Improve your pitch win rate by asking a question – or fourteen

ad agency new business development strategy football playGreetings, fellow agency business development buff! Most of you are looking for efficient prospecting techniques. But what about efficient new business pitching? Are you closing most of what you pitch? How can you get better at that?

One way to improve your pitching is to get feedback from the prospect when you lose. Here’s a link to a questionnaire the 4As has recently developed that can help. It covers the basics and is a fine place to start. But I would customize the questions around the new business pitch itself. And ideally, this is a two-way conversation vs. a form.

A word of advice around asking and getting the feedback: do NOT try to sell the agency. The prospect has made their decision. You didn’t win. Use this as a learning opportunity.

The 4As deserves some kudos here for a) providing the direction and b) suggesting that agencies get post-pitch feedback and c) that you work in the need to get it early (e.g., as compensation is being discussed).

Another way to improve your pitching? Why, hire Thunderclap! Sometimes prospective clients just might not take the time to fill out a form. A prospect can also be a little more candid with a third party, which will help you get better and more helpful direction. You can find out what worked, what didn’t, and what can be done moving forward to make the agency more effective and efficient.

But I digress. Check out what the 4As is suggesting. Make your own version of it. And improve your pitching!


What Obama’s win can teach us in ad agency new business

Howdy. Earlier this week, our nation elected Barack Obama for a second term. His team won a long, hard-fought strategic battle. I thought you might appreciate a fun thought or two that explores winning an election vs. winning a new business pitch for your ad agency.

Don’t expect too much political mumbo jumbo below. This ain’t HuffPo or Drudge. Here’s some thinking that was part of Obama’s winning plan, some of which could make sense in your very next new business pitch.

Have a strategy vs. the competitor

Obama knew his competitor and thought strategically about how he could win. He developed and communicated strong reasons to believe why he was a better option than Romney. In agency new business, it’s always nice to know who your competitors are. (Here’s a way to ask.) But what do you do when you don’t know? Make some assumptions. We all swim in ye olde sea of sameness.

Know the target

Kind of a no-brainer, but relevant. Some agencies simply try to solve the brief or deliver ideas that will help solve the prospect’s challenges. Smarter agencies know that the pitch decision-makers are human beings. They have personalities. They have histories. They work in a company with a culture. There are unstated agendas in every pitch. Knowing this kind of thing can drive what you say and how you say it. And increase your odds of winning!

Have a little something for everyone

Related to the above point. From time to time yours truly gets this question. We have multiple audiences in the room…sales, R&D, marketing and senior management. We also have different kinds of personalities being represented. Just like the melting pot that is our country. So, what to do? Understand it. And add a little something for all in your presentation. Weight the somethings by the decision-making power represented by the person and role.

Market yourself over time

Three debates happened during the last few weeks of the campaign. And in between the debates, there were many 24-hour news cycles. What I’m getting at here is that your next new business pitch has a start and an end date. There will be deliverables over a set period of time. While most agencies will be working against those deliverables, there’s also an opportunity to market your agency BETWEEN the deliverables. (Related how-to here.) “Market” is a key word, too. Hasan Ramusevic, a terrific search consultant and one of the good guys, says this well here.

Embrace social media

At the minimum, social media can be used to better understand the decision-makers. Particularly if you’re pitching shiny people who embrace the medium.

Change to reflect the times

Obama’s messages and pitch strategy changed with the times. It had to, of course. He was in a different position now versus four years ago. And our country was facing different challenges. In agency new business, this lofty, 30,000 foot advice can be applied to many aspects of a given pitch:

  • How you learn about the prospect
  • How you manage the behind-the-scenes pitch process
  • Communicating with your prospect
  • Pitch content and context
  • Avoid the “save as” RFP (customize)
  • And more

Anywho, hope these few hundred get you thinking a bit more about how a plan can increase your chances of winning more new business. Thanks.


By the way, here are two related posts. Obama was, after all, an incumbent. His plan needed to reflect that, too.

Exploring the cost of an agency review can provide some thoughts on heading off an upcoming pitch

Some quick questions and thinking that will help you defend a piece of business

How to combat e-procurement in ad agency new business

Ad agency new business professionals see an article like this one that deals with e-procurement, and sigh. Yet another little trend of our business becoming commoditized. The same process used to buy widgets now being used to purchase your billable hours. While you could read a few hundred about how awful this is, that ain’t gonna change things. So, I tend to take Mr. Pink’s stance. Learn how to deal with it.

So, here are some quick thoughts on what your agency might want to do NOW, before you actually have to be baptized by fire:

Identify a few agencies that have gone through this process

Crazy talk? Meh. I can’t think of any agency that thinks e-procurement is a good idea. So, consider picking their brains. You will be in good company. And some people like the attention.  The Ad Age story lists several recent pitches. A bit of research might come up with an agency or two that participated. It is easy to suggest a competitor might not want to share. True. Odds are better should you not really be competitors. Which suggests a slightly different research approach, right? But you lose nothing by trying to make a friend, either.

Explore the usual suspect search consultant sites

The guys that either work only for clients. Or the guys that work for both agencies and clients. Even typing this makes me ill, as this second group, frankly, repulses me. But the search consultant side of the house has been struggling. And both of these kinds of folks now need to demonstrate their own thinking through blogging, white papers, etc. So, check ’em out. You are bound to pick up a tip or two.

