Author Archives: Ian McGonnigal

Business Development

Keep Some Powder Dry – Using the Right Content at the Right Time for Sales Enablement

"experiential marketing", "experience marketing", "event marketing", "brand experience", "engagement marketing", relationship, "business development", growth, sales, marketing, "content marketing", measurement, awareness, consideration, preference, conversion, loyalty, advocacy, planningIt’s like a bad office movie. Sales doesn’t like marketing because the leads they provide are garbage. Marketing doesn’t like sales because they never do anything with the leads they provide on a regular basis. Sure, there are many other reasons for this rivalry, but beyond events, one area where the two can come together and create real value, is Sales Enablement. Sales Enablement is basically deploying the right content at the right time to the right prospect in order to accelerate the sales cycle and close the deal at the highest value possible.

So, what’s the problem? I’ve observed that too often, too much content is deployed too soon in the process, leaving little to no support materials available in the final stages of the deal. Or, the wrong content is deployed at the wrong time, leaving prospects confused, or actually extending the length of the sales cycle. Or, every single piece of collateral is custom designed, over and over again, driving up costs and inefficiency. This of course, leads to even more animosity between sales and marketing, and in either case, hinders growth.

Think of it this way, you wouldn’t disclose your deepest, darkest secrets on a first date, nor would you introduce yourself as someone new after you got engaged. It’s about the right message at the right time in the relationship.

In order for any Sales Enablement program to be successful, there needs to be an open dialogue between sales and marketing. As part of this dialogue, roles of both marketing and sales need to be understood and expectations set. Co-education is critical. In general, marketing prescribes the types of content, and where it can be best deployed across the sales cycle. Additionally, Marketing is generally responsible for developing the content so it adheres to brand guidelines and is designed to meet business objectives. Sales, on the other hand is responsible for following guidelines on asset deployment, ensuring accuracy of content, providing feedback on client / prospect reaction to these tools, and identifying needs that can be addressed by new types of content. In some cases, content will need to be built with an eye toward customization by sales based on prospect or client.

Here’s a handy guide to help you organize and deploy content throughout the sales cycle. While this isn’t an exhaustive list or completely prescriptive, consider it a set of guidelines, you’ll get the idea ;).

Awareness – The earliest stage of the sales cycle. Prospects are exposed to your brand or your offerings. While above the line tactics are mostly at play here, from a Sales Enablement perspective, there are many assets that can be used.

  • Articles – These can be authored internally, or by a content marketing partner who will also work to get these published in media properties that are read by your target audience. An excellent way to not only showcase your brand, but your thinking in an organic way. The intent is to drive thought leadership, and early lead generation.
  • Infographics – Easily digested data visualization that is informative, interesting and designed to be quickly shared and consumed by many. It’s important Infographics truly at insight and value, and are not perceived as an advertisement for your particular brand.
  • Blog Posts – Content authored and published on the company blog, employee blogs, or co-authored / guest posted on other industry blogs. A great way to drive deeper thought leadership, and give target audiences something of value early in the relationship or drive traffic to company-owned digital properties.

Consideration – Now the prospect knows who you are. Here are some tools to pique their interest.

  • White Papers – Tremendous value-add that showcases your brand and allows prospects to go deep. These are great to driving competitive differentiation, and helping prospects understand how you might approach their problem or exploit their opportunity. Also a great tool for lead generation.
  • Case Studies – I’ve noticed that there has been some confusion on case studies in our industry.  The purpose of a case study is to tell a story about a client situation (context), describe what your company did to resolve the situation showcasing capabilities (action), and articulating results. The results seems to be the weak link in many of the cases I’ve come across recently. Case Studies help prospects visualize working with your company by seeing similar (and different) approaches.
  • Webinars – Typically educational content designed to teach prospects about your company’s solutions and why they work. However different kinds of Webinars with other types of content can be deployed earlier, or later in the process (e.g., gated content as part of a lead generation program (like a Whitepaper) or instructional format for existing clients to get the most out of your solutions.

Preference – The need is identified. Time to differentiate and teach the prospect how your company can help them.

  • Email Templates – It takes 7-13 touches to condition a lead. Campaign templates should be created for both marketing and sales to use at different points in the sales cycle.
  • Product Sell Sheets – Detailed specifications, features and benefits of your company’s products or solutions
  • Competitive Comparisons – Tables, charts, comparisons of your solutions vs. competitors and why yours is different or better. It’s important these comparisons are honest and authentic in order to reinforce credibility.

Conversion – This content is customized and engineered to help close the deal.

