EP 56: How to Increase Deal Flow
Kelly: So welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. This week we're diving into business development but without having to reinvent the wheel, always a favorite topic for agency leaders. And today my guest is Dan Englander, founder of Sales Schema, a New York based consultancy that helps agencies increase deal flow and win ideal clients. That's the name of the game, right? So Dan, welcome to the show. I'm really excited for you to be here today.
Dan: Thank you for having me Kelly. I appreciate it.
Kelly: So the last time we spoke we kind of had this mind meld of the fact that agencies are getting hit over the head with being full service versus being specialized in some way, shape, or form. So what's the sort of what you call the paralysis by analysis that agency leaders are struggling with as far as how the industry is changing so rapidly, almost around them.
Dan: Yeah, it's a really good question and I think it's interesting and this is kind of getting into bigger macro conceptual stuff but I think the whole world in a way is moving towards this idea of a long tail and specialization not necessarily on individual level but on a company level where you have a freelance economy, you have the internet, you have access to a lot more talent all throughout the world. The world is becoming flatter and all that so the whole world could get a direction in agencies. That's old news. That's obviously happened since the advent of the internet but it's one of those things where the future is here. It is not evenly distributed and agencies are now catching up to that. So to answer your question I think that it's something that agencies are getting hip to now. They're getting hit over the head with the idea of specialize, specialize, specialize. It's something that is a process. It's not like you flip a switch and you just focus on one industry. It's gonna take focusing on maybe a few and then having this is also Andrew McGlone who I love. Let's talk a lot about this. I don't want to steal his…
Kelly: I love him too. So that's okay.
Dan: Yeah, but he talks about the idea of connective tissues. You might have a few different industries that have things in common. You might have a big industry where there's lots of, few niches within that like connect with medical technology or something to that effect and then you might have a junk drawer for a while where you keep all clients that don't fit the bill and then eventually you might start to not take that business anymore and phase out over time. So I think that's kind of the best way to approach it.
Kelly: Right. And in terms of mindset, why do you think many agencies feel like they don't have the right to actually go out and proactively develop new business and new relationships?
Dan: Yeah, it's a good question and there's not always one answer for it. But I think that it's just how they've done business in the past and that's how it's been going for thirty years. We need to have a real kind of order taking based mindset where you have an RP, you have a proposal and you have a certain set of stacks and you're kind of talking to people when they're solution-aware as opposed to when they are problem-aware. Because that's how the whole dynamic was set up. That's how the infrastructure was set up. They put out an RFP. You fill out the RFP and you do it. And even a newer agency that might not like RFPs still falling into that paradigm a lot. There's getting their business through referrals and that sort of thing. So that's changing now because of the internet and all the stuff that everyone's, all that cliché stuff. Companies, bigger brands are doing business not necessarily the people they know in their personal networks although that's still important. They're doing it through people that are knocking on the doors or through constant reading or the ads they are seeing or whatever it maybe. So that means that the agencies are getting to those clients that are problem-aware stage but not necessarily solution-aware stage are winning. But to answer your question I think it's hard just because it's new. Anything new that requires different process, that requires getting rejected frankly, knocking on doors where people might not be ready to talk to you all the time.
Kelly: Right. And rejection is scary, right?
Kelly: That comes back down to a human emotion.
Dan: Yeah, exactly and I always talk about this but I think a lot of our clients at the agency world they're monitoring their dashboards for their clients all the time so they are seeing whatever Facebook media performance went up or down and they're sober about it. They're not getting the most reflected because it's just digits on the screen but the same dynamic happens in the sales process. But the difference is there’s human involved, there’s emotions but essentially it's the same thing. It's just different sets of numbers, different context a little bit but so that's a lot of it, just having to go through the process and keep yourself stable regardless of whether they’re having good or bad days, whatnot.
Kelly: Right. So Sales Schema is basically what you call a fractional new business team, right?
Kelly: Can you talk a little bit about that and then I have another question for you.
