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If the referral chain breaks off, helplessness spreads: Agencies in acquisition actionism. 

Acquiring new business was not always difficult. In the past, a few promises combined with a few references were enough. It was called marketing and the magic behind it seemed to work. Until the competitive pressure got higher and higher….

Rainmaking is long gone…

B2B providers had a much easier time in those whimsical days with little or no competition. Especially those who had no tangible products to offer, but provided services that were little more than loose promises of effectiveness, and reward. Of course, they still exist today – including agencies, marketing specialists, coaches, consultants, etc.. However acquiring new business has been a growing challenge for a while. Where a pitch with “unicorn magic and fairy dust”, combined with 100 pages of the dreaded ‘credentials’ used to be the clincher, today hard facts, evidence and data are demanded. From controlling and purchasing – when things are going badly or from the departmental decision-maker who wants everything but risk. This in turn puts personal networking in pole position in the race for the most lucrative service contracts in B2B, and as long as such a chain of recommendation and reference  continues, the entrepreneur’s world is in order. Marketing & sales? Oh no – that works too. “After all, we deliver demonstrable results for our customers”, is the usual self-reflection of a rightly self-confident entrepreneur. However, as orders start to decline, sales start to erode and even the first cost-cutting rounds don’t seem to be enough, a sense of helplessness sets in, which then gradually turns into panic. Mindsets shift from self-proclaimed world savior, to self-esteem-doubting early retiree with a supply gap, it happens “first gradually and then all of a sudden”, as Hemingway put it in the novel “Fiesta”.

The lifeline: The new marketing musketeers?

We are all familiar with the Linkedin emails with the request:

This is the mantra of those “flogging an dead horse”… After all, for years they have generated sales and profits with promises of effectiveness and a lot of hot air, guaranteeing a carefree life. Unfortunately, the World has been turning at an exponential rate- sometimes faster than they would have liked – this was not really factored in to such a rapid – but inappropriate equation! Fortunately out of adversity springs hope  – there is now a generation of young saviors who promise that it will rain money again – provided  of course you invest in marketing -in new, digital and, above all, viral marketing.  Hope is not a strategy as a wise man once said. The crux of their case is the all too familiar promise of effectiveness that many service companies have been selling for decades without ever having applied it themselves. “As we all know, the cobbler always wears the worst shoes”. Countless advertising agencies and marketing consultancies haven’t invested a single cent in marketing themselves, let alone developed their own marketing activities. Except, of course, for the self-massage awards that every industry likes to give itself, which have been used for years to shore up their insecurities.

That leaves the consultants who have never applied their reorganizations and restructuring concepts in their own companies and, of course, the hordes of systemic consultants who, having arrived in the middle management’s decaying gene-pool, try to pimp their self-confidence as coaches for the younger generation instead of first critically reflecting on their own inadequate “system”. It’s no surprise that switching from a grey suit to jeans and a T Shirt won’t cut it. This is reminiscent of the much-cited banker who likes to give entrepreneurial advice without ever having been an entrepreneur himself.

There is a fertile breeding ground for young digital natives who promise to have transferred the rainmaking from the economic miracle era, which is still familiar to many, into the modern age – “We need to learn from the past- REALLY”!  Book titles such as “Earn money in your sleep” are commonplace and intensely annoying. What is beyond irritating, however, is the mass of e-mails that are sent automatically and unsolicited, to anyone who appears to be a company decision-maker or, even better, an agency decision-maker. What is also revealing are the texts that are sent using templates, many of which do not even bother to change the suggested “default” at least a little. In addition, there is a complete lack of classic brochure design. Mass beats class is the motto and the sentence “I’ve looked at your website…” seems to be familiar to Generation Y – but the intellectual benefit from it remains a mystery. Finally, of course, as we move from scarcity to abundance – from those rare and special face to face calls to mass-mailing evidence shoes that de-monetization potentially occurs as well!

All nonsense or what?

However, the paradox of existential sales pressure with the strategic and tactical recommendations of the self-proclaimed agency Rainmaker, are not a complete oxymoron. On the contrary. It’s just that some basic marketing mechanisms from primary school are being cleverly monetized here. Nonetheless a marketing service provider should indeed have its own marketing. Whether with paid advertising, as most agencies have recommended and still recommend to their clients – or through PR and thought leadership activities, as most digital agencies recommend to their clients. Wanting, saying and doing somehow seem to be disconnected, because on the treadmill of the ‘day job’ there never seems to be time for preparing a customer success case and certainly not for actually writing a differentiating blog post. “Nobody reads it anyway – and as a good agency boss you have more important things to do”, right? NO! It’s vital to set up robust commercial processes and a lead generation pipeline yourself, which will eventually start to bear fruit if nurtured and cared for. Low hanging fruit used to be the leads from the referral chain – but as soon as they were harvested, where do you go next. It’s exhausting, but you can only get the best fruit with hard work, despite the wild promises of lead-gen digital gurus. The days of agencies and service providers supporting their clients with value capture activities are dying, growth in business will come from innovation not volume. It is essential that they drive ‘value creation’ activities and share their strategies and insights for the future not just lubricating existing go to market mechanisms.

Together it will be easier!

This is just common sense if we want to re-educate clients – and yet there is a deeply rooted DNA of competition, especially among consultancies and agencies. We are comfortable with blaming others for their self-induced failures. Yet the key to efficiently increasing appreciation actually lies in the power of collaboration.

Independent agencies, for example, would do well to expand their network geographically, in terms of personnel and also in terms of discipline by collaborating with other agencies. Size matters for clients, because clients want to manage risk. And size signals security. So why not become part of a cross-border network and communicate the associated increase in credibility?

There are also network platforms such as THE AGENCY TRYBE, which automate content marketing in a smart and consolidated way so that countable new leads are generated for each member agency without the need to deliver content on a weekly basis. This does not have to be expensive A contribution per quarter and an annual membership fee of less than EUR 1,000 is sufficient to gain traction, of which EUR 400 is used as marketing spend on your own content. This simple engagement through content dramatically increases you footprint and visibility, beyond your normal boundaries

This is because it is about providing member agencies with a highly visible platform for excellence as an easily accessible point of contact for discerning clients looking for a precise procurement approach. THE AGENCY TRYBE is not an international agency network – such constellations compound the problem and rarely remove underlying competition. THE AGENCY TRYBE is a marketing engine for creative agencies looking to grow their business through a combination of visibility, reach and collaboration – combined with on-demand growth, innovation and state’-of-the-art marketing technology in a highly cost-effective package.

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Tobias Voigt