The unsung hero of business development

It’s clear that the primary reason for doing proactive business development is to make sure that potential clients know that your agency exists and to help them understand what you can offer ultimately to maximise your chances of winning business.

Strong credentials, great creative and good people are of course vital elements in business development. As important, in my opinion, is the database (or prospect list), the unsung hero in the world of new business perhaps.

There is no mystery to business development. Success comes from having good information about your prospects and using that to facilitate well-planned, and consistent activity.

Whether you call it a database or a prospect list, it is essential that you have a place to store the contact details of all of the organisations that you are hoping to ultimately win business from. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or expensive, it can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet.

Alongside contact details you should keep a log of conversations with prospects, important information about them, their review process and any actions. A good database makes it quick and easy for you to see how your business development activity is going and how well leads are progressing.


When I work with agencies, we take time to research prospects and ensure that only relevant contacts make it onto the database. I don’t recommend buying lists. Some agencies tell me that their business development agency has their own database that they use for all of their clients. To me this sounds like madness, I believe that a business development agency should create a prospect database and gather intelligence on behalf of their clients on an individual basis.

Don’t get carried away

I often come across agencies that are proud to tell me that they have a huge database with thousands of prospects. I’ve seen databases with over 2000 prospects obtained from bought-in lists or where information has been added to over a number of years. For most agencies, a database of this size is just too big to manage effectively.

Critical mass

At the other extreme, many agencies have too few prospects to target making it impossible to create the critical mass needed to develop a healthy pipeline of leads.

 Up to date

People change roles all the time so the information needs also to be kept up to date to ensure that you are not wasting time and money.

My advice is that rather than being seen as a hit list of random names to be cold-called, a creative agency’s database should in fact be the repository of valuable insight and intelligence giving structure and direction to well planned and thoughtful business development activity.