Payment by results and cheating

The above is narrated by John Seddon the CEO of Vanguard Consulting, which takes some of its ideas from William Deming, who is one of the earlier so-called ‘system thinkers’.

The above is referring to the public sector, however I think it applies to the world of marketing services too, probably any professional service in fact that is a complex sale, recruitment, estate agents, management consultancy, solicitors, accountants, SaaS and so on.

As soon as management makes people’s jobs / livelihood highly dependent upon hitting a target (often a moving one) the employee will often do what ever needs to be done to protect their income. And that will often mean cheating. As William Deming said “Whenever there is fear, you will get wrong figures.

Who can remember as a junior new business person fudging a status reports to show that you’d  found loads of so-called warm leads. It can’t just have been me, surely! Management caused that. There was little choice really –  kill or be killed. The last thing management wants is lies but they create the culture where it is imperative.

It’s not the final targets i.e. income or profits that are the problem but all the proxy measures that are shoved in place, that are supposed to somehow motivate employees. Be it numbers of meeting sets, number of briefs, number of tenders, number of pitches gained. It is similar to the digital world where people measure likes, or re tweets or eyeballs all of which can be very easily fudged to hit a target.  The target will always be hit even if it is at the expense of the enterprise.

Most agency new business programmes have no clear theory behind them. So there is no theory to improve on. Deming – “We should be guided by theory, not by numbers.

If you ask some owners of agencies what is their theory behind their new business programme they’ll look blankly or admit they do it like they always had – hit and hope – the numbers game.  And for some it must work, right? Who hasn’t ever been lucky?

deming workIf you ask a CEO if the quality of their product / service has improved over the last year, they will often say they don’t measure that. And to be fair that is not easy to do, however isn’t that closer to the heart of the problem? “3% of the problems have figures, 97% of the problems do not.”Deming.

Instead many businesses just manage figures, in particular targets, as if managing targets makes them more achievable. Or as if targets coincide with doing good work that solves the initial problems.

All anyone asks for is a chance to work with pride.” Deming. I think that is my point most people want to do good work very few people are free-loaders – it is failure of management to understand leadership that bring the best out of people and focuses on constant improvement.

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The Pitch Result – bloody idiots!

baby face

“How could they possibly appoint that agency?”

” It makes no sense at all, I actually can’t believe it.”

“Are they thick, stupid, or retarded, or all three?”

“I bet they fell for all their lies about how they’d put top people on the job. Bloody idiots. They’re all so naive.”

“They’ll get what they deserve. It’s as if they cut their noses off to spite their faces. I knew they didn’t like us when we had to pretty much explain advertising to the bloody idiots.”

“I’ve just been on their website again, have you heard the guff they were coming out with.  I can’t believe people believes that bullshit? And some of their case studies are years old and I don’t even think they work with a bank anymore. Liars!”

‘”We’ re the experts in this field but there is just no telling people, these days. They’re as thick as a whale omelette and wouldn’t know a good agency if it bit them on the arse.”

“What is the point of us being experts, if nobody does what we tell them to do, I mean why bother?”

“I don’t think clients should be able to appoint an agency without taking some sort of test. Like an IQ test or an exam on advertising.”

“And did you see how old their Marketing Director was? That makes no sense at all, old codgers shouldn’t be able to appoint agencies.  It’s ridiculous having someone over 40 in that role.  He’ll just ruin in for the next load of marketers in his department.”

“We gave them all the facts too, can’t they read bloody fact and figures?  Maybe it was too complicated for them?

“Perhaps we should have dumbed it down a bit, made the maths and graph easier for them. Too old I expect, stuck in dinosaur land of TV and Radio. So blinkered.”

“It looks like they decided with their hearts rather than their heads as bloody usual. They just don’t get it do they?”

“Do you think we could speak to the CEO or the IPA or someone and make them re-pitch? I’m not going to sit here and accept that result. It’s simply not right.”

“Maybe it’s because there a northern brand? This would never have happened in London. We should have a re-pitch in London, that would be fairer.”

“Just got feed-back, apparently our idea’s weren’t strong enough and we sounded like every other agency in town. They wanted something forward thinking and were happy to take risks if it means not looking like everyone else. Told you, thick as pig shit, they just don’t get it.”


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Lead generation is like fishing

boy fishingOne morning a man decides to go fishing, after all it’s a perfect day for it.

He packs up his things and grabs a crate of beer.

He arrives at a peaceful spot on the river bank, cracks open a beer and casts his first line.

He sits and waits and nothing.

