OPINION6 November 2023

How do you motivate client teams to find growth?

Opinion Trends UK

The market is slowing, traditional consultative selling is less effective, yet targets continue to rise. David Das looks at how to help client and expert teams consistently find growth.

Person climbing a ladder into the sky

Ten months ago, an insight and communications agency came to us with a problem. They had to rationalise their workforce, meaning they no longer had a business development team but still had a sizeable target. The onus of selling fell onto client service and subject matter specialists.

The reaction to this in these teams was mixed. Some were eager to be more commercial. Others were worried. A couple were starting to pursue other opportunities.

In talking to the senior team about the challenge they faced, it became clear it was a common one we see being faced by agencies around the world.

We need our client and expert teams to find growth consistently, but how?
It’s an increasing need. Clients don’t want to spend as much time with you in the sales process and the market is slowing. Yet targets continue to rise.

If you’re not on a client’s list of potential suppliers from the outset, you’ve got little chance of winning the work. Yet targets continue to rise. 

Incumbent agencies have an average retention rate of only 66%. Yet… you guessed it. These, and other trends, are conspiring to create market conditions that demand proactivity from agencies to survive and prosper. From order taking to order seeking, there is a consistent search for growth. Which is easier said than done.

The biggest untapped potential is through motivating these teams to find more opportunities. It’s the motivating bit that’s the issue. This is not new news. However, after all this time, very few agencies have succeeded in driving growth in this way consistently because the path is fraught with pitfalls.

Typically, agencies use a combination of the following levers: 

  • Focusing on revenue in communications
  • Introducing initiatives to stoke enthusiasm
  • Traditional sales training
  • Performance key performance indicators (KPIs).

These are the hidden pitfalls, because they’re not sales teams and are motivated differently. Incentives, initiatives, the dirty sales word – none of these drive full engagement because these teams aren’t motivated this way.

The focus on the target makes it seem out of people’s control/comfort zone, so the status quo ensues, and being held accountable through financial sales KPIs often leads to role conflict, ironically lowering performance.

In other words, the focus is on doing more things, faster, with people who aren’t engaged to come on the journey, not on the mechanisms that help them unlock growth naturally and consistently.

This means agencies end up back where they were, experiencing the same patterns of boom and bust.

There are others, however, who are taking a different route, and getting consistent results. 

“Our clients are changing and we are constantly adapting to meet their needs,” Jonathan Firth, director at Kantar Worldpanel, says. “Where we both win is by us striving to understand our clients deeply, consistently. In other words, being researchers of our clients as well as their markets. This means we can proactively suggest the most effective path for them to take, meaning they achieve their objectives earlier.”

Speaking to Robin Horsfield, co-founder of Trinity McQueen, he also believes a different approach is needed: “We’ve long been aware that our client and expert teams are not sales teams, and therefore the training and support we provide them needs to reflect this. We’ve taken a different route, and as a result we’ve seen big-time growth. There’s a buzz around the business about it too.”

Therefore, thinking differently and only then doing differently can lead to everyone in your organisation contributing to growth and enjoying it.

The key? Starting from your teams’ strengths, and pointing those strengths at growth, with support. 

There are two ways to get started that we recommend. Firstly, aspire to ruthless relevance with your clients and the revenue will come. Aligning your services to your client’s plans automatically makes you incredibly relevant, meaning what you deliver has more impact. You will also spot areas where you don’t currently help but can.

To take action n this point, agree when teams will speak to their client about where they currently have impact, and where else they could help.

Secondly, be knowledgeable. Building knowledge is the number one driver of sales effectiveness, so help teams bring their natural curiosity to the party. Give them opportunity to build knowledge of their client, the market and your solutions. A little-and-often approach mitigates time suck, as does treating every communication with clients as an opportunity to learn.

The agency we mentioned at the start employs these approaches and other frameworks, and growth now comes naturally. From a ‘non-sales’ team now enjoying developing new work as well as delivering it, constantly.

David Das is client services director at 4twenty2