Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Win more pitches by getting out of the commodity business

Most agencies position themselves as unique when pitching new clients. Yet, I'm always amazed how many agency pitches look and sound the same.

Branding. Digital Marketing. Advertising. Public relations. Social Media. While necessary functions, these are ALL commodity services.

I'm sure your agency claims to do it all better.

The reality is that prospective clients don't care about your agency or the litany of services your agency provides. They care about their problems.

If there is no pain, there is no change.

Client prospects will simply not leave their agency and jump into bed with another one unless they feel the new agency can do something their current partner cannot.

Marketers are under pressure from a million directions. Understand and solve their problems, and your agency will become indispensable.

This strategic selling philosophy is often absent at agencies, whom are primarily focused on pushing their list of services.

So, how do you get out of the commodity business and on your prospects' radar as their ideal solution?

The best way to get to that place is to first understand the real table-stakes.

If you don't know your prospect's pain points, you will not win the business. Period.

What are the client prospects' greatest pressures and challenges? How are those pain points related to the rest of the organization, from marketing, through sales and the c-suite?

What problems does your agency solve? Do you change brand perceptions? Increase sales and market share?

Sell solutions, not services.

Focus on how you can solve your prospects' problems and you'll win their hearts and their business.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Biggest Mistakes Marketers Make Hiring an Agency

Are your marketing programs producing results you love? Finding the right PR, branding, creative advertising or digital marketing partner can be a time-intensive process that can drain internal resources and impact daily business. But the stakes couldn't be higher. The right firm can inject new life into your business; the wrong one can be costly and frustrating. If you go about an agency search the wrong way, you will needlessly waste time, money and energy.

Through my experience managing hundreds of agency reviews, I've seen businesses repeat mistakes that can be easily avoided. If you are considering a search for a new marketing partner, here is some advice:

Thoughtful Timing
In today's fast-paced environment, things change quickly. Product developments, management teams and business pivots can all impact table-stakes. By the time the meeting rolls around with the agency you had in mind, requirements and budgets have shifted and what might have initially been a great fit, is no longer the case given your present situation. Needs change over time. Do not kick off an agency search until you are ready to hire and committed to the initiative and budget.

Shifting Scope and Expectations
What is the real ask? It sounds like such an easy question. You know what you want. However, your CEO may want something else. Getting internal alignment from all key stakeholders can be challenging and rife with politics, yet critical for success. Many clients don't properly communicate their scope-of-work and expectations to the agency, or they keep changing them along the way. Agreeing on what success looks like is the first step. Clearly define expected deliverables and agree on how will success will be measured.

Battling Budgets
What's in the kitty? Have an idea on the budget range that you're committed to spending. Just about any marketing initiative can be can be done at some level, ranging from minuscule budgets to extremely expensive engagements. All agencies have minimums, although in their efforts to "sell" you, they will not likely not share that information. Getting clear on budgets upfront saves time for everyone. Engaging a large agency for a small initiative will ultimately result in a frustrating relationship if your company is one of their smallest clients. Look for recent engagements with similar sized budgets.

The key to success boils down to communicating openly and asking the right questions.

Biggest Mistakes Agencies Make

As an agency search consultant, I'm always asked what are the biggest blunders that agencies make in new business pitches. Does your agency win most of the time? Here's some advice on how to avoid common pitfalls and create a better connection with prospective clients:

Thoughtful Timing
Starting late always happens. Traffic delays. Technology troubles connecting a laptop. Lengthy introductions. Somehow 20 minutes disappear and the CEO's phone goes off. She leaves the room and you don't see her again. Time is valuable. Start promptly. Assume a third of the meeting time should be allocated to capabilities and experience and a third of the time focused on getting to the heart of clients' challenges. Assume the last third may evaporate. If you have it, use it for thought-provoking conversation. Always arrive early. It's easy to fill 15 minutes. You might even snag time with the client prior to the meeting, a more optimal time for chitchat. Make the most of your face-to-face opportunity.

Daunting Decks
Credentials and connection are equally important. If you're spending most of your time presenting your deck instead of making conversation, you're doing something wrong. It's a meeting - not a read-a-long. Keep the energy focused on you and not the screen. Use the presentation as a show-and-tell to highlight relevant experience through "eye-candy" -client logos, screen shots, results-oriented statistics-stuff that has a wow effect. Keep the presentation short and limit the text. For an hour meeting, don't exceed 30 slides and make sure you get through it in 20 minutes. Anything else that feels necessary should be glossed over and used as a leave behind, or put in an appendix. Take the time to create chemistry.

Presenting Pizazz
Your agency may talented, yet selling this experience requires entirely different skills. Agency principals are not always the best presenters. The same goes for junior folks. Not everyone has charisma. If team members don't present well, it's best for them to lead the post-capabilities conversation and ask smart questions; this keeps the focus on their strengths. Clients like to meet the day-to-day team that will be working on their account. Everyone in the meeting should have a role, or they are just and taking up space and sapping energy from the room. If presenting is not your team's strong suit, get coached on how to do it better. Best practices can be trained.

