The Sound of Silence: When Good Pitches Go Bad

The Importance of Pre-qualifying Leads

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Sarah Lessen
Sarah Lessen
Last week, our eager, enthusiastic business-development team was in a meeting with a promising potential client. There were three of us, and 10 of them. We felt a bit outnumbered, but we were fueled by massive amounts of adrenaline and coffee. Our team had stayed up late the night before putting together relevant case studies, per the request of our contact; let's call him "Joe." After weeks of correspondence back-and-forth with Joe, we had a confirmed meeting and a focus for the pitch.

We do our thing. We do it well. Our efforts are met by complete silence. Crickets. Until the CMO lets us know, kindly but firmly, that what we have presented is not at all what he is looking for. We were told to present examples of X; they were looking to do Y. We have a lot of experience in X, not so much in Y.

Furthermore, the CMO couldn't understand why we were the fourth agency that week to present information that was totally off base. There was one common denominator: Joe.

We found out later that Joe was not in the marketing department. In fact, he was a developer in charge of the technical team working on a new product the company was about to launch. I don't speak "developer," so it's no surprise that Joe couldn't communicate the company's marketing needs to us.

We left the pitch unanimously thinking the following: our bad.

Big agency or small agency, all of us have experience in pitches that go wrong. The reasons may vary, but for smaller agencies, the monetary, physical and emotional effects can cut deep.

Small agencies generally do not have an excess of resources. New-business pitches cost money, they take time away from other projects and they can require employees who are working at 110% to work at 150%.

On the other hand, they may represent an opportunity to learn something new, break into a new vertical or (dare I say it) make some money.

The bottom line is, there is an opportunity cost to every new-business opportunity. For the small agency, it is important to practice due diligence, and engage in some hardcore self-analysis before making the decision to move forward.

Be honest. Be honest about who you are as an agency. Is this the right type of client for you? Do they reflect your core values? Will this brand be able to compliment your base business while taking you to the next level? Do you even want to go to the next level? If money is not the main issue, you need to put some serious thought into whether this brand is right for you, your vision, and your team. If it's not a good fit on any of these levels, think twice about moving forward with the pitch.

Assess resources. What is the real value of this opportunity? Take a look at your current and future workload. Do you have the time resources to make the pitch? If you won the business, could you handle it? What affect would it have on your employees and your bottom-line? Can you take on new business, and maintain the same level of excellence?

Ask questions. And then ask some more questions. Find out everything you can about the company, the product or service and about your contact. What is his role in the company and whom does he report to? Are there other team members you should speak with?

Much of this may seem self-evident, but when this recent opportunity came in we were so busy we really didn't approach it in a thoughtful manner.

Often the small agency feels it can't afford to turn down any opportunity: Any business is good business, especially in this struggling economy. Growth is key, but our new mantra is strategic growth.

Take time to think about who you are and where you want to be. Take a proactive approach to new business opportunities, and don't let the Joes of the world mislead you.

Sarah Lessen Sarah is the Director of Client Services for Ootem Advertising, a San Francisco-based agency whose clients include Method, gWallet, and Trend Micro.
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