Building an Agency Culture of Business Development

Written by Joe Koufman, CEO of Setup

At most marketing agencies, many teams are fearful of new business opportunities because they equate new business with additional work on top of their “day jobs.” After all, long nights and weekends are regular occurrences for agency teams pursuing a hot new client. 

When I was running business development and marketing at Engauge (acquired by Publicis Group and merged with Moxie in 2013) from 2007-2013, I sought out to build a culture that valued business development. My goal was for the account teams to embrace new business, as opposed to cringing when I came around the corner with a new opportunity.


How can business leaders turn the inevitable groans that occur when the business development team shows up with a new opportunity? 

It’s all about culture. Build a culture where the entire agency is excited about business development because of the personal and professional growth that can result from winning new clients.

In order to build that culture at Engauge, we developed a set of mantras that would guide our team activities. We wanted to be:

  • Strategic - Strategic about the types of opportunities we would pursue

  • Steadfast - Steadfast in that we would reliably honor our commitments

  • Sought-After - Sought after by both prospective clients, as well as the rest of the agency 


Be Strategic

Our business development team built a clear rubric to guide the types of opportunities / new clients we would pursue, and filter out those that weren’t a fit. We would not pursue clients unless they were the right “fit”:

  • Client Fit - Does the client have a noteworthy or recognizable brand? Could the work done for said client serve as a case study to potential clients down the road?

  • Project Fit - Would the deal size be greater than $100,000 AND profitable for the agency? 

  • Growth Fit - Is the project one that would elevate the team’s skill sets? Could it broaden the team’s industry experience?

  • Bandwidth Fit - Does our team have extra bandwidth at the moment? In other words, could this project “feed hungry mouths”?

If the client / project did not fit any of the above criteria, then we would pass.


Be Steadfast

Clients often judge potential agency partner relationships through the ad agency’s responsiveness during the pitch process. If the client requests information, then it is up to the business development team to ensure that they set great expectations about how the agency responds to requests. 

Conversely, the internal agency staff is more likely to cooperate with business development priorities if they have:

  1. Visibility - The business development team needs to have an open and regular communication process with the other departments with which they collaborate.

  2. Trust - Other departments that assist the BD team need to have confidence that the BD team is reliable, while being respectful of the time, resources, and priorities of other teams. They have to know that the business development team will proactively and reliably deliver on commitments and follow up on dependencies.


Be Sought-After

This is the most elusive to achieve of the three tenants. In a recent CMO study, 80% of CMOs found their agency partner - not the other way around.

In order to make an agency sought after by potential clients (and employees), the business development team must be sought-after. It takes time and consistent effort to build the “swagger” that ultimately drives inbound marketing leads.

Really, “swagger” is just a fancy word for positioning / agency advertising. Position the agency in a way that attracts the right kinds of new clients. BD teams can start by:

  1. Building detailed case studies that clearly outline the problems, solutions, and results 

  2. Creating valuable thought leadership and content marketing

  3. Booking agency experts speaking opportunities

  4. Developing relationships with other marketing leaders and the marketing community by getting involved on the boards of marketing organizations like AMA (American Marketing Association)

  5. Applying for (and winning) industry awards 

Related - Agencies: It’s Time to Make Positioning a Priority

How to Build a Digital Marketing Agency Culture that Values Business Development

Together, these actions accomplish three important things:

  1. Build credibility in the eyes of potential clients.

  2. Show clients that your agency is capable of doing great work and easy (and fun) to work with

  3. Create the framework for agency growth

If your agency’s website, social media, and other marketing content does not clearly communicate why your agency is a great partner, why your agency is different from others, or why your agency has a fantastic culture, then perhaps it’s time for a positioning exercise

Setup offers marketing agencies business development training that helps agencies think through positioning, infrastructure, and outreach/closing. Contact us to learn more.

Joe Koufman, the CEO of Setup

This blog was written by Joe Koufman, CEO and Founder of Setup.

Armed with 20+ years of marketing, business development, and management experience, Joe Koufman founded Setup to ignite relationships between marketing agencies and client-side marketers. His unique agency perspective – having worked at a small digital firm, an independent full-service marketing agency, and a massive holding company – is what inspired Joe to help marketers find agencies that are the perfect fit.