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Christian Banach on How Agencies Can Innovate to Stand Out in a Competitive Market

Updated on June 5, 2024

14 Min Read
Christian Banach on How Agencies Can Innovate to Stand Out in a Competitive Market

Meet Christian Banach, a seasoned entrepreneur and business development expert. From founding a high school concert promotion agency to scaling it to over $10 million in sales, Christian has done it all.

With experience working with Grammy winners and leading campaigns for brands like Disney and Toyota, Christian’s expertise is unmatched. Recognizing his knack for generating opportunities, he founded a consultancy to guide agencies and B2B companies toward sustainable growth.

Today, we’re thrilled to have Christian join us to discuss stand out marketing strategies in a competitive market.

Let’s dive in…


1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the agency landscape? How did you get into coaching for agencies?

My journey into agency consulting and coaching is rooted in my experiences as an agency owner, which ultimately led me to discover my passion for helping agencies thrive. My career began in the concert promotions business, where I had the opportunity to work with Grammy award-winning artists like Lady Gaga and Pitbull.

This venture expanded into experiential marketing, leading to collaborations with major companies such as Allstate, Toyota, and Disney.

However, the 2008 recession posed significant challenges, causing my business to dry up in concert promotions and the experiential agency sector.

Faced with these hurdles, I sought the expertise of a sales consultant, a decision that profoundly impacted my approach to business. This consultant laid the groundwork for a successful lead generation and business development program, marking a pivotal moment in my career.

The experience was enlightening; I realized the potential and necessity of proactive lead-generation strategies. Inspired by this revelation, I closed my agency and promotions business.

I then transitioned to working at advertising agencies, including independent and holding company agencies, where I specialized in business development.

Here, I identified my “superpower”: generating top-funnel leads, especially with large enterprise companies.

The onset of the pandemic felt reminiscent of the 2008 recession, with agencies facing layoffs and significant economic pressures.

Remembering how the consultant’s guidance had been a beacon for me during challenging times, I felt compelled to offer similar support to agencies in need.

This led me to leave my position and establish my consulting firm, which helps agencies predictably land 6- and 7-figure opportunities.

Today, my firm is a testament to the lessons learned and the experiences gained throughout my career.

By leveraging my agency operations and business development background and the transformative impact of strategic consulting, I aim to empower agencies to overcome obstacles and achieve sustainable growth. This mission is not just a professional endeavor but a personal commitment to giving back to the industry that has shaped my career.


2. Can you share examples of agencies that effectively used innovative strategies to stand out in a competitive market?

One compelling example of an agency that effectively distinguished itself in a competitive market involved conducting and utilizing original research.

This agency studied consumer perceptions of creativity across various brands and industries. By polling consumers to gauge how they viewed the innovativeness and creativity of companies, the agency was able to compile valuable insights that were not available elsewhere.

The agency then packaged the findings into an exclusive research report and white paper. This strategic move served multiple purposes:

  • It became a powerful tool for pitching and winning business in relevant categories
  • A cornerstone for marketing and PR efforts
  • A unique asset for outbound sales initiatives

Its ability to position the agency as a thought leader and authority made this approach particularly effective. The original research acted as a compelling lead magnet, offering unique value and interest to decision-makers at large enterprise companies.

This helped the agency cut through the noise, stand out from competitors, and create a sense of scarcity and exclusivity around its offering.

This example underscores the power of original research in establishing an agency’s expertise, authority, and unique value proposition, demonstrating a successful strategy for distinguishing oneself in a crowded marketplace.

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3. Which agencies have you mentored in the past, and who are the founders of these agencies?

Over the years, I’ve mentored various agencies, from those under large holding companies to small boutique firms with just a few team members. Notable mentions include BBDO, DDB, Barkley, and Crispin Porter.

Regardless of their size, these agencies sought mentoring for similar reasons—they recognized that relying solely on word-of-mouth and referrals was no longer sufficient in today’s competitive landscape.

Many of these agencies had experienced considerable growth, sometimes even expanding globally. Yet, they faced a common challenge: adopting a more proactive approach to business development. The reality they came to accept was that waiting passively for the phone to ring wouldn’t cut it anymore.