Hours come and go and nothing , not even a tiddler.

Slowly the sun begins to go down and he is on his last beer.

He can’t understand it, he’s done nothing wrong.

Then a youngster comes along and sit just over the river bank from him.

He turns on his radio and cast out his first line.

No fool like a young fool the man thinks, the radio will scare all the fish and the sun has gone down the fish won’t bite now.

No sooner than he has that thought, the kid reels in a nice looking trout.

Fluke – thinks the man.

Then the boy reels in another and another.

The man can’t quite believe it, he has sat here all day and nothing, what is the boy’s secret?

He’s had a few beers so feels comfortable approaching the boy.

He walks up and talks with the boy – ‘I’ve been here all day and caught no fish, you have been her a few minutes and have 3 what is your secret?’

The boy mumbles “grr ghhuh bmumbger thg”


The boy spits a blob of flesh from his mouth into his hands and shows the man and says “You need to keep your bait warm.”

Do you know how to make warmer contacts?


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The 12 Laws of Karma for Agencies

1. The Great Law

  • Do a great piece of work and the rest will follow. One good thing leads to another.

2. The Law of Creation

  • You have to put the work in to be good at anything. Keep creating. It never stops.

3. The Law of Humility

  • Know the difference between great, good and bad work, some of your work is bad, fess up!

4. The Law of Growth

  • Be a leader not a manager. Strive to be better, others will follow. Stop pushing from the back. Have some skin in the game.

5. The Law of Responsibility

  • Take responsibility for what goes belly up. And then regularly prepare for mister cock-up, he is waiting around the corner for you to break rule 3.

6. The Law of Connection

  • Remember you’re in a team. No one person creates a piece of work. If someone refers you to a new client they are part of what happens next and next and next. You stand on the shoulders of others.

7. The Law of Focus

  • We sell or we die.

8. The Law of Giving and Hospitality

  • Don’t be a dick. It’s that easy really.

9. The Law of Here and Now

  • Yesterday’s work is fish and chip paper. Go again, it’s still nil nil really.

10. The Law of Change

  • If your competitors are doing it, stop doing it.  Turn 180 degrees. If you are facing the crowd, you’re facing the wrong way.

11. The Law of Patience and Reward

  • Enjoy the ride, if you want to be good then you’re going to have to take the rough with the smooth.  The greatest rewards come when you least expect them.

12. The Law of Significance and Inspiration

  • Give your all and fail. The harder you work the luckier you’ll get.


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Deming’s 14 points for management. My red pill.

“All anyone asks for is a chance to work with pride. Put a good person in a bad system and the bad system wins, no contest.” Deming

I am a William Deming fan he devised amongst other things 14 points for management. And he changed the way I see businesses and how they work, especially agencies. He was my red pill.

He was one of the founding fathers of what is called ‘systems thinking’. Today we have Lean Six Sigma black belts!

He was largely rejected in America and instead made his name in Japan creating the Toyota Production System (TPS) that focused on quality which drove down costs and eliminated waste.

American and British companies later tried to copy the methods of Toyota but they failed because they did not copy their underlying principles.

Deming said “The more they copy Toyota the less like Toyota they become.”  It’s their principles, theories and their thinking they need to encourage in their businesses.

Deming claimed management is a human creation and we need to re-create it.

How many of his 14 points would help agencies today?

Deming’s 14 points

  1. Create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive, stay in business and to provide jobs.
  2. Adopt the new philosophy. We are in a new economic age. Western management must awaken to the challenge, must learn their responsibilities, and take on leadership for change.
  3. Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place.
  4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of a price tag. Instead, minimise total cost. Move towards a single supplier for any one item, on a long-term relationship of loyalty and trust.
  5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.
  6. Institute training on the job.
  7. Institute leadership . The aim of supervision should be to help people and machines and gadgets do a better job. Supervision of management is in need of overhaul, as well as supervision of production workers.
  8. Drive out fear, so that everyone may work effectively for the company.
  9. Break down barriers between departments. People in research, design, sales, and production must work as a team, in order to foresee problems of production and usage that may be encountered with the product or service.
  10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
  11. a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute with leadership.
    b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers and numerical goals. Instead substitute with leadership.
  12. a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.
  13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement.
  14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.

They would probably help the clients of agencies too especially point 4.

Deming believed that much of the variation in a business performance was caused by the system (the way a business is organised and it’s purpose) rather than being the fault of what he called the ‘willing workers’. But he didn’t mean purpose the way branding and ad folk do today.