  • Sales Scripts – An exploration of what to say, when. These can be highly prescriptive, or looser guidelines on how to conduct outreach, undergo client discovery, pursue follow up, overcome objections, and drive to close.
  • Sales Presentations – More than just a branded background, the framework of the story should be laid out, from exploring the prospects situation, to capabilities (both general and specific) to approach, talent, timeline, budget, results and more.
  • ROI Studies – Here is where the rubber meets the road. These are very specific discussions on what solutions are being proposed along with detailed outcomes.

Beyond the Sale

Don’t forget to manage your company’s overall brand experience by generating content for Loyalty and Advocacy stages of the relationship. After all, 70-80% of your company’s growth probably comes from people you already know. This can include: Social Engagement Content, FAQs, “How-to” videos, Training Portals, Peer Networks, New Product / Capabilities Announcements, Referral Packages and more.


No matter what types of content you develop, or when in the sales cycle you deploy it, it’s important to measure the performance of each piece, and how it meets the needs of any specific stage in the sales cycle. Testing over time is the key to optimizing any Sales Enablement program. Refresh old content, try new formats, see what works best for each stage. Keep the dialogue going, and don’t be afraid to ask prospects and customers what’s most helpful to them at what points in the conversation.

What Sales Enablement content have you found most effective? At what point in the sales cycle?

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What’s in Your Account Plan?

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"For agencies of any kind, especially experiential marketing agencies, 70-80% of revenue growth comes from people you already know – your clients. This growth is typically driven by client demand for agency services resulting in a series of repeat or serial projects.

Too often, agencies rely solely on their clients to suggest projects or programs with which to engage the agency. The brand suggests the work, sets the budget, and either initiates a RFP or taps the agency to do the work.

The brand is in complete control of the agency’s fate.

A robust account planning and development process puts the control in the agency’s hands. It allows the agency to understand a client’s business deeply, creates an environment that fosters proactive ideas, broadens and deepens client / agency relationships, adds value to the brand’s business, and amplifies and accelerates agency growth.

Table Stakes

If there are any issues with agency delivery of services, it is critical these be addressed prior to the success of any growth plan. Expectations must be agreed upon and delivered against. Always.

Three Pillars To Success

There are three pillars which serve as a foundation for a robust account planning and development process. These include: Finances, Relationships, and Scope.

1. Finances

Agencies are very good at setting and holding client services teams accountable for financial growth targets. Typically, these targets are loosely aligned to a client’s previous year’s budget, with some stretch (+x%), set on an annual basis, forecast monthly or quarterly, and loosely managed.

A more disciplined account planning and development process focuses on monthly meetings which review previous month’s performance vs. budget, talks about what’s happening in the client’s business, as well as what the agency is doing to proactively bolster performance. Forecasts are adjusted up or down. The “how” is left to happenstance and the agency adopts a risky business growth practice, based on rumors and conjecture. “Hope” becomes the business method.

2. Relationships

There must be a rigorous approach to building and expanding relationships with clients for several reasons: becoming “sticky” with brands, mitigating competitive risk, increasing client value, fostering growth, identifying new growth channels, and promoting advocacy. With the right process in place to foster relationships, the agency is able to become more active and less passive in determining their fate.

3. Scope

As relationships grow, an agency’s scope can evolve from single project, to multiple or serial projects, to overall programs, and eventually AOR or retained relationship models — turning single transactions into retention or expansion plays.

Understanding what is happening in a client’s business and proactively coming to the table with ideas based on this understanding, can help agencies leverage different offerings for clients, or create new agency capabilities based on the need.

The Role Of The Account Plan

The account plan is the map to the destination. More than describing the “what” part of the equation, the account plan must illustrate the “how”. Account plans need to discuss financial growth for sure, but far more important is how it addresses relationships and scope. By focusing on these two entities, and demanding progress in these areas, the financial benefits will follow.

The Account Development Process

If you build it, they will not come unfortunately. The best of plans and processes, poorly executed, yield nothing. That said, it is critical that account planning and development be an ongoing, living, breathing process that is driven by leadership, and shared by peers. I recommend creating initial account plans in the fall, with peer reviews and leadership alignment before the end of the year. From there, progress against commitments for all three pillars (finances, relationships and scope) should be reviewed by account on a monthly and/or quarterly basis. During this review, leaders and peers can help each member of the team by understanding, empathizing, and most importantly, adding valuable perspective based on their own experiences to each other. Additionally, barriers can be identified and overcome, new opportunities can be identified, and wins can be celebrated. This team-based approach to account development not only educates all corners of the agency on the client’s business, but mitigates risk, and provides and excellent value-add to clients.

A Word About Accountability

During the account planning process, objectives are made against each of the three pillars using SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, Time-bound). At each review point (monthly or quarterly) these goals should be reviewed. Depending on progress against these goals, appropriate actions should be taken to ensure continued forward motion in each area.

