Insulate your agency from the fickle world of pitching

Pitching is not the key to prolonged business success, but, says Julia Vargiu, there are five key behaviours and strategies that are.

A pitch is not the only way to win new business, but many agencies rely on being invited to pitch as their main ‘strategy’ for growing their business and filling their pipeline.Julia Vargiu

Let’s call this strategy ‘hope’. Hope is not a sustainable or legitimate strategy for new business. Not only that, there is compelling evidence that reliance on pitching leads to the demise of many an agency. Even if you’re winning, it’s a gamble that you’ll get on enough lists.

Then, many agency CEOs believe the average industry win-rate for pitches is one in four. That means there’s a 75% loss rate. This would get you fired in any other industry.

Pitching is a long-term expense even when you win: up to 30% of an agency’s earnings from a client won in a pitch may be needed to wipe out the expense of the pitch and turn the client to profitability. How do you write off or recoup the cost of pitching when you lose?

Pitching is loathed by many clients as well as agencies; it’s costly and stressful for both sides, the client can often be out of the market for months during the pitch process, and ultimately they have no guarantee that the devil they don’t know will be any better than the devil they know.Fingers crossed

The best way to insulate your agency from the fickle world of pitching is by committing to a 12-18 month cyclical new business strategy – act fast or it might be too late, there’s no such thing as ‘low-hanging fruit’.

Change from reactive to proactive

Start with a new head space on the subject. It’s time to lead, not wait with your fingers crossed.

Agencies are staffed by some of the smartest thinkers of any industry. Consider how much your clients love your insights into their business, your problem-solving contributions and your dedication to their growth and success.

Why not share some of that intelligence and analysis with your ideal prospects. Agency CEOs who win new business without pitching are starting conversations with prospects that are relevant to the prospect’s business or industry (no creds in sight!).

They are conversing with the prospective client about topics no other agency is talking about with them. They reveal a need the prospect was unaware of, or find a place of ‘flux’ in their business, or artfully challenge them to change. This is the core of ‘insight selling’.

Invest in your prospect list

Most agency bosses have a top 10 list of their ideal clients, an idea of the ‘loose’ accounts out there and a nice circle of warm leads. This isn’t nearly enough!

Motion blur from pointer on computer screen

Every agency needs a prospect list of 100 companies who match a set of strict criteria about your agency’s ambitions and skills to ensure you are meeting enough new decision makers, starting enough conversations and building enough relationships to fill your pipeline consistently.

Consider this: you don’t always have to start with the marketing chief. There are many knowledgeable and influential people within any organisation, who can help you to round out your picture of your prospect’s business and the commercial context of their industry.

The finance or sales chief will view their business through different eyes, and may be just the perspective you need to add depth to the insights you offer them.

Play the long game

Starting a conversation is one thing, but playing the long game is necessary to convert those prospects. It’s worthwhile reiterating here that relationship building is like dating; there has to be chemistry, trust and confidence built up over time.

Agency CEOs who are converting prospects into profitable paid clients are disciplined in their pursuit and development of those relationships.

Remember that your prospect is your priority, you are not their priority, so it’s your responsibility to progress the relationship forward.

Young couple in love walking in the summer park holding hands, filtered image

Share your insights on their industry and their business with a view to shaping a project you can work on together that solves a problem they have been stuck on, or maybe hadn’t even noticed before you pointed it out.

Keep up the momentum with setting the next meeting and the next discussion, and be flexible when it comes to their diaries – but never, ever cancel on a prospect.

Playing the long game will give you the confidence to ask for their business and close the deal.

Organic growth is vital

It’s just as important to win new, paid and profitable projects from your existing clients as pursuing those ideal prospects who might still be ‘cold’.

Analyse your current clients to see if you have as much of their business as you want. Uncover any new opportunities for their business and present your insights.

Your current clients who already feel warm and fuzzy about you are the ideal ‘audience’ to practice the art of insight selling, and perfect your skills before commencing with cold prospects.

By using insight selling techniques to expand your current relationships, you are also avoiding a common pitfall for agencies of being pigeonholed into the service that your client originally signed up for, thus stunting their utilisation of more of your services.

Run your own one-horse race

A proactive, sustained approach to new business is simple, but it’s not easy. However, it will put the reins of your business firmly in your hands, and dramatically decrease your reliance on pitching. You are effectively creating one-horse races, by meeting who you want and persuading them to give you their business.

Refreshing, isn’t it?

Julia Vargiu is the founder and principal of New Business Methodology

Julia Vargiu is speaking on a panel around the art of new business at the Secrets of Agency Excellence – SAGE – masterclass on October 12. For the program and tickets click here.

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