Column Thinking – is a lead qualifying tool. A way of thinking really, to determine whether you are likely to win a piece of new business or not.
You’re attempting to imagine what the buyer is most likely doing behind the scenes, where so much of the decision making process happens today.
In my experience, once Column Thinking is trained (and it’s not rocket science as all my clients kindly remind me) it is way superior to BANTS (budget, authority, needs, timing) as a predictor to business wins. And the thinking will lead to better direct marketing initiatives see here and client servicing programmes too here.
When a client is holding a pitch or sending out RFIs they all pass the BANTS test with flying colours don’t they? Look – they have money, the decision makers are involved and they want to change their agency in the next quarter. Bingo – got one!
Column Thinking is my ‘Money Ball” qualifying tool. In the book (now a film) Moneyball some whiz kid (Peter Brand – his first job in Baseball, in fact anywhere) worked out by looking at the history of baseball statistics that baseball teams had been deducing incorrect knowledge for ages, whilst all analysing the same statistics to select their players. He shares his findings with the Oakland A’s now legendary manager Billy Beane.
They had been selecting players that looked like the All American Star – good-looking , had the girl, ran fast, could hit hard and had multiple skills and some good batting averages. You know the sort. The same sort of thing would never happen would it in graduate training programme, would it ?
So, all of the big baseball teams were fighting over the same college players and their players prices went through the roof.. Without ruining the book it turns out their use of statistics and gut feel was not a good indication of future major league performance.
Let me explain my column thinking. I think buyers put agencies into columns mentally when they are at the early stages of looking to change agencies.
They (it’s usually a group of buyers) have loads of information and sit there deciding who they’d liked to work with even before meeting with any agencies.
The buyers usually have at least four columns A-D. In today’s market there are often more. As an agency you want to be in column A or B only.
Agencies get called in to pitch, or answer a Request For Information (RFI) and they are unknowingly already in columns C and D or further down the alphabet. They are column fodder, they are there to assist with benchmarking mainly on pricing. The lowers columns stop column A taking the mickey on price.
What is the difference in those columns and how can you tell where you are?
Column A – You are in columns A if you are the most favoured agency to the buyer or the buying team. Column A will have the agency in it that has been referred to the team by another marketer they really trust. That person may be internal or external. Or Column A may be the incumbent agency where there is no real intention to part company with them and the other columns are being used to price check the market – very public sector.
Or Column A agency could be a strongly preferred agency from a published thought piece article or the flavour of the month as advocated by an intermediary for example. Sometimes an agency emerges that is flavour of the decade usually hanging off of one or two amazing pieces of work and they get on pitch lists very quickly.
You have been selected based on some transfer of trust caused by someones conversation, that you were not privy to. So previous events, most likely your successful work, has had consequences on the prospect that determines you are in column A. It’s kind of how the universe works.
Column B – You may be the 2nd referral of choice because maybe they have two referrals – in my experience the agency that is referred to the marketing director for example trumps that of the one referred to the marketing manager.
Column B is the 2nd class referral in that regard. Column B can oust column A though, if A messes up, more so, than on their own merit. The business is A’s to lose statistically. Column B is the first loser is many regards. They have on paper what column A may have except the trust that comes with the superior referral.
Column B may in some cases merge into columns C and D. So A is way ahead with the other columns being there for benchmarking / procurement. Remember you can’t see these columns that are in the buyers heads.
Column C & D…Z – These are the agencies that have arrived on the pitch list from cold lead generating. They are the sellers. They have been selected based on some of their experience, location, size etc and will be used for price checking and idea generation. This is where ‘The Fish’ are (see Chapter 4 on poker).
Your agency is required for procurement processes – to make up numbers but most importantly to check market rates. The buyers only wants to pay column A agency the price of column C or D and although they may not succeed in getting quite that they don’t want to pay too far over C & D prices.
The truth is sometimes you don’t know quite what column you are in so you have to use your intuition. Sometimes it’s a close call if you are in A or B. You should always know when you are in C and D though. Column thinking is a tool to help you qualify an opportunity by understanding what is most likely going on around the buyer’s table.
Because columns are unique to each buyers it is hard to put a permanent percentage chance of winning on each columns. But because we know from agencies that up to 80% of their work come from a referral I’d wager that columns A and B combined win about 85% of the time and the other columns share a 15% chance between them.
So if there was only two more players i.e. C and D they have 7.5% chance each. What would you do with columns C and D opportunities? Yet most new business programmes spend time filling the pipeline with C and D opportunities.
If agencies get 80% of their work from referrals then buyers are buying from a referral 80% of the time, QED.
“This better work!” Billy Beane