Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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In Jim Collins's 2002 book Good to Great he explained that one of the common denominators of success that turned ordinary companies into consistently extraordinary performers was the ability to get the proper people on the team, or the bus, as he put it. But in agency business development, who are the right people? In this issue we explore an important part of the motivational makeup of better business development people.

Of the Four Ps of agency business development (Positioning, Product, Process and Personnel) it is Personnel – the last in order and priority – that is usually the first to be corrected when business development results do not materialize. Typically, the firm lets go of the business development person and goes in search of that mythical creature known as the rainmaker – a person whose talents are so immense that they are expected to compensate for the agency's poor positioning, dearth of product (which I define as the skills, capabilities and processes that support positioning) and lack of defined business development process.

Hardwired for Success

I have long believed that almost anyone can succeed in agency business development provided they have the right support in the form of the other three Ps, and proper training or guidance. The training and guidance required however differs from individual to individual, and there is a point at which further training is no longer a wise investment. While most agency business development people can succeed with the right support, some are hardwired for success in the field while the wiring of others biases them towards success in other fields. In other words, you can fight your personality but not in the long run. So who are those who are hardwired for agency business development success?

While there are a lot of variables to be considered in evaluating the makeup of an agency business development candidate, the two most important ones I look at are two subsets of competitive drive. One is sales drive and the other is power.

Sales Drive

Someone with high sales drive is driven to convert others to their point of view. They have a need to hear the word “yes” and to hear it often. They keep score by the money they make and therefore their compensation preferences tend toward commissions and other incentives and away from stable salaries. They do not want to know how much money they'll make next year, and they want the opportunity to make lots. They tend to have good internal motivation and usually push themselves harder than others would push them. When things get tough, they work harder.


Power is a measure of an individual's need to command respect and direct the efforts of others. People with high power scores invest a lot of time and energy into building their career paths, which are firmly aimed at management positions. They are keenly aware of their place in any relationship and they are always seeking opportunities to elevate their stature within them.

Balancing Sales Drive and Power

Power and sales drive are not mutually exclusive, nor are they at the opposite ends of the same spectrum, but they do work together to create a motivational mix that helps to predict who might succeed in selling the services of a firm.

The Win Without Pitching approach to business development is rooted in power – getting it, keeping it and believing that if you pursue power over money you will get both, and if you sacrifice your power (your position as the expert in the relationship) for money, you may end up with neither. It is no surprise then that those with a high power score tend to embrace the approach to business development that I advocate. They are not readily inclined to sacrifice their expert positioning by willingly giving their services away for free. They naturally seek the high ground in the relationship, even if this approach might appear to describe a longer path to success. But too high a power score creates a problem. Employees with high power scores don't actually want to do the role; they want to manage it. They see themselves more as orchestrators than doers. They may do the job in the short term, but they will be fighting themselves the whole way and will not last in the position.

Hiring Based on the Ladder of Lead Generation

I've written before about the ladder of lead generation – the hierarchy of activities that firms undertake to uncover new engagement opportunities. All agencies should strive to climb the ladder of lead generation over time, moving up from the bottom rung activities of selling, through the middle rung of marketing and up to the top rung of public relations-type activities. But a firm's ability to climb this ladder is rooted in its positioning – the degree to which it is seen as an expert or leader in their space. It is where the firm is on the ladder, combined with a realistic assessment of where it intends to climb and how long it will take, that determines the type of business development person who is more inclined to succeed.

Agencies that are positioned as the experts or leaders in a narrow space will climb higher on this lead generation ladder and use speaking, writing and other tools of PR and publicity to cause prospects to seek them out. The business development role in this type of firm is more suited to an individual with a higher power score and lower sales drive. The lead generation activities that these firms employ are long term activities that can take over a year to bear results, and require a little bit more of a marketer's sensibility, and a little more patience. These people are in charge of doing those things today that cause the phone to ring someday in the future. The obvious cost of this approach is immediacy. If you need results now, and most well-positioned firms will go through the occasional slow period, then this high power, low sales drive person is not hard wired for such urgency.

A more broadly positioned firm, one that might be seen as a generalist or full service firm within their well-defined geographical market, finds it far more difficult to climb the ladder above the rungs of sales or marketing. Their business development approach is one of outreach – identifying those that they can best help and then reaching out to them individually, one at a time. The chief benefit of using sales-based lead generation activities is their immediacy. With enough hard work and urgency, results can come fairly quickly. These firms want people who are not afraid of the phone and who are driven to succeed now. The costs of this approach include sometimes pushing too hard (and scaring or alienating the prospect), and a hunting-based perspective over one rooted in farming, which makes it difficult to remove the constant urgency or immediacy from the firm's business development needs.

The Catch 22 here is that while a high sales drive individual is more likely to answer the call of “results now!” such an individual is not well suited to helping the firm climb the ladder of lead generation and transition to higher rung, longer-term activities of speaking and writing. This function would need to be assigned to a principal or other employee.

The Changing Business Development Role

As a creative services firm climbs the ladder of lead generation, from selling, to marketing, to public relations, the role of business development skews from sales, to marketing, to PR. While skills in all three areas are helpful, clearly the role of business development in the most successful firms is more of a PR role and less of a sales role. This implies quite correctly that someone who has had success at one firm, will not necessarily enjoy that same success at another.

The most versatile of business development people possess a rare balance of sales drive and power; a balance that drives them to sell from an expert positioning and the high ground it offers, yet still pick up the phone when immediacy is required. The bad news is that this delicate balance is relatively rare. The good news is that you may not need this versatility; you might just have to know where you are on the ladder of lead generation, and staff accordingly.

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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