How Agency Business Development Has Shifted for 2021

It is no secret that 2020 shifted everything. Moving into 2021, we know that even more will change for agency business development teams who are focusing on growth. The business development landscape, which was once about in-person networking and generating high-dollar sales, has started on a new path. The top agencies are leading the way with innovative new sales techniques and strong digital lead generation tactics.

In this article, we outline the variety of ways we have seen the agencies we work with pivot their business development strategies to appeal to large well-known brands amid a global pandemic and everything that comes along with that.

24/7 Digital

With the shift to remote working, people are online now more than ever before. This has been a huge advantage for agencies that are implementing email lead generation. In fact, BIGWAVE has seen a 25% boost in our qualified meeting rate (number of calls booked and completed) in the past 12 months.

In addition to outbound email tactics, successful agency business development teams are taking advantage of Zoom in their sales conversations. In 2019, it may have felt a little uncomfortable to turn your webcam on for a first-time sales call with a stranger (or vice versa). Now, it is second nature. In the past year, CEOs and agency business development teams have gotten invaluable face time with their prospects that used to take weeks or months to work up to.

Industry Pivots

While many industries have sadly struggled through the pandemic, there have been some that have seen tremendous growth. Agency business development teams who have historically targeted hurting industries like travel or restaurants have shifted their sales and marketing activities to be aware of this. If your agency works with industries that are seeing a continued downswing moving into 2021, there are some tactics you can implement:

  • Offer project work instead of high-ticket retainers. Clients that have traditionally signed off on high-ticket retainers may be more hesitant to do so given the current economy. Instead of letting them pass on working with your agency altogether, build trust by offering one-off projects until they feel comfortable enough to sign on for a longer-term relationship.
  • Focus on your value proposition. Along the same lines as the above bullet point, clients are more frugal than ever before. Because of this, agencies need to show their value in every way possible. Audit your marketing materials, website, and sales handouts to ensure they directly speak to the ROI or other tangible benefit of your services and why brands should invest money in working with you.
  • Pivot and innovate around what services you offer. If your agency has traditionally offered services like event marketing or in-person workshops that are no longer doable for many brands, consider pivoting to another offer. How can you take your traditional offers and optimize them for our 2021 culture shift?

Timing is Everything

2020 was a year of pain for many people for many reasons. Think about your prospects and what they could be experiencing today. How is the news affecting their mood? How is their industry performing? There is nothing worse than reaching out to a CMO with a sales-y cold call after they just laid off half of their team or are feeling anxious about the state of the world.

In addition to just timing, consider authenticity. Speak candidly about our world’s happenings to your prospects and allow them to do the same. Often, events like this can allow us to build strong bonds with one another. Come from a place of compassion and explain how you can help your prospects overcome the challenges they are facing in today’s marketplace.

To get started, consider each of the following in your sales outreach emails:

  • A personalized note about the recipient and/or their company
  • A nod to the current environment
  • A key differentiator that sets your agency apart from the competition
  • A statistic or story about how you helped a similar brand overcome a challenge within their industry

Event Networking

Pre-pandemic, many agencies relied on conferences, trade shows, and other events to meet and nurture prospects. Savvy agency business development teams would walk the floor and introduce themselves to potential clients. Savvier teams would do their research ahead of time and walk into the show with meetings already set up.

In fact, many of our agency clients would partner with us to help them email event attendees and set up meetings ahead of time. Now, in the digital world, our tactics have remained the same but our delivery must shift. Many of the industry trade shows that we have historically seen strong success from like CES, Natural Products Expo West/East, and the New York Times Travel Show have shifted to virtual events.

In turn, we have updated our sales outreach emails to include language around tuning into speeches and attending virtual networking sessions. Making these slight adjustments have allowed us to see similar results to the original in-person shows.


Historically, many of the agencies we’ve consulted with have imposed geographical limitations on their own sales efforts. They’re usually self-conscious about their location and proximity (or lack thereof) to prospective clients due to the occasional brand preferring to work with a local agency.

In today’s remote-first world, brands are looking solely at capabilities and are no longer prioritizing geography. This is great news for specialized agencies. If you haven’t already, now is a great time to remove any geographical constraints you put on your business development efforts and determine a niche. What do you do better than any of the competitors? How are you marketing this to prospective clients?

95% of our clients see a qualified meeting with a prospective client within the first month of our program. Now is the time. Reach out and schedule a free consultation with our team of experts to find out how you can tweak your sales process and start generating high-quality leads today.

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