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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