They needed strategies to actively stand out and generate opportunities in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. This mentoring experience underscored a crucial lesson for agency leaders:

  • Importance of continuously evolving your sales
  • Marketing
  • Business development strategies to keep pace with the changing dynamics of the industry

Whether through innovative outbound campaigns, leveraging new technologies, or embracing thought leadership, there’s always room for growth and improvement.


4. How important is creativity in agency success, and how can agencies foster a creative culture within their teams?

Creativity is paramount in ensuring an agency’s success. It’s the catalyst for developing impactful solutions that drive tangible results for clients, transcending mere aesthetic appeal to achieve strategic goals.

However, creativity must be purpose-driven, aimed at garnering accolades and delivering outcomes that bolster the client’s business. Agencies must embrace diversity and inclusion to cultivate a culture that breeds creativity.

Varied perspectives stemming from differences in age, gender, ethnicity, and experience enrich the creative process, leading to more innovative and effective solutions. Fostering a sense of safety where every idea is valued and considered is also crucial. Team members should feel empowered to share their thoughts without fear of dismissal or ridicule. Providing space and freedom for creativity to flourish is essential.

A rigid environment can stifle creative thinking, so it’s important to allow team members the flexibility to explore and experiment. This nurturing atmosphere elevates the quality of creative output and ensures that the agency’s work consistently drives results, aligning creativity with business objectives.

In summary, while creativity is the heart of agency innovation, its true measure lies in its ability to achieve real-world results.


5. What are common pitfalls agencies should avoid when implementing innovative strategies?

Agencies venturing into innovative strategies often face pitfalls that can hinder their progress and impact results. One common mistake is innovating for the sake of innovation, creating new methods or tools that don’t necessarily improve upon existing processes or drive better results.

It’s crucial to focus innovation efforts where they can truly make a difference, ensuring that novelty serves a clear, strategic purpose. Another trap is falling into analysis paralysis, where overplanning prevents action.

The dynamic nature of innovation requires a more agile approach—think like a startup: launch, learn, and iterate. This method allows real-world testing and adjustments based on actual performance rather than theoretical outcomes.

Additionally, agencies sometimes fail to commit the time or resources to see an innovative strategy through. Prematurely abandoning initiatives without giving them a chance to show their potential can result in missed opportunities.

Viewing innovation as a series of experiments, with a willingness to adjust or double down based on early signals, can lead to significant breakthroughs. Avoiding these pitfalls—unnecessary innovation, analysis paralysis, and impatience—can help agencies more effectively implement innovative strategies, leading to meaningful and measurable success.


6. How does technology play a role in implementing innovative strategies, and are there specific agency tools you recommend?

In business development, leveraging technology is crucial for implementing innovative strategies effectively, especially for agencies aiming to expand their reach without losing the personal touch essential in today’s market.

Recognizing that a small percentage of the market is actively seeking your services at any given time, technology enables scaling of outreach efforts while maintaining quality, which is crucial for making meaningful connections with potential clients.

Sales engagement platforms like Outreach and SalesLoft are invaluable for setting up multi-touch phone and email campaigns, as CRM for contact management, and ensuring personalized communication with prospects.

Data tools such as ZoomInfo and Winmo provide detailed contact information, allowing targeted lists to be constructed for precise outreach efforts. Moreover, the advent of technologies identifying buying intent offers a significant advantage.

Tools like website visitor ID tracking and analytics within email newsletter platforms or LinkedIn can highlight prospects showing interest in your services, facilitating targeted outreach.

Additionally, platforms like Bombora track search volume surges on specific keywords relevant to your business, pinpointing companies demonstrating potential buying intent. These tools represent just a fraction of the technological arsenal available to agencies today.

By incorporating such technologies into their strategies, agencies can achieve a balance between the scale of their outreach efforts and the personalization needed to engage effectively with prospects.

This approach enhances the efficiency of prospecting activities and aligns with the expectations of modern consumers, who value both innovation and a personal touch in business interactions.


7. How can agencies use online platforms and technology to create a distinctive brand presence in the digital age?

Agencies can harness online platforms and technology to carve out a distinctive brand presence in today’s digital landscape by strategically leveraging tools like email newsletters and professional networking forums, notably LinkedIn.