Dan: Yeah, of course. So essentially what we're doing as a team is going out to the market for our clients to get them really good first stage. It's gonna be hard to get outsource the process of selling and maintaining the complexities of a sales process for five to eight figure, the agency engagement. But we're really good at getting our clients first stage and what we found and the main things that we're we do differently is that a lot of the stuff is not about over automation. A lot of it is actually having the team and the resources to do this on bespoke or semi bespoke basis so that's kind of what your ideal clients. And a lot of the times, and I want to talk too much about us but when an agency is thinking about building sales support for themselves in house, they're not thinking about how much time and labor and knowledge it takes to do that. And it’s essentially three different jobs, part-creatives, part RP, part-technical and that's kind of what we're giving to our clients on a more flexible basis than they were built in house basically.
Kelly: Right. But to that end, can you actually share a couple those foundational tactics that you found most effective with agencies?
Dan: Yeah, it's a good question and I wish there is like one golden tactic for everybody how but there just isn't, there's a lot of, though it’s essentially finding the right words to send to the right people.
Kelly: That’s a really, really good way to put it.
Dan: Yeah, it doesn’t have to be harder than that. That's really what it is and the whole goal is to get consistency in the pipeline. So there’s these many ideal conversations happening regardless if somebody's ready to buy right now or later but I do want to get as tactical as I possibly can and not have this, be nebulous. So the main thing they were starting with to make this work, it's the most common question I get is what do you guys do differently to get a busy CMO in mid to large companies to put up their hand. And the first thing is back to that beating a dead horse is specialization. If we come in and we’re the agnostic agency for everybody, that means it's not gonna work so well but if we can come in and we're doing it typically as our clients, there is not like a middleman company like Sales Scheme, like we’re it as them even if people don’t hire us and they want to do this in house. It's the same deal you might have somebody on your team managing your platform. So if you are running it through LinkedIn and let’s say you're going after CPG for a given month, you're not agnostic agency. You are the CPG or that person the agency is the CPG specialist gurus are, whatever title you want to give. You have case studies. It's really tangible and then a lot of it honestly is just more of that bespoke sort of thinking. So on a monthly basis we might know that our clients are going to be attending a trade show or even if they're not, there's a big trade show happening in their space, CPG or tech trade show, we're doing outreach to companies and know about that and like before during and after so it just comes in with a lot more familiarity. And then beyond that, it's that consistency a lot of this is kind of counter intuitive. Sometimes it is an exercise and restraint. Coz a lot of the times like there's all these digital marketing things saying set up this automation, set up the automation. If people with a million messages sometimes about saying okay we've got connected over here, we're gonna wait a bit, we are going to send some messages later, we’re gonna have somebody to set up the appointment so that the CEO of the agency is not the one doing that because a) it doesn't look good and then b) it's a huge time suck. So that's some examples.
Kelly: And I want to highlight two things that you talked about. When we say specialization I think we could easily replace that word with relevance. So specialization in terms of an industry category or a vertical or a small niche that could be a specialization but it's also about when you translate that specialization into the messaging, it's really the relevance factor of when you go out to the ideal prospect, how you're translating that specialization or that core expertise or deep expertise as David T. Baker might call it. How you're translating that to that prospect to make sure that you make yourself known as the go to firm or this one that is the expert in the industry or that is irreplaceable when put up against other me to agencies who are generalists so I think that's really what we're talking about here, it is relevance.
Dan: Yeah, exactly and then the thing that we see is that most of our clients and many of the agencies that we do research and talk to already have that built up. They are not just cashing in on. They have amazing case studies. Some have thirty years of experience but they just haven't either put in the time or the effort or the bandwidth to actually do it. And I think a lot of it is analysis paralysis because there's a lot of like tech software and lots of products, lots of the idea that you have to get everything perfect first, that there's a great sketch on the 70s SNL called the Anal Retentive Carpenter and he would start working on like a bird house but he would have to stop and clean up the sawdust every five seconds so nothing got done. I think there's a lot of lesson to that.
Kelly: I like that. I might actually find that on YouTube and post the link in the show notes.
Dan: It's great.
Kelly: That’s awesome. So I think basically from both of our experiences, many agencies kind of try something from a biz dev standpoint. They go through this honeymoon phase of like I got a pretty good open radar, couple people click through to my case studies or maybe I got one or two responses. They get a few clients potentially out of that initiative and then they don't see any consistent results after that probably because they haven't put in a consistent effort and then they just revert back to relying on referrals and going after RFPs and all these things so can you talk a little bit about what you've seen in that regard because that's definitely been my experience.
