Hiring the Right Clients

Don't Just Sit Around Waiting for Opportunity to Knock

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Tom Martin Tom Martin
I have long believed that having the right clients and doing the right kind of work for those clients determines an agency's ability to "break out" or "go big." Unfortunately for most of us, the traditional business-development route (RFP hell) is counterproductive to this goal.

I hate RFPs and the whole pitch process. It is an incredibly flawed way of selecting one of the most important business resources a company has -- its marketing partner. But much has been written on that subject, and I'm quite sure that most readers of this blog would agree with me. For those who don't, the comment section is at the end of this post. Fire away.

For those who do, I encourage you to go a new route. Stop being hired by clients and start hiring them. Stop waiting to receive an RFP or mailing hundreds of clients four to six times a year to stay "top of mind." Instead, pick the folks you really want to work with, regardless of how big they are or what agency they currently work with.

Then invest some time understanding their businesses and marketing challenges. From here, dream up something truly brilliant; something they would be complete idiots not to consider. Then call them and offer to share the idea with them. Find the CEO, CMO, ad director -- whomever you can get an audience with -- and ask for 15 minutes to share with them a ground-breaking idea that addresses [insert their business/marketing challenge here]. Then be brilliant and succinct. If they have an existing agency relationship, let them know that you are not asking them to fire their current partner. But if they like your idea, you'd expect to be allowed to execute it.

If they truly are a smart marketer, they'll take the meeting. If they don't take the meeting, call their biggest competitor and make the same offer -- assuming of course you'd be just as happy to hire them as your newest client.

So why 15 minutes? Two reasons. First, it isn't a lot of time, so the "risk" to the prospective client is pretty small. Second, it isn't a lot of time. So you and your agency shouldn't have to spend a ton of time prepping with fancy Keynote, etc. You'll just need an idea and some very easy, quick way to explain it.

I recently took my own advice, in between two RFPs we are currently responding to, and set out to hire a client I've been admiring. Our director of interactive technology and I had recently come up with a very interesting consumer-generated content meets online video, meets social marketing, meets viral, meets promotion, meets television content kind of idea. We were thinking about how to bring it to life when a major media-portal client came to mind. So we then spent an hour or so diagramming the idea, and while he made it pretty, I made some phone calls.

A few calls and e-mails later I'm sitting with folks at the media portal's office sharing the idea. They love it and we all agree to next steps which will require some work on both our parts. Then we'll go to the next level -- preparing to "sell it" to interested advertisers. Best of all, Zehnder hasn't really put forth a ton of effort and we're not competing against four other unnamed agencies for the assignment.

Now had this client not liked the idea, we'd still be ahead of the game because we could have just gone directly to their competitors. And if that didn't work, we'd still probably be out of far less time and money then we'd normally spend on a traditional pitch and no worse off for the effort.

So as you prepare to enter the all important fourth quarter where the pace of traditional pitches always seems to pick up, step back for a moment and ask yourself if you really want to spend your time getting hired or hiring. Your decision could mean all the difference to the growth of your agency.
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