Business Development during COVID 19

By Gray Matters
22 Apr 2020

Over the past few weeks, we have answered a number of challenging questions on what people should be doing right now around business development.  We have hosted many webinars and put together a presentation to help and support the agency community.  We hope these resources are useful and here are some of the questions posed with our responses…

One of the biggest challenges is the need to keep conversations going but be respectful of the situation. Of course empathy is vital but we also need to keep business flowing, so I’d be interested in any initiatives you can think of and also what other people are doing?

The current situation has created a debate around whether or not people should be selling at a time like this. It’s vital for the survival of businesses and for the wider economy that sales continue and money flows between businesses. I think what needs to change is the approach to selling, which is something that we’ve been talking about long before COVID-19. What we mean by this, is that businesses should be helping and adding value and not trying to aggressively sell, particularly at this time.

It goes without saying that people and businesses should not be profiteering in this market; ’empathy’ and ‘delicate’ are crucial. The focus should be on thinking about what your prospects are going through right now and how you can genuinely help them adapt to the current situation, whether that’s through your services or just acted as a true partner. Or how can you help them, help their customers.  Rather than closing deals, you may see this as a better time for you to remain front of mind and relevant in the eyes of your prospects. They may not convert to immediate sales, but if you take a longer term approach and nurture these prospects to build a genuine relationship it might one day, turn into a sale. Lots of these = consistent pipeline.

We have a pitch right now that is COVID related but it also feels like ‘bandwagoning’ – do you think anyone else is struggling with this too?

We’re seeing that all brands are having to adapt to this time and it is impossible for briefs to not include a response to COVID-19, as it’s affecting everyone. What is important is that brands remove any content or existing advertising that might be deemed inappropriate. For example, Coca-Cola have recently reviewed all their campaigns because nearly all of them include people hugging and this obviously goes against government guidelines. With suggestions that there may not be a vaccine for 18 months, it means that brands are going to need to review their entire advertising and content for this period.  This will create new opportunities for agencies; but it our duty as an industry to ensure advertising is conducted ethically and distinguish between ‘bandwagoning’ and being authentic.  If brands always put audiences first, they can avoid this.


 What realistic chance do agencies have of winning new business in this crisis? What categories or brands are doing well and how can they use this time to relook at their positioning, or do some spring cleaning?

We’re seeing two trends at the moment where agencies are thinking both short and long term. In terms of short-term tips, we are recommending focusing on ‘low-hanging fruit’, such as speaking to existing or former clients, revisiting lost pitches and connected with  your wider referral network. We are still hearing about briefs out there and there are still businesses spending budget, albeit this has slowed on the whole. In fact, it’s been proven that brands that spend throughout a recession do better coming out the back of it, however there is a slight caveat in the fact, this is not a normal recession. There are a number of industry sectors that are thriving at the moment from discount stores; to e-commerce; to home entertainment brands, that are all helping people adjust their lifestyles at this time. The important thing is that brands are understanding how they can make themselves relevant in this market.

Long term, agencies who are finding themselves with a bit more time on their hands are using this crucial time to plan for the future and give themselves a better start after the lockdown. Some of the activities agencies can be doing is reviewing their positioning, working on their new business strategy, improving their website and marketing collateral and putting in place new processes such as a CRM system.


 What proportion of time should be focused on new business vs existing clients?

When it comes to new business, time management and accountability are vital for your success. We often hear about agency owners or new business people talking about the ebbs and flows of their pipeline and often that’s because they dedicate a lot of time to client work, and when that work runs dry they suddenly realise they haven’t been focusing on their pipeline, and there’s not enough to keep them going.  Our advice has always been to maintain somewhere between 10 and 20% of your entire time dedicated to new business and marketing activities. In this current climate it is important that more time is spent focusing on your existing clients as they need you more than ever and, in a market, where spending is naturally going to decrease,  retain your existing clients and will ensure you take care of cash flow and survive. That being said you can always carve out few hours or two dedicate to new business and trying to speak to brands that are in need of your services.  When it comes to pipeline, I like to use the ‘cleaning your teeth’ analogy; just a little bit every day keeps them in good shape.  One brush after 2 months isn’t going to do you any favours ;).


 Businesses are either being super-loyal right now or they’re cutting suppliers. With this in mind, and assuming businesses performing well are in the super-loyal category, how would you recommend identifying and approaching new business opportunities?

It goes without saying that in the current market we will see a lot of loyalty and togetherness, but with businesses having to adapt so quickly and survive, they are in constant need of new ideas and innovation. This means there’s an opportunity for agencies to be seen and heard by prospects, that in the past they might not have been able to penetrate. We are seeing brand leaders become more receptive to introductions, because of the fact online webinar calls are much easier to attend than face-to-face. Listening to marketers at the moment, what they want is tangible ideas that they can activate right now and that are going to make a real difference to their business. If incumbent agencies aren’t able to deliver, the doorway opens for new ones.

In the coming weeks, we are hosting two online training sessions on positioning and new business strategy.  If you’re using this time to plan for the future, then these are a ‘must’ for you to attend. Get in touch with for more info!

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