Dan: Yeah, we see the exact same thing and I don't sugar coat anything like it's gonna be a different sales process talking to somebody that doesn't know you at all, that's coming in cold as opposed to somebody who is being referred to you warm and has an immediate solution based need in mind and you're filling in the blanks a little bit to varying degrees. So it's going to be a different process but what's the alternative, like if you can survive and get your growth goals on just referrals in and that alone like by all means you can feel confident about that. There's no reason to do outreach but that's pretty rare these days. There's just there's not enough of that and basically your competitors are gonna ease their launch because the agencies that are getting to those people when their problem-aware are gonna take their business before they get to you. And that's a big reason we talk to people that what's working yesterday is not working anymore, sorry if I lost touch with your question but I think the reason that people are reverting back is because they need to modify their sales process for outreach for somebody that's cold. And so they're getting in people, they have a nice conversation with them but then there's just sort of this blank error after they're done, it was like where do we go from here. So there's not going to be, I'm not going to give like a specific answer for everybody but it takes being able to proactively get them involved in your process because if they're taking the call with you, there's something there. These people are too busy to have the call otherwise. Yeah they're curious they want to learn more but there's usually a problem. Otherwise they're not going to take the call. So in the past we've had clients do really well with audits. That's what we do with our company. It could be something else, it could be a test project. It just depends on your domain but it takes having a specific process that people go through to get in the door and get started with you that's not onerous and not too hard.
Kelly: Right. And for the people who let's say you do outreach with and they don't necessarily jump on the phone, certainly they're not going to do that maybe after the first interaction but let's say that they do click through something that you send them through in mail or once you've connected on LinkedIn or you send a warm email whatever the case may be, they click through and then you see that they've click through because you're tracking that. What would you suggest to do next? You maybe put them into some kind of email thread, do you send them thought leadership articles, you just stay in touch on a personal level, just to make sure that they know that you're engaged and your more on the soft sell side and not so aggressive like how would you deal with a situation like that?
Dan: Yeah, it's a good question and I wish I had more specific answers as usual. There's differences for different situations. I think the first thing is making sure that you're targeting is really good and that you have a good story to tell to that particular group that you're going after and assuming that's true, if you have a good case study and it's really specific and they are like a great fit then there's no reason to delay a conversation like this is something that you're honestly kind of doing somebody a disservice by not building that relationship sooner rather than later. So I don't consider it aggressive. If you have a great case study in CPG and you have the CMO growth stage beverage brand reading your stuff that is somebody that is going to be benefitted by talking to you now.
Kelly: So are you saying pick up the phone and just call them or?
Dan: I mean whatever like the tactic can be anything. Obviously maybe don't go dropping another office or holding a boombox and say anything, but aside from that like it's to their benefit to talk to you so I think it's the shortest path to a conversation and that can be an exploratory thing. That doesn't have to be hard selling them on anything but if it's not a good fit or if it's somebody shouldn’t be in your pipeline anyway then they shouldn't be there anyway. That's kind of the mentality I have about it.
Kelly: Okay. So as we start to wrap up, what's the best single piece of advice that you could give agency owners as they're sort of considering their next steps in terms of how to increase deal flow?
Dan: Yeah, I mean I think it's resolved. Figure out your long term not necessarily goal but figure out your why behind it and essentially, it's one of three things, it's building the agency to do compelling work and sustain yourselves and have a lifestyle. There’s nothing wrong with that. There's building to essentially sell and then there's building to take over the world and acquire. And I think it is figuring out what that is and then just kind of getting clarity and focus on things and then from there, I guess it is not one thing but shipping like just get something out the door like start getting to work on it. The biggest thing we run into is mindset problems where people start and stop. So I think getting the results first is the most important thing and then the tactics of the people, the how.
Kelly: Yeah, so ship something and iterate upon it, learn as you go, keep optimizing it and it could actually be maybe leveraging your existing content just in a better way or in a way at all.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. And honestly like, I’m sort of giving the million pieces of starting an advice, but get the relationship sooner rather than later because if you're properly specialized, there aren't that many people in your market, you can actually get to know a lot of them pretty fast. There's no reason to delay that. You have permission. No one is going to give you permission to have that relationship with your buyer basically.
Kelly: You already have that permission.
Dan: You already have it.
Kelly: Awesome. Well this is all great Dan. Thank you so much again for your time and thanks for joining me on the show today.
Dan: Thanks Kelly. I appreciate it.