Sales or new business continues to be the number one challenge for marketing agencies of whatever size. 

Why is this? 

  • There is a huge amount of competition for marketing services
  • Most agencies are firmly in the ‘sea of sameness’ with their positioning
  • Agency owners on the whole are not trained sales people
  • Trained sales people do not always deliver the goods
  • Sales is hard – really hard!

The vast majority of agencies rely on word of mouth or referrals for their lead generation. This can be a very effective strategy especially when you are a small agency or a freelancer however when you grow you need a steady stream of leads and prospects. 

It is at this stage you need to develop multiple streams of lead generating activity. 

The majority of agencies’ sales activity is a direct approach – following either inbound or outbound strategies to attract and find new customers. These approaches are very sensible and done correctly will deliver leads and enquiries. These strategies can be very time intensive and potentially costly. 

There is another way. 

Through collaboration and partnerships. Working together with other businesses allows you to leverage their activity (and them yours) for mutual benefit. 

Effective partnering can bring you a steady stream of new opportunities, leads and sales. As these come from a ‘trusted’ source in the prospects mind you are already way ahead of the game, especially when compared to traditional sales methods. 

If you are an SEO and social media agency then look to partner with non competitive but aligned businesses. For example web designers, web developers, brand designers. Services that your clients would be looking for. This way you can pass opportunities between you. 

Difference between a collaboration and a partnership

These words are often used together however they mean very different things. In a collaboration, each operates independently and has complete control over the individual resources they bring to the table. In a partnership, however, there is more of a co-mingling of resources and a separate structure is developed to oversee or manage the engagement.

We are mainly talking about collaboration here – loose agreements to refer opportunities to each other. Often collaborations that work well together can then become more formal partnerships. 

How do you establish a collaboration strategy? 

Last year I worked in collaboration with 20 other experts to create a book – How to be a 6 Star Business. This was a great example of partnership – people working together to produce something that was bigger than the sum of the parts. 

My chapter was entitled …. Wait for it ….. ‘How to be a 6 Star Collaborator’!  

In this chapter I outlined the following basics of effective collaboration and these are the cornerstone of establishing a collaboration and partner strategy. 

  1. Develop a Partner Mindset 

It all starts with mindset. You have to be open to giving and receiving opportunities to each other. Have a mindset that is always on the look out for opportunities for others.

2. Ask the right Questions

Get curious – really understand what the other party wants and needs. This way you pass opportunities that are worthwhile. 

3. Find your Community 

Communities are really important. This is where you find your fellow collaborators. Choose communities where the people you want to work hang out. In agency world there are a number of Agency communities such as Agency Local where you can find your future collaborators. 

4. Be clear on who you serve (and who you don’t) 

When establishing collaborations then make sure that everyone understands who your target audience is (and as important, who they are not). This way you will get opportunities that match the audience you want to serve. 

5. Be Vulnerable Be Open

It serves no one if you paint the rosy picture you want them to see. Be vulnerable be open – you will find that you build much stronger relationships this way. 

6. Build Trust 

Being open and vulnerable will contribute to building trust. Trust is based on competence and character you have to build both. 

7.  Agree on a common purpose 

Discuss and agree where you both play, the areas you can collaborate. Strong collaborations develop when both parties have similar goals and purpose this way they both parties are motivated to work together. 

Do you need a formal agreement? 

I am often asked if you need formal agreements in place. My view is that collaborations work well when they are loose, informal relationships. However they can become more formal over time – however this is then heading into the partnership territory. 

Relationship, relationship, relationship 

For collaborations to work and continue to work it comes down to relationships. Be prepared to put some effort into building and most importantly maintaining relationships. Keep in regular contact (again this is where communities come into play). Have regular discussions – explore new opportunities etc. 


As ever in life and business, success is not dependent on one thing. It is the same with your agency sales. Do not rely on one source for leads. Develop multiple streams to deliver a constant flow of leads.

I would strongly urge you to add a collaboration strategy to your sales mix as this will reap you untold rewards and could possibly be your most effective way to generate new business.

If you would like to discuss this or other business topics then please get in touch.