The Client has initiated a competitive review - and you’re the incumbent. How do you win the pitch?
(One thing before you read on.... Each of the ‘mistakes’ and ‘top tips’ that follow may seem obvious, but the fact that the mistakes are commonly committed and the tips commonly ignored, should encourage you to take them seriously. In the red mist of a pitch, there are times when nothing at all seems obvious.)
Mistake No. 1 - you criticise the client
Amazingly, lots of pitch leaders do this. For them it's personal. They think that they’re making a passionate defence of the agency. That they are 'talking truth to power'. In reality all that they’re doing is handing the business to one of the other agencies.
Talk about this issue in the early pitch meetings to ensure that it doesn’t happen, and that no criticism leaks out in the pitch.
Good chemistry is critical to retaining the business. Very few Clients are prepared to work with an agency that has openly criticised them, or the way they work.
Mistake No. 2 - you assume everything needs to be changed
Don’t try to transform your chances by proposing a new account team, planning or creative leadership unless you have evidence that this is where the problem is. If your pitch strategy is based on assumption then it’s almost certain to fail.
Big changes unnerve Clients and their reaction is usually ‘Great, look at all these new people we’ve got to teach about our business.’
Mistake No. 3 - you assume you’ve lost before the pitch has even begun
If you think you’ve no chance then the resulting half-hearted, ill-thought-out pitch approach will usually guarantee your worst fears.
In fact the incumbent always – always – has a chance. Often a very good one. Everything depends on what you as the incumbent makes of that chance. How you use your experience and knowledge to your advantage.
Enough of the mistakes. Now let’s have a look at what works...
Top-tip No. 1 - pinpoint what the problem is.
Find out why you are on the shortlist, really. If you try and guess then you’re flying blind, and not taking advantage of your biggest asset – the relationship you have with the Client. Use it to get to the truth.
So what’s the problem? Do they want to fire you? Or are they trying to keep you ‘motivated’? Is there a difference of opinion in the team on your performance? Is it a personal (or personnel) thing?
Is it someone on the team – if so, move them. Is it the creative work? Poor campaign results? Inefficient processes? Is it the service levels? Or is it simply the market and changes in the client’s business?
Once you know, then work out how to tackle those issues in the pitch. It sounds so simple because it is, yet agencies rarely use this obvious approach.
Top-tip No. 2 - become emotionally hard to fire.
You need to play to your strengths here: you know the client, their strategy, what they like, what works, what can’t and what doesn’t. Make it easier for them to keep you, than fire you.
Don’t bring in senior directors whom the client has never met. Instead bring in the real people who would actually do the job were you to win it back. Show them what those people are actually like on the job. Be positive. Be a partner in the pitch – to the client, to the rest of the roster, to the process.
Top-tip No.3 - show what you do for other clients - and offer to do the same for your pitching client.
Of course, the success of this approach very much depends on how it’s done.
Try to present an impressive array of innovative work that you’re doing across the rest of your client base… but aren’t yet doing for the reviewing client.
Think hard about the answer to the inevitable question ‘Why haven’t you been doing this for us?’ (Example answer: ‘because we’ve been focusing on the tactical drivers and not sufficiently on the builders. This we accept was a mistake.’)
Top-tip No.4 - be confident that you will win
Be reassured that there’s almost always at least one point, even in the best-run review processes, when the Client looks at the list of suitors and thinks: ‘I wish I’d never started this, but I suppose I have to choose one…’
Changing agencies takes time, effort and money. They’re not going to do it unless they absolutely have to. Remember this and you should grow in confidence of eventual success.
Now use these valuable support guides
A guide to new business pitching
PowerPoint - what to do, and not to do
Find out what your Clients want from your agency.
The foundations of a successful relationship.
How things can go badly wrong