As we all know, not every prospect is the right one for your agency. Unfortunately, too many business developers and marketers focus on revenue goals instead of paying attention to the quality of the leads they’re generating and prospects they’re courting. Quality prospects translate into better relationships between your clients and your employees, and a higher profit margin for your agency.
The right pipeline mix can bring in solid prospects, but you still need to filter these leads to ensure you’re spending your time and energy in the places that will bring you the best results.
Creating an Internal Filtering Process
I suggest creating an internal process for filtering prospects. Taking the time to filter first will ensure that our client engagements are headed in the right direction from the very start.
To create your own internal filtering process, I recommend listing the ideal characteristics that your agency looks for in ideal client relationships. This should be based on a mix of core values held by your team, as well as a look back at your most successful and most unsuccessful client engagements.
When looking at previous projects or clients you deem ideal, look for the characteristics that created that result—not just from the view of results achieved for the client, but within your agency. How did those two factors interact? For example, you could jot down characteristics such as:
• collaborated well
• respected one another’s time
• debated well / saw the value in one another’s input
• adhered to the outlined process and timeline
• understood expectations
• were flexible as partners
• remitted payments on-time
• communicated clearly
What you note depends on what’s most useful for your particular agency and the type of clients you desire.
Some agencies create a Prospect Must-Have List as an easy way to cross-reference prospects with the ideal client. A very basic version could look something like this:
Prospect Must-Have List
• A marketing department
• A single point of contact who is an influencer or decision-maker
• An organization-controlled budget (not an individual-controlled budget)
• Some sense of success measurement (goals, KPIs, objectives, etc.)
Screening for Poor Prospects
As much as agencies want to bring in premium clients, they also have to work to screen out non-ideal prospects. The inverse of the Must-Have List is the Red Flag Checklist. This is equally important. Agencies can reference this to see if a prospect has any of these tell-tale signs early on, and they can then decide if they want to continue pursuing the prospect as a client or let them go before a toxic relationship begins. An example of this could be:
Red Flag Checklist
• Start-up companies, unless driven by a larger/existing client
• Little or no knowledge or experience with digital marketing
• One-off projects
• Refusal to indicate the budget during qualification discussions
• Excessive requests for pro-bono work
Some agencies may take a chance on a prospect, whether they are checking off items on the Red Flag List or are otherwise risky. If your agency decides to take on a risky client, it’s a good idea to adhere to certain parameters to protect your resources.
Charge a premium based on value and risk. If a client is risky, it makes sense to charge them more to recoup the potential damages up front. This alone can filter out people who are truly too risky as prospects, as they will not be willing to pay a premium.
Similarly, ensure that full payment is due upfront, with no exceptions. If a prospective client who carries some risk will not pay your agency up front, you may never actually see that money.
Use the Minimum Viable Staffing (MVS) model in these scenarios as well. With this method, your agency starts out small, using only the staff and resources required to deliver the client’s request. You aren’t going above and beyond, but you are not providing something that is less than what you have set out to create and promised your prospect you could handle.
A small in-house or outsourced team works quickly within a small budget or on a tight deadline (but not both!) to optimize the work without tying up resources in a client that may not turn out to be ideally aligned with your business. That way, you can deliver without hindering more valuable projects.
Creating a pipeline with a balanced mix of inbound, outbound, land and expand tactics, strategic partnerships and more is where you want to be. But first, develop an internal filtering process that’s sharply focused on the type of client that will bring your agency to the next level of success. With a Prospect Filtering Protocol in place, you’ll be partnering with perfect clients in no time—and pricing and contract negotiation will be less of a conversation than ever before.