ask all of my guests when they come on the podcast, if you go back in time and give your younger self, just starting out at Leapfrog or wherever your first job was or when you started your own business, a piece of advice, what would it be?

Ben Potter:

Good question. I think if I were to put my sort of business development and sales hat on and think about the very early kind of stages of my career, I, like most people in business development, sales fall into it. It wasn't designed. I didn't come out of university and say, right, I'm going to go into a career in business development and sales. It just didn't happen. I kind of fell into it. But the one mistake I did make, and this is true of if you're an agency owner who looks after the business development, or if you're a dedicated business developer or salesperson in the agency, this is the one thing I didn't do. So when all of the reading that I did tended to be about the industries that we were targeting and about the services that we were selling.

Ben Potter:

So if we were selling PPC, I wanted to be that kind of trusted advisor. I didn't need to be an absolute expert in that area, but I needed to be able to kind of talk about that in broad terms and be able to provide top-line advice as part of the sales process. I was really not being big-headed, but I thought I was quite good at that. I knew enough where I could be that advisor. What I didn't do enough of was actually read about my core role, which was business development and sales. I had a couple of mentors along the way, which were fantastic. So I'd thoroughly advise seeking mentorship. But when I look back, I didn't read nearly enough books and there weren't as many podcasts and so on and things like that.

Ben Potter:

There weren't as many resources 15 years ago as there are now. But now there are an abundance of brilliant books. There are brilliant podcasts. All of this information is out there. So if you do work specifically in business development, or you're the agency owner and you look after that and you want to improve, please read about your actual subject matter, because I didn't do nearly enough of it. Ironically, I've learned more about business development and sales in the last six or seven years of being an advisor than I actually did when I was doing the job. So that's the one piece of advice I always offer to people to go and actually swat up on.

Rob Da Costa:

Yeah, it's good advice, not for someone who's starting out, but for anybody who's anywhere in their career. Find your medium. Like, I like listening to podcasts. I like listening to podcasts. When I walk the dog or go to the gym, I listen to my favourite business podcast. But if YouTube is the place or reading is the place, then find that and go look at it. Ben, I'm conscious of time, so if people wanted to find out more about you, where would they go?

Ben Potter:

LinkedIn is probably the place to go. So yeah, find me on LinkedIn. I try my best to publish as much advisory-type content as I possibly can and sort of give that stuff away for free. So LinkedIn is a good spot. My website, benpotter.co.uk, is good for getting a bit more kind of insight of typically how I work with agencies, but LinkedIn is probably the place to go. So yeah, come and connect.

Rob Da Costa:

Great.

Ben Potter:

With me there.

Rob Da Costa:

We'll share both those links in the show notes. Just want to say a big thank you for giving up your time today to share your sales wisdom with the audience. I know that people will have got a few golden nuggets from that and hopefully think a little bit differently about the sales process and also have a little bit of an action plan. So that's always a good outcome from the podcast.

Ben Potter:

Yeah, an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me to come.

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