A lot seems to have happened in 2014 but at the same time it has flown by and I can’t believe it’s 2015 already.

It feels like the decade has only just begun but we’re already almost halfway through.

The end of year break gives time to re-charge your batteries and make sense of the last 12 months and plan for the coming year, and what better time to write a bit about it.

2014: Confidence and growth

New car sales for 2014 were at a 10-year high, boosted by confidence in the economy, something that doesn’t surprise me – 2014 feels like it was a good year.

It feels like the year that things properly started to get going again and people really started to invest across the board.

There are more digital agencies, they’re all growing, and for many of them organic growth can no longer deliver the growth they need so they are increasingly looking to do outbound new business.

This is great for us but a side effect is that it is ever-more competitive.

Of course it has always been competitive but, more than ever, to perform above the market agencies need to have an extremely robust new business strategy where each part is as good as it can be.

New business success is defined by how much you win, and to win you need to look good, pitch well, be relevant, timely, organised and connected.

We’ve seen new markets open up for big companies in areas such as industrial, engineering, facilities management, food service, and many others.

Industries that traditionally may not have spent so much on marketing have become more visible through digital, which has led many of them to have to address brand, communication and particularly digital channels.

This provides new opportunities but for a new business team which needs to find and engage with them it presents challenges.

Internationally, in recent years there has been a trend of globalisation of British digital.

Of course the big agencies all have international and multi-national clients, but increasingly we are seeing small and medium size agencies of 10-20 people who are servicing clients in Europe and as far afield as the US West Coast.

This isn’t necessarily a 2014 thing but actively targeting clients in other countries is something we definitely saw more of last year.

From a new business perspective and given the increasingly competitive UK market, this opens up new opportunities, although it also increases the risk as it’s a bit of an unknown and as always there’s no guarantee of success.

Similarly, we’re seeing more European agencies import new business services from the UK, particularly in Europe.

2015: What do we expect?

Well, first we expect most of what we’ve said above to continue. Digital continues to grow and we can’t see that stopping.

Taking mobile alone, there are still thousands of businesses out there that don’t have mobile optimised sites and given that nowadays any agency worth their salt recommends responsive, that shows that those companies are overdue a site redesign and rebuild at the very least and we think for many, 2015 will be the year they do it.

Secondly, we think a big trend this year will be that integrated and coordinated inbound/content marketing and outbound new business will become vital for success in 2015.

Most people would agree that over the last couple of years, business buyers have become increasingly difficult to reach by phone and that email’s effectiveness is slowly declining.

Most people would also probably agree that as the erosion of the traditional sales cycle has continued, content strategy and social has become a crucial element in outbound new business.

We expect that in 2015, the agencies that most successfully combine the two – inbound marketing and outbound new business – will see good win rates.

We know the buying cycle has changed – prospects now do far more of their own research when deciding on who they might like to work with.

Inbound marketing should address three things: awareness, engagement and credibility.

There’s a threat - if you don’t update and post quality content regularly then it will undermine trust and your credibility; and there’s a huge opportunity – if you look at those doing it well, there are agencies out there with thousands of followers in LinkedIn and Twitter.

That’s a lot of reach and exposure. Good quality blogs, slideshare, Twitter, speaking at events, sharing content across channels... delivering content consistently will be crucial.

So inbound is crucial – and so is outbound. Taking the label away from it, what we’re really talking about is reaching out to people – calling them up and starting the conversation.

Calling is not enough on its own any more, but without it, you’ll not deliver what you could.

Nowadays, there is a lot of content out there. Time and again, we see from analytics that even when prospects spend time reading content, they rarely get in touch, even when we know it’s a great content piece from other responses; and content doesn’t listen to a prospect and propose solutions. So you need to reach out and talk to people.

Integrated and relevant inbound and outbound new business is highly effective.

Speaking at an event, sharing your presentation, writing a blog post, and getting in touch with the attendees on the phone – it needs planning and coordination but it’s not difficult to do if you are willing to put the time in.

So – that’s my thoughts – now it’s off to get started. Christmas break? What Christmas break...

Graeme Davidson

Published 9 January, 2015 by Graeme Davidson

Graeme Davidson is Director at Icebreaker Business Development Ltd and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter, Google Plus or LinkedIn

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