Management too often emphasised driving down costs which he showed ultimately increased costs.  Be it outsourcing, hiring cheap staff or cutting corners.

He advocated driving up quality with their being no target or ceiling for improvements. The way to make improvements can be fed back by those that actually do the work.

Inspection of workers work causes more waste and only measures problems rather than showing the employees how to eliminate them. How many people and how many times did that ad / copy get checked?

The people who do the work should have access to the customers.  Too often a customer has to go three people to get to the person who has the answers.    This is caused by management trying to drive down costs.  Putting cheaper (un-trained) people in the front line, these people have limited ability to solve a customers issues in full, so they pass you to person #2 – like at a call centre. Or account management to creatives in an agency.

He showed that there didn’t need to be elitism in a businesses organisation – there was no need for constant inspections of worker, no 360 degree reviews or ranking or employees that just breeds dis-content in the business. And injects fear and distrust.

Workers are intrinsically motivated to do good work if they are allowed to.  Lead them don’t manage them.

Training should not be in a vacuum but should be done in context, on the job.

Arbitrary target setting causes cheating to hit the targets and causes a loss of quality. Where as the goal should be quality improvement which is never-ending.

Employees should be encouraged to indulge in self-improvement and education for what that brings to the business.

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The problem with wish lists and lead generation

wish listAgencies often come up with wish lists to create direct marketing campaigns.

Normally a variation on e-mail, direct mail follow-up telephone calls and so on.

The criteria for the list is usually something like BANTS (budget, authority, need, timing) job title, must be a decision maker, work in a sector we have experience in, likely budget, location maybe and any other info we can throw on top like – taking out brands that have just appointed an agency or a brand that you feel are in safe hands.

Once we have the list, say 200 brands, some then go further and divide into gold, silver and bronze, I don’t really know why, maybe based on budget?

The problem to my mind is two-fold.

A) everyone is using the same criteria
B) experienced marketers rarely buy this way. They do, but rarely.

Just because you want to work with a brand doesn’t mean they want to work with you does it? How do buyers typically decide who they want to work for.  Well, if we know from agencies that most of their work (circa 70%) comes from referral than buyers must buy from a referral 70% of the time QED. In fact if it’s not you’re doing bad work.

So it follows that when a Marketing Director for example decides with their team that they are going to change agency the most common way they select the column A agency is from a referral of some sort.

Column A wins over 70% of the time on average and the other columns share 30% between them so if there is three columns 10% each, or if column B has an advantage over C and D for some reason maybe it has 20% chance and so columns C and D share 10% each.

The lower down columns are filled with agencies who have directly contacted them in some way, phone, e-mail, direct mail pieces or God forbid the marketer searched for ‘ad agency’ on Google and choose the highest ranking one to fill a column.

Note –  I am just playing with the probabilities based on some evidence we do have, which is that agencies get 70% of their business from referrals. Like most service business do, solicitors, accountancy and so on. We never truly know the percentages, as they don’t actually exist. This is important to understand. We are speculating what happens in a buyers head,  Column A agency could be 100% and the other agencies are on a procurement ride to 2nd place-ville.

Column Thinking is a just a way of thinking about the problem of how does an agency win new clients as effectively as possible. So if a lead or RFI come out of the blue, chances are on average you’re in column C,D,E,F…Do you know what to do here? Those leads can end up being very expensive in time and money.

Recently I wrote about a column thinking lead thermometer that looks at how to evaluate the likelihood for winning work from a lead based on how the lead was received by the agency NOT your wish list criteria because they’ll always match up there, “look we have a lead, where someone has budget, need and a timing schedule.”

So how can agencies be proactive via direct marketing techniques, phone, e-mail and DM without the traditional wish list approach which creates many low down column leads but few wins.

We’ll who is it we really want to approach us regularly?  We’ll we want to be approached from people who has been referred by our client we did a good job for.  Why? Because a referral win more often than not.

Why? Because it is a transfer of trust. And that is what selling is about, trust.  The prospect will take the trust they have from the person who is referring you and put it on your shoulders.  In fact the referrer will do a better job of selling you than you can very often. Because buyers are wary of sellers.

When your client refers you says something like  “you can trust them they’re brilliant, good value not cheap admittedly, creative and fun to work with” to your prospect that is believable but when you say it as an agency to a prospect it looks like BS.

Can we make a column A list?

If you look on linked-in at one of your client’s profiles you often can see all the people they know.  Is there anyone one on there you’d like to be refereed to?  Maybe you should ask if they’d be okay introducing you in a face to face meeting?

