By Tim Williams

By Tim Williams

What are the key criteria you use when looking for prospective clients? More importantly, what criteria are your key prospects using when they’re looking for you?

All too often, agencies default to the same criteria almost all other (unfocused) agencies use, which is usually some combination of “Do they have money?,” “Do we like these guys?,” and “Will they let us do good work?” All fine, but this is a woefully unfocused definition of a target client. And good luck trying to identify these companies in a published database, which will give you names and addresses but won’t answer any of these subjective prospecting questions.

So, with no other criteria to help in their prospecting efforts, many agencies are mostly dependent on geography. Because they don’t offer any compelling expertise (specialized services or specialized category knowledge), there’s no reason why prospective clients outside of their area would try to find them. The agency’s prospecting territory is therefore their immediate geographical market, often the city or state in which the agency is located. That can obviously be a real problem for agencies located in smaller markets. But it’s actually a problem for unfocused agencies in cities of all cities.

Do you want to work for sophisticated clients?

Let’s consider why proximity is not an effective prospecting strategy. First of all, the nationalization and globalization of business that has transpired over the past 20 years has resulted in fewer and fewer “local” clients of any size. For example, where many mid-size American cities used to have several good size independent banks that had big enough budgets to hire agencies, most of these financial institutions have now been rolled up into the national or global bank brands. Same with the other dependable local marketers like hospitals. The result is a lot fewer local marketers than there used to be.

Plus, let’s face it; most “regional” clients lack the sophistication (or the budget) most agencies are looking for. And attracting miscellaneous local clients like this usually requires the new business activities agency executives hate most: rubbing elbows at the country club, serving on local community boards, and lots of wining and dining.

If you want your firm to be hired based on its own merits – not your ability to schmooze – you’ve got to be more than just a good regional agency. You’ve got to base your prospecting program on a clear positioning strategy, not proximity.

In other words, if you and your team have set your sights on working with bigger and better brands, none of these major players are looking for a talented “regional” agency. Large marketers don’t hire “full service” agencies, and they certainly aren’t looking for an “AOR,” because they don’t really have one. Instead, these more sophisticated marketers employ the services of a federation of agencies; usually 15 or more. They scour the country for what they consider “best-in-class specialists” to provide marketing solutions in very specific areas of paid, earned, and owned media.

What’s scarce is valuable

By definition, if you’re just one of a few agencies in America that provides a valuable, in-demand service or deep, specialized category knowledge, you’ll get your clients from all over the country, not just your own zip code. But if you’re just another “full service agency providing a wide range of marketing services,” you’ll usually be lucky to get beyond the borders of your state or region.

So get together with your colleagues and decide what your new business strategy is going to be: positioning or proximity? If you truly want to make your mark on the world – not just your own back yard – you know the answer.