It’s an odd marketplace for agency services right now. The marketing services industry that was hit so very hard by the pandemic came roaring back to life with record hiring and wild staffing shortages. Clients are still often working remotely and disruptions to routines (children and teachers getting COVID, work from home, etc.) continue. And now the economy is in a truly odd place with fears of a recession and inflation and yet full employment. Businesses need to move forward, and agencies can’t afford to shelve new business efforts. Business development is every bit as important as it ever was.
Given the importance of business development, does the post-COVID-19 era require a new approach to business development or will things completely return to normal?
We think the answer is “yes”: some things have changed, and others will remain the same.
Embrace that Some Aspects of Pitching Have Changed
Major presentations are now routinely back to in-person meetings. This is a welcome relief for agencies and clients. Agencies tell us all the time, “If we could just get in the room, they’d love us.”
Yet clients have busy schedules and face increased cost pressures. As such, other aspects of the agency pitch process will be different for quite some time. Tissue sessions and interim pitch work session meetings will often remain on videoconference services due to the familiarity, efficiency and cost effectiveness of these platforms.
To capitalize on these opportunities, agencies need to adapt and continue to master these new approaches. 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.
And also, remember that the basics will never change. Let me explain!
Understand the Prospect
First and foremost, remember that you must think about this from their viewpoint – the viewpoint of the prospect.
How have changes to competition, economics, consumers or the prospect’s brand impacted their business?
When you look at the world through your prospect’s lens you come across as more aligned with their needs and challenges. A winning pitch is 99% about how you think about the prospect. And your frame of mind needs to be “this is not about me.”
It’s About Their Business Issues (Not Your Solutions)
Remember: marketers don’t want to “buy” marketing services; they have business issues they need help addressing.
We have seen so many agencies 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.
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 is the industry growing or changing?
- What are their goals?
- What major challenges are they facing?
- Who are their competitors?
- Have they recently launched new products?
- Is their business healthy?
- Are they hiring or downsizing?
Do your homework before you begin a conversation, submit materials or hop on a video call.
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, make sure you start with a recap of what you have heard (from them) or uncovered from your research regarding their challenges.
- If you received a request to chat about what you offer, schedule a call to first better understand them and their needs.
Once the meeting details are set, have a plan to get the prospect involved, 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!
Prospects will always have business issues to solve, and that is their priority. Your agency will be ahead of the game if your team actively listens to prospects to better understand their challenges before introducing potential solutions. Your agency, and your business development goals, will be better for it.
Lindsay O’Neil is a Director at Mercer Island Group and member of the executive leadership team. She has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising and Social. She has led numerous agency searches, 360 reviews, strategic insights workshops, and the development of marketing prioritization, workflows and productive IATs. She has also worked with agencies on new business development and pitch/positioning consulting. Lindsay has worked with a wide range of clients and agencies across multiple industries including FreshDirect, Barre3, Envestnet, Brooks Running, Zillow, Continental Mills, Belk, Insulet, Curious Jane, and Callahan.