Pitch without pitching. Saving and making money for your agency

New business pitches cost agencies a fortune in time and money and also, what’s often forgotten, confidence.

Each lost pitch knocks the agency’s confidence. Over time these knocks can cumulatively cause serious damage. That resource spent on new business could have been invested into an existing client with a more certain, maybe even guaranteed, return.

Having said that, new business is vital for an agency. Typically an agency will lose 10-15% of the client base so in order to simply stand still an agency will need to replace that 10-15%. So how can we do that as effectively and efficiently as possible?

Some pitches we should run a mile from. These are the bogus pitches where the client either has no intention of appointing an external agency, plans to keep the business with the incumbent, plans to get ‘one man & his dog’ to implement your thinking or wants to steal your thinking and methodology to be developed internally. Every single one of these is a pitch you can never win. Every pound and every hour spent on a bogus pitch is a complete waste. Are these bogus pitches easy to spot? No, clients will try to disguise their bogus pitch. So these pitches require you to do some clever detective work asking various probing questions to see how convincing the client’s answers are and having your ‘antennae’ on full sensitivity.

Pitching for work way outside your sweet spot can also be a complete waste of time. Hoping you will win a pitch way outside your sweet spot is like expecting, even banking on, winning the lottery.

Having looked after new business development within several agencies I know how disheartening it is to invest so much time and effort in a pitch and to then later discover it went nowhere. It seems worse than losing in a fair shoot-out.

When I’m advising my agency clients on their new business strategy I suggest developing a criteria list that each new business pitch must comply with. This helps remove some of the subjectivity around the decision to ‘go/no go’. Some of the criteria might be mandatory, others discretionary.

A sobering number is to find out realistically what you spent last year on new business pitches (new-new). Include the senior team’s time at normal charge out rates. Then divide that sum of money by the number of pitches you went for. You will probably arrive at a figure of £20,000-£40,000 per pitch, sometimes even more. It doesn’t really matter what the figure is. Before deciding on whether to go for each pitch opportunity ask yourself “If it was my money would I invest £x0,000 in this opportunity?” If the answer is “absolutely” then probably you should go for it! If you’re unsure then consider what can you do to increase your confidence in your decision one way or another.

So how can you pitch without pitching? Here are a few ideas to get you thinking.

This is one of the ten lessons from “Survivor to Thriver” whereby we interviewed agency heads that had turned their business around from under-performance to a superb performance.

  • Change the pitch brief. Go back quickly after being briefed to say “we think the brief should be xyz” which goes in a different direction to the client’s brief. You’d better have a great rationale for the change in direction. Play your cards right and you might now be working on a solus brief.
  • Take a tactical brief to a more strategic longer term direction.
  • Present proposals which position you and/or your proposal as a ‘no brainer decision’. ie the client would be crazy to go elsewhere.
  • Pre-empt the pitch before it sees light of day. Do this by having senior/csuite conversations demonstrating how you can save the client time, effort and money by working direct with you, cutting out their, and your, time wasted on a pitch.

Are these easy to do? No of course not. But if it can save you £x0,000 on a competitive pitch it’s worth the time to think how this could be achieved.

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