Once you look at the issue from the buyers angle you may be surprised.
Firstly, what is the pitch good for?
Well, it’s good for finding out which agency will charge the least.
It is good at attempting to make all agencies look the same (despite the fact you want different). Or better than last time.
It is good at using up huge amounts of client time and money running the process.
It is good at lining the pockets of the brokers.
It is good at getting non-marketing people involved in the process.
It is good at using up agency time and money especially of the silly agency that will never win but begged their way on (Please don’t tell me your wild card story, I am well aware).
It is good at selecting an agency based on an idea or creative concept that will never see the light of day.
It is good at getting agencies to be deceptive about they way they work and who will work on your business…in the real world.
It is good at getting people to repeat clichés like – “at the end of the day it’s all about the people”; “when push comes to shove it’s all about chemistry,chemistry, chemistry”; “it’s a numbers game” and “you have to be in it to win it.”
It is good at forgetting it’s actually mainly about creativity, sales and budgets.
It’s good at making people feel very very very important.
It’s perfect, at selecting an agency exactly like the one you just fired! Doh!
A 2010 ISBA survey found that only 8% of clients found pitching an effective process. see here
So armed with all this ammunition and ability to talk, boy can agencies talk, can’t we help prospect’s make decisions not to pitch, in fact appoint with a pitch. I am going to publish a few polemics that I teach agencies when having face to face conversations with prospect.
They will 100% appear a tad harsh as I can’t show you tone of voice or body language without constantly putting in *pauses and looks upwards as if thinking*. If you want that call me and I’ll teach you the whole nine yards, *smiles to himself*.
These conversations are not for everyone, if I have said that once…And I’m not going to do the old, ‘they are only for the brave’ etc that would be trite of me.
They are not for agencies that have pitch targets to hit. If you have an annual pitch target sent down from the Gods then this ain’t for you. You need to cram onto any pitch list you can find. They are not for agencies that rely on tender wins to grow their business either.
This is more likely to be for independent agencies that are full of self belief and are getting a tad pissed off with the pitch process. Who are annoyed at being taken for a ride and feel confident they could do what the prospect wanted better than the agency who actually got the job.
Remember when reading the dialogue below to put in the pauses, umms and arghs, smiles, says gently, etc. yourselves. Also note there is some confrontation in this conversation, that needs to be done gently. My thoughts are that ‘business relationships’ aren’t entirely about sucking up and currying favour with prospects but being challenging.
The goal in fact is to be respected and trusted as well as just liked.
(Agency and Bob the prospect)
Agency: “Thanks for coming in to see us today Bob, what made you consider us as a potential agency for you?”
Bob: “Well, I have heard good things and thought It worth coming to see you to find out more.”
Agency: “Makes sense to me. So what is it you’d like to know? Oh, and who told you the good things? Be good to know so at the very least I could thank them.”
Bob: “It was Steve Jones he used to work for us and now works at ABC Ltd and he mentioned that you were doing good work for him.”
Agency: “Steve Jones no less, I shall pay him later. How long have you known Steve?
Bob: “At least 5 years, a good bloke is our Steve.”
Agency: “Never a truer word said. So, apart from Steve saying nice things what else has made you consider changing agencies?”
Bob: “Well, it’s about that time.”
Agency: “I don’t follow?”
Bob: “They been with us for about 3 years and I feel it’s time for a change?”
Agency: “Sure, but why? Is it because you feel their creative output is not getting you the cut through and the sales figures you were expecting? Or is it because you aren’t getting access to senior creatives and planners there? Or some other reason?
Bob: “We certainly aren’t where we hoped we’d be on sales and to some extent that is down to their marketing not being all that.”
Agency: “Where are you on sales and where did you hope you’d be? ”
Bob: “We are at £32m and we had a target of £40m.”
Agency: “So not so far off really?”
Bob: “It is when you are in my shoes.”
Agency: “Point taken. So sales are behind by £8m or about 20% and why do you think their work didn’t help close this gap?”
Bob: “It’s just not having impact in our very competitive market place.”
Agency: “And it is tough out there no doubt about it. What was it about the work, do you think that made it lack impact?”
Bob: “Good question. I am not entirely sure. The marketing wasn’t based on the best of ideas for one and it wasn’t that well executed either.”
Agency: “So I have to ask, how did that happen?”
Bob: “I get so busy managing the department and agencies I didn’t spend enough time with them is one reason. Another is that is all that they presented?”
Agency: “Couldn’t you have told them to come back with more and better ideas?”
Bob: “Yes, maybe I should have.”
Agency: “And I guess, it wasn’t priority to spend time with the agency to make sure they really understood your brief?”
Bob: “Well, hopefully it won’t happening again?”
Agency: ‘Good point. So what will stop it happening again?”
Bob: “Well, I was hoping to include you in our pitch and maybe you can show us how?”
Agency: “I was hoping Steve may have mentioned that we never pitch for business. We think that is what caused the problem in the first place.”
Bob; “I don’t follow.”
Agency: “Well the agency you currently have were hired via a pitch right?”
Agency: “And they have not had the impact you needed although I expect at some stage you thought they were the bees knees, right? So won’t the same process select the same or similar agency again, i.e. they look good in the pitch and for a while after but turn out not to work.”
