A well-run pitch process can set up an agency for success.
This sounds obvious, yet we often see agencies lose for the wrong reasons. Often they simply save too much work for too late in the process. Agencies often get off to a slow start in prepping for a pitch. We often see agencies not ask us questions based on the RFP, not clearly ready for an important Q&A call, and sometimes treating the all-important “tissue session” as an opportunity to simply ask more questions (instead of getting critical client feedback on the agency’s early thinking).
It is clear that the agencies simply are not front loading their pitch planning in a manner that treats every touchpoint with the consultant or client as an important opportunity to showcase that they are the right agency for the business.
What can agencies do from the outset of a pitch to enhance their odds of success?
Agencies can enhance their odds of success by getting the pitch off to a fast start.
Mercer Island Group’s Lindsay O’Neil has written extensively about how agencies can get off to a faster, more effective start to a pitch process. An example is here. Paraphrasing her commentary:
Adopt a Prospect-Centric Approach
The best way to make sure your presentation is all about the client is to adopt a prospect-centric approach. This requires doing work before you create any work. And that requires that the agency hit the ground running from the outset. Too often agencies dive directly into building the pitch deck. That is like building a house before you’ve drawn the floor plan. There are important steps to take beforehand – quickly – before getting to the “work”.
First: Deconstruct the Request
We’ve seen agencies use what we call “selective reading” when they go through an invitation to pitch or an RFP. Agencies often look for the questions they want to answer versus what is really needed. Instead, read and ask yourself “what is the client really asking for?” What is their business challenge? Why are they approaching your agency? Read for what the client needs, not what you want to tell them you can do. That should be your starting point. You can’t sprint if you don’t know what you’re sprinting towards.
Second: Take Advantage of or Request a Q&A
This is a critical step. A question and answer session can help you uncover the key elements the client is looking for in your response. You may find that some key business issues were left out of the request. You also begin to establish credibility with your prospect by asking smart questions and giving them a chance to discuss their business issues with you. The earlier you do this the better – as every minute counts.
Third: Create a Comprehensive Business Profile
Four: Conduct Supplemental Research
When an agency does their own research and brings it forward in their presentation, clients are impressed. The research also allows you to put together a more impactful presentation. Don’t underestimate the importance and effectiveness of research. And, of course, to do this you need to get your pitch effort off to a fast start!
Five: Strategic Analysis
Now that you’ve uncovered the business issue, confirmed it with the client, done a deep dive on the business and conducted research – your team should focus on the task of strategic analysis. What insights can your team uncover about the prospect, the competition and the consumer or customer? And how do those insights come together to form a strategy?
Six: Propose Solutions
Lastly, determine the solutions your agency will propose based on the research, analysis, and strategy. Note the amount of effort needed to get to this point! To do the thorough job needed to present strong, strategically compelling recommendations you’ll need to make great use of every moment available in the pitch process.
In case you’ve missed our message: you need to start quickly to do this right.
Bringing It Together
This approach will help you move quicker, get more done and keep your entire approach prospect-centric. Agencies enhance their pitch success rate by getting off to a quick, disciplined and thorough start.
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.