The Inbound Impact on Agency New Business

Michael GassThis post is part of the Insider Series, which is designed to feature professionals in our industry, offer business insight and discover new paths in the agency world.

Michael Gass (@michaelgass) is a business development consultant, speaker and author. His company, Fuel Lines, provides business development resources, training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.

In this Insider Series, he discusses new business challenges, trends and strategies. Join him at the Fuel Lines New Business Conference on Oct. 9, 2015 in Nashville.

Q&A With Michael Gass, Fuel Lines

MAI: How has agency new business evolved in recent years?

Michael: Business development has undergone a major change. New business is now much more difficult because of a paradigm shift that has taken place due to The Great Recession and the empowerment of prospects through social media. My epiphany regarding this shift in new business practices came from a CMO study conducted in 2007; 80% of decision makers said they found their vendors, not the other way around.

It’s now more important to be found than to chase new business. Interruptive type tactics such as cold calls, email blasts and direct mail have become ineffective and inefficient.

Most agencies didn’t have much of a presence in social media until 2010. They were late to the party. When agencies decided to jump-in, they literally just jumped-in. The typical agency hasn’t had much social media success for new business. Primarily because they have:

  • No plan
  • No goal
  • No target audience
  • No integration
  • No consistency
  • No value (self promotional)
  • No traffic
  • No leads
  • No new business

Before agencies will have success transitioning from outbound to inbound and committing the time and resources, agency owners have to become believers and see the potential of inbound marketing.

MAI: What role does inbound and content marketing now play in agency new business?

Michael: As I had mentioned earlier, instead of chasing business, it’s now more important to be found. Prospects are also looking for expertise. If you want to be positioned as an expert, you must write. This makes content an integral part of your new business program. It’s what fuels inbound leads and creates a positioning of expertise.

For over eight years I’ve prescribed creating a niche blog for agency new business and have helped create over 200 personal blogs for agency principals. A personal blog can provide small to midsize agency owners with a perfect platform to create positioning of expertise and appeal to a very specific target audience. It’s like a fishing expedition. You fish for a specific fish with a particular bait, you fish away from the boat (the agency’s website) so you don’t scare off the fish.  

Recently, a client won a significant national account through their niche blog, This small agency has been awarded the business of helping to launch 22 new stores for Burlington Coat Factory this year. This is what a niche blog can do for your agency.

MAI: What common problems do agencies face when trying to attract new business and convert prospects? And how do they overcome them?

New business has historically been a problem for agencies:

  • Most small to midsize agencies have no positioning and no point of differentiation. They look and sound the same.
  • They are often treated as vendors because they lack a positioning of expertise.
  • Most don’t have a target audience thus, no focus for business development efforts.
  • They are their own worst clients, the cobbler’s children with no shoes.
  • No appeal beyond their local market.
  • Forced to use interruption tactics to build awareness.
  • Rainmakers who were good at new business in the past are struggling today.

The battle for new business moved online. The interruption tactics of the past quickly became ineffective. Prospects were now in control. They determine what they want and when. This began the dramatic shift to inbound marketing as the marketing method preferred by potential clients. The job has become a lot more complex. The Mad Men rain-maker days are over. Prospects are turning to online channels to self-educate about agencies and delay speaking directly with them. Agencies should re-think how they engage prospects. Agencies must align their business development strategies to the new way prospects prefer to choose their marketing partners.

From my perspective, most agencies are using 80% outbound marketing strategies and 20% inbound. Those percentages should be in the reverse order.

MAI: How can agencies ensure that potential clients are good fit for their services?

Michael: If you try to appeal to everybody, you won’t appeal to anybody.

I found that an inbound marketing program has a built-in vetting component that tends to eliminate those who aren’t the right prospects very early on without wasting valuable time, energy and resources. 

MAI: What do attendees have to look forward to at your new conference—Fuel Lines New Business Conference 2015?

Michael: I think they will come away with some very practical solutions for positioning, pitching and procurement that will make new business easier. They will leave with innovative insights from some of the best and brightest thought leaders who provide straight talk on the new drivers of new business.

Attendees will walk away with new business ideas and resources, plus a network of new friends and mentors. Limiting this first conference to 100 is intended to provide a better environment to network with one another and engage with our speakers.

Register for the Fuel Lines New Business Conference today (use this link for a $450 discount)! PR 20/20 CEO Paul Roetzer will be presenting on the Indispensable Agency, and we’d love to see you there.

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