DiscoverSmall Spark Theory: a marginal gains approach to new business and marketing
Small Spark Theory: a marginal gains approach to new business and marketing
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Small Spark Theory: a marginal gains approach to new business and marketing

Author: Lucy Mann

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New business is one of those subjects guaranteed to get a reaction from agency owners everywhere. Many will have a nagging feeling they should be doing a bit more, wonder how other agencies manage to land the accounts they covet, have moments of wild inspiration and energy then falter because the day job just, well gets in the way.
Gunpowder’s Lucy Mann has worked in agency new business for over 25 years and has witnessed these scenarios, and many more like them, as an outsourced new business telemarketer, a new business recruitment consultant, in house new business developer, in house head of marketing, and new business mentor across multiple disciplines and agency shapes and sizes.
Regardless of size and discipline, many agencies encounter the same new business challenges, and more and more, the solution is not necessarily an ambitious marketing plan, or expensive sales resource, but instead a forensic application of process and a marginal gains approach to performance improvement.
Gunpowder’s podcast, Small Spark Theory™ explores the small changes we can make to our sales and marketing process to achieve better new business results. With contributions from a range of experts, each episode will examine a single element of the process in detail, providing manageable tips for improvement.

Find our more about Gunpowder Consulting, please visit gunpowderconsulting.com

Follow us on Twitter @gunpowdertweets and join the conversation at #smallsparktheory

With thanks to Matthew Syed for audio extract permission.
Host - Lucy Mann
Producer - Isabelle Jarvis
89 Episodes
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Early on in my agency career I often used to hear the expression 'great creative work will sell itself', and its close cousin 'do great work and the clients will come'. Of course we know that in reality, certainly for the majority, these things are rarely true, but I'm still surprised by the number of agencies I meet who continue to operate as though under this misapprehension, highly focused on the creative or technical output but lacking in broader commercial acumen or practice.  In this episode I talk to designer, agency leader and consultant Tim Perry about the most common commercial skills gaps he’s observed and how he’s tackling them through a range of bite-sized training courses designed especially for creatives. This feels like the perfect discussion to be having now. If ever there was a time to sharpen our networking, relationship-building and negotiation skills it is now! As always we’re giving away a copy of Tim’s recommended read: The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda - listen in to find out how to win.   
Over the recent months, I have observed how agencies have been experiencing the impact of economic uncertainty - including the stalling of client decision-making, frozen budgets, disappearing pipelines, and everything in between. In their recent BenchPress report, The Wow Company described last year as 'brutal' for agencies, and as 2024 adds more political uncertainty, there is no sign of any immediate relief. So, with this in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts on why 'new business' is such a problem for agencies and suggest some practical steps we can take to alleviate that ever-present feeling of needing to pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat. There's no book recommendation this month; instead, I've compiled a short guide to help you reboot your new business pipeline in five simple steps. Download your free guide here.
Over recent episodes we’ve referenced many of the macro issues facing brands which have in turn slowed down or stalled new business opportunities for agencies.  But there’s an elephant in the room that we’ve yet to address; the growing trend of clients deciding to bring creative resource in-house.  In this episode I speak to designer, brand specialist, ex-agency owner and all-round magnificent entrepreneur Emma Sexton. Emma has long championed in-house creative teams having set up the Inside Out Awards over a decade ago. In 2021 this association blossomed into The Inside Out Community, a vibrant member community of in-house creative leaders.  Emma shares with us the latest statistics on the growth of in-house creative teams, both nationally and internationally and the key drivers behind this shift. We look at the role of AI and budgetary implications. Most importantly, we look at the opportunities for agencies in the face of a trend that isn’t going away any time soon. You can read more about these insights in the recently released report The Future of In-House of Creative Leadership. Our book giveaway this month is Emma’s recommendation: Madison Avenue Makeover : The transformation of Huge and the redefinition of the ad agency business. Listen in to find out how to win.  You can listen to Emma’s previous conversation with us about new agency models here.
EP85:  Changing perception | Steve Garside | TMW            Have you ever felt that your agency is pigeonholed by clients and prospects as being a specialist in just one thing, where in reality you have so much more to offer? Of course being seen as a specialist of any kind is a generally a good thing – we have many episodes where we have discussed this at length. But in some cases, over time, the perception of a narrow service specialism can become an inhibitor to growth. In this episode I’m joined by Steve Garside, Divisional Head of New Business & Marketing at TMW Unlimited as we discuss the challenge of changing the market perception of an agency know for decades as a CRM specialist. Steve takes us through his approach to broadening the agency’s appeal to a wider audience and shares his top tips for anyone looking to get out of troublesome pigeonhole. No book competition this time but you can download Steve’s recommended read: New Business: A guide to life on the frontline published by the IPA.
