What it Really takes to Win the Pitch

The Basics

For agencies that need the “Basics”, create a simple-to-follow “New Business Architecture” game book.
All successful teams have them.

Then assign a person to ensure that this game book gets executed – team manager or product/traffic manager.

Their job is not the content, although they can certainly contribute. Their job is to make sure everything on a new business opportunity gets done in an efficient, timely and cost-effective manner.

Action: Ensure you get all people to do what they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do it, and that all materials that are needed are developed and provided to the team.

Common Enemies – Form & Function

When Form & Function rule in new business, you lose sight of the real stuff of selling and persuasion.

For decades, agencies have successfully won business without having scripts or the right preliminary set-up or following a strict time frame or even rehearsing correctly.

That’s not to say that these things are not helpful – they are.

About as helpful as making sure you have a saddle on a horse before you ride. Doesn’t mean you have to have a saddle to ride though.

However Innovation will always trump form and function in the selling game.

Therefore we start with:

  •  “What will it take to win this business?” Then…
  •  “How do we convince them that we are the right agency versus all their other options?” And finally…
  •  “What do we need to know about their business, issues, needs, wants, marketing communications, competition landscape, branding architecture, marketing and business strategies that will help us become their marketing communications solution?”

Now you have raised the bar to a level where winning the business becomes highly achievable.

Now the team has direction. Now you can do what the agency does best.

Solve marketing problems and capitalize on unfulfilled opportunities, instead of wondering how long the presentation should be, if you have the right credentials or if the room’s walls are high enough to accommodate the boards.

Again, these are important only if they do not reduce the effectiveness of the team’s innovations.

 Action: Come up with the ideas that will accomplish the client’s goals then worry about the rest of the form and function activities.

Innovation’s true place in persuasion

There is nothing like working with a crack team of solution mongers dying to get their claws into a client’s business and come up with innovative solutions to solve the world’s woes.

We all know this is exactly what it feels like when we get it right.

But! Credentials you say – “Heck, without them we wouldn’t be who we are today!”


So you were founded in 1986, have 50 employees with 3 offices, bill $50 million and have a really blue chip client roster. Impressive!

However, ask this question: Is it more about what the agency is proud of – or – what the potential client is interested in, that sells them.

What about sending that information ahead, in hard copy, CD, links to FTP sites, e-mail, placing it on UTube, on Blogs or even on social sites like business Facebook, using their calendar to layout the agency’s history from its inception.

This way your focus is on getting on with solving the prospect’s problems and not on what makes you who you are.

And just in case they don’t read it, find places in the presentation to sprinkle in these facts, making sure that when you do, each is positioned as a benefit and of value to the prospective client.

 Action: Sprinkle credentials throughout a presentation as “evidence” your ideas have a solid foundation and that you can deliver upon them.

The essence of selling – having the right bait.

Selling is not about function or form. They are tactical elements of a well-rounded sales effort.

True, selling is about knowing what ails the prospect, rolling up one’s sleeves and coming up with innovative solutions that make the prospect think: “Where have these people been all my life?”

But then it’s about making these solutions come alive before, during and after the final presentation – over the net, by illustration, by physical examples, by showing real life occasions of your ideas in play, by immersing the prospect into the ideas (physically and mentally).

Then, while they are reeling with pleasure, wondering why they stayed with the incumbent for so long, slide in impressive facts and figures (these are your credentials) that bolster a prospect’s confidence in your ability to deliver upon these promised solutions.

Think of buying a car.

You know that if you go to a Ford or Chrysler dealership, you are going to get something that has 4 wheels, engine, a 36-month, 40,000 mile warranty.

The last thing you need is the salesman pointing out these facts. Heck you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have these things to begin with.

You then examine the vehicle by research and test drive to see if it actually fulfills what you are looking for and if it gives you that something beyond what you were expecting, the bonus lucky strike extras that “wows” you, this vehicle moves to your top picks.

While doing this, you are constantly comparing your options.

