Shaping Your Reputation & Growth In 2021

Propeller Group’s latest event for the business development community explored the trends and opportunities facing business developers and agency leaders, as revealed by exclusive research carried out for our report New tools, tactics and takeaways: The Business Development Handbook.

To discuss the findings we pulled together a panel of experts to share their views on the forces shaping agency reputation and growth in 2021. The panel was hosted by Propeller Group Director of Content Branwell Johnson and featured:

  • Rose Bentley, Group Director Clients & Strategy, Propeller Group
  • Cat Hartland, Head of The Drum Recommends
  • Jody Osman, Group Director of Business Growth, Propeller Group
  • Andrew Nicholson, Co-Founder & CEO, Kulea MA

Changing priorities 

The survey revealed that 75% of new business practitioners say the biggest priority this year is acquisition of new clients – but agencies have to be mindful of what has changed for clients in terms of their priorities. 

Cat drew on The Drum’s own research into CMO priorities, which showed that over half (57%) said their agency requirements have changed. She pointed out: “It’s important to understand that these changing priorities don’t just reflect on 2020. This reflects the fact that CMO priorities are constantly changing. They are always looking to disrupt and evolve, and consequently what they want from their agency partners can change from year to year.” 

“Some are related to the impact of the pandemic. We saw that location, or where an agency primarily operates from, has quickly dropped to the bottom of the priority list for prospective partners.” 

“79% of agencies said they hit or were over new business target in 2020”

Rose picked up on this point from Cat. “We’re clearly seeing that location is no longer relevant – and we’re seeing our own opportunities to win global work grow. The key thing that clients are doubling down on is asking: how will this help us move the dial? This can be value for the business – but also value for the individual involved. These are ambitious people and the pandemic hasn’t changed this.” 

Cat stressed that CMOs were keen to understand more about the human element of working on a  day-to-day basis with their partner. “Now, the most important factors appear to be the teams and the people within them. Who are they going to be working with? And what will this experience be like? Agencies should approach with their people and personality up front.” 

”What clearly hasn’t changed is the power of client recommendations. Above LinkedIn presence, reports or SEO ranking on Google, the most effective way to win new business still stems from positive client recommendations. Agencies shouldn’t be afraid to use their network of clients and leverage recommendations and referrals.” 

Breaking new ground

In order to achieve the desired growth, businesses are looking vertically at new sectors and markets to approach. Our report found that 45% of agencies have had to target different sectors and new categories to supplement their pipeline but how to approach fresh terrain? 

“Bring your own experience from your sector” outlined Cat. “You have information and insight they don’t have access to – and this can help clients evolve and innovate.”

 “45% of agencies say they have had to target different sectors/types of clients for their pipeline” 

“There is a difference between what is useful to clients – and what is important,” Rose added. “Experience is good – but what is more important is being able to solve the challenge a prospect has. We use a tool when kicking off with clients called the ‘Magic Triangle’, where we look at the client’s need, how our experience has met this need previously and finally who in the sector we know that we can consult or use as reference. We might not have worked in this sector specifically – but we have solved similar needs before.” 

Andrew Nicholson of Kulea commented: “The poet John Donne once said ‘no man is an island’ – and neither is any sector or industry! There are always relevant adjacencies, it is a question of thinking creatively to understand what they are.” 

Jody agreed that it can be easy to be intimidated by a lack of experience when approaching a new sector, so it’s  important to keep an eye on what is happening in each sector. “Different parts of the market are moving at different paces, so it’s crucial to appreciate and reflect the pace of the market you are approaching.”

Tech, talent and skills 

The growing importance of tech skills amongst BD practitioners is a key theme for agencies.

Andrew Nicholson picked up on this and said: “BD teams are now being asked to do more, for less. This is only possible through technology which allows them to supplement their skills and make them more efficient and more effective. Technology is scaling up the potential of BD practitioners.” 

“Over the last few years we’ve seen the rise of ‘best of breed’ BD tech stacks, from CRM to marketing automation and prospecting tech, it is a natural evolution of the sector to become more tech reliant.”

“44% of agencies plan to invest more in digital tools in 2021” 

It’s important agencies understand how to assess and evaluate what tools and tech to invest in and Jody explained that  it can be difficult to keep your finger on the pulse and understand what each tool does. “The easiest thing to do is to instead ask: what do I want a tool to do? Have a clear idea of the problem you want a tool to solve. Understanding what you want from a solution is key.” 

“But the biggest thing is looking at the support the tech comes with. Often subscribing to a tool is compared to signing up to a gym membership, in the sense you have to keep using it to get the most out of it. However, the most important thing is that you book the induction session and get a personal trainer to know what to do and really get the most out of it”. 

The rules of engagement

So what does engagement look like in this tech-imbued era for BD? 

Rose pointed out that agencies own marketing efforts are often put to the back of the queue. “But if you involve your network, clients and prospects in your marketing efforts, from panel events to podcasts, you can re-engage and start conversations with authenticity – as well as showing what you can do. The power of your network often sparks the power of referral.”

“49% of BD practitioners say they plan to produce new content monthly” 

“Agencies shouldn’t be scared of having a point of view” added Cat Harland. “Content is a great driver for engagement. People remember characters and perspectives more than specifics about agencies. Building this narrative is a strong way to begin conversations on the front foot.”

There is a burgeoning sense that exciting opportunities lie ahead for agency teams who use technology to augment their natural human enthusiasm and creativity in the business of finding business. 

To get a full understanding of the trends shaping the future for agencies, download our latest Business Development Handbook: New tools, tactics and takeaways here.