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Tim Kilroy on How Agencies Can Navigate Challenges in Client Acquisition?

Updated on May 3, 2024

9 Min Read
Tim Kilroy interview

Welcome, everyone! Today, we’re delighted to have Tim Kilroy join us to discuss how agencies can navigate challenges in client acquisition.

With a remarkable journey spanning 28+ years in digital marketing, Tim brings a wealth of experience to the table. From founding and selling agencies to his current role as a coach for agency owners, Tim is the guy agency owners contact for advice.

Having collaborated with 200+ agencies, including industry leaders like Titan Growth, Sproutward, and Hustler Marketing, Tim’s insights are bound to provide invaluable guidance on Agency client acquisition.

Let’s get started…


1. Can you introduce yourself and your expertise in coaching agencies, particularly in acquiring new clients?

I’ve been in the digital marketing space since 1997. In the last 28 years, I’ve started a few agencies, sold a couple, and bought a couple, and in 2018, I found my true calling in coaching agency owners on ways to Build Your Agency Better™.

Since 2018, I’ve worked with over 200 agencies, ranging from freelancers to larger agencies like Titan Growth, Sproutward, Hustler Marketing, Juice, Jane Creative, and more.

I’ve worked with performance marketing agencies, SEO agencies, retention agencies, creative agencies, and PR and development agencies. Agencies are unique businesses since you would think that they already have all the tools they need to acquire clients.

They can create assets, run ads, create memorable messaging, do search optimizations, and more. And most agencies are, quite frankly, TERRIBLE at lead generation. But mostly, the fact that they think about lead generation and do all of the things associated with “lead gen” is what makes them terrible at it.

I am lucky (?) enough to have been in this industry for such a long time that I’ve seen waves of “lead gen” activities come and go.

When I started, sending out sales letters and postcard mailers was bleeding edge. Then, cold calls. Then, banner ads. Then email. Then search. Then, texting, and it goes on and on. Every few years, the mechanisms change, but the reasons that agencies are terrible at lead gen stay the same.

The biggest reason agencies aren’t good at lead gen is that they think of lead gen and sales as transactions. It isn’t. It is the ongoing development of a relationship that culminates in a sale. When agencies flip their mindset from “lead gen” to demand generation, their world becomes much better.

Lead gen is targeted at the people who are ready to buy today. Those targets have, generally, decided what they need and what it is worth to them, and they are looking for the best financial value (for the most part). That isn’t an ideal environment for building trust. However, it is an ideal environment to cut your price to win a deal and compress your margin.

My philosophy is that “lead gen” isn’t the right focus. Creating various contact and engagement opportunities is the best way to build high-performing business development practices. This ranges from buyer-focused content development to targeted cold outreach to meaningful partnerships and building authority through events.

And before you get too worried, all of this can be done in-house with a small team. A quick note–the best agencies can answer the 4Ws well and deeply:

1. Who do I serve? Who is the client that I can work with that creates the most mutually beneficial relationship?

2. What Do I Do? What is the real focus of my services? (Hint: It has nothing to do with your marketing activities.)

3. What’s in it for them? What strategic initiatives are improved, and what long-term benefits are received by your clients? If your answer is revenue or ROAS, you aren’t thinking right.

4. Why Me/Us? What are the truly compelling reasons that a prospect should become a customer? What makes you their perfect fit?

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2. Why is acquiring new clients crucial for agencies, and what key components do you emphasize to ensure successful acquisition?

New client development is crucial for agencies because it means that you now have access to the total amount of the customer’s lifetime value!

A new client is really valuable for a bunch of reasons:

  • They pay you money
  • They keep your team engaged: Working with new clients presents fresh challenges and keeps them on their toes.
  • They challenge you with a new set of circumstances and
  • They give you the opportunity to get better and learn more. But most everyone is focused on the money part – fair enough.

New clients are your fuel for growth. Their money and margin dollars help you grow your team, your capabilities, and your depth of experience. They, of course, have to be the “RIGHT” new clients. All money isn’t equally valuable.

The greatest skill a CEO or head of revenue can develop is the skill of picking which customers fit your agency’s skill sets the best, giving you the opportunity to expand and deepen your skill sets and help you understand your target market even better.

The key focal points that I lean into regarding developing new business are:

1. Your authority and expertise come not from how well you execute tactics for your clients but rather from how well you understand their issues and the true impact of your solution. Business development is about expressing how well and deeply you see their issues and how well you articulate that you are perfect for fixing them.

2. You want the client to have as much information about you, your thinking, your successes, your failures, your team, and your approach as possible BEFORE they speak with you. So, you must create a comprehensive plan to get everything out in the world.

3. Lead gen—like cold messaging and cold calling—aren’t stand-alone activities. They are simply one part of your demand generation ecosystem. While they can be effective, they are an unfair advantage when well integrated with your overall focused targeting, relevant messaging, and approach.

4. Demand generation is designed to generate qualified discussions, not close sales. You can’t win business without doing thoughtful discovery, and to do thoughtful discovery, you need to know what questions to ask and where to look for issues. To do that, you need to understand your client REALLY well.


3. In coaching sessions, what challenges do agencies commonly face when acquiring new clients, and how do you guide them to overcome these challenges successfully?

The biggest issues:

1. Impatience: An agency tries something that doesn’t yield immediate results, so they abandon it without ever considering why it isn’t working.

2. Focus on themselves or their offer: Agencies love to chat about how awesome they are. The more outrageous the case study, the more they talk about it. They talk about their 8-step proprietary process and drive all the focus to whatever their offer of the day is. This is 100% wrong. They need to focus on the prospect’s problems and the benefits the prospect will have on the other side of working with the agency.