However, in all likelihood you’d rather not bother, bit awkward and how important is new business away?

On your client’s profile you’ll notice they know 500 or so people – if you went through them you’ll probably find 30 people who not just meet some style of BANTS profile e.g. Marketing Director of a food company in the UK etc but they know someone who you know. A mutual contact.  A potential referral. You remember the ones, the one that close the most.

So couldn’t we after working out their e-mail address send them an e-mail with a quote in it from our client that they know, according to linked-in?

Hi Prospect

Yadah Radha yadah we are a great agency according to  ‘Best agency I have ever worked with because…

Worth meeting?

All the best

New Biz Developer

What happens when you get an e-mail from someone you don’t yet know who talks about someone you do know?  Intriguing? More relevant? Worth saving for later? What about if it was in a letter or a DM piece? Or all three, even?

What if you found say 30 people who you’d like to meet for each one of your clients and say you have 10 clients?  That’s a neat little data base of 300 people isn’t it, who know your clients?

This is how you can create a data base that is full of potential column A leads.  Then when they come to review you have increased your chances of being in column A and not an also ran.

So you’re going to need quotes from all your clients and permission to use them in marketing material.  You need to spend time looking through their profiles on linked in. You’re going to need a better email than the one I used as an example.  You’re going to need time guessing your prospects e-mail addresses. But you’re not going to need quite as much luck.

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Myths of the learning curve.

This is a guest Blog from Steve Hacking Managing Director at Kardelen Partners.

It is so self explanatory there is no need for a waffly intro from me. Practice.

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How To Make Better Advertising and Advertising Better

sell sell bookI remember a tweet, or was it a linked-in comment, from Tom Godwin who works for  Havas, who wrote the often stolen meme –

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”

You must have seen that by now, anyway, he said that he’d rather pay £20 for a short to the point book, than £10 for one that drags on repeating the same point – or something like that, you get the idea.

So here it is, a short, brilliant, no bullshit book by the ad agency Sell! Sell! called ‘How to make Better Advertising and Advertising Better‘.  Buy it here.

Admission declared, I do know Andy and Vic, they even thanked me in the book, I have to say “no thank-you ” because I only really-really-really got into being excited about advertising because of meeting Andy and Vic circa 2008/9, up to then I was somewhat faking it. And they also encouraged me to start a blog.

Their introduction gets straight to the point,  ‘The business is in a mess. Advertising and marketing people seem to have turned full circle to  point where they’re out of touch with the customer and reality. It’s almost as if the creative revolution of the 1960s never happened.

When you look at the advertising that’s out in the real world, it is largely vacuous, patronising wallpaper that takes people for idiots. campaigns are becoming more and more similar, when they should be more distinctive.

Agencies treat consumers like morons, with facile look at these cute kittens advertising that doesn’t have any relevance to what consumers wants or needs. Some harbour delusions that normal people ‘love’ brands or care about them as much as they do.

Steve Harrison  author of  ‘Changing The World is the only work fit for Men’ said  “Vic and Andy have come up with a foolproof way to help you discover if you are a good agency. Ask yourself: Dare I give this book to my clients?”

Bob Hoffman the ad contrarian said “The ad industry is in an unprecedented state of confusion. While the assertions and pomposity grow majestically, the advertising itself diminished rapidly.  Sadly there is no button we can push that will erase all the arrogance and self-delusion.  Fortunately we have this book. It might be just the reset button we all need.

The book takes on some very topical issues about how marketers (and other professions it has to be said) see  people today, or what they call consumers.  And the newest gig in town is  Behavioural Economics  (BE) or re-branded psychology.

Marketers realised if they talked about psychology they’d be derided by other professions but Behaviour Economic we’re all ears.  As Byron Sharp author of ‘How Brands Grow” says here ” Today, there is much interest in subconscious decision-making, as there should be, because buying rarely involves a great deal of conscious deliberation.

Unfortunately, along with this sensible interest in ‘fast buying’ and ‘low attention’ comes the silly notion of strong psychological effects. We all learned years ago that the claims of subliminal advertising were faked, and that such effects are trivial at best. Yet today I hear people making claims that sound an awful lot like the old myth of strong subliminal effects.

Neuroscience is fashionably dragged in as support: ‘Oh, look, this part of the brain lights up when people see a brand they know well and buy – this proves that brand preference is due to brands forging strong subconscious emotional bonds.

Sharp goes on to flush out their straw man argument of rational consumers “but did anyone ever believe that consumers were rational utility-maximisers with perfect information, zero search costs and limitless time? Economists moved on decades ago from this early model, and it’s a straw man argument to pretend they haven’t.”