Starting with the timeless technique of email newsletters, this approach stands out for its effectiveness in audience building. Email newsletters are a direct line to potential clients, including decision-makers and influencers, providing valuable insights and thought leadership content.

The beauty of this method lies in its ability to nurture prospects by regularly appearing in their inboxes, offering not self-promotion but genuine value that resonates with their needs and interests.

Owning your email list means you’re not reliant on external platforms’ algorithms for visibility, making it an invaluable asset for sustained engagement and brand awareness.

Transitioning to LinkedIn, a platform often underestimated for its capacity to foster genuine connections and brand recognition, agencies can adopt a nuanced strategy beyond the typical direct messaging for meeting requests.

By connecting with key decision-makers and consistently sharing high-value content, agencies can effectively insert themselves into the conversation, staying top-of-mind among potential clients.

This “social selling” method encourages recognition and familiarity without the direct sell, positioning your agency as a go-to source for insights and solutions when prospects are ready to engage further.

Both tactics underscore the importance of providing continuous value and maintaining a consistent presence online.

By doing so, agencies build awareness and establish a distinct brand presence that distinguishes them in the competitive digital age. Through thoughtful engagement and leveraging the strengths of each platform, agencies can cultivate meaningful relationships that lead to growth and opportunities.


8. Are there industries where unconventional approaches tend to be more successful, and how can agencies find opportunities for innovation in their market?

In many sectors, unconventional approaches often yield more success, particularly in industries ripe for disruption or those with a high level of competition where standing out is crucial.

Examples include tech startups, fashion, entertainment, and direct-to-consumer brands. These areas benefit significantly from innovative strategies because they operate in rapidly changing environments where capturing consumer attention is essential for survival.

For agencies looking to find opportunities for innovation in their market, a critical first step is to invest adequately in their sales and marketing efforts. Surprisingly, many agencies underutilize their capabilities in this area, embodying the adage, “The cobbler’s children have no shoes.”

This underinvestment represents a missed opportunity for agencies to showcase their expertise and creativity, hindering their growth and preventing them from standing out in a crowded market.

Most agencies might have a business development person focused mainly on handling inbound leads and responding to RFPs rather than actively seeking new opportunities or engaging in proactive outreach.

Similarly, while agencies may possess the internal talent to produce marketing materials, they often lack a dedicated marketing department committed to regularly updating the website, creating thought leadership content, maintaining a strong social media presence, and activating at different events.

To harness innovation, agencies must first master the basics of sales and marketing, treating these functions with the same seriousness and strategic planning as they would advise their clients.

By establishing a robust internal sales and marketing framework, agencies can explore more innovative strategies, such as leveraging new technologies, adopting unconventional marketing tactics, or exploring niche markets. Innovation starts with a solid foundation.

Once agencies commit to enhancing their sales and marketing efforts, they can experiment with unconventional approaches. This might involve exploring new service offerings, adopting cutting-edge technologies, or implementing creative marketing campaigns that set them apart.

By doing so, agencies will improve their visibility, attract new business, and demonstrate innovation capability. This quality attracts potential clients looking for fresh, impactful solutions in today’s competitive landscape.


9. How do client expectations influence the development of innovative strategies, and is there a balance between meeting client needs and standing out?

Client expectations play a pivotal role in shaping the development of innovative strategies within agencies. This dynamic often creates tension between dedicating resources to meet client needs and investing in the agency’s brand and business development.

Traditionally, agencies have struggled to innovate their growth strategies due to a lack of dedicated sales and marketing teams. Instead, they tend to rely on existing staff who may only contribute to these areas when they have spare capacity, with a business development focus that often does not extend beyond responding to RFPs.

This approach can lead to client work invariably taking precedence, leaving little room for the proactive development of new business strategies or the agency’s marketing efforts.

The challenge lies in balancing meeting immediate client needs and investing in initiatives that allow the agency to stand out and grow. One solution to this dilemma is for agencies to acknowledge the necessity of dedicated resources for sales and marketing functions.

This could mean hiring specific roles focused solely on these areas or partnering with external firms specializing in agency growth.

