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Hi, you’re through to the Sales Prevention Department – how can I NOT help? How agencies lose clients even before they win them

New business has become all the more crucial to marketing and communications agencies in recent times, as prices are driven down and competition becomes increasingly cut throat. So why then, asks Recommended Agency Register director Diane Young, are agencies making the experience of contacting them such an unpleasant and difficult one when surely the opposite should be the case?

Fed up with my gas-guzzling 4x4, a couple of weeks ago I spent an evening researching new cars. I picked a make and model, found a nearby dealer and headed at the weekend. I got a full sales spiel, did a test drive, liked the car well enough and asked for a quote for contract hire.

Three weeks later and I’ve still not heard a thing.

Who would guess from that behaviour that there is a recession on and things are tight? This particular dealership spends money advertising in our local newspaper every week to try to get people in the door and then, when they have a motivated buyer, they cannot follow up properly.

That’s the motor industry though. Thank goodness that in the marketing sector, where we are all totally tuned in to sales, customer experience, response and conversion rates, this kind of sales disaster would never happen.

Or would it?

Recently at RAR we’ve had some quite unusual briefs in from clients, which has meant we’ve been contacting not only our existing recommended agencies but also been approaching other potential suppliers to ask them whether they are interested in becoming part of RAR to be put forward to our client.

Generally speaking, recommended agencies are quick to respond. After all, most of the information that the client needs is already collated on our system, so they might just need to add a more relevant case study.

However Steve and I have been astonished by some of the sales prevention measures in place in agencies that we’ve contacted.

Here is a selection of what we have encountered:

• Websites that don’t put any contact information, except for a cryptic enquiry form
• Enquiry forms that won’t let you submit information
• Enquiry forms that don’t elicit any response– 100% of the enquiries I made this way, in despair at finding another contact method, went unanswered
• One switchboard (of a major network agency) that went to an Orange answerphone. (The receptionist transferred the main agency number to her mobile, then went off for a few days and forgot about it.)
• Bizarre reception gatekeeping. E.g. “Can I please have an email address for your new business person?” “No, we have a no-name policy.” “I tried to send an email via your website enquiry form but it didn’t work, so can I have a person’s email address?” “No, we don’t give out email addresses. You can send it to me and I will pass it on to the appropriate person.”

Why are agencies making it so difficult or unpleasant to get in touch? In each of the above scenarios, it’s very tempting just to move on to the next agency on the list.

Perhaps they are not aware that their websites are secretive, their enquiry forms are a barrier and their receptionist is power-crazed. A little mystery shopping may be in order.

The irony of the defensive receptionist was that when I was permitted to speak to someone (only by them phoning me back), the appropriate person was really interested in the opportunity on offer.

So that’s our recent experience of trying to get in touch with new business people.

Even more puzzling and worrying is the number of times that even once through to the person in charge of new business, they say that they are too busy to work on any new business. Eh?

We’ve had this recently from a well-resourced agency where the account we were talking to them about was worth £1million. And we weren’t asking them to seek out clients and court them – the opportunity was being handed to them on a plate.

Now clearly, existing clients are king and must be looked after first and foremost. It’s a lot less expensive to develop them than to establish new relationships. However, eventually all accounts come under review, so it’s important to make sure that new business is coming through the front door, in case any is leaving through the back.

So even if business is booming, it’s still critical to ensure that the new business function is properly resourced and that the customer experience is right. And for agencies that are ambitious to grow rapidly, it’s vital that they are open for business.

So, back to my car situation. Maybe it’s laziness, busy-ness or that I find shopping for cars deadly boring, but if that car dealership had given me a half-decent quote, I was just going to take it rather than spend any more of my life in car showrooms.

How many client-side marketers are in a similar situation? They are short of time and they want to find the right agency quickly. Probably most of them. Certainly this is one of the main reasons that clients come to RAR for help. We put in the research for them so that they don’t need to simply take the first agency that seems to be right or the first agency that can fit them in to their busy schedules.

It might be worthwhile reviewing how your agency welcomes new enquiries.

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