David Porter is a media and marketing expert with decades of experience at global brands and agencies such as Unilever and Mindshare. He recently spoke at Google APAC’s flagship agency education program Digital Guru, on how agencies can pitch to win. Here, he shares in detail his five tips for winning new business pitches.
Winning business pitches is the lifeblood of any agency, but the odds of success can be slim, especially in today’s uncertain economic climate and competitive business landscape. Having been on both sides of the table for decades as an advertiser and agency head, one question I’m often asked is what makes for a winning business pitch.
I’ve discovered, after all these years, that it’s less about what agencies do wrong, and more about what they don’t get right; the finer points matter.
The five tips I share here, distilled from the countless pitches I’ve participated in, can help you and your team pitch to win.
1. Have your written submission make, not break, your pitch
Prospective clients form a critical first impression of you, and how well you understand their business challenges based on your written submission. So how can your submission make, and not break, your pitch?
Answer the brief in order, and in bullet points.
It boils down to this: have your submission address points in the client brief clearly and concisely. If your submission resembles a novel, you make the client’s job harder. Instead, answer the brief in order, and in bullet points. Bear in mind that your client will evaluate you item by item against their brief.
I’ve seen many winning pitches use this simple and important strategy, including my team, when we pitched for the business of a global automobile company. The marketing plan we submitted was based on detailed analyses of the company’s challenge, and that enabled us to make credible promises that exceeded their expectations. We showed that we understood the brand even before we’d met its marketers for the presentation.
2. Build a transition plan to give clients a peace of mind
Apart from wowing the client with your ability to answer their business challenge, you must also assure them that the change of hands, from their incumbent agency to you, will be seamless. This is where a well-developed transition plan becomes decisive. It shows you truly understand your client and are ready to hit the ground running with them.
The three- to six-month transition plan should cover every aspect of the business.
Fail to do so and even your ability to plan and execute campaigns might not be enough. I’ve seen better agencies lose business pitches because they couldn’t convince the client that there would be minimal, if any, disruption, and risk.
The three- to six-month transition plan should cover every aspect of the business, including how you’ll get information from the incumbent agency, ensure continuity on deals, and most importantly, bring on the right people for the project.
3. Don’t make an entertaining, perfect presentation the goal
An entertaining presentation doesn’t guarantee a win. I’ve seen teams place great emphasis on their presentation and making it feel like “show time,” but delivery is only one part of what clients are evaluating. Agencies that know their stuff will exude greater confidence than those trying to pull off a stirring performance.
Clients are looking for problem solvers, not agencies that are all talk and no action.
In the same vein, it’s OK to be nervous. I’m an introvert who had a stammer until I was 25 years old. I was terrified of public speaking. But nervousness is not a bad thing. A team that shows some nervousness during a business pitch tells me they care about success and have skin in the game.
Clients are looking for problem solvers, not agencies that are all talk and no action. As long as you show the value of your solution, having some performance nerves is all right.
4. Embrace questions during your presentation
When I was a young man working in agencies, I had a lot of trouble dealing with questions during business pitches because I viewed them as challenges.
After moving to the advertiser’s side, however, I realized that asking questions is a client’s way of showing interest, and perhaps an attempt to get you to talk about what they are interested in. It’s also probably a sign that your presentation is original and innovative.
Going into a pitch, it’s a good idea to get trained beforehand in answering questions, so you’re comfortable with it during the presentation.
5. Having senior leaders in the presentation is not always an advantage
Bringing in the top brass for the presentation doesn’t automatically sway the pitch in your favor. You might think it shows commitment, but having them in the room can sometimes hamper the presentation, especially if their lack of knowledge about day-to-day matters shows in their replies.
From a client’s perspective, it’s more meaningful to use the presentation to get to know the working team and the agency lead who’ll take charge in a crisis. This also enables the agency team to showcase its credibility.
These five tips have helped my teams and other agencies over the years clinch multiple business pitches, and I hope they will enable you and your teams to win too.
If you and your agency would like to get more marketing tips and further hone your advertising expertise to help your clients, current and prospective, check out the Digital Guru program and reach out to your Google Ads representative to participate.