Proactive Ad Agency Business Development is Relationship-Building in Action

I had lunch the other day with a friend who’s in charge of business development for an agency with a half-dozen locations across the country. She’s a true expert in proactive business development, someone who can successfully bring a targeted prospect from no knowledge of her agency to new client, without a review.

She relayed the story of her new CEO’s propensity to fly out to meet with any client who expresses any interest, however remote, in their agency. The expression she used to describe his behavior was off-color, to say the least (and very funny), but it drove home her point:

Successful proactive new business development is about developing relationships over time.

There are 4 easy to identify phases of the relationship-building process:

  1. Awareness
  2. Trust
  3. Value
  4. Decision

Many of the clients on your prospect list may not even know that your agency exists. In this phase it is up to you to let them know who you are, what you do, and why they should care. This phase takes time and can’t be rushed (hence flying out to meet them now is pointless).


In this phase your prospective client is starting to believe what you say and what you can do. This might be demonstrated by simply calling them when you said you would, or providing testimonials on case studies.


Here you are showing that what you do generates ROI for your clients. This might be through relevant case studies or thought-pieces. You may also be successful by demonstrating that you are thinking about their business, asking them questions and bringing ideas to the table.


Naturally, agencies want to jump right to the decision phase. Sometimes it happens – you might call and be lucky enough to get into an RFP process. Even better, though, is when they have gotten to know you and have written the RFP with you in mind, or award you the work without a competitive review.

Think about these phases as you speak with your prospects. Recognize where you are in the process, where it makes sense to nurture the relationship by telephone, and when a face-to-face may move it forward. However, resist jumping on a plane too early – it will more than likely be a waste of time and money.

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