Bob: “Yes – but these things happen.”
Agency: ” They do and all to often. In fact ISBA reckon only 8% of clients see the pitch process as being effective, do you think you’re in that 8%?”
Bob: ‘Doubtful..but how do I and the team I make make sure we get a value for money, creative, savvy, no-nonsense agency that does what needs to be done on time?”
Agency: “Sounds like you’d prefer the pitch process?”
Bob: ” I wouldn’t say that.”
Agency: “So we can talk about how to appoint without pitching?
Bob: “Yes, we can?”
Agency: “You sure, you not just saying that?”
Bob: “No, go for it.”
Agency: “What is it you would need to know from a potential agency to appoint them without putting four to five agencies through your pitch process?”
Bob: ‘Well, I’d need to know they have done good work in the past. they were of the size to handle my business, understood my sector could work to my budgets and I could imagine a good working relationship.”
Agency: “What else?”
Bob: “That’s it really.”
Agencies: “Surely hundreds of agencies out there that meet that spec?”
Agency: “So won’t you just pick the cheapest one?”
Bob: “I don’t know.”
Agency: “I don’t suppose that is what you did last time is it?”
Bob: “Pretty much, wouldn’t you?”
Agency: “Maybe. But I have to ask, when did the cheapest work out best for quality and impact?”
Bob: “I get you – but I only have so much budget!”
Agency: “I agree so you should spend it wisely.”
Bob: “So where does that leave us?”
Agency: “Well, it’s easy for me to say we have all those things you requested but what would make you believe it?”
Agency: “Well, I don’t suppose Steve counts does he?”
Bob: “Of course he does.”
Agency: “But you’d like more?”
Bob: ‘Maybe one more.”
Agency: “You do know I am not going to give you a bad one don’t you?”
Bob: “Good point I guess not, so what is stopping me just appointing you guys?
Agency: “You are worried about being ripped off, making the same mistake as last time or your peers thinking you have finally lost it and procurement thinking you paid too much.”
Bob: “Err… that is it, exactly that.”
Agency: “But our clients manage it. We sit down and talk about what you need how much it would cost how we’d work together, which would be way different to your last agency I expect. We’d be demanding on your time to get the knowledge we’d need, we wouldn’t want endless meetings with everyone and we’d want you’d to sign off strong ideas and not water them down where possible and we will not be the cheapest in town either.”
Bob:”What if my team doesn’t click with you?”
Agency: “What do you think they will need to know, what question do you think they will ask us that you’d haven’t?”
Bob: ” I guess they’d want to see if they get on well with you and your team.”
Agency: “And of course they might not, I can’t claim we are the easiest to get on with all of the time, but that’s not our only goal you see, we like to think we produce great work and sometimes that means we are going to create some friction.”
Bob: “Maybe we need a bit of that friction and less ‘yes’ men around us.”
Agency: “Then you have a choice, press the blue button and we are out of here and nobody is any the wiser, press the red one and we go to the next level.”
Bob: “Can I give you a test project?”
Agency: “As long as you think it will solve you real problem and you pay for it.”
Bob: “Maybe I should just get on with it?”
Agency: “Maybe, but we don’t have to run you know. We have done this a few time before and it hasn’t always worked, sometime people pull out and go back to pitching.”
Bob: “So what’s next, shall I get your lot to come and talk to my lot and see if they get the same vibe as I do?”
Agency: “If you want to Bob, we’d be happy to see if we are for you or not, if we aren’t fine you can go run your pitch, fair enough?”
Note – the agency never bitched and moaned about how unfair the pitch was to them i.e. how much money and time it costs them.
This is mainly because Bob won’t give a toss. Bob cares about where he is and where he wants to be. And how to get an agency that does what he wants them to do. If the agency had pitched the idea of not pitching because of how it affects them Bob would have been less receptive.
No showing work or presentation at this stage either. No methodology of what makes the agency so creative. No clichés about being marketing’s hidden secret agency or boasts about awards or being the best. All un-required and surplus to the conversation of moving the prospect off the pitch process.
See how the agency really understands Bob’s issues nearly as well as he does, the agency knows it isn’t easy to not do pitches, They have a good idea about his worries regarding what other may think and how he fears being ripped off.
Bob is comforted about the referral from Steve and that you told him other clients have managed it too.
The agency is not afraid to confront Bob about how he bought cheap via the pitch process and he neglected to give the agency time they need with him. In reality there would be loads more of this issues to confront. Simply confront the things that clients do to sabotage work and talk about them in the same way.
The interesting thing to me is the more and more I look at the pitch process the less and less it appears the pitch suits either party. Although it will never go away in my opinion. It will endure through laziness, myths around what a relationship is, the rise of procurement departments and fear on both parts.
And yes Bob was very receptive in this instance and I will publish conversations when he is less so or not at all.
I have condensed an hour or and hour and a half conversation into a few hundred words. They’d be plenty of tangents to go off on and pouring and spilling of coffee and small talk within that time too.
If you’d like to learn this and other sales conversations you could do a lot worse that contacting me. By the end of it you’ll wonder how you did it any other way.