Agency New Business Checklist: Five Questions to Ask Yourself to Win More Often 


Agency New Business Checklist


Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO, CommunicationsMatch™, Steve Drake and Robert Udowitz Principals, RFP Associates

There are five primary questions communications agencies should ask themselves to improve their new business win ratio. 

The primary and secondary questions outlined here draw on our collective experience from 80,000 agency searches on CommunicationsMatch™, dozens of agency search consulting engagements, research, and leadership roles in companies and agencies. 

Although many do a very good job, all too often, we see agencies delivering template responses, pitching for business that isn’t a good fit, or failing to really listen to what the client is saying. Research we conducted into the agency search process clearly reflects this. Time pressure is a big issue, but so can be hubris.       

To increase success and avoid behavioral traps, we recommend asking each question below in the context of your approach to new business, in general, and for each specific proposal you prepare.        

  • Is your new business strategy focused on areas where you are differentiated?
    • Do you target prospects for which you are uniquely qualified?
    • Can clients find you based on your differentiated capabilities and expertise?

  • Is your agency/team a good fit for the opportunity?
  • If you were the client, would you see your agency as among the top 3-5 firms qualified for the project/assignment?
  • Do you and the team that will work on the project have the specific industry expertise, communications skillsets needed and track record, and are you the right type/size of agency?

  • Is your new business pitch focused on “selling” your agency or solving clients’ problems?
    • Is your focus principally on promoting your agency or selling a branded approach to research, strategic planning or creativity?
    • Do you offer client-specific solutions to achieve a prospect’s business goals?

  • Are you asking the right questions and really listening to the answers?
    • Have you done sufficient research to ask questions that underscore your understanding of the client’s issues/challenges?
    • Do you demonstrate your ability to listen by offering solutions that reflect the needs the client has shared?

  • Are your behaviors aligned with your strategy?
    • Do you avoid common behavioral traps, e.g., over-selling, upselling, pushing ideas a client hasn’t asked for, generic presentations, or presentations without teams that will execute programs?   
    • Are you authentic in client presentations?   

These questions are a foundation for a disciplined approach to making choices about which pieces of new business you should be targeting and how to maximize the chance of winning it. 

Experience shows us that success comes from following the mantra: “Agencies and professionals should pitch business for which they are qualified or qualify themselves for business they pitch.” Industry and communications expertise aligned with the assignment, a track record that underscores your qualifications, and pricing which reflects the value proposition for the assignment — when combined with a focused new business process — will differentiate your agency and help you win more often.     

When firms are not qualified but pitch anyway, it’s the equivalent of going to a casino. But, when a disciplined process is followed to evaluate opportunities and generate client-specific recommendations, winning new business is down to you and your value proposition. 

When you don’t win assignments it’s important to avoid the common behavioral trap of blaming others. Learning the lessons from every assignment won or lost provides insights into what you are doing right or can do better. Using these questions to frame post-mortem discussions will drive a continuous improvement process that results in long-term success. 

About the Authors: Former corporate communications and agency leaders, Locke, Drake and Udowitz partnered to deliver the industry’s first integrated online agency search and RFP tools, Agency Select™, and help clients with projects that range from finding agencies in local markets to complex turn-key agency of record assignments.