Some Of My Favorite Tools

  • Client Primer – A document that identifies where you’re starting from, and provides a lay-of-the-land on the client’s business. This includes industry, competition, and business information, organizational structure, financial performance, pain points and opportunities, existing agency relationships, and key contacts.
  • Horizon Plan  a table that charts the relationship, scope and financial forecast at one, three, and five year intervals. I find it most useful to start at year five and imagine an ideal relationship, with a full-complement of agency services being deployed and an optimistic, but realistic view of the financials. From there, looking at year three as a plausible touchstone where relationships, scope and finances are all growing and working in concert to realize the ideal view of year five. Finally year one is the probable view of what is forecast by year’s end against all three pillars.
  • Relationship Map – A tool that plots all the people the agency has relationships with, as well as those the agency should have relationships with. This also gauges relationship stage (unknown-advocate) and status (positive-negative), owners of each relationship, as well as action plans against building / improving relationships with each person.
  • Scope Expansion Plan – Based on client opportunities and challenges, this tool identifies which agency services are most appropriate to apply to which client businesses, and provides probabilities and action plans against each pursuit.

Of course there are may more tools and components to an effective account plan, but each of these serve a purpose well-beyond the typical financial forecast we’ve all come to know and love. Each enables the growth we strive for.

See The Forest And The Trees

The account planning and development process not only builds better relationships, and adds a higher level of value to clients, but it also gives client services leaders a regular opportunity to step out of the day-to-day management of their business, and think about where the business is heading – all while driving agency growth.

What’s in your account plan? How do you manage performance?

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Who’s Really on Your Team?

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"So, you want to hire an agency to help you with your marketing. You’ve sent out a RFI, narrowed the field, been through the RFP, and now you’re down to three. It’s time for the pitch review. The remaining agencies on your list have asked to be first, last, or middle, depending on their strategy, and have asked for intelligence on who’s in the room from your side, and who they’re competing against. Some will invite you to dinner or drinks the night before to get to know you better, They may even be savvy enough to recheck expectations on the ask, and try to understand if anything has changed, and what it will take to win your business.

Some advice: Answer everything they ask. It will give you additional perspective on how the agency thinks and works to see if they put their intelligence to good use. Also, social activities are an excellent way to get to know the agency as well, but extend the courtesy to all agencies.

One of the most important parts of a brand / agency relationship is the team on both sides. Ask the agency to bring people with them who will actually be your day-to-day working team.

Every agency has a pitch team which includes the charming, but facilitative business development person – usually wearing a tailored suit or dress from a trendy designer; A planner or strategist, who’s a bit on the geeky side – and will question everything you’ve said in the RFP and in the room; a producer, media, or ops person – who will look a bit frazzled and road-tested, clearly stressing about some deadline they are not meeting because they need to be at the pitch; and the creative person – who’s cooler than everyone, wearing designer jeans, kickass shoes, a mock turtleneck, and fitted jacket – they don’t care about your RFP, they just want to get back to doing award-winning work.  Often they’ll be the person who goes off script and spitballs an idea in the room that’s “so crazy, it might just work”. If you’re lucky, there will be an executive sponsor who will also attend – whose role it is to introduce the agency at the beginning of the meeting, thank you for the opportunity at the end, and occasionally redirect the team if something begins to go South.

This is not your team. Some of these people manage the people who will work on your business. Others you will never see again. The pitch team does, however, give you a view into the agency’s culture. Watch for these cultural cues. More than likely, the strategist or producer will touch your work at some point. Your Account Director, arguably, the most important member of your team, hasn’t been hired yet. This is OK, because agencies typically do not forward invest in resources and don’t have people waiting around for work – you don’t want to pay for this overhead anyway. This creates an opportunity. If you like the pitch team, ask to be included in the interview process for any team members that they hire specifically for your business. Certainly co-employment rules apply, but at least have the option to informally meet the top few candidates the agency is considering to give input. Additionally, working resources (strategy, creative, etc.) are typically part of a shared pool, unless your business is significant enough to justify a dedicated team. At the end of the day, the account director and planner / strategist need to understand your business. The rest can bring best practices from other clients, industries, etc. to bear.

On the other side of the table is your team. Is this the team the agency will be working with? This is equally important. Are there executives who will be the real decision makers on anything from agency selection, to strategy, creative or execution that are not in the room? I like to call these “phantom clients”. These are the folks that appear at midnight, the day before an event or digital campaign launch and change everything based on information only they have, derailing months of carefully orchestrated work. Additionally, are their people on your team that the agency will never work with? Don’t waste their time or your potential agency’s. Make sure your team is as accurate to the working relationship as you would expect the agency to be. Every person on your side, should have a counterpart on the agency’s side. This from day one will set up the relationship for success.

What do you think? What’s important to you and who’s really on your team?


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