Decision-makers at companies you covet aren’t interested in dancing around the matter in hand. If you want a brief, ask for it. If you want to meet them to show them what you’ll do, ask for that.

Selling is about questions, not statements. It’s about being interested, not just interesting.

Okay, agency credentials aren't all terrible, but I’ll stick my neck out: most of them are pretty bad. Worse than that, they look just like the other set of bad credentials that your prospect received.

Fix one of those and you can stand out. Fix both and you’ll get a higher response rate from your new business endeavours very quickly.

Agencies all need to find new clients from time to time. We advise some of the world's biggest and smallest agencies on how to do this. We do it for lots of them. I wanted to share a few thoughts about agency credentials.

There are extremes when it comes to agency creds documents (in case you don’t call them that, I’m talking about a “deck” – the document you send someone hoping they’ll be inspired to consider you as their next agency).

Some say lots about an agency. Others say lots about agencies. The really good ones say little about the agency and lots about the prospect.

Marcus Boothby-Lund, Client Services Director, Sponge NB:

Too many agencies focus on themselves in their creds, not the prospect and what they will get.

To start with, let’s consider the beginning. Most agencies open their creds document with something about how long they’ve been in business, where they’re based, how many people they have in their offices and perhaps a mention of a couple of their bigger clients.

Seems right, doesn’t it? There’s an old sales truism that the prospect is tuned to WiiFM (What’s in it for me?). They’re tuned to that when you send them some creds.

So far, they want to know what they’ll get and all you’re telling them is that you’re a business with an address, some staff and that you’ve been in business for a finite amount of time. That, agency person, describes everyone.

So, scrub that until the last page. If they like what you have to say, whether you’re big enough, close enough or experienced enough will become more important.

That first page is critical. Screw that up and it doesn’t matter what else you’ve written or what examples you’ve lovingly turned into a visually arresting dossier of your team’s genius.

If you haven’t read Andy Bounds’ amazing book “The Jelly Effect”, go order that right now and don’t send out any more creds until you’ve read it. Once you’ve read it, come back and finish this article.

Andy Bounds' amazing "The Jelly Effect"

You’re back? Right, now you’ve understood The Jelly Effect and Andy Bounds’ A.F.T.E.Rs, you can write your first page properly.

Next, are you addressing something you know about the prospect? Have they told you something about their business challenges? Did you ask about them? If your creds don’t somehow deal with what the prospect is looking to fix/improve/push then why would they read them?

Creds are not there to talk about your agency – they’ve just ended up that way. Find out what the prospect wants to do. If you can’t ask that question then don’t send anything general. Do your homework, make an assumption and busk. It’s bad practice, but it’s still better than sending a set of creds that are simply about you.

The more you ask prospects about what they might want to achieve, what they would actually get from you (rather than what you will do while you work for them), the more effective your creds can be. We’ve tested this hundreds of times. We’re right.

If your creds don’t have a call to action (I know, it sounds a bit old school) then you’re missing an opportunity to get to the point. Decision-makers at companies you covet aren’t interested in dancing around the matter in hand.

If you want a brief, ask for it. If you want to meet them to show them what you’ll do, ask for that. Selling is about questions, not statements. It’s about being interested, not just interesting.

Create your creds as a PDF. Don’t use PowerPoint, don’t use Word (and more so, if you insist on Word (why are you doing that?!), don’t save as .docx)  - in fact, don’t use anything that isn’t PDF.

Everyone can open a PDF. You can know exactly what it’ll look like. You can embed links. It’ll stop you from putting in awful swooshing page transitions.

Switch off your ego. Creds are not there to remind you that you have the best agency ever, anywhere. If everyone sends out a document that says little other than “we’re really good”, then how would anyone choose?

If you’re worried that you didn’t get to tell the prospect about the massive client that made you lots of money (sorry, I mean the massive client for whom you made lots of money…), don’t worry too much. Keep to relevant work. If its relevance isn’t clear to everyone in your office, don’t include it. You’re sending it to someone who will spend about 8 seconds on each page. Make it clear. Make it short.

If you use a new business agency then they should be telling you this. If you run new business in-house, then try this for say, five years and see if it works better.

If you worry about your new business efforts even a little, you could do a lot worse than giving us a call. There are lots of new business agencies though, so y’know, shop around.

Your creds should be short, absolutely relevant to the prospect’s needs (which you found out by asking them, remember?) and start with a page that tells the prospect what they will get from working with you.

Stay relevant, wrap it up fairly quickly (10 pages max, anything else is ego-stroking) and only at the end can you say where you are, how many buddies you work with and that your agency is of the excellent {insert year here} crop. Good luck.