Here we are at the beginning of 2024 and it feels fitting for our first episode of the year to celebrate change. Last Summer, 40 year old agency Thompson Brand Partners rebranded as ThreeTenSeven - the final iteration of the agency’s repositioning following a management buy-out in 2019. At a time when we have seen so much uncertainty, in the economy, our working practices and our client’s changing needs, I was inspired by the confidence of this move, and wanted to find out more. In this episode I talk to Managing Director Rachel Cook, about the process the team went through to bring about this change, the implications for the agency’s new business and marketing and that small matter of showcasing diversity in leadership. Rachel’s recommended read is How to Have a Good Day by Caroline Webb, listen in to find out how to win a copy. As discussed in this episode we are always delighted to hear from potential guests with stories and expertise to share. If that’s you, please get in touch at lucy@gunpowderconsulting.com This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.  
December 2023 marks seven years of Small Spark Theory. Mindblowing then that’s it’s taken this long for a dedicated episode on the topic of proposals - such a crucial element of the new business process but a perennial pain point all the same.  Joe Ardeeser was so determined to find a better solution for turning around compelling proposals for his digital agency that he designed his own software. And so Smart Pricing Table was born.  Joe joins me in this episode to discuss the thinking behind the software; the power of packaged services; the proposal as a collaborative tool between agency and prospect and Joe’s love of marginal gains.  As always we’ll be giving away a copy of Joe’s recommended read: Good to Great by Jim Collins. Listen in to find out how to win.  Also mentioned in this episode: 10 Rules Every Agency Must Follow For Winning Proposals Built to Last by Jim Collins Sell Like Crazy by Sabri Suby Thanks for listening this year. We’ll be back in 2024 with more conversations and more marginal gains designed to help you attract and win more business.  Enjoy the festive season! This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.
Regular listeners to this podcast will know that we spend a lot of time here talking about relationships. Of course there is much to say in our industry about creativity and marketing and technology innovation, but fundamentally, as agencies we are service businesses and so the process of attracting, winning and retaining clients has as much to do with the the people involved and the relationships we create as it does with the creative or technological outputs.  This year I’ve spent a lot of time auditing client relationships on behalf of agencies, so have been paying particular attention to the behaviours and dynamics that define successful working relationships - from early new business conversations all the way through to retained (and referred) business.  So I was particularly excited to receive a copy of Tuning Up, the new book by David Meikle, exploring how responsibility and control relate to one another in ALL of our relationships but specifically within the client and agency dynamic.  In this episode David joins me to discuss how using his clever Meikle Matrix to help us better understand responsibility and control,  we can improve our performance and reduce stress.  Don't forget, we’ll be giving a lucky listener a copy of Tuning Up, listen in to find out how to win.  This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month. Also mentioned in the episode: David's previous book: How To Buy A Gorilla EP30: Rethinking Procurement  
I have met many agencies over the years who have had ideas for spinning out their own products.  The outcomes have been varied. From those who have successfully launched and created additional revenue streams, to those who have continued to scale and ultimately sell their product business. For many though, the constant pull of client projects and the day to day demands of running an agency mean that many brilliant product ideas just never make it out of the agency doors.  In this episode I speak with Paul Halfpenny, Co-Founder and CTO of digital agency Filter, just as the agency launches PersonalizeWP.  We discuss the importance of defining and getting behind the ‘right’ idea for the agency. The challenges of managing resource, securing investment and launching to market all while keeping the agency ticking along with a happy team and clients.  Paul’s recommended read is Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. Listen in to find out how to win a copy.  This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month. Further reading: The Marketer's Guide to Personalisation 5 Ways To Use PersonalizeWP To Personalise Your WordPress Website If you've enjoyed this episode, please consider sharing it with someone or even better, leave a review - it really makes our day!
How much of your agency revenue comes from overseas clients? Did you know that the US is the largest recipient of UK exports, receiving £3.9bn worth of advertising and market research services, – a value that has more than tripled since 2020? In this episode I chat to Kat Thay, Co-Founder of K&C, Co-President of the Austin Advertising Federation. Since moving to Texas in 2018 Kat’s flair for research, networking and connecting talent has revealed lucrative opportunities for UK agencies looking either to break into the US or expand their existing US revenues. Building on this insight, Katalyst now supports agencies to confidently navigate and succeed in the US market. We discuss the perceptions of cost and quality of UK creativity and the industry and state-specific nuances of doing business overseas. We’ll be giving away a copy of Kat’s recommended read: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Listen in to find out how to win. This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.  