3. Consistency: If you do all the right things but only intermittently, you will have rotten results.

4. Doing what everyone else does: Templates, cut, and paste — all a waste of time.

5. Spray and pray: If you are simply pelting the market with a message that is irrelevant to the recipient, they aren’t going to respond.


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

Hustler Marketing – Bostjan Belingar Jane Creative – Spencer Gellman Anfernee Chang – TranzBiz Andres Alvarez & Obeth Seguin – ED Digital Paris Childress – Hop Online Leslie Carruthers – The Search Guru Dale Bertrand – Spark & Fire Charlie Naus & Thomas Brazier – Carson & Doyle

There are tons more.


5. Can you provide examples of agencies that, under your guidance, effectively acquired new clients using modern strategies?

When it comes to effective client acquisition through modern strategies, all of the agencies I’ve guided have seen success. However, one standout example is Fire & Spark. They’ve seamlessly integrated targeted cold messaging, events, content, and partnerships into their approach. Plus, they set monthly and quarterly targets for all channels, ensuring a focused and strategic client acquisition process.


6. Given the diverse landscape, what practical advice do you offer agencies on identifying and attracting their ideal clients during the client acquisition process?

Identify: Knowing your ideal clients before embarking on client acquisition efforts is crucial.

Consider the 4Ws:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they need?
  • Where can you find them?
  • Why do they need your services?

Attract: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to attraction. The key is to deeply understand your target clients’ problems and demonstrate the benefits of your solutions. Focus on creating content, maintaining an always-on outreach strategy, fostering partnerships, and hosting events that resonate with your target market.

Remember, it’s not rocket science. It’s about building authority as an expert in addressing problems and providing solutions. Give people the opportunity to learn more about how you can help them and make offers to those you can serve best.


7. How do you assist agencies in building and maintaining a client acquisition strategy aligned with their overall business goals and values?

First, we identify the goals and values. Then we think about every activity or tactic and decide:

Does this activity or tactic get me closer to my goal or further away?

And if you have multiple activities that will get you closer to your goal, rank them by effort and impact.

No agency ever has to do something that doesn’t align with who it is or wants to be. The best business development strategies are authentic, prospect-focused, and built on increasing trust. When done well, business development is truly a service offered to the prospect.


8. Do partnerships play a role in acquiring new clients, and how can agencies establish and leverage partnerships effectively for client acquisition?

Partnerships ARE HUGE!!!!!! Partners take on various shapes: client referrals, other agencies, and tech platforms. Partnerships are perhaps the highest ROI channel. However, it’s important to note that partnerships can sometimes progress slowly, so it’s wise to supplement them with other strategies to maintain momentum.


9. When measuring success in acquiring new clients, what key performance indicators (KPIs) do you advise agencies to track?

Tracking success in acquiring new clients can be simplified by focusing on key performance indicators (KPIs):

  • Leads by channel or “effort.”
  • Leads to meeting conversion rate.
  • Meetings to offer conversion rate.
  • Offers to close conversion rate.

Additionally, it’s crucial to monitor the following:

  • Average contract size
  • The average number of months a client stays
  • Average revenue per client

10. Can you share a recent story where an agency used a modern approach to acquire new customers successfully?

I already have. Fire & Spark is a great example. Their modernized approach, incorporating targeted cold messaging, events, content, and partnerships, is definitely worth mentioning.


11. Testimonials matter. What basic steps do you recommend for agencies to share success stories and get more customers?

They need to create a simple process: ask clients for a testimonial when your benefits are at their height, but don’t forget to follow up on the ask.

Provide clients with prompts for their testimonials, such as the problem you solved for them and what it was like to work with you. Additionally, ask every client for editorial feedback—you’ll gain valuable insights.

The key to using testimonials effectively is to leverage them when they are relevant. Instead of overwhelming your site with countless testimonials, showcase the best ones, and keep some in reserve for the sales process. Utilize testimonials as evidence of your ability to solve a problem. For instance, if you have a testimonial from a client in a similar industry or facing a similar issue, use it to drive deeper engagement.


12. How do you suggest agencies use technology, like AI, without complicating things to make acquiring customers more efficient?

Carefully! Right now, AI is better used as a workflow than a prospecting tool. I am sure this will change in the coming months, but right now, AI isn’t sharp enough to let it run amok – your contacts will feel the AI. So test carefully and move more slowly than you want to.


13. In today’s competitive landscape, what basic approaches do you suggest for agencies to be different and win over new customers?

As I’ve said, understanding the customer remains the ultimate differentiator. However, your uniqueness won’t lie in technology or tactics but in the way you make decisions:

  • What perspectives do you consider that others overlook?
  • What connections do you see that others miss?
  • What insights can you extrapolate and amplify?
  • What are you brave enough to share?

14. Being seen as an expert matter. How can agencies establish themselves as leaders in their industry to attract and get new customers?

Consistent content creation is key, regardless of the channel. Share what you know, but more importantly, emphasize how what you’re sharing impacts your audience. Ultimately, people are drawn to the benefits of your content, so highlight them effectively.


15. Do you think agency partnership programs can help agencies increase their online visibility and attract more customers?

110000%, Yes. Agency partnership programs can significantly enhance online visibility for agencies, ultimately attracting more customers.

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16. In addition to yourself, are there any other agency coaches you would recommend we reach out to for an interview?

Chris Martinez, Dude Agency


17. Lastly, what advice would you give agencies looking to overcome challenges in getting customers and gaining new customers effectively in 2024?

Focus on the basics:

  • Tight focus on a narrow set of prospects/problem
  • Deep understanding of audience problems and concerns. It is also important to have a deep understanding of how your clients make money (it is shocking how many agencies don’t really understand).
  • Be persistent and consistent in building and showing off your expertise, especially your team.
  • Focus on great conversations, and the sales will inevitably show up.
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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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