I wrote about my fears of the rise in neuro bollocks for Marketing Magazine a while back, my point is really about the misanthropic view behind much of it but also that great creative work was being done with so little knowledge of our neurology or having read the never-ending theories on human psychology that fail any scientific scrutiny.

In fact, which is Sell! Sell!’s point, probably create better work. I remember an era when people looked forward to the TV ads – could you imagine?

It’s worth noting that up to 75% of psychological studies on human behaviour fail to get the same results when repeated, see here. The point is it all seems so bloody scientific but it’s not, it is the height of scientism.

And when marketeers do say they use neuroscience in their brand building like the KFC Marketing Director David Timm here in Marketing Magazine this is what we get,

Driving a more emotionally led style of advertising is a “different approach” to marketing for the brand that has been informed by neurostudies in consumer behaviour.

The assumptions that have traditionally informed brands about consumer choices have changed, Timm says, and marketers now know people “are not rational and do not make rational decisions” but make “emotional decisions that are “context dependent“. KFC is aiming to create that context. ”

He continues “It’s not that we have any more [analytical] rigour; it’s just a different lens,” he says. The studies helped KFC recognise it was creating a “very strong product message” but not complementing it with a strong brand message.

This is the problem of marketers today – it’s like the problem of dualism separating mind from body, marketers keep trying to separate brand from product. Forgetting that a brand is largely created by selling the product. People become familiar with it by buying it. People like what they are familiar with and so on.

And then Mister KFC goes on to this, wow, it looks like KFC knows how the human brain works, the most complex thing in the known universe. “Marketing as a whole is undergoing transformation. We now know through neuroscience how people’s brains work and what affects their decision-making. So what we’re trying to do is take the new knowledge and say- this is how we put it together, this is how a brain actually works – and this is how we should be marketing.”

The results in short were the following, updated state of the art stores that looked smarter and more modern with soft play areas in some locations and an updated menu that include burritos,muffins and  pulled chicken that’s not fried.  “Flashes of the brand’s trademark bold red are visible throughout the design of the store, but the colours are softer and more neutral. The walls are adorned with arty pictures of ingredients and flavours and a digital display shows order numbers, much like an Argos.”

Thanks goodness for neuroscience eh?

Anyone else reckon they might have been able to crack that one.  Anyone else figure out that KFC might be under huge competitive pressure from the growth in food chains.

Anyone else figure out that clean modernised stores might appeal to people without putting them into fMRI scanners?  I wonder if neuroscience recommend the shift of tag line from ‘finger licking good’ to ‘so good‘ – a marketing mistake if ever I saw one. Did the words ‘so good’ light up the amygdala more than ‘finger licking good‘?

Sell! Sell!’s book tips its hat rightly more than once to Byron Sharp and his point that it is key for a brand is to be distinctive and make consumers familiar with it via getting them to buy / use it.

The goal of a brand is to be both ‘physically and emotionally available‘ and to refresh people’s memories about the brand. Because consumer loyalty, despite what brand experts tell us is very weak. People don’t actually care as much about brands unlike the marketers who run them do.

However, what I really appreciated most about the book is actually very unfashionable today, that is it defends people and their ability to reason. It also defends people of character, the mavericks, the fun that should be in running an agency, creativity and the progressive idea that brands do and should go out of their way to be better in some way. It decries that advertising today refuses to mention those reasons or differences because they simply don’t have faith in people.

Which is all wrapped up in the misanthropic psychology of today that people make decisions solely emotionally.  That is a person can never reason why they did something they are simply post-rationalising and in fact humans are little more than zombies or genetic meat bags.  If advertising refers to the popular psychology of today then it is no surprise we have patronising and vacuous advertising fit for morons and we know what David Ogilvy said about that.

In fact advertising more often  today makes advertising for itself and for awards than for consumers. That’s at best.  Many people it seems don’t even want to be in advertising, seeing it as beneath them, they rather be in art, but as Martin Weigel from W&K rightly says Fuck Art Lets Advertise see here.

Even Sir Martin Sorrell CEO of WPP, said last week “we’re not in the advertising business anymore…” full story here, as they chase the big data and digital marketing dollar.

Andy and Vic are right the business is in a mess. Buy their challenging book here.

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An alternative lead thermometer – what are we dealing with?

bulletsWhat determines if a new business lead is great, average, or poor?

In my last post I talked about how poker is an interesting game to understand for business people because it deals with imperfect information.