By doing so, agencies can ensure that client projects do not sideline these critical functions. It’s crucial not to be tempted to redirect these dedicated resources to client work, undermining efforts to develop innovative strategies and distinguish the agency in the market.

In summary, client expectations significantly influence the capacity for innovation, necessitating a strategic approach to resource allocation. By committing to dedicated sales and marketing efforts, agencies can better balance client needs with the imperative to stand out through innovative strategies, fostering growth and differentiation in a competitive landscape.


10. What advice do you have for agencies struggling to find their unique selling points? How can they communicate what sets them apart?

For agencies grappling with identifying and communicating their unique selling points, the challenge often lies in gaining an external perspective on their brand and offerings. It’s crucial to step outside the familiar confines of your agency to see what truly sets you apart in the marketplace.

Here’s a strategic approach to uncovering and articulating your USPs:

1. Seek External Insights: It might seem paradoxical for agencies, especially those specializing in branding and marketing for clients, to seek external assistance. However, gaining an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable. An external consultant or agency can help you see your strengths and differentiators more clearly, providing insights that are difficult to recognize from within.

2. Conduct a Competitive Analysis: Understanding the landscape is critical.

3. Take a comprehensive look at your competitors: what they offer, their messaging, and their claimed USPs. This analysis will help you identify gaps in the market that your agency can fill and differentiate your messaging from that of your competitors.

4. Reassess Common Claims: Terms like “full service” and “fully integrated” or highlighting your agency’s culture and people might feel important but are often not differentiators. Clients expect these attributes and do not set them apart at the initial stages of engagement.

5. Undertake a Win/Loss/No Decision Analysis: By reviewing your recent business outcomes—what you’ve won, lost, and where there were no decisions—you can gain insights into why clients choose for or against your agency. This analysis can directly highlight perceived strengths and weaknesses from your target audience’s perspective.

6. Look Forward, Not Just at the Present: Your USP should reflect where your agency stands today and where it aims to be. Incorporate forward-thinking elements into your USP based on market research and trends to position your agency as an innovation and strategic thinking leader.

7. Test Your USP in the Market: The true test of a USP is its reception by your target audience. Use outbound marketing strategies to gauge reactions. Pay close attention to whether prospects engage, ask questions, or show a clear understanding of what makes your agency unique.

8. Listen to Your Prospects: Ultimately, the feedback from your target market is the most valuable indicator of your USP’s effectiveness. If prospects see and appreciate what sets you apart, you’ve successfully identified and communicated your USP. Identifying and communicating your agency’s USP requires internal introspection and external validation.

By critically analyzing your market position, engaging with an outside perspective, and testing your messaging, you can distinguish your agency in a crowded marketplace and clearly communicate what makes you unique.


11. How important is online visibility for an agency’s long-term success, and what strategies do you recommend for standing out in the digital landscape?

Online visibility is crucial for an agency’s long-term success. With over 70% of buyers conducting their research and making significant progress in their decision-making journey online before reaching out to a vendor, a robust digital presence is non-negotiable.

This trend is amplified by the fact that decision-makers are increasingly digital natives, accustomed to the seamless user experiences provided by B2C giants like Amazon and Netflix, and they expect no less in their professional B2B interactions.

To stand out in the digital landscape, agencies must focus on several key strategies:

1. Optimized Website: While having a website is fundamental, it’s surprising how many agencies neglect this aspect. Your website should be visually appealing, especially for creative agencies, and optimized for the buyer’s journey, providing valuable content for each process stage.

2. Email Newsletter: An effective way to maintain visibility and demonstrate thought leadership is through a well-crafted email newsletter. These newsletters must offer genuine value and insights to your audience rather than serving as mere promotional tools.

3. Personal Branding on Social Media: Instead of focusing solely on corporate accounts, encourage your leaders and sales team to build their personal brands on social media. People are likelier to engage with individuals than corporate entities, making this an effective approach to humanize your brand and build credibility.

4. Active Participation in Online Communities: Engaging in online communities through Facebook groups, Slack channels, or other platforms is the modern equivalent of networking. Participation should be genuine and value-driven, not just promotional, allowing you to connect with potential clients and partners beyond geographical limitations.