If the salesman is smart, and sees you are an entrepreneurial speed freak on a budget he says:

 “This 6 cylinder has as much acceleration as the V8, yet gets an additional 10 mpg. At $3.50 a gallon @ 20 gallons a week over 52 weeks you just saved about $1,200 a year. That’s about $100 a month, which pays almost  1/3 of your monthly lease payments, which are, as an independent, fully tax deductible in the first year.”

Now, what about the prospective client.

What prospect goes to an agency not knowing they are going to an agency?

There are basic core competencies that are just plain “price of entry expected’s”.

The more time you spend on selling these, the more leery becomes the prospect of the agency’s ability to actually deliver these expected’s.

As with all buying scenarios, the prospect examines the agency, constantly comparing notes with others on their team and evaluating you against your peers (including the incumbent) thinking to themselves: (if you are doing your job selling)

It’s obvious they have smart people – listen to those great ideas,

They obviously know something about my business – how could they come up with such smart ideas if they didn’t,

Wonder if they have sufficient production capabilities to deliver these ideas to all our franchises nationwide?

Then they pop their first question:

 “Do you folks have a national capability in terms of a field force to deliver these ideas to our 6 regions?”

And so the dance continues!

But you have them on the “solutions hook”.

If you want parity, follow form and function.

Everyone and their Uncle’s in love with this approach.

Unfortunately but typically, the more the agency team talks about their history, their strengths and their experiences, the more comfortable the agency team members become.

Who likes talking about others anyway – it’s far more interesting to talk about oneself. This is a subject you know a lot about and can talk about with absolute confidence.

It’s easy. You slap together a standard power-point, agency reel and DVD, throwing up all your great credentials in the hope that something you say will sufficiently impress the prospect into either hiring you or moving you ahead to the assignment/spec stage.

It takes almost no preparation since it’s an off-the-shelf canned approach that allows the agency to volume pitch, with the occasional “formulaic tweak” to give the appearance of a customized response to the RFP, RFI or pitch.

However prospects are no fools. All they need to see are three of these to immediately recognize that, closing his eyes and listening carefully, all agencies are basically saying the same thing, just the names, dates and places are different.

 Action: Always talk Issues and Solutions before agency credentials, customized to the prospect.

 The real answers

Be radically Innovative. Do not follow convention. It is a loser’s game.

With an average closure rate in the agency business (according to the AAAA) hovering at about 33%, it’s no wonder many consider their involvement in new business as a “necessary evil”.

Contrary to popular belief, winning can be one of the greatest highs of all times, a feeling that does not need to be experienced only one out of every 3 – 5 times.

Do what any salesperson will tell you.

First provide the bait – Solutions (Ideas). This gets them onto the dance floor.

Then worry about the functions – do we have it well structured, planned, casted right, politicized well, competitively appealing, etc. This is the strategic positioning.

Then worry about the form – is it well choreographed, visualized, timed, etc. This is the product management or pitch architecture as some like to call it.

Think:  70 – 20 – 10

70% solving their issues

20% putting it all together – function

10% getting it packaged and ready for delivery – form

So if you are going to err in something err in reverse order.

Err first in form, then in function but never in Solutions (Ideas).

This is why they come. This is why they stay.

This too is why they leave – when the agency doesn’t have them.

 What about chemistry?

Of course chemistry plays a major part but you will be amazed at how many corporate clients have privately admitted that they really thought their agency counterparts were; “Some of the most egotistical, arrogant, self-centered geniuses I have ever met. And thank God for that!”

Yet there are those new business “experts” who will consistently support the proposition that it’s All About Chemistry.

It’s also the easiest thing to sell an agency and sound like you are knowledgeable – who in their right mind would disagree that chemistry is critical to winning business?

I contend that it’s a component of winning but not the be all and end all.

The true answer to building great chemistry is to first give the client what they are expecting from the agency and then some.

Great ideas that solve their marketing problems, beyond their expectations. This will make people love you.

Remember the old adage:

 “People do not care about how much you know until they know how much you care”

Then worry about the schmoozing and boozing. That’s the icing on the cake.

Don’t make the mistake and think the icing is the cake – the innovative solutions are.

Clients find nothing more disturbing and wasteful of their time than a really nice fellow who has nothing between his ears.

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