And how in poker players talk about the equity or strength of their hand with a great hand being called a monster.

In that post I showed the various ranks of winning hands in poker, royal flush down to ace high.

So how would we rank leads?

Now before I dive in with both feet I need to load up some caveats.

  1. I am talking about selling creative services, not trying to get bums on seats for restaurants, or selling USB sticks or getting people to sign up to a newsletter, I am referring to ‘complex selling’ which covers creative services or other professional service too i.e. more than one decision maker, a considered purchase, an important decision that will affect future revenues / profits, possible jobs on the line if mistakes get made.
  2. I am not taking into account salesmanship – you ability to sell face to face.  This skill is important and I am missing it out. It is an important omission.
  3. Luck is not factored in because I don’t really know how to.
  4. I’m appealing to your intuition and using my experience to make this case.  True reliable stats don’t seem to exist. There are some stats and they do agree with me but they seem unreliable, biased and conflicted.

I am simply offering up a different way of thinking about qualifying leads, of course I’m leading you up the garden path but feel free to let go of my hand at any time.

So to know what a good lead is we should make an attempt at looking at how do buyers tend to buy creative services.  Many agency’s start with looking at how they sell and how they pitch. This is a mistake. It’s why I hear so often, we’d have won if our pitch was better – maybe you shouldn’t have pitched at all? Or our pitch was brilliant I don’t understand why we didn’t win. My general experience is that agencies on the whole have cracked pitching / presenting but not selling.

If we knew  first how buyers tend to buy then we could start to make some reasonable assumptions about them.  So let’s pretend to be one.

The marketing-team sit around a table and talk about their current agency.  The feed back is not good, it’s awful.

They have worked together for circa two years and the consensus is they have to go. If there was no consensus then however terrible things were there is a good chance they simply continue. This is important to know – you get fired when many people are upset not just a few.  So always have some support on the inside. And you get hired when lots of people are convinced you’re a fit not just a few.

What were their likely reasons?

Well, the marketing team felt the work was not inspiring, the agency team on the account had changed too often, some work was late and their was pressure from above to move the needle on sales and it was static at best and the creative director they liked had left a year or so ago and the replacement wasn’t right in their opinion.  Okay – it would not be all these things but I am suggesting these are the sorts of things that gets an agency fired. Fair?

So what happens next?

The Marketing Director takes responsibility for firing the agency and putting them on notice, the old, “It’s not you it’s me and the relationship isn’t quite working…”.  They may even invite them to re-pitch out of politeness and if the agency is a Fish they will.

Then the usual process is suggested. Send out RFIs, or get in the diary some first meetings to potential suitors and the end up with a pitch list of 4 and then decide? About right?

Who gets the RFI or the request for a first meeting?

Well perhaps the search for an agency with sector experience on an intermediary site or on a listing site. Perhaps they’ll find an agency on google i.e. SEO, type in integrated agency and bingo. Perhaps the have some e-mails that they have received from agencies that have prospected to them whilst cold calling.  Perhaps they have read about an agency in trade press that have just won awards or got campaign of the week.  Perhaps the marketing director has a favourite agency he’d like to work with again.  Or perhaps the marketing director has an agency in mind based on the work they did for someone he respects.

At some stage I have heard of an agency being selected from on of the leads.  But which works best?  What is the strongest lead there? What does your intuition say?  What lead would you like?

I wonder if we ranked these leads that come into agencies from hot to cold we’d get close to guessing the winning agency?


marketing director has a favourite agency he’d like to work with again

marketing director has an agency in mind based on the work they did for someone he respects

marketing director read the book the agency published and agreed with their thinking

an agency in trade press that have just won awards or got campaign of the week

An agency where you say the CEO speak an event and liked their thoughts

an agency that have prospected to them via e-mail / dm / cold calling

an agency with sector experience found on an intermediary site or on a listing site

an agency found via SEO


All the above means really is blue leads close less often than red one.  Not that they don’t ever close you just need to have more of them to win a piece of business.

My experience is that agencies get 70%+ of their work from referrals and so clients must buy that way the same percentage of time, QED. So on the thermometer, red leads win 70%+ and blue zero to 8% and orange in-between.

The buyers typically want four on the pitch – suppose they pick from the above thermometer , one from the top and 3 from the bottom?  Who is going to win.  And how do you deduce that without seeing the work in the pitch, without knowing budget and without watching the chemistry or tissue meetings and without knowing budget or anything else?

The above intuition is what I call column thinking – you need to know when you are column fodder and as they say in poker – fold’em.

