“Challenger” agencies and their new business success, part two

Hi. This is a continuation of an earlier post.

To catch you up, some smart folks at Harvard Business Review wrote a post about “challenger” salespeople profiles that got me thinking about agency new business implications. The first key element of a “challenger” mindset is to teach your customer.

Their post goes on to list two other capabilities, each with their own new business translation…

Challengers tailor their sales message to the customer They have a finely tuned sense of individual customer objectives and value drivers and use this knowledge to effectively position their sales pitch to different types of customer stakeholders within the organization.”

Agency new business translation: hell, yes.
A couple of quick thoughts here…

  1. Love, love, love the idea of understanding who you’re pitching to. So, not only understanding the brand’s marketing communication challenges, but who your decision-makers are as individuals and the corporate culture in which they operate. This can drive pitch content and context.
  2. “…different types of stakeholders…” reminds me of a terrific little pitch widget. Something from ye olde Thunderclap files. And it ain’t rocket science. In principle, the concept is that just about anything an agency does has implications throughout the connected sales chain of your prospect’s good or service. For instance, one brand’s chain could be senior management, to sales team, to distributors, to retailers, to consumers. In some cases, an agency could do well to demonstrate how an idea can work through that chain. If you would like more info on that, get your free copy of RFP Response Tips.

Here’s another characteristic of the challenger profile…

“Challengers take control of the sale. While not aggressive, they are certainly assertive. They are comfortable with tension and are unlikely to acquiesce to every customer demand. When necessary, they can press customers a bit — not just in terms of their thinking but around things like price.”

Agency new business translation: help define the process.
So, upon first reading this last characteristic, I thought there was no relevance here to the agency pitching. After all, with all the search consultants and procurement folks out there crafting rigid communication protocol and process, there’s no way this makes sense, right?

Wrong. Here are a couple of related best practices I have seen be successful:

  1. Say “no” a bit more. The really hot agencies right now never pitch everything that comes their way. They understand the better fits – and defend the “special sauce” that helps them attract good people and good clients. They also don’t blindly accept terms that seem unfair in the process (things like idea ownership, timing, compensation, number of competitors, etc.). It can make one more attractive.
  2. Consider breaking a rule. Once. Of course, your mileage may vary. But particularly in earlier rounds, some rules are established that can hurt your chance of winning. For instance, contact with decision-makers. Most intermediaries (procurement or search consultants) are dead set against it. But what about, for instance, a well-placed, great big sign placed outside the prospect’s HQ? Did you break a rule, or just bend it a little with innocent, fun intentions?
    Of course, this kind of advice is dangerous. “Stunts” ALWAYS need to be planned and executed with the greatest of care, reflecting the culture and PC-ness of the prospect. But hopefully, you see the point: that you have some control in the process. To give that away, is to give away elements of a productive and mutually beneficial partnership. It’s also, by the way, a whole lot more fun.

Anywho, hope this has made you want to learn a little bit more about the challenger mindset and think about how to can be used to get more pitches or win more of what you currently earn.

Happy pitching!