Right now, things are tough. The marketing services industry, and the world, has been hit hard by the various side-effects of this pandemic. Social distancing, feelings of isolation, financial implications, and, of course, the loss of life, all weigh on everyone. However, businesses need to continue to operate and your agency can’t afford to shelve new business efforts. Business development has never been more important.
Everywhere we look we see people discussing how the COVID-19 era calls for a new approach to business development. And while we agree that some things may be forever changed, others will remain the same. The key difference: if you aren’t thinking about your prospect during your prospecting approach, you might as well skip it altogether.
Embrace that Pitching May Never Be the Same
Business as usual has been interrupted, yet your clients and prospects are trying to remain truly operational. Prospects are working in a landscape that is constantly changing, with things opening and closing at an unpredictable rate. One thing that may be predictable, however, is that the agency pitch process will be different for quite some time. In-person pitches will likely be few and far between for months to come.
Agencies tell us all the time, “If we could just get in the room, they’d love us.” That’s probably true, but it’s not practical to get every shop in a search in front of the client…especially today. Clients have busy schedules, serious business issues to address, all while navigating the need for social distancing and the well-being of their own employees. As such, agencies are finding themselves in pitch processes that are solely written or virtual these days. To capitalize on these opportunities, agencies need to adapt – and adapt quickly. Our advice: make the most of what the process allows. Prospective clients will appreciate that you are nimble and willing to cater to their company’s current working style.
Remember: The Basics Will Never Change
Understanding the Prospect is Paramount
First and foremost, remember that you must think about this from their viewpoint – the viewpoint of the prospect.
- What’s on your prospect’s mind and how has the landscape changed since the last time she or he looked for agency services?
- How have the global changes over the last two months impacted his or her business?
When you look at the world through a marketers’ lens you automatically come across as more considerate. It also becomes clear that marketers don’t want to “buy” marketing services; they have business issues they need help addressing.
It’s About Their Business Issues, Not Your Solutions
A winning pitch is 99% about how you think about the prospect. And your frame of mind needs to be “this is not about you.”
We have been on the client side of so many agency pitches and seen so many firms fail to do this…and every time it feels so disappointing. We know agencies can do better just by reframing their approach. Prospects have only one thing on their minds: their needs. Agencies that talk about themselves lose their audience fast, whereas agencies that focus first on a prospect’s needs and challenges have a captive audience. This is one of the best tactics you can employ as it shows the prospect that you “get them” and you understand what they are going through.
You Need to Prepare
Start with research: You can learn a great deal about a company and its industry with a little online research.
- What is happening in their industry?
- How has the pandemic changed the industry?
- How did they do business pre-COVID and how do they do business now?
- What are their goals?
- What major blows are they facing?
- Who are their competitors?
- Have they recently launched new products?
- Is their business healthy?
- Are they hiring or downsizing?
Before you begin a conversation, submit materials or hop on a video call, do your homework. This homework prepares you for a hearty conversation about their concerns and how to address them, not what you have to sell them. That is the conversation they want to have.
Next, prepare how will you handle the conversation.
- If you received a request for a written RFI, request a Q&A call.
- If you have been invited to pitch virtually, ensure you have the right technology in place and become an expert using it.
- If you received a request to chat about what you offer, schedule a call to discuss them (not you).
Once the details are set, have a plan to get the prospect involved and discussing their business from the get-go. Keep in mind that if you have received an invitation from the prospect, then they already likely know some basic information about your firm. They want to talk about themselves. Prepare for how you can facilitate that conversation!
Take Care of Your Own
In terms of showing that you are a thoughtful agency partner, some of the best efforts start at home.
- How are you supporting your staff during this time?
- How are you maintaining your unique company culture?
A healthy, happy and well-taken care of team provides the best account service. And when employees like their place of work, it shows. It also says a lot about what kind of player your firm would be in a client/agency relationship.
While no one knows what will happen in the next year and there is no official guide on how prospect during a pandemic, we do know that prospects will always have business issues to solve. If your firm is willing to embrace different pitching parameters, to listen to potential clients, and to take good care of your employees, you will be ahead of the game when it comes to new business development. So, check-in with your team, adapt to the things that are changing and spend the rest of your time focusing on your prospect. Your agency, and your business development goals, will be better for it.
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.