Relevant, Creative & Compelling: Best Practices in Winning New Business
01/04/13

Resource provided by Jeff Swystun

Jeff Swystun shares the slides and speaker notes from RGD's Business Series Webinar.

 

To view a paper version of this content, download the PDF here.

 

Part 1: Presented on March 27, 2013

Slide 1: Hello
Hello and welcome to the first of a two-part series covering new business for creative agencies. My name is Jeff Swystun and I am happy to continue working RGD Ontario on topics such as these.
Let me define ‘creative agency’ before we begin. Given the membership of RGD Ontario, I