Sales channels for agencies: everything as always, only better

Personal contact, content marketing and lead-nurturing for positioning with potential customers

sales channels agencies

In the German TV series “Der letzte Bulle”, a policeman wakes up after 20 years of coma in the iPhone age and is astounded. The script idea is so good that it can be varied it almost endlessly. One interesting example would be an agency manager from the late 90s waking up today. He, too, would find a world he barely understands. Of course, he would know what the internet is and he would be curious about the share price of dotcom companies. That Apple still exists would please him. But then he would have a lot of questions about things like Social Media, Programmatic Advertising, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain or Work-Life-Balance. And what happened to all the CD recorders?

But one thing would seem very familiar to him after 20 years of deep sleep: the way agencies get their assignments. It’s still a people’s business.

The agency association GWA has it in black and white. “When it comes to sales for agencies, nothing beats personal contacts,” says Managing Director Ralf Nöcker. It refers to the Frühjahrsmonitor 2019 report, for which GWA interviewed 80 agency bosses. Contacts and recommendations are in first and second place there. Rankings and pitch advisors can be important, but don’t play the main role and matching platforms are still fighting for their place in the market.

No matchmaking without personal contact

The Munich based site for instance, which the trade medium Horizont has celebrated as the Tinder for enterprises and agencies, has agencies like Serviceplan, DDB and Thjnk among its customers and has mediated budgets for large brands. But the platform is by no means the digital place to be. In the latest GWA survey, the matching model still ranks lower than pitch consultants.

Martin Schnaack is not surprised by this. The Munich resident does business with his agency Avantgarde in several continents and has offices in China, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates. But when it comes to new business, he prefers the down-to-earth method: “We invite potential customers to workshops, in which we really get to know each other and develop a precise idea of what a good partnership could look like.”

Entirely analog selection processes can be tedious and inefficient. Especially in smaller agencies, time is precious and the boss is still deeply involved in day-to-day business. The future probably involves a combination of getting to know each other both in the digital and the physical world. This is also what DMEXCO is betting on with its Community app. The platform brings together potential partners and facilitates personal meetings on the spot in the “World of Agencies“, for example .

However, the agencies have already digitalized conventional contact management as well. They market themselves and their managers online, create their own online media and turn their in-house events into social media events. The personal touch still counts most. In the end, it’s not the sophisticated technology that counts, but one’s own reputation.

CEO profiling and newsjacking

Matthias Schrader is a good example. Even after the sale to Accenture, the founder of SinnerSchrader is still regarded as a shining light among the agency bosses. He understood earlier and more fully than others that in-house events do not have to be sales events and that intelligent texts convey outstanding competence. His reputation is based not least on his event platform Next as well as his publications including “Transformationale Produkte”. Schrader himself describes his sales concept as “customer recommendations about good work and our own content that we share digitally, in print or at conferences.”

Mirko Kaminski, founder of the Hamburg agency Achtung, focuses more on moving images and social media. The ascent of Achtung is inconceivable without its figurehead. Kaminski shoots videos, interviews industry leaders for the trade press and regularly jumps into the Baltic Sea in front of a smartphone camera. He also invests in the agency’s own events. Since 2017 he has organized the “Digital Kindergarten” every year. What began in the agency’s premises is now taking place in the Millerntor Stadium.

Schrader and Kaminski are only the best known examples of content marketers on their own behalf. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your own book, your own digital conference or your own web TV series. Competence marketing starts on LinkedIn and in trade media and ideally continues on podiums and speaker stages. The art is to convey one’s own knowledge with a strong sense of opinion. Content and PR experts help with so-called “CEO profiling”. “Newsjacking” is a tried and tested method: agency heads use current developments and industry debates to position themselves as experts and solution providers with their own contributions.

Competence provides for customers

Although content and references may generate new business, the classic questions need to be clarified beforehand;

  • How do I want to present myself on the market?
  • Which competences do I want to impart?
  • What can I offer customers?
  • How do I differ from the competition?

Anyone who avoids providing substantial answers to these questions can indeed land a chance hit on the social web and become a hero for five minutes. However, they will not build a long-term reputation and lose their leads as quickly as they won them. It is about maintaining and developing contacts, ideally by providing the right information at the right time. Not all agencies have yet mastered what is known as “lead nurturing”, although almost every agency recommends it to its clients. In addition to strategic planning and intelligent monitoring, this especially requires instinct. Basically it is about the core competence of agencies: empathy.

It looks like the agency business will continue to center around people. GWA’s Frühjahrsmonitor report has forecast good times for storytelling. 78 percent of agency bosses see it as having “high” or “very high” relevance in content marketing. For them, it is the strongest industry trend of all, ahead of technology-driven topics such as Big Data or Mobile First.


The Internet has changed the agency industry, but the old laws still apply to sales: nothing beats good reputation and a personal touch. Digitalization is not causing disruption here, but providing tools. This makes storytelling and event marketing easier than ever before.

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