At Mercer Island Group, we have had the privilege to sit in on hundreds of agency pitches. We’ve seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t, and how clients evaluate and select agencies. So often, the agencies lose the clients less than ten minutes into a pitch. Why? The focus is on the agency and not on the client. When the agency focuses on themselves instead of the prospect, everyone loses. The prospect loses interest and the agency loses the opportunity.
First, adopt the mind-set that the client you are speaking to has already done their research on your firm. In fact, they’ve invited you to present because they already believe you have the capabilities to do the work.
Try not to view this as a chance to sell your firm. Instead, stay focused on the client and the problem they need to solve. It’s important to remember who and what the pitch is for. The sole purpose for this conversation is that your prospect has a business issue or opportunity to solve or address; talking about anything other than that is likely to miss the mark. Your prospect wants you to come in and talk about them, not you. People feel special when you talk about them, and often tune out when the conversation is all about you.
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 should be your approach for every pitch that your firm participates in. This requires doing work before you create any work. 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. You need to ensure you have the necessary building blocks for how to best approach and design your presentation.
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 verses what is really there. Instead, read and ask yourself “what is the client really asking for?” Are they asking you for creative? Are they asking you for brand work? Are they asking you for digital design? Are they in need of competitive research? Are they asking how you might solve the problem they are facing? Are they asking for a simple capabilities presentation? What are they asking for? I bet they aren’t asking for the story of how your firm was created. And I bet they don’t want an in-depth presentation on capabilities they don’t need. Read for what the client needs, not what you want to tell them you can do. That should be your starting point.
Second: Take Advantage of or Request a Q&A
This is such a critical step. Most clients don’t involve a search consultant when they are conducting an agency search. That means they are doing this extra effort on top of their day to day activities. So you might end up with a poorly written request. Sometimes the ask isn’t clear, or it’s clear but it’s bare. Other times it’s packed with 4 or 5 business issues and no indication of which ones you are on the hook to solve for. 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.
Third: Create a Comprehensive Business Profile
Task someone on your team with building a complete company profile on a prospect that goes beyond the basics. Cover everything from their company overview to their business strategy to competition, their general business and financial information. Learn about their key executives and past or current agency relationships. Once you have all of this information distilled down into one document, you will have an amazing resource and a better understanding of their business. For more on how to build a Prospect Business Profile
Four: Conduct Supplemental Research
When an agency does their research and brings it forward in their presentation, clients are impressed. It also allows you to put together a more impactful presentation if you’ve done your homework. Especially if you do some original research. In fact, we just saw an agency lose a pitch that they should have won because one of the other agencies pitching brought some original research forward in the form of a Facebook survey. It made a huge impression on the client. So, don’t underestimate the importance and effectiveness of research.
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? Don’t save your brilliance for later, there might not be one.
Six: Propose Solutions
Lastly, determine the solutions your agency will propose based on the research, analysis, and strategy.
Bringing It Together
All of the above items should be done before you create a single slide or propose any tactics. The first half of the approach is designed to uncover and understand the prospect’s business issue. The second half is designed to thoughtfully address the business issue. This will keep your entire approach prospect-centric.
Everything you do when it comes to your pitch should be informed by and centered around your prospect. That alone will set you apart. The less you make it about what your agency wants, and the more you make it about the prospect’s needs, the more gratifying it becomes for everyone. It becomes less about trying to sell something and more about trying to solve a problem. “Let us help” is a much more welcoming conversation than “give us work.”
Lindsay O’Neil, a Senior Consultant at Mercer Island Group, has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising, and Social. She has led and participated in numerous agency searches for clients like Envestnet, Zillow, Barre3, TrueCar, Brooks Running and Hitachi Vantara. One of her key strengths as a consultant is her deep understanding of marketing strategy and agency new business development practices.