Achieving and maintaining online visibility is essential in today’s digital-first environment. By creating an optimized website, leveraging email newsletters for thought leadership, building personal brands on social media, and actively participating in online communities, agencies can significantly enhance their digital presence and attract more clients.


12. Considering the fast-paced digital world, what approaches can agencies take to stay visible and relevant to their audience?

I recommend that agency owners join partnership programs, especially if they operate within the digital or technology space, where such programs are prevalent and offer substantial benefits.

While the availability and nature of formal partnership programs may vary depending on the industry, they often provide valuable opportunities for agencies to increase their visibility and grow their business.

For agencies aligned with technology vendors, partnership programs can serve as a conduit to new markets and customers, often granting access to the vendor’s client base in need of your agency’s services.

This connection can lead to engagements with companies that might not have been on your radar, propelled by the credibility and trust inherently transferred from the partnering tech company.

Consequently, deals from these referrals tend to close faster due to the established trust. Beyond direct business opportunities, partnership programs can offer significant co-marketing advantages.

Agencies can benefit from shared marketing efforts and budgets, allowing them to reach new prospects through the partner’s channels and vice versa. This synergy amplifies visibility and enhances the perceived value of both parties involved.

Furthermore, many quality partnership programs include provisions for learning and development, enabling agency teams to gain deeper knowledge of their partners’ tools and platforms.

This expertise improves service delivery and positions the agency as a more attractive choice for prospective clients, thanks to their demonstrated proficiency with specific technologies or platforms.

While formal partnership programs are more common in specific sectors, all agencies can explore creating informal alliances with influencers, companies, or other entities within their industry.

Though less structured, these partnerships can still yield significant visibility and business development benefits. Ultimately, whether formal or informal, partnerships can elevate an agency’s market presence, credibility, and access to new growth opportunities.


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13. As an agency coach, what unique perspectives or strategies do you bring to help agencies navigate challenges and succeed?

As an agency coach, my unique approach centers on transforming how agencies pursue new business, moving from passive strategies to a more proactive, relationship-focused methodology.

This perspective is built on the foundation that waiting for inbound opportunities, referrals, or the phone to ring is not a viable strategy for securing significant business opportunities. Instead, our philosophy emphasizes the importance of proactive Relationship-Making™ instead of mere lead generation, which often feels short-term and transactional.

Our strategy for helping agencies navigate challenges and achieve success involves a three-phased approach:

  1. Building awareness and demand
  2. Engaging prospects directly
  3. Nurturing long-term relationships.

1. Building Awareness and Demand: This initial phase is about making your agency known to the right audience in a strategic and targeted manner. The goal is to warm up this audience, making them more receptive to future engagements. This involves leveraging your marketing efforts to highlight your unique value propositions and expertise to potential clients.

2. Engaging Prospects Directly: Even with a strong marketing foundation, waiting for clients to come to you can result in missed opportunities. This stage involves proactively reaching out through cold calling or emailing. However, these interactions are not entirely “cold” if the prospects have already encountered your agency through your newsletter, content on LinkedIn, or speaking engagements. This familiarity changes the dynamic, making them more likely to respond positively.

3. Nurturing Relationships: Recognizing that only a tiny fraction of the market may be ready to purchase your services at any given time, it’s crucial to maintain engagement with the larger portion who might need your services in the future.

Continuous interaction through email newsletters, consistent content delivery, and presence at industry events ensures your agency remains at the top of prospects’ minds when they are ready to decide. The key to navigating challenges and achieving success in the agency landscape is adopting a proactive stance toward Relationship-Making™.

This approach helps secure new business and establishes a long-term pipeline of potential clients who are familiar with and trust your agency’s brand and expertise.


14. Besides yourself, are there any other agency coaches you recommend we reach out to for an interview?

Yes, I recommend contacting Marcel Petitpas for insights on agency coaching.

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Abdul Rehman

Abdul is a tech-savvy, coffee-fueled, and creatively driven marketer who loves keeping up with the latest software updates and tech gadgets. He's also a skilled technical writer who can explain complex concepts simply for a broad audience. Abdul enjoys sharing his knowledge of the Cloud industry through user manuals, documentation, and blog posts.

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