In a recent consulting engagement with an agency in the Southeast, I reviewed several of their agency new business processes: pitching, presenting and proposals, including RFPs won and lost. I had them present a recently lost pitch to help me get a complete look at how they manage the development of their content for new business and how they communicate and sell the value of their firm.  In addition, I reviewed their site, collateral, and case studies.

(This agency is really good at winning smaller assignments but historically struggles to win the bigger client prizes.)

I then interviewed the two principals and talked with 5 key employees (one-on-one) to gather perspective on what everyone felt was solid about the agency, the value the agency brings to its clients, what they believed the differentiators for the agency were, and the opportunities they believed existed that could be better leveraged by the firm.

It was a day-long, energizing process.

It gave employees a voice, it opened the eyes of the principals to things they did not see, and shined a light on opportunities to better position their firm as they worked towards their goal of winning bigger, more profitable assignments.

I unearthed a number of things they can improve upon and learned that they have some very talented individuals representing different practice areas of their firm that need to be part of the process, but aren’t.

At the end of the day, I found that there was one over-riding theme that seemed to permeate the entirety of their pitching, presenting, and proposal process:

A lack of focus on the prospect in everything they do.

It’s easy for an agency to fall into this trap.

Things get busy, you get comfortable with your pitch, you recycle case studies without thinking about what parts of the case study really make the best sense for the prospect’s situation, you blindly respond to proposal requests, you don’t ask the tough questions to get the insights you need to make your pitch meaningful to your prospective client.

You hear what you want to hear.  You respond to opportunities the same way, regardless of the prospect.

It’s hard to take the time and really tailor all you do to the prospect you’re talking to.

Introduce case studies by telling the prospect why you’re sharing it with them.

Open proposals with a re-statement of the client’s objectives and challenges.

Refer to the client’s situation as you talk about your process, highlighting how it applies to their world.

Stay focused on the client’s needs and don’t include things like laundry lists of services or details about your process that the client simply won’t care about.

And bring people who will work on the client’s business and can speak passionately about the challenge area facing the client (e.g. messaging, positioning, strategy).

In this particular case (and in all cases with this client), only the two principals show up to present.

I principally believe that the way an agency looks today is a reflection of how they will operate tomorrow.

So if I don’t put the energy and thinking into my response – or I don’t make the effort to make it about them, what’s the client to think?  You’re lazy today…what does that mean for our relationship tomorrow?

Give it your all!  Make it count!

Mark Sneider
Mark is a 30-year veteran of the consumer packaged goods, advertising, and marketing service industry. Mark started his career at DDB Needham in Chicago prior to earning his MBA from the J.L. Kellogg Business School at Northwestern where he majored in Marketing and Economics. Prior to starting RSW/US in 2005, Mark was General Manager for AcuPOLL, a global research consultancy. Sneider worked in Marketing for S.C. Johnson and KAO Brands. Sneider has been invited to speak at numerous Agency events and network conferences domestically and internationally including the 4A’s, Magnet, NAMA, TAAN, and MCAN. Sneider has been featured in prominent industry publications including Adweek, Media Post, e-Marketer, and Forbes. When not working (which often seems like not often), Mark likes to run miles, go to church, and just chill with a hard copy issue of Fast Company.