What is the intuition that is pumped?

So we don’t have as many ranks as in poker and there are certainly more in-between leads you could add.  For example I once won a piece of work from an agency seeing my recruitment ad, I once won a piece of work from am agency owner walking past my office and then researching us and then calling me and so there are other leads sources like networking, I wonder where you’d slot them in to the thermometer? Where would you put the incumbent on the thermometer in this scenario?

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Poker and new business – dealing with imperfect information

I think new business can be split up into stages like Texas Hold ’em poker.  However the main reason I like the analogy is because in business like poker you are dealing with imperfect information.  

You just don’t know what is actually going on behind the scenes at the buyer’s end. But you can in poker like in business work out a range of scenarios.  An advantage in business is that you can ask questions and get straight answers sometimes too.

In Texas Hold’em poker you are dealt two cards – called hole cards, that only you get to see. Then you and the other players get to see three more cards  ‘The Flop’ and then there is another card ‘The Turn” and then a final one ‘The River’ card.

So each player has two cards only they can see and five cards in total in the middle of the table that everyone can see.

In between the each stage is a round of betting.

The best five cards win – you could us your two and three from the five in the middle for example. Hands are ranked as below.


Then there is a result at the end someone wins and everyone else is a close 2nd.

In business we get a business lead – your hole cards, we have meetings the flop and the turn and then a pitch is the river.

Resulting in someone scooping the pot and everyone else is a close second.  If you want to know more about poker listen to Nicky Numbers here

So here is some poker terms that could equally apply to new business.

A Fish
Poker: a bad player who doesn’t know what they are doing.
New business:  a person who is gullible in new business.

Usage:  I was such a fish today. Or stop being such a fish.

A Shark
Poker: A good poker player that rips it up.
New business:  A pro new business player that wins a lot.

Usage: I was a shark today.

Going on Tilt or Tilted
Poker: Steaming or letting your emotions get the better of you especially after losing
a pot.
New business:  Getting emotionally involved with a business deal or taking not winning personally.

Usage: I’m on tilt now or don’t get tilted.

Poker: How much money can be won in a hand.
New business:  How much can be won in a deal.

Usage: How much is in the pot?

Pot odds
Poker: The chances of you winning a pot.
New business:  The chances of you winning a deal.

Usage: What’s the chances of us winning this pot?

Poker: The strength or value of your hand. You can have high or low equity.
New business:  The strength of your new business lead.

Usage: What is our equity like?

Hole cards or pocket cards
Poker: The two cards that you are dealt at the beginning of the game, that determine (partially) how you’ll play the hand.
New business:  Where your lead came from.  Your hole cards are mega important in new business. It often determines how you will proceed with a lead.

Usage: What do you make of our hole cards?

A Monster (Hand)
Poker: A great hand, be it a strong starting hand or hitting a big hand on the flop.
New business:  A strong lead, a quality referral from your best client.

Usage: I’ve just picked up a monster.

Fold or Folding
Poker: Throwing your cards away, deciding not to play a hand.
New business:  Deciding not to get involved with a prospect, maybe turning down a pitch, RFI, RFP or even a meeting.

Usage: I am going to fold this one.

Poker: The first 3 community cards that all the players can see.
New business:  The first face to face meeting.

Usage: How was the flop?

The Turn
Poker: The fourth community card.
New business:  Your 2nd meeting with the decision makers

Usage: How was the turn? What are we hoping for on the turn? Who will be there at the turn?

The River
Poker: The 5th community card.
New business:  The pitch. Or the decision.

Usage: We are off to The River.

Poker: After The River the players have to show their hole cards to see who has the best hand and so so wins the pot.
New business:  The pitch reviews.

Usage:  I wonder what they thought of the show down. Can we win without going to a show down?

Implied Odds
Poker: Calling a bet even if the maths (pot odds) does not make sense to do so because ‘if’ you hit with the next card(s), the river and or turn then you’ll make a lot of money. Hooray. This is called gambling.

New business:  The chances are slim but the pot is big. A Fish mistake in general. Too many agencies work on implied odd rather than pot odds. They probably will not win it but imagine if we did! This is called gambling too.

Usage: Are we playing implied odds here?

All in
Poker: Sticking all your chips in the pot.
New business:  We are committed now to this lead.

Usage: We are all in.

Poker: Putting a big bet in to see if you opponent can handle the pressure.
New business:  A shark asking probing questions that cut to the heart of the matter to find out if they are column fodder or not.

Usage: I put him to the test.