Monkey with Typewriter image used under Creative Commons licence. Originally by Heather Fallows.

Stephen Fair

Published 29 November, 2012 by Stephen Fair

Stephen Fair is Managing Partner at Sponge New Business and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow Stephen on Google+ or Twitter

2 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (11)

Save or Cancel
Ken Punter

Ken Punter, Deputy Director University Marketing at University of WarwickSmall Business Multi-user


I've worked agency side and am now client side.

This is a great article, always ask questions, always be interested and always remember that the client is "buying" an easier life (but not a lazier one). If you can't show how you're going to ranslate a fee into results (however the client defines them) don't give the pitch - it'll be better for everyone in the long run.

NB: Pictures of you snowboarding on a slide titled 'our culture' is really dull and just illustrates that you're not really interested in the client.

On the flip side clients are usually really bad and giving the actual brief (i.e the one that describes office politics and who the real decision maker is), so you've got to ask lot's of questions.

over 5 years ago

Stephen Fair

Stephen Fair, Managing Partner at Sponge New Business

Thanks Ken. It takes lots of discipline to "do" new business properly. I'm glad it resonated with you. Obviously we contact potential clients for our agency clients a lot, so stripping out waste and avoiding becoming part of what can be an annoyance to someone client-side is crucial here. Thanks for taking the time to comment.


over 5 years ago

Stewart Longhurst

Stewart Longhurst, Director + Interim Head of Digital at Association of Project Management (APM)Enterprise

Totally agree.

I'm client-side and there's nothing worse than meeting a new agency and them starting with something like "Before we get to the detail, we'd like to show you a few slides about us" - sure you would but it's a guaranteed way to get my back up early on in the meeting.

Depending on how charitable I'm feeling and who else is in the audience I'll ask them to skip past it!

over 5 years ago

Stephen Fair

Stephen Fair, Managing Partner at Sponge New Business

Hi Stewart,
I won a client a piece of business from Akzo Nobel (back in 2003) and we had to focus entirely on ROI and speed of turnaround. The contact (whose name I forget now) was happy to answer questions about what they'd want and after navigating the "no names" policy we bumped into, we'd have been fools to waste the opportunity by blathering on about our client....

Thanks for your kind comment. Everyone agency and client side knows how the new business process works, so it's increasingly astonishing that agencies don't think about the experience from their "prospect's" side. We'll keep trying to make the whole thing nicer and easier for everyone. In the meantime, don't be too charitable!!

over 5 years ago



I am web developer. after year trying i get to successive .process you are new business whit you are best don't think abut experience.everyday give you experience you have a good idea which everyone . good luck

over 5 years ago


Benjamin Hartley

I would go further. Take nothing at all to a new business meeting. As I tell our clients, no-one cares about you or your business, they only want to know what's in it for them and can you solve their problems. Remember, knowledge and expertise are defined by the questions you ask, not the answers you give. I never take anything to a sales meeting and I always ask upfront for an agreement that by the end of the meeting they will give me a yes or a no. A yes does not mean a cheque signed, but it does mean agreed next steps to move forwards. Never allow "I'll think it over" or "we'll get back to you". That's why you always ask to be the last people they meet when making a decision, if they can't give you a no having seen and heard everything, then you have failed to impress them you are the best solution, it means you won't get the business. Better to get a no and certainty than an I'll think it over and constantly chasing (which happens constantly). Your job in sales is to disqualify all of the time. Not every one is qualified to become your next client, sales people often forget that. They are too concerned with Yes that they avoid hearing the Nos.

over 5 years ago

Stephen Fair

Stephen Fair, Managing Partner at Sponge New Business

Thanks Benjamin. Spot on. My article wasn't exclusively for presentation creds - we see plenty of email creds that fall at every hurdle. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment though - appreciated.

Steve - Sponge NB

over 5 years ago


Mark Young

I love this.

It's all so true and what's incredible is how you have to drag agencies kicking and screaming to a new set of creds.

Nice work.

over 5 years ago


David Fisk

Valuable stuff, thanks for posting, a lot of sound advise here too. Question everything and uncover the truth, that's being a professional. and the client will be impressed upon how enthusiastic, knowledgeable you are about they're organisation, and more importantly how comprehensive your solution appears to be.

over 5 years ago


nadani popal, boss at HA3

Pictures of you snowboarding on a slide titled 'our culture' is really dull and just illustrates that you're not really interested in the client.

about 3 years ago


steven boyce, Mr at Clever Little Design Ltd

I'm working on my agency creds at the moment and will have to rethink them. Thanks for the insight. It's very easy to get drawn into what we think people want to know. That'll be the ego talking. I'll lock it in a cupboard and have another go!

about 2 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.