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3 Prospecting Strategies for PR and Marketing Agencies

Announcing the Next BAM Book Jam with Arianna Davis

At BAM, we talk to a lot of companies.

Startups, VCs, growth-stage, publicly-traded — you name it, they’re in our sales pipeline. A full sales pipeline is just good business. Oftentimes, qualifying a prospective client is a one-way street — the goal is to close every opportunity. As a young salesperson slinging phones in the early aughts, the only way I was passing on a prospect was if they literally could not get coverage in their home based on our map. I see so many similarities in B2B and SaaS pitches we hear now — you want to close them all.

One of BAM’s core values is we are partnership-oriented. Even after a year at BAM I’m still learning to pass on potential clients who may not be the right fit. It’s hard! In agency life, you can’t afford many (if any) bad reviews. But we know our agency’s values and strengths, and can be honest with ourselves about how adaptable we can be to fit certain needs.

Qualifying prospects effectively is a crucial point in the sales process. Not only does it ensure that your business is a good fit for them, but that they’re a good fit for you. Before you spend time creating a customized proposal, you better be sure that you want this prospect as a partner. At BAM, we have a rubric that we use to get answers about their business, goals, and expectations so that we can build a winning proposal. Here’s an overview of how to qualify a prospective client.

Sniff out the truth

Founders and CEOs have a special fondness for their business, and rightfully so. They’ve built the company, made the sacrifices, and believe in what they’re doing more than anyone. But their belief in that product or their story doesn’t always translate to media wins. And just because you’re in the business development process and you know the sales game, doesn’t make you any less susceptible to their charm. They have a polish and certainty in whatever it is that they’re doing, and they’ve been on the road selling it for years. 

You need to be specific with your questions in order to get the information you need. A few key points to remember:

  • Ask open ended questions. This is the most common qualifying tip ever, but it will always hold true. Who, what, where, when, why, and how are your best friends. Since you want to gather as much information as possible, try to stay away from asking too many yes/no questions.
  • Ask for proof. What kind of data will they be willing to share? When can we schedule a demo? The media will want it, so we want to be sure it’s real before signing on.
  • Set realistic expectations. PR can take some time to build momentum. We know the prospect wants to get in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal by the end of the first month. Without concrete news to share, it can take time to build that steady drumbeat of interest. Media coverage will come, if you stick it out.  

Know your lane

What is your agency good at? What relationships do you have? If you’re bringing on a new partner that’s outside of your traditional wheelhouse, how much longer will it take to ramp up? We hear stories all the time of agencies that have bitten off more than they can chew. Whether it’s over-promising some capability or not being strategic enough, these misses are learning opportunities. Your business development team should be learning from your account servicing team. 

At BAM, we openly talk about why we lost a client as a team so that we can apply those learnings into both our servicing and sales strategy. Whenever a client relationship ends, we send a detailed note to the team summarizing what went wrong, what we could have done differently, and what questions we could have asked ahead of time to change the outcome. 

We also present every lead to our strategy team. This team, composed of leaders from across BAM, ensures that we are staying accountable to the types of clients that we feel will be successful. Do we stretch outside of that? Of course, and with great success, because we’ve learned from our successes and mistakes, ask the right questions of prospects, and know when and how to say no. Which brings me to my last point...

The "Yes, and..." OR "No, but…" principle

Maybe you’ve sniffed out something questionable, or maybe you’re having trouble getting buy-in on those realistic expectations you’ve set. Maybe the prospect is just not a good fit for your business. This is where the “yes, and” or the “no, but” comes into play. 

At BAM, we believe in the “Yes, and" principle. Used in improv, this principle is where you accept what you’ve heard, and you build on the concept. This practice has paid major dividends for our brainstorms and for taking many of the ideas that we have and making sure they can be executed successfully.

But the reality in sales is that you can’t always say “yes, and.”  You don’t want to promise something that you can’t deliver. So saying “no, but” means you’re being authentic and honest with your prospect/client/partner. Being partnership-oriented means saying “no” sometimes, but then following it up with an action sets clearer expectations. That can look like: 

  • “No, but once you get ahold of XYZ data that’s something the press will eat up.”
  • “Yes, and to be clear, it will take some time to get to that point because of ABC reasons.”
  • “No, but I’d love to connect you with our [PARTNER] because that’s right in their wheelhouse.”

This is where a strong partnership program fits in. At BAM, we are always on the lookout for agencies and B2B partners that can help us fill in some gaps to offer more services to our clients. We know our limits, but we also know how to qualify, which can be the difference between success and failure.

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