Building the Agency Sales Process with Dan Englander

agency sales process

Dan Englander is the CEO and Founder of Sales Schema, a service agency that works with other agencies to help them generate leads and sales. Agencies turn to Sales Schema when they’re ready to grow using a developed agency sales process.

He’s also the host of the Digital Agency Growth podcast, which teaches agency owners how to take a proactive approach to getting new business so they can “plan effectively, stay ahead of turmoil, and ultimately thrive.”

Today he joins Garrett on the Agency Ahead podcast to drop some knowledge on the subject of building out client rosters. This is a don’t-miss, especially if the pandemic has left you in desperate need of a new client base.

The highlights:

  • (1:36) A description of the typical Sales Schema client.
  • (5:33) What agencies tend to look for as they grow, vs. what they should look for.
  • (7:34) The framework for seeking new clients and building out your business.
  • (9:24) Addressing the lead gen process.
  • (12:58) Communicating your value to prospects.
  • (15:32) Measuring the success of lead-generation campaigns.
  • (18:40) Landing the “big fish” client. 
  • (21:22) The definition of good thought leadership.
  • (24:35) Follow-up.
  • (26:56) “Chicken Soup for the Agency Soul.” 

Podcasts referenced on the show:

The insights:

A description of the typical Sales Schema client

Dan says his typical client is usually an agency that’s been around the block awhile.

“They’ve built themselves upon referrals and their personal network. They’ve done really great work. But they’ve gotten to a point where that’s not enough anymore. It’s too sporadic, it’s too reactive.”

These agencies are trying to figure out how to get to the next phase. 

He says one thing he helps agencies do is get away from the “Mad Men” style “Key account model.”

“[On that model] you might have a client that is with you for a decade at a time, or thirty years, and so on, but the world has changed, the AOR model has backslid. The idea of an account being with you for years at a time, though of course, that’s what we all want, is just not realistic. Business needs to be changed and emphasized differently, and a lot of agencies are slow to catch up.”

He also says until this point many agencies haven’t really had to sell or do sales the right way. Every bit of business has come in through referrals, and people coming to them with an established need. 

“People who are both problem-aware and solution-aware.”

He says this can give agencies an overinflated view of sales skills. Sales Schema makes it better, faster, cheaper, and easier for agencies to get used to a new sales process for the first time.

The agency sales process and identifying prospects

“They’re looking to get beyond either a big gorilla client that provides a lot of risk but also lots of reward or to do really fun work and do things that are new.”

He says the first is smart because diversification can protect a business. He’s less enthusiastic about the second motivation.

“I understand not wanting to overly specialize and work with the same type of client all the time. I just don’t think it works very well for more agencies and I think it’s a little bit selfish.

If you look at all the great business thinkers who have written, like Peter Drucker and those types, if you look at the way that markets work, the idea is that you want to be useful, and solve a particular problem for a particular type of person and market.”

He says trying to chase “fun” clients makes it hard to create a repeatable sales process. It also makes it difficult for the agency to do a good job solving problems. Constant jumping around can prevent agencies from obtaining the breadth of experience in one niche that can really help them help their clients.”

The framework for seeking new clients

“Focus 80% on what you’ve been historically strong with.

The place where you have the strongest case studies, what you feel confident about, where you actually know something more than the average agency out there. Then if you want to spend 10% to 20% on Skunkworks projects, go after something else, that’s cool, but think about connective tissue.”

“Connective tissue,” Dan explains, in that when you’re going after a new niche it should have a commonality with that strong one.

“You’re probably not going to be doing hospitals and cruise lines, but maybe you can do hospitals and banks because both industries have compliance issues.”

This means you don’t have to make big repositioning changes or changes to your website. You can create a tangible campaign, figure out exactly who you’re going after, and position yourself.

Addressing the lead generation process

Marketers prefer to automate, but can’t afford to rely on automation alone.

“We’re identifying targets and figuring out a list of people we want to go after,” Dan says. “Data is easy to come by. Everyone is on LinkedIn if they’re in the white-collar space.

The next step is to do a lot of research on prospects so you can reference something they’ve published, something that’s happened in their company, or something that’s going on in their industry. This makes communication very personable and shows you’ve done your homework.”

Dan says it’s important not to get stuck on the idea of turning on a piece of software and making millions in your sleep.

“You’re talking about 5 to 7 figure agency engagements here. If you over automate in the wrong place you’re just going to be hurting yourself.”

Once you have a relationship, automation should drop off by orders of magnitude. 

He also says there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty with these campaigns, and agencies should embrace that.

Communicating your value to clients

“Specialization really is the biggest thing. Our clients who have websites that are geared to specific audiences tend to do better. You go on their site and you know what they’re about. Then the outreach is still geared towards that because people will still take that conversation.” 
He notes you can align other assets to that specialization. 
“If you’re really great with CPG you don’t necessarily have to have 5 paragraphs explaining all your relevant work. You might just have a profile headline on LinkedIn saying CPG Agency. Now there’s a lot less heavy lifting that the email has to do.” 
Essentially, you’re bringing all your assets together to communicate an idea or to communicate certain strengths. Sales Schema’s particular focus is on selling to people who are problem-aware but not yet necessarily solution-aware. 
“Our measure of success is appointments booked. I think that’s a good metric to aim for. I think a lot of time there’s earlier metrics, and I’m not saying they’re useless or they don’t matter, but I think there’s an overemphasis put on them.”
What are these earlier metrics? Things like open rates, reply rates, and click rates.
“Those tend to be really contextual. If we’re selling into hospitals an open rate of 30% might be awesome, but if we’re selling into small tech start-ups that would be a pretty bad open rate, all things being equal.”

Landing the big fish client

Once you’ve specialized, you can get into thought leadership.

“It is going to take time, and once we’re doing thought leadership it’s going to take engaging them in the right way. Think of the thought leadership is fuel, becoming that authority.”

He cautions against getting too married to your own website during this process.

“What we do for clients is get them in publications, get them on podcasts, get them plugged into the right audiences. That’s way higher leverage than creating content that may or may not be seen.

Every time you post something on your site it could get traffic, or it might not, but when you plug into somebody else’s audience, you’re sitting on a gold mine.”

The definition of good thought leadership

There are lots of ways to do it well, but Dan favors storytelling. 
“We’re wired for stories. Tell more from that standpoint.”
He also says a certain amount of “bullshit hunting” can be useful. 
“Where do you see bullshit? Where do you see companies wasting money on stuff? Where do you see your clients wasting money when they come to you?”

The essential role of the follow up

Set up your CRM correctly. “Here’s everybody we haven’t talked to in thirty days.” You can then reach out to them and say, “Hey, we talked thirty days ago, what did you decide?”
“99% of the time,” Dan says wryly, “the answer is we’ve done nothing. Nothing’s happened. So let’s get on the phone, you know? That’s the simplest, easiest, most high-converting thing we’ve ever seen, basically.”

What’s your right now cause?

“Chicken soup for the agency soul.”

“Now is the time,” Dan says, “to be useful to your market. Right now is the time to think about what problem you can solve as opposed to what you want to be doing, and then I think if you reframe things like that everything else, all the passion, all the fun, will follow from that.”

Connect with Dan Englander

Want to find out how to prospect during this crisis? Dan’s got a free webinar. Just visit

Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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