Should you always re-pitch?

Jane phoned me in a panic. Her agency had been asked to re-pitch for her client’s business. She sounded worried. She had a funny feeling, as she put it. Was she being paranoid or was she picking up some negative ‘vibes’? Was it a real pitch or was it simply a ‘polite’ way for the client to move their business to another agency?

Time for me to have a chat with my partner, a Marketing Director of 10 years’ experience!

Let’s step back and look at the whole area of re-pitching. Re-pitching for a client after say 3 years is often an interesting decision for an agency to make. What’s the likelihood you retain the business? What can you do to increase the likelihood of retaining the business? When should you walk away and not re-pitch? How can you tell if the client has decided they need a change of scenery and you’re therefore wasting your time re-pitching?

Long before a re-pitch is called the agency needs to do a regular barometer reading to test the water. You want to get a feel of how the client sees the team and your work.

For some clients it is a statutory requirement to re-pitch. For others it’s initiated by their procurement team. For others they feel they need some fresh eyes and renewed energy focused on their business. Whilst others simply want to have a new agency looking after their business – they feel it’s time for a change. It’s not always easy in advance to see which is which. Clients often won’t tell you the truth.

Re-pitching is expensive for an agency. Losing a client after 3 years is also expensive and may have implications for headcount and morale.

(If your agency is pitching for a new client, how do you know it’s a fair pitch and that the client isn’t simply on the prowl for fresh ideas to steal, sorry acquire? Do they simply want to stay with the incumbent and have no intention of moving?)

Here’s 7 tips to consider next time you’re asked to re-pitch.

  1. Ask yourself if you truly want to retain this client. I predict that this year that for many agencies there will be more business than agency resource. The latest IPA Bellwether Report (April 2022) says “marketing budgets up to strongest levels since 2014”. This may be a good opportunity to ‘replace’ a client with a better client (you decide what better means! More profitable, improved relationship, bigger budgets, more creative opportunity?)
  2. Do you have the right type of relationship with the client, especially the senior client? Do they see you as a trusted adviser/partner or do they see you as a transactional supplier? (It’s what they think, not what you think!) Do you get regular face time with senior clients?
  3. Are there clues to look out for indicating a client disengaging? Has the level of face time reduced in recent months? (Covid will muddy your answer to this.) How readily does the client discuss their future plans with you? Are there fewer meetings with senior clients? Is the client’s business under increased pressure yet the client isn’t discussing their need to invest in activity? Are there clues in their body language and/or language?

4. An honest and open conversation with the senior client could be very helpful. Ideally face to face. They’re unlikely to tell you that you haven’t a ‘cat in hells chance’ of retaining the business but it’s a great opportunity to put feelers out and listen to your instincts. Are there fundamental frustrations and dissatisfactions for the client? You really need an in-depth conversation with the client about how they see the team, the work, what they like/dislike?

5. As the incumbent you have the benefit of understanding the client’s business. The disadvantage is that you don’t have the fresh eyes of another agency pitching for the client’s business for the first time. If you do decide to re-pitch, then consider putting some other different agency people on the pitch to freshen the approach.

6. I’d recommend saying to the client that a condition of re-pitching is that win or lose the client will meet face to face to provide honest feedback to a senior agency person who was not involved in the actual pitch.

7. Ultimately, it’s a commercial decision for you to make. Is it worth investing the time, effort and money based on what you think is the probability to retain the business? Could the re-pitch team/resource be better deployed elsewhere or on business development? Losing a re-pitch isn’t simply about losing the business. It will have an impact on agency confidence and mojo. Declining to re-pitch and resigning will have less impact and puts you in control.

You may be wondering what happened to Jane’s re-pitch for her client. If you’re interested drop me an email and I’ll tell you what really happened.

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