If you’re an agency owner and you’re not winning as much business as you think you should consider that it could be something smaller than you thing that is screwing up your success rate. Do any of these howlers sound familiar?

This post is for agency owners because there is something you need to know…

After spending months on the other side of the table watching agency after agency pitch their services to my clients I kept seeing simple things completely screwing up their pitches.

I help clients appoint the right agencies when they don’t know enough about digital marketing to be confident about the appointment they are making.

As a former Agency owner I’ve done hundreds of proposals and pitches over the years. During that time I didn’t see a single pitch given by a competitor. I now appreciate how very different it looks from the client’s side.

When you are sat in the room with stakeholders witnessing the procession of agencies pitching you get to hear their first impression reactions and see how they make their decisions to appoint.

On every occasion my client has appointed an agency they feel confident will deliver the results they want. Result!

I have been completely happy to recommend every agency I have put in front of them because I know they are good. However its my client who needs to be convinced and that comes down to how well the agency does in their pitch.

There can only be one winner in these situations of course but what fuelled me to write this post is the many, sometimes small ways, some agencies shoot themselves in the foot, often repeatedly.

Agency Feedback

The feedback given to agencies after the appointment is always polite and appreciative because my clients are professional and genuinely appreciate the time and effort you have gone to but they rarely tell you exactly why you didn’t get the contract. That could feel uncomfortable and they may not want to admit that they ruled you out over something you might feel is a small mistake.

What went wrong

Below I have summarised all the things that have happened across many pitches that have negatively affected the perception the client has had.

Of course not all clients are equal and some may like things that others don’t but these are all things that are easy to get right and some have completely shrouded the agency’s abilities.

The Basics

These should be really easy to get right.

  1. Don’t be late – its so basic its almost not worth mentioning. Except it is because people are late! Its an interview situation for the client so treat it like one.
  2. Go to the correct address – know if your prospect has more than one office in a town and be sure you go to the correct one. Don’t rely on the taxi driver saying ‘I know where that is’ and dropping you off at the wrong address. Its your responsibility to confirm the details and get it right.
  3. Make sure your setup is smooth – bring the right cables to connect your laptop to HDMI and RGB, clunky setup can project incompetence.
  4. Dress smart – I’m not recommending formal business attire but play it safe with smart casual. The dress down approach of some agencies my be trendy but your prospects are not agencies so avoid the risk of being perceived as unprofessional by avoiding wearing ripped jeans and tee shirts.
  5. Use a smart note book – pulling crumpled papers from your pockets really doesn’t look good.
  6. Get the brand name exactly right – your prospect will spot it immediately and decide that you don’t pay attention to detail.

The Essentials

Experience will help you hone your presentation style and tick these essential boxes.

  1. Manage the pace of your presentation – you should know how long you have to present, 60-90 minutes is usual but do check in advance. Make sure you don’t go too fast or too slow.
  2. Direct your attention to the right people – ideally you’ll know who will be in the room before you get there so you can look them up on LinkedIn and work out who is the decision-maker. You do need to address everyone in the room but you need to impress the decision-maker(s) and influencers as a priority. If I’m in the room I already know you are good so don’t waste time focusing on me.
  3. Answer the brief – hopefully you have a brief to work to, its there to outline what’s important to the prospect so address all points raised. If you have any questions about the brief that affect your pitch ask before you get there.
  4. Case studies are hugely important – this is a real opportunity to impress and build confidence, make sure you include them in your pitch and don’t leave them until last if you might run out of time.
  5. Stress relevant experience – prospects need to feel they are in safe and highly competent hands. They are recruiting an agency to add value so demonstrate your expertise at every opportunity. They may feel its a conflict of interest if you work with a direct competitor, or they might love it – that’s always a tricky one to judge. But they do want to know that you have the necessary experience to deliver results and the more relevant you can make that the better.
  6. Demonstrate that you understand their business – if you don’t have direct experience in the prospect’s sector then learn as much as you can to prepare for the pitch. Talking confidently about their sector is a big bonus. Show that you understand their target audiences, related sectors and any regulations that might affect the work you would do.
  7. Don’t swear or use innuendo – some prospects will be fine with this but others will be offended and find it disrespectful. In a pitch situation, unless you are familiar with the prospect already, you can’t be sure how they will react after you have left the room.
  8. Don’t break confidentiality about other clients – its unlikely you’d do this intentionally but if you say anything about another client that might seem unprofessional your prospect will think you might talk about them in the same way so always avoid this.
  9. Invite discussion and interruption – how the pitch is structured is up to you. Prospects would prefer to be invited to ask questions throughout, its more natural. Besides, an hour of being talked at followed by questions is generally a bit too full on and less enjoyable.
  10. Read the body language of your audience – if anyone in the room sits back with crossed arms or starts checking their phones or generally looks bored or disengaged then read these warning signs and try to re-engage them.

Extra Ways To Stand Out – In A Good Way

These cost you more as an agency but this investment has won the business when its been a close run thing:

  1. Bring your important team members to show who will be working on the account – most pitches are done by one or two people, often the MD or Founder or New Business Directors. If there is development work in the pitch then a senior developer might be there too. Some agencies bring the MD, lead developer and account manager – basically the senior team who will be working in your account. If one agency does this and others don’t then this agency will stand out and make the client feel really important.
  2. Go above and beyond – generally speaking an agency will put more personalisation into a pitch that is worth more to them. This is the biggest variation I have seen as some agencies have used obviously standard decks with minor tweaks and others have personalised every slide and even done mockups. Its a judgement call as you don’t know how far your competition will go but this is a strong card to play if you really want the business.
  3. Bring gifts – we’ve had donuts, cupcakes and a box of branded swag. Ok so this is not going to win you the business  but its a nice touch.

In summary

Clients want to feel that they will be an important client for your agency. They want to know that they are in good hands with the people who will be working on their account and feel confident that you’ll do whatever is necessary to get results.

They need to feel impressed with what you have achieved for others they can relate to and understand exactly what you are offering to do to get them there.

Don’t distract from your agency’s abilities by creating doubt with issues that are so easy to avoid.

I'm a digital marketing strategy consultant working with agencies and businesses to help them grow. Having built a successful digital agency from 2 to 50 people over 12 years I can share my experiences and help avoid some of the inevitable mistakes that come with the pace of change in the digital marketing industry.

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