A Shove
Poker: Pushing all your chips in the pot.
New business:  Pushing the prospect away, to see how they react.

Usage: Have you shoved?


Poker: Something that a player does physically that another player picks up on that gives the value or equity of their hand away.
New business:  Something that a Fish does that lets the prospect knows they are desperate for a sale or easy column fodder. Or something that a prospect does that gives the shark a clue how likely they are to win the business.

Usage: Do you think the way he said when we start, rather than if we start is a tell? Did you notice he kept looking past us and not at us? Is that a tell?

Poker Face
Poker: A poker player’s face that doesn’t give away the strength of their hand.
New business:  A hard to read face, be it the prospect’s, or the new business person’s.

Usage: Stick to your poker face. He had a poker face.

Reverse Tell or False Tell
Poker: Changing your face in the opposite direction to the strength of your hand. For example looking worried when you have a monster. Or looking pleased when you are playing a low value hand.
New business:  A shark looking concerned about issues that aren’t really that much of a concern to them really to get more value. Or a prospect looking overly worried about price or delivery times etc.

Usage: I think that was a false tell.

Poker: The likely hands your opponents could have based on their betting patterns. It looks likely they have either a small pair or an ace and middle range card for example.
New business:  What are the likely starting hands of the other agencies asked to pitch. Where is your agency –  column A,B, C or D? You better know your range! Is it likely there is an agency involved that has a better starting hand than yours?  

Usage: What are we up against. Could someone else be holding a monster hand? 

Having Heart or having Moxie
Poker: Being brave.
New business:  Being brave.

Usage: She’s got moxie. He has got a big heart.

Heads up
Poker: Just two poker players in a game of poker. Or when a tournament gets down to just two players left.
New business:  When just two agencies are left in a pitch.

Usage: We are heads up.

Winning pre-flop
Poker: Attempting to bet big enough to win a hand before the community cards are seen.
New business:  Win without pitching. The best strategy in new business.

Usage: Could we win pre-flop? Are our hole cards stronger enough to win pre flop.

Tanking or In The Tank
Poker: Thinking. Delaying a decision. Deciding what to do next, fold, bet, raise, or shove.
New business:  A prospect thinking about what to do next?

Usage: They’ve gone in the tank. Let’s go in the tank on this one.

Calling Time
Poker: If a player spends too long in the tank then another player can call time.  They are then given a set amount of time to make a decision usually one minute.
New business:  Tell a prospect that they have a limited time to decide, else you’ll fold.

Usage: I think we should call time on this one.

Poker: Complex thinking.  A bit like – I think, he thinks, that I think, that he thinks, that I think that he thinks, so maybe I should…arghhhh
New business:  Over thinking. Analysis paralysis. Procrastination.

Usage: Stop levelling or we levelled ourselves.

A Donkey
Poker: A bit like a fish, but anyone can be a donkey at times. It’s an insult. Stupid!
New business:  Being stupid.

Usage: I was a right donkey. The prospect was a donkey.

Close call or thin value

Poker: Being unsure if you are ahead or not.  So calling a bet being unsure if it is correct or not. Getting small amount of value.

New Business: Being unsure what column your agency is in. Perhaps you have a half decent referral or some reason that makes you believe you are in column A or B. But are aware that another agency maybe ahead.

Usage: It’s a very close call on whether we get involved or not.

Buying the pot
Poker: Putting in a big bet / a bluff. That makes a player with a better hand fold so you win the pot.

New Business: Pricing your services very low so you win the business.  Making it hard for the prospect to refuse really. Probably has more cons than pros. But the most obvious way to move from column C to A.

Usage – We could buy the business.  I think they bought the business.

Tight Aggressive (TAG)
Poker: A style of player who only plays premium hands and when they play them they bet big.

New Business:  Although the word aggressive has no place in new business this style of play is premium for agencies. Replace aggressive with assertive.

Usage: Let’s play tight.

Loose Aggressive (LAG)
Poker: A player who plays loads of hands. And so bluffs a lot.  Can be very hard to read this player.  Poker is now a very aggressive game.  They are ’agro” in poker terms.

New Business:  Loose is not a good method for creative agencies.  You’re probably getting involved with too many leads – you should probably considering folding some.

Usage: Why are we so loose? We need to tighten up.

The Grind or Grinding
Poker: The way you make money.  You have to grind out some wins. It takes patience and perseverance. Poker is  a grind. Don’t be fooled into thinking it is an easy way to make money.  

New Business:  Let’s keep grinding!

Usage – Back to the grind!


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