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How agencies should support their business developers as pitch pressure ramps up

As the new business landscape shapes up to be more competitive than ever, BD100 co-founder Jody Osman looks at what agencies need to do to support and nurture their under-pressure business developers.

The agency landscape has well and truly bounced back.

New business opportunities are booming, with the AAR reporting that agency appointments are up 12% on last year as society recovers from the pandemic.

There is still a great deal of pent up pandemic spend. This week, after nearly a year-long pitch process, Coca-Cola finally chose WPP to lead on its marketing. The agency network won the majority of Coke’s $4bn marketing business in a deal described as one of the biggest in history.

You can imagine the celebrations for the team that won this pitch. Countless hours of research, craft and graft - all culminating in a moment of euphoria upon hearing the news. And perhaps a drink or two.

But what about the teams who lost? The unsuccessful agencies will have devoted just as much time and exertion, emotionally and physically focusing their efforts for almost an entire year. Only to find out they came out second best.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This is the nature of business. But it is the daily life of a business developer. And with the current new business landscape looking more competitive than ever before, there is a huge amount of pressure on Business Development (BD) professionals.

Pitching in

Business development is everyone's business.

Agencies will draw from the best and brightest from across the business for an important pitch. Everyone needs to chip in. The leadership team, creatives, strategists, planners, account managers. All will play a crucial role - but it will be the business developers who drive the pitch and pull the qualities of these teams together.

A modern new business executive is far more than just a salesman. They need to be organised. They need to be able to understand, interpret and leverage data. They need to be creative. They need to be connected. They need to be resilient. They need their fingers on the pulse of a variety of sectors. And in addition to all this - they need to be personable and able to build genuine relationships through an increasingly diverse array of channels.

Naturally, people who can do all these things well are hard to find. Especially now in the midst of the talent crisis.

Agencies need to understand what motivates and inspires BD teams. Equally agencies need to understand what attracts top talent, and crucially where you can actively engage with them. Having strong values is increasingly important. Sera Holland recently became deputy CEO at Ketchum - and she chose this role over others due to the agency’s award-winning commitment to D&I initiatives.

Culture is a major differentiator for agencies. Experience tells us that top talent is keen to work as part of a varied team that can bring different perspectives and insights to the equally varied briefs BDs face.

Keeping business (and people) developing

When agencies do find the right people, they need to do everything in their power to keep them. So how can agencies retain staff, capitalise on new biz opportunities and make BD a sustainable career choice?

Training

The role of a BD professional is in constant flux. The channels and tactics used to build relationships and load pipelines are always developing. What worked five - or even two - years ago is not guaranteed to work today.

To get the most out of your BD team, they need to be properly trained. The role is too complex and spans too many channels for people to be left to their own devices.

Services like Tanba are designed to help educate BD practitioners and sharpen their approaches. Equally, agencies should look to run interactive workshops with teams internally, focusing on new business best practice in a changing landscape, as well as helping them maximise their use of tools, data and insights.

Support

Business development is a tough gig. Practitioners have to balance the short term goals of their clients with the long term relationships they aim to build with influential prospects.

As part of this, BD professionals have to deal with rejection every day. Resilience is a quality that is necessary - and expected. But is that fair?

It takes courage to constantly be in conversation. BD professionals can do everything right, under huge amounts of pressure - and still not have any guarantees of a win.

This type of resilience and resistance to stress is often painted as an innate quality. But it is not. Resilience comes from experience, but it also comes from your environment. BDs need to feel like the team has their back. There needs to be open communication when things get stressful - as the mental burden can quickly become overbearing when pressure is applied internally as much as it is externally.

Agencies need to invest in building resilience and taking care of their new business teams so that they stay pitch fit and avoid burnout.

Recognition

The final thing BDs need, as much as any other profession, is recognition.

People deserve to be recognised when they go above and beyond. The world of BD is open and entrepreneurial, with a vast range of tactics and techniques available. To successfully leverage these skills against the backdrop of an uncertain and fragmented landscape is a triumph that deserves acclaim.

And that is what the BD100 Awards celebrates. Ahead of the Winning Together - Navigating the New Business Landscape event, we are delighted to announce our annual BD100 - a compendium of the top one hundred BD professionals operating in our industry today. See who made this year’s list here.

At Winning Together, we will combine insights from high-profile keynote speakers with those from this year's BD100, and deliver these through a series of interactive workshops and coaching sessions.

The agency landscape is awash with competition and opportunity. But to make the most of it, we need our new business talent more than ever before. Agencies must provide the right training, support and recognition to keep the best talent onside and ensure that Business Development is viewed as a long-term, sustainable career choice.

Jody Osman is group director of growth at Propeller Group, co-founder of The BD100 and co-founder of Tanba.

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