Understanding how clients are buying agency services is fundamental to how we shape our new business and marketing strategies and processes. In recent episodes we’ve heard perspectives from procurement expert Tina Fegent and lead generation expert Alex Sibille, so it feels only fitting to add an intermediary point of view into the mix. Dominic Glenn heads up the Brand Services offer at Ingenuity and joins us to share insights gleaned from years of client / agency speed dating events and helping brands navigate the agency landscape,  either to build an entire roster or solve a particular knotty challenge. As always there are marginal gains aplenty and a book competition. Listen in for your chance to win a copy of Brothers Emanuel by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.  Do feel free to get in touch with Dominic via LinkedIn to introduce your agency! Also mentioned in this episode: Ingenuity acquires rival Future Factory Recent pitch news  This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.    
Winning new clients has never been straightforward. But after the upheaval of the last few years, last year in particular we saw an added complication - resource. And of course that scarcity of talent naturally increased salary expectations, meaning that profit margins on new and existing projects were being squeezed even further.  For this episode I speak to Manish Dudharejia, founder and president of E2M Solutions (and I'm very proud to say, sponsor of Small Spark Theory) about how his 180 strong team support over 150 agencies with white label digital services to take the pain out of the scaling and resourcing process.  We explore how Manish's desire to build a people over profit business has created a powerful niche which allows him to focus hiring and developing specialist digital talent, allowing agencies to focus on building their client relationships, all while protecting profit margins.  We'll be giving away a copy of Manish's recommended read: Measure What Matters: The Simple Ideas that Drives 10x Growth by John Doerr, listen in to find out how to win.  Also mentioned in this episode: Traction: Get a Grip on your Business by Gino Wickman Atomic Habits by James Clear E2M introductory offer for Small Spark Theory listeners This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner.  
I feel as though we’ve been skirting around the edges of a beast of a topic for some time on this podcast, namely emergent technology and its impact on agencies. Of course, no single episode is going to unpick the labyrinth of challenges and opportunities for our clients, and in turn the agency community, but as the chat about AI continues to rumble in the daily news cycle, it’s feels like the right time to talk to someone who really understands that intersection of technology, people and brands. Warren Hutchinson is Founder of Else, an experience design, innovation and strategy consultancy and Chair of the Design Business Association. He’s spent 25 years helping businesses as they navigate a point of change. In this episode, we discuss cutting though the hype and the noise, the power of kinaesthetic learning and its role in our positioning as experts and the importance of not having all the answers. Warren’s recommended read is Scary Smart by Mo Gowdat. Listen in to find out how to win a copy. Also mentioned in the episode: Diary of a CEO E252 Emergency Episode with Mo Gowdat Newsletters: TLDR The Conversation The Hustle If you are a DBA Member you can join Warren discussing these topics in Glasgow on 15 June – find out more here This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.  
In recent episodes, we’ve talked a lot about change and uncertainty, the persistent undercurrents unsettling our new business efforts and impacting our client relationships. So, it seems a perfect time to speak to someone who has an unrivalled perspective of the agency and client dynamic – Tina Fegent. From becoming one of the first marketing buyers in the UK over 25 years ago, Tina has set up and led procurement teams at some of the largest buyers of marketing services and led commercial teams at leading UK agencies. In this episode, we discuss the shifts in how clients buy, and how agencies sell, what we can do to maximise our client relationships, why positioning matters more than ever, managing a personal brand and how to get your portrait taken by Rankin! Tina’s recommended read is Buying Less for Less: How to Avoid the Marketing Procurement Dilemma by Gerry Preece. Listen in to find out how to win a copy. This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.   Also mentioned in this episode: IPA & CIPS Top Tips For Better Working Relationships IPA Magic & Logic
When I saw the title of Matt Watkinson’s new book, Mastering Uncertainty, earlier this year I jumped at the chance to interview him on the podcast.   Matt runs LA based agency Methodical. His first book, The 10 Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences had already been recommended on here by Nick Phipps back in episode 22 and having subsequently enjoyed his next book, The Grid, I was eager to see what Matt had to say about how we navigate these uncertain times. It turns out the book is far from a response to our post-pandemic disarray, but a rallying cry to not only accept uncertainty as a constant reality, but to use it to our advantage. There are so many new business takeaways in this conversation. I’ll be bulk ordering copies of Mastering Uncertainty for my clients, and giving away a copy with this episode, as well as a copy of the Grid – essential reading for anyone running a business or selling marketing services to businesses. Listen in to find out how to win. Also mentioned in this episode: Gap Selling: Getting the Customer to Yes: How Problem-Centric Selling Increases Sales by Changing Everything You Know About Relationships, Overcoming Objections, Closing and Price by Keenan Accelerating Excellence by James A. King This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.    
The recent acquisition of new business agency Future Factory by their leading competitor Ingenuity has been headline news in the new biz community. For me it was the perfect opportunity for a long overdue catch up with co-founder Alex Sibille. In this episode we discuss the expanded new business and marketing services offered by this combined new business powerhouse, Alex reflects on how new business performance has fared through changing economic conditions and shares insights and best practice for agencies either looking to hire a new business agency or undertake their own outreach activity. Just to mix things up, this month we don’t have a book recommendation, but instead, content to follow on LinkedIn, specifically Tina Fegent and her weekly #TinaTells posts. Also mentioned in the episode are Future Factory training courses and our previous conversations on the pod in EP24: The new business email and EP5: Lead generation. This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.    
