CRM for Agencies – How Zeeland Manages Active Sales

Zeeland logo

Zeeland, a stock-listed marketing communications agency from Finland, has little in common with the stereotypical agency that sits back and waits for pitch invitations. With 30-plus people in sales, the company aims to get to know more about its market and expand its reach.  

We spoke to Zeeland CEO Tuomas Airisto about the importance of sales for marketing agencies, how Zeeland achieved its success so far and how Zeeland organized its sales process.

Creative agencies aren’t traditionally thought of as active sales companies, but you’re incredibly strong on that front – what has led to this and how?

There are several relevant points to this:

  1. The media and advertising market has been going through a lot of changes in recent years and this is expected to continue. The only way to have a good pulse on the market is to have a good and broad contact with the customer base.Also, active sales is a good way to market our view on this change and to get a lot of feedback on our offering from different companies, different level decision makers and industries.
  1. We have for years pursued a multi-discipline strategy as the most diverse and comprehensive marketing communications agency in Finland.However, although we can do a lot for our customers (ultimately taking on the responsibility of their marketing business process through outsourcing), customers wouldn’t know all the value and services we could provide to them without us telling them.
  1. Trust. At the end of the day it all comes down to trust. Three years ago most of our customer contacts were one or two levels down from the C-level (CxO -1 or -2). We needed to start building relationships and trust in the top management level.We figured out that being active, thinking proactively about new value adding services and learning the CxO talk is the key. We took “sales” as the vehicle for executing the internal transformation, and at the same time creating new business. This has worked very well for us.
  2.  We try to have better control of the top-line regardless of the market situation and sales activity is a simple way to do it.

What’s your sales process like? What kind of pipelines and pipeline stages do you have, and how do deals move between them?

We use a very simple and common sales pipeline, and a sales management process that is familiar to us already from the past. In our main pipeline we have five steps:Zeeland Z logo

  1. Leads
  2. Contacting
  3. Meeting agreed
  4. Sales case
  5. Proposal presented

Those steps (and the final stage won/lost deals) also represent the key indicators of how well we are doing sales process-wise.

Using Pipedrive alongside our sales meetings on Mondays and Fridays in an integral part of managing the sales process. Mondays are for validating leads, assigning the validated leads and moving them to internal telemarketing or individual salespeople. Salespeople equal to people responsible for new business acquisition, or sales to current customers – all in all, more than 30% of our people have some sort of sales responsibilities.

Contacting takes place by our marketers or by individual salespeople. The main principle is to give the responsibility for making the contact to a Zeeland person – marketers or people responsible for sales – who at the time has the best odds to agree on a meeting with the desired contact person. Marketers ensure a minimum weekly flow of new meetings on top of the ones agreed with persons responsible for generating sales. Salespeople in our case include all top management, all account management, all heads of each service areas and some senior consultants/creatives. Project managers are key persons in sales to current customers, and thus they are part the the sales process.

When a meeting is agreed the deal is moved to the relevant stage. For a deal to move forward to Sales case, it needs to have a good potential to end up being a Proposal presented. When we have presented the proposal (and indeed we present most of our proposals instead of sending them), we naturally try to agree on closing principles, timing etc. and eventually the deal ends up as being won or lost.

We have split the Contacting stage to other pipelines used only by our marketers – i.e. contacting pipelines. These pipelines are more static and are intended to help marketers manage the contacting. We have divided the Contacting pipeline into service areas on the one hand, and to urgent leads to be contacted immediately, on the other. When the meeting is agreed in the contacting stage pipeline, the deal is moved back to the main pipeline and assigned to the relevant salespeople.

We have just recently started one more use-case of Pipedrive: we now use it for prospecting and managing our Mergers & Acquisitions pipeline, as it’s one of the key elements of our growth in addition to organic sales.

How do you personally use Pipedrive?

As CEO of Zeeland, I do quite a lot sales activities, too. So I try to use it always when in contact with the customers and I naturally manage my own sales pipeline with Pipedrive. After all, I am one of the sales guys and I use it like all the 30+ of our salespeople.

But for me, Pipedrive helps to keep an eye on our sales process as a whole. This means that I use the reporting features a couple of times a week in order to get a grip on how well we are doing against our weekly targets.

What’s your favorite Pipedrive feature?

I like the usability and simplicity of Pipedrive the most. When it comes to features then the ease of starting a new deal is right up there. Click and boom! and the case is in process and it will be taken care of without me having to think about it too much.

How did you arrive to using Pipedrive? What solution did you use beforehand, and what’s changed since the switch?

We changed from Excel to Pipedrive in fall 2011. One of my colleagues used Pipedrive and presented it to me. As I have worked with CRM systems before, it didn’t take more than a minute to make the decision to switch from excel to Pipedrive.

We spent perhaps four hours thinking about how we want to set it up and went live immediately. In two weeks we mastered Pipedrive enough for our needs at the time.

Thinking back, we could not have done what we have done without Pipedrive. We have contacted more than 9,000 people in three years and met approximately 3,000 new people. I dare to claim that due to our well managed activity, our awareness and reputation has gone up markedly.

How to get people to use sales software in a company that’s not a traditional sales company?

First of all you can’t start the fire without a spark. There needs to be a compelling reason to put sales and marketing into the core. This requires senior management commitment and involvement.

Then there is simplicity: first, put the bar low enough so that you can go running over it. Later on, you can raise the bar as you learn.

Third, use a sales software and specify it in a way that you use at least 80% of the functionalities of it. Many sales softwares are too complex and everything that isn’t used becomes a hindrance.

What’s the best sales management tip or technique or philosophy?

In professional services business it is very difficult to sell without trust. Nothing is more powerful in building trust than dialogue. Thus, maximize the opportunities for dialogue with your target market.

What’s next for Zeeland?

As we are a full-service marketing services house, being active in sales helps us pursue our strategy. We have done a sales-driven turnaround and our mission going forwards is to bring sisu* and courage marketing for a big number of Finnish companies. Being listed in NASDAQ Helsinki, our ambition in next phase is grow fast both organically and via acquisitions. One day, if we succeed, we are the market leader in marketing services in Finland. Then we go abroad…

(*sisu means the ability to continue forwards towards your goal even if the circumstances are adverse).

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Ott Ilves

Ott is responsible for looking after the digital marketing efforts here at Pipedrive.