It is my observation that senior new business people at agencies turn over about every 18-30 months. This is no different than their client counterparts where Chief Marketing Officers turn over at about the same rate. I have been observing this for many years and have concluded that this high turnover is either because agencies use the wrong criteria for hiring, their expectations are not realistic or, just like their clients, they ask their new business people to be responsible for things really not in the purview of a marketing or new business person.
Let’s tackle the last point first. Much has been written about the rapid turnover of corporate CMO's. I would like to give it a different spin. Corporate marketing people are constantly asked to tackle things not in their domain. Every senior executive at a supermarket chain knows that as soon as they refurbish and refresh a store, sales go up. This is an operations issue and has nothing to do with marketing, per se. But supermarket CMO’s are constantly being asked to remedy the issue of declining sales due to a decrepit physical plant. Similarly, the marketing director of a quick serve restaurant cannot solve the problem of lower sales which are related to the rise in gas prices that causes their customers to be reluctant to drive a distance for a meal. This issue can be partially solved by promotion; but the promotion, which may increases sales, drives down profits. The CMO often gets blamed. Look at what is and has happened at Burger King.
And so it is with agencies.
All agencies seem to go though cycles. When agencies are on the upswing, new business people are heroes. When they are in a down mode or just flat, new business people get blamed for the agency’s inability to close or to even get meetings. That inability can be due to factors way beyond their control: they can’t fix a bad creative product; they can’t silence senior executives who say stupid things in presentations; they aren’t responsible for creative which gets low test scores, which often determine the winners of a new business shoot-out. And, they can’t resolve significant business problems – imagine being the new business person at Arnell right now.
But they get blamed any way.
Agencies often use the wrong criteria when hiring. Just because someone is highly successful at one agency, does not mean that that success will be translated to another. Before soliciting and hiring someone who has done well at another agency, it is important for the new company to come to a complete understanding of the elements that made that new business person successful previously – could be as simple as attitude or chemistry among the principals or great positioning of the agency and its work. Often, those elements simply do not or cannot be duplicated at another company. All too many agencies simply hire a résumé, not a person. When it comes to new business, many disparate elements must converge to create a successful new business program. There are too many executives who have been successful at one place and cannot duplicate that accomplishment at another.
Realistic expectations are critical to the success of new business people. I have had many assignments over the years where the hiring executives verbalize their understanding that putting together a successful new business program may take many months or even a year or two. However, all too often, the verbalized expectations have nothing to do with the reality that the new agency really expects it to happen in only a few months or when it doesn't happen quickly enough they become antsy.
I have previously written about writing realistic job specifications. When it comes to new business there is no magic bullet. The new business process can take months or even years. If an agency is truly expecting their CMO to bring in new business within a short period of time, they have to tell their new hire up front and they have to provide him or her with the tools with which to accomplish this feat. They also have to realize that their expectations might not be realistic. All too often, I have seen new business people hired who spend their first three or four months merely getting the agency organized and up to speed with things like materials, mailings and presentations. By the time these are ready for a full court press, agency management is chomping at the bit to have a new client and is unhappy with the progress of the new business person. Prospecting and cultivation can take months or years. All of this needs to be part of actionable job specs.
Every agency president and CEO knows that new business must be cultivated, which takes time. I have never quite understood why they would think that their own CMO/new business person can do it faster.