Better yet, learn from other professions

We do not have “special eyes.” Other professions have no doubt had to tackle this problem. Consider the legal business, accounting, management consulting, etc. Just like the agency business, they have a host of trade magazines, consultants and middle men which service them. Hint-hint, by the way, to a few of my search consultant friends out there. There’s revenue in dem dar other professional services hills. But I digress.

Research the problem creatively

If marketers believe they can apply e-procurement to buying billable hours, turn that thought upside down. Do your own research around the history of e-procurement. Get smart. Start here and here. An older book on e-procurement is here. Here’s a thought on why a client should consider this method. Yes, I recognize this is just scratching the surface. And there are plenty of buy-side perspectives out there. But there are supply-side perspectives available, too, that will sharpen your understanding of how to tackle this challenge. And while much of the material is focused on widgets, an idea will pop up that will make your next e-negotiation stronger.

No need for you to get a third degree burn here. Happy researching. Should you find something out there that you might think could help our community, feel free to share. As you know, we aim to please here at Thunderclap!


Blatant plug: this would be a terrific and interesting project. Big agencies, consider chatting with me about this, as this assignment would help minimize money left on the table. The last proprietary research and think tank assignment given to Thunderclap from a global agency was brilliantly received. Just sayin’.

Some related Thunderclap posts:

Writing the book on ad agency procurement

 Procurement vs. search consultants in ad agency new business (Lots of relevant links there.)

Do you need to know ad agency search consultants

Being a nice neighbor in new business


Wasting your time in ad agency new business

It’s Friday. And this afternoon, I’m short timing it. Much like…wait for it…a kid’s last day of school. And quite possibly, your next new business pitch.

What this few hundred will get at is how you can tell you are wasting your time in a pitch. The post was inspired by a comment a friend of mine made on Facebook. She said the next few days of her children’s education will be wasted because no one wants to be there. Everyone is going through the motions. Kids are thinking about their summers. Teachers, too, are no doubt thinking about how they will enjoy the next few months.

Who hasn’t felt this way in a new business pitch? No one likes it when potential clients are not paying attention to your thinking and creative brilliance. All that waste is enough to make one race out of the classroom, never to return.

When your prospects are looking at their blackberries and iPhones instead of you, that’s no good. But that suggests you’re well down the pitch path. You need to know sooner.

So, just how do you know that your audience is not taking you seriously? Here are a few things to consider:

You’re invited by procurement
You’re on the pitch list because someone paid to come up with options did a bit of research or heard you might be a good agency. The manner in which you were invited also counts. Was it via email? A phone call? An engraved invitation only sent to five agencies? Don’t know about you, but the last one would get my attention.

You don’t know any of the decision-makers
Closely related to the above thought. But if you or someone on your team doesn’t have a relationship…odds are not in your favor. The kids are looking out the window…

Your questions are met with non-answers
Typically, this happens earlier in the process. But when you get bad, not helpful or politically correct, meaningless answers? Another sign. Your sense of their willingness to participate is also a qualifying factor, right?

No love
What I mean here is no special treatment or enthusiasm. No flexibility. Easier to see this in person than over the phone. But over the phone, for instance, should you experience pauses, voice tightness, interruptions, and a general unwillingness to build conversation synergy…Alice Cooper is blaring.

A great spin on “no love” is from pitch guru Don Peppers. Read about that here. Look for the idea of testing your relationship late in the post.

Anywho, hope the above gets you thinking.

Should you wish to avoid crickets in new business pitches, look here. It’s a series of posts that will inspire you to more full engage and convince your prospect you are the agency for them.

If, however, you’re thinking about the above through a lens of qualifying your prospect, take a look at this.



Resource: Harvard Business Review blogs for your agency new business efforts

Hello again, new business fan! Today’s few hundred words detail another resource from the Thunderclap files. The Harvard Business Review blogs. Very smart stuff here that will help improve your new business development efforts. What follows are some quick thoughts.

Jumpstart strategic thinking
Either or yourself or for a prospect or a client. Here’s a great example. This smart post illustrates four ways a company can stay relevant.This particular article is written by David Aaker, a thought leader who has published more than 100 articles and 15 books on marketing and branding. This post could be something you could pass along to your pitch, planning or account management teams. Or maybe even – gasp – a potential client.

Identify a few potential partners
While I have no idea if Mssr. Aaker is open to some sort of win-win partnership, he’s not the only writer on their blog. Many of these professionals write for the purposes of business development. They might welcome a call should you have a good idea or opportunity.

Demonstrate you are current and smart
Kinda goes with saying. But what I have always loved about the kind of writing seen in HBR is it’s clarity and simplicity. Harvard Business Review is a well regarded brand. Just reading what’s on their blog makes me sound and look smarter. Imagine what your potential clients and existing clients would think.

Here’s a thought or two on what I look at when I use this work on behalf of agencies. Of course, your mileage will vary. It really depends on usage context. And while you might read about some specific examples, that stuff is zipped in Thunderclap’s cone of silence. But here you go:

  • Avoid posts written by other agencies. Generally speaking, not that great an idea. I try to stick with people that are general management consultants, and better known authors. People or people at brands that already have some awareness. This adds impact.
  • Check out the “more popular” links. This is a quick way to determine what might be in the minds of your target: business readers. You can check all sorts of metrics: most read, most shared, etc. Smart.

Anywho, hope this helps. Thanks. And happy surfing.