Any regular listeners to this podcast will know that I love agencies. I have a deep fascination for the dynamics of what are often small businesses, almost always servicing larger organisations and adapting to the continually shifting sands of markets, consumer behaviour, the economy, competitors – and of course, technology. In this episode I discuss the challenges of maintaining relevance with the brilliant Mark Wilson, one half of the agency previously known as Wilson Fletcher, newly rebranded as Futurestate Design. How do you decide when to transform? When to stick and when to twist? How to you find the language to articulate your offer when technology moves so fast that ‘digital’ is no longer helpful. As always we are giving away a copy of Mark’s recommended read: No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer. Listen in to find out how to win. Also mentioned in this episode is Mark’s own book Futurestate Design: How to step out of the past to create a business fit for the future. Powerful by Patty McCord This episode is sponsored by E2M, the #1 white label digital agency partner. Visit https://www.e2msolutions.com/smallsparktheory/ to enjoy 20% discount on your first month.   Additional music: "Show Me" by Josh Woodward
How do you feel about the year ahead? Confident? Concerned? Uncertain? Wherever you are on this spectrum, one thing we must be, is ready.  I particularly like the work that Steve Parks does at Convivio because he focuses heavily on the macro issues facing clients and prospects and encourages agency leaders to use this insight to plan, adapt and respond as necessary. We discussed this approach when Steve joined me on the podcast back in episode 57, so I was keen to bring him back to get us in the right frame of mind for our first episode of 2023.  This is a bumper conversation, full of solid insight and brilliant, practical advice. We discuss some familar themes from last year and identify the potential hurdles and opportunties that lie ahead. As always we'll be giving away a copy of Steve's recommended read: The Alliance by Reid Hoffman- listen in to find out how to win.  Also mentioned in this episode: Books Anti-fragile: things that gain from disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz Further reading The Agency Radar High Altitude Thinking The True Hope of Optimistic Pessimism Support The Trussell Trust New Business Trouble Shoot
Whichever way we cut it, 2022 has been A LOT. The last few years have seen so much change; for individuals, businesses and our industry. Many of us are still adapting. Whether we are recalibrating, reinventing, surviving or thriving, we’re doing it all against a backdrop of relentless economic and political turmoil and uncertainty. So for our final episode of the year I wanted to focus on how we can maintain our confidence and positivity as we close off the year and look ahead to 2023. Wendy Bollard is a mindset coach with many years’ experience in the creative industry. Working with artists, designers, performers and directors, she uses her brilliant box of tricks to help her clients manage the day to day noise and bring out their very best performance. Listen in as Wendy shares her valuable tools and advice and helps us understand how to give our minds a daily workout. As always we are giving away a copy of Wendy’s recommended read: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Thank you all listening this year and continuing to support Small Spark Theory, every time we get your feedback and reviews it really is like a big internetty hug. Wishing you all a warm and restorative break. Also mentioned in the episode: Atomic Habits by James Clear
It’s been a little while since we had a client perspective on this podcast, and given the current economic wobbles, now feels like an excellent time to remedy this. So I’m delighted to share this conversation with Gareth Turner. Having enjoyed a stellar marketing career with brands such as Johns Smith’s, Bulmers and Lurpak, Gareth was most recently Head of Marketing at Weetabix and earlier this year, published his own research on client / agency relationships. We pick though the six key themes of this research to provide practical, actionable tips to help reinforce your relationships. You can download a copy of the report here – and while you’re at it, I highly recommend subscribing to Gareth’s newsletter: Sporadic Brand Ramblings. As always we’ll be giving away a copy of Gareth’s recommended read: How not to plan: 66 ways to screw it up by Les Binet and Sarah Carter. Listen in to find out how to win. For more information about Gunpowder’s client audit programmes – get in touch.
It’s been a while since we talked about new business talent on this podcast. But after a bumpy couple of years, it seems like the right time to shine a spotlight on the superstars in our industry who willingly show up every day to seek out new clients for their agencies. I wrote about the challenges for new business practitioners for Mental Health Awareness week highlighting the importance of getting the right support in place to retain our industry talent. So I was delighted to chat to Adam Graham about his new business community, BD Matters. Together we discuss the highs and lows of marketing and prospecting, managing expectations, the power of community and share some top tips for agency owners looking to support their new business folk. Adam’s recommended read is a Small Spark Theory favourite, To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink. Join in the conversation on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram using #smallsparktheory for your chance to win a copy. You can find out more about BD Matters here. To chat in confidence about Lucy’s mentoring, feel free to book in a time here.
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