Ad Agency New Business Strategy: Employee Referrals

I’m talking to more agencies and marketing services companies that are trying to enlist everyone in their companies to drive new business. Miriam Marcus wrote an article in Forbes magazine the other day (click here for the story) featuring Roundarch, a 175-person Chicago-based Web site and mobile application designer/developer.

Until 5 years ago Roundarch had a dedicated sales team. But then they decided to push responsibility for driving new business throughout the company. Here’s what they did to kick off and maintain the program:

  • Offered a $5,000 bonus for any referral that leads to a project.
  • Agreed upon a 2 minute elevator pitch.
  • Encouraged employees to network with and through friends and family.
  • Initiated a weekly company-wide email that lists all leads and projects in the pipeline to solicit “who do you know” feedback from employees.
  • Held a company-wide sales meeting every month to share what’s working and what’s not.

New business from employee referrals is now a critical part of Roundarch’s success, and some of the biggest projects in the last five years have come from junior staffers. And a peripheral benefit emerged: enhanced employee morale, as employees at all levels feel directly responsible for the success of the company.

Here are 4 recommendations that Roundarch recommends you keep in mind if you’d like to kick off a program like this:

  1. Hone your value statement. Make sure your employees know what the company can do, and can not do, and which clients are most worth targeting. Everyone should have a quick two-minute elevator-pitch on hand, should the right occasion arise.
  2. Be reasonable. Some employees are capable of setting up a meeting, while others can deliver a full-on pitch. Define upfront what is expected of people, and how they should follow through on potentially promising situations.
  3. Harness the Web. Any connection can lead to a sale–be it through alumni associations, community groups and now, especially, online via Facebook or LinkedIn. When Roundarch launched an iPhone application for Avis Rent A Car, nearly 30 employees posted links about it on their blogs and on their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
  4. Reward them. Salespeople crave commissions. At Roundarch, employees receive a $5,000 bonus for a referral that leads to a project. Positive reinforcement and peer recognition are great motivators, too. Even if a lead doesn’t turn into a project, Roundarch highlights efforts at the company’s monthly meetings, and asks the person to tell the group how they did it. “We gave the first junior employee to score us a lead a huge over-sized check,” says Roundarch President, Jeff Maling.

If you set the right expectations, provide the necessary training, and establish and maintain the required communication and incentives, this can be an effective way to grow your new business pipeline.

Have you done something similar at your agency? I’m interested in hearing what’s worked and what hasn’t.


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