Building this relationship boils down to being present and making a meaningful connection. Proper planning can make or break your next pitch.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

Wishing you a a healthy, peaceful and prosperous year ahead!

May 2017 be overflowing with new positive experiences, exciting opportunities, fulfilled goals, dreams and everything that makes you happy.

Michele Harris

Friday, February 12, 2016

Article Featured in MediaPost

Article "How to Find an Agency You'll Love" featured in MediaPost's Agency Daily:


RPFs Suck - How to Find an Agency You'll Love

An RFP (Request for Proposal) may often be referred to as a "Recipe for Pain". They make a search for a marketing agency a "commodity" exercise at the best, and a complete waste of time at the worst - for both client and agency.

Sure, you can throw a rock and practically hit a PR, digital, creative or any kind of marketing agency. Finding the right one perfectly suited to your situation? That's an entirely different matter.

Most companies start off by developing an RFP and sending it out to a long list of agencies. They are often surprised by a lackluster response. Perplexing?

It's similar to the dating scene. Your company may be the belle of the ball and quite the "catch" for any agency. But jumping up on the table announcing availability is not the best way to find that special partner. When you send out an RFP, you've just jumped on the table.

It takes an enormous amount of work to properly respond to an RFP, which are often perceived by agencies as a "cattle call". Successful agencies with limited resources need to be selective about whom to pitch and consider their chances of success.

There's a ton of questions around the reason for the pitch and how the decision will be based that go into the process. Many agencies can be easily eliminated - or better ones identified - without wasting everyone's time.

If you are thinking about hiring an agency, consider the following best practices:


* Wait till you're ready to hire.
Things change and focus shifts over time, not least of which budgets. Get management team buy-in, agree on a scope of work and budget range and allocate the time and resources needed.

* Meet before asking for a proposal: Give the agency the opportunity to ask questions and determine if it's a relationship that's a good fit for them and you will receive a much more enthusiastic and thoughtful response.

* Keep the RFP short and savvy. Brief the agency and give them enough information to properly respond. Include the situation and reason for the pitch, expectations, criteria set and how a decision will be made.


* Be seduced by the "hottest" or "top ranked" agencies.
It's easy to get sold on - and then lost in - a big shop. Get an idea of the size and scope of the agency's clients and look for comparable examples of success.

* Assume a full-service agency is best suited for your needs. Look for core competencies. Specialty firms can offer expertise and value.

* Blindly issue an RFP to a long list. Do your due diligence or hire a consultant to help you develop the right short-list. Only issue an RFP to agencies you've met, felt a fit and would consider hiring.

It all comes down to the right agency shortlist. Sure, everyone has a network. The agencies you know may be very impressive, but are not necessarily ideally suited for your needs right now.

Save your team valuable time and headaches and do the research, or work with a search consultancy such as Smarti to get the right agency selection.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Is Your New Business Pitch Working? - Tips for Agencies

As an agency leader, you own the message that goes out to prospects and the marketplace. If you're using the same pitch for the past few years, it may be worth revisiting it. The agency landscape is constantly changing.

Do you win the majority of pitches you pursue? Do you get feedback on the pitches that don't close and know exactly what happened? Do you know how your competitors are pitching?

Very few businesses can claim that their new business pitches are working perfectly. Most agencies do not get productive feedback. Chances are you're operating in a vacuum.

I'm always amazed how differences in presentation content, delivery and style can affect the energy level in the room and make or break a meeting. A presentation, such as PowerPoint or Keynote, is one of the most poorly utilized tools in a marketer's arsenal.

Here's a few Smarti tips:


* Hand your audience the presentation in advance. There's a natural temptation to flip through and read ahead; they will not be focused on what you are saying.

* Treat a presentation deck like a read-along. Your audience can read and doesn't need you to do it for them. Use the bullets as a guide to make a bigger point.

One cannot actively read and listen simultaneously; visual cues take priority.


* Utilize slides for relevant pictures, screen shots, dramatic visuals and examples that highlight and add color to the discussion.

* Pump up your presentation skills. Learn how to hold your audience's attention.

Your best asset in a presentation is YOU.

Along with capabilities, chemistry and conversation play a huge part.

Granted, some people have more charisma and present better than others. The good news is that pitching best practices can be trained.

An outside perspective can be helpful to identity issues you're not seeing.

Need some help? With the benefit of reviewing hundreds of pitches and proposals each year, I can let you know whether your approach will stand out and make ears perk up or tune out.

If your pitch process is not wowing prospects or winning the business, don't lose heart. Smarti's business development development consulting services can take your pitch to the next level so clients will be captivated by your proposal ;-).