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Business Development Agencies Agency Leadership

How can you drive growth in 2024? I asked business development leaders

By Jody Osman, Group Director of Growth

Propeller Group

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January 10, 2024 | 8 min read

As Propeller launches the BD100 for 2024 – a showcase for talent driving client-agency relationships – Jody Osman asked some of the leading lights named in it for their business development tips for the year ahead.

Three potted plants, at increasing stages of growth

Business development pros share their top tips for 2024 / Christine via Unsplash

As the curtain rises on 2024, new business teams will be stepping into the spotlight to deliver yet again for their agencies.

The year ahead will have its unique challenges but the job of attracting new clients, expanding existing briefs, and identifying tools and strategies to drive business growth remains.

But there are always new insights to add to proven business development (BD) practices. I asked leading lights from the BD community for their best tips for preparing, prospecting, targeting, and pitching.

1. Prioritize organizational hygiene

Organizational discipline means less stress for all involved and a greater likelihood of impressing and converting prospects – from filling an RFI in good time to logging the touchpoints that led to a conversation.

Gabrielle Parker, growth manager at Omnicom Group, says: “New business inherently involves short sprints, unpredictable timelines, senior stakeholders, and many moving parts. In a BD role, you oversee every aspect of the pitching process and it’s your job to keep tabs on key deliverables, submissions, and any ad hoc requests. Having a hyper-organized approach from start to finish ensures clarity among all involved in the pitch, including understanding their role, submission timelines and deadlines, and crucial collaboration moments are vital for a seamless pitch coordination.”

2. Get everyone involved

‘New business is everyone’s business’ is something of a mantra in the BD community but when applied on a granular level it means BD executives need strong relationships across the agency. That’s not just because a lead can come from anyone, but because those working on a pitch need practical support.

Sarah Davies, associate director, new business & marketing at OMG UK, explains: “From the IT team, the catering team, building services and reception – everyone plays a significant part in making sure that the entire process runs as smoothly as possible. You always need to be prepared for all eventualities and expect the unexpected, anything from wi-fi going down, to last-minute dietary requirements and client attendees, it’s key to know who to speak to in these situations!”

3. Keeping it simple shouldn’t be complex

Marketers have to cover a wide waterfront. They’re under huge pressure to deliver swift returns on investment – be it ad spend or adtech. Their time and attention are precious. Bear this in mind in your communications and keep the explanation of your proposition as simple as possible.

Chloe Martin, senior new business manager at Havas London, stresses: “Keeping it simple is imperative, within your communications and most importantly through the pitch process. No agency was ever awarded a piece of business because they had the most complicated response.”

4. Be inquisitive

Curiosity is an essential attribute of a BD specialist. This should stretch to asking questions that help to truly understand what motivates a client, including personal goals like career progression and learning opportunities.

Dom Mernock, commercial director at Engage Interactive, says: “In the rush to present solutions, true needs can be overlooked. Metrics and KPIs, while essential, can be red herrings if not aligned with the deeper, often unspoken needs of the client. Everyone wants to succeed and contribute to their organization’s growth, but these aren’t always the primary drivers in decisions.”

5. Differentiate your agency via marketing

Every business likes to think it is unique and that clients are totally clued-up on agencyland. Neither is true.

Your agency needs to work hard at getting attention and cutting through generic noise to generate client interest. This means promoting yourself using a variety of channels and tactics, from PR and thought leadership on owned channels to account-based marketing to target key decision-makers.

Dan Archer, managing partner (marketing & partnerships) at Cactus Consultants stresses: “Create interest, don’t sell. Very few people will flag a sales need to you, but quite a few will signal interest. Instead, focus on creating interest through your marketing and demand generation efforts and have a process to measure that interest and who it was from.”

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6. Make learning a team priority

Every pitch, win or lose, provides BD practitioners with insights on how to improve. Feedback is your friend. Gaining expertise and confidence in selling services within specific verticals is invaluable.

Continuous learning needs to be embedded in the team. Steve Garside, divisional head of new business & marketing at TMW Unlimited, says: “Establish a learning loop within your agency. What worked last time, what didn’t, why did you get through, why didn’t you? You will quickly become the most invaluable member of staff.”

7. ‘Give back’ to nurture new talent

Where will the BD practitioners of tomorrow come from if the role and the career opportunities it can offer are not explained to young people?

Daniel Marriott, senior growth & development manager at Wasserman, decided to make sure BD had a seat at the table for the agency’s EMEA team internship program. “The catalyst for this was noticing that all of our interns were being filtered off to account teams and being shared across different capabilities from strategy to experience, creative and even consulting – brilliant – but where was the exposure to BD & marketing?”

Marriott, with department lead Simon Couch, now collaborate with interns on tasks supporting the BD vertical, encouraging team members of all levels to create new business goals such as pitch leading and management.

The BD100 Business Developer of The Year and Rising Star will be announced at the ALF Awards taking place at The Brewery, London on 1 May 2024.

Business Development Agencies Agency Leadership

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Propeller Group

Propeller delivers a joined-up approach to PR, Content and Business Development.

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