Howdy, ad agency new business zealot. Had lunch with a friend of mine the other day. He said something so interesting it was worthy of a few hundred words. Like you and I, he has a challenge. When you’re in relationship building mode with a agency prospect, how can you avoid being asked for a “strategy booty call” vs. a friendly, stay-in-touch experience?
Said in another way, how can you avoid giving away thinking? Typically, this situation comes up not during an initial contact, but further on in the prospect / agency relationship. (Assuming this is a qualified prospect for your agency.)
Seems like some spec thinking might be unavoidable. You do, after all, need to demonstrate some expertise. And many agency new business folks do this by talking about the prospective client and tying those challenges to past agency or staff experience.
But what follows are a few thoughts that can help avoid that feeling like you’ve been kicked out of bed without seeing any money left on the table:
Plan the interaction ahead of time
It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone call, lunch, social event or even an email. Understand YOUR goals for the interaction before you start. This will help keep you focused on the matter at hand.
Listen more than you speak
One easy way to think about this is to simply talk less. The less you say, the less risk you have of saying something you may not get paid for. Listening is a critical skill, particularly in this aspect of relationship.
Think fact finding and discovery (not problem solving)
Before you are actually “pitching,” you’re trying to get the lay of the land and building the relationship. Of course, your mileage will vary. And it completely depends on the setting and feeling of the situation you find yourself in. But to understand what’s really going on, think about asking questions that will get at some key issues:
- What do they need?
- What created the need?
- Why do they need help now?
- What are the issues around the need?
- What difference would having this need met make to you?
- Who else is involved in the matter at the company?
There are more questions, of course. Please note the above are not necessarily the questions you should be asking. Some of the above are fairly blunt. You can be a little sharper, and ask questions that help you solve the problem later (as well as provide valuable insights that can drive pitch content and context.)
You’re in the agency business. The business of ideas. You can’t help but offer up a thought here or there. Sometimes, it just can’t be avoided. You are, after all, a smartie. And you can always make more ideas. But do give some thought to the value of what it is you do for a living. It’s billable!
Anywho, hope this has helped. And should you have any related thoughts on how to avoid a strategy booty call early in the prospect / agency relationship…feel free to share with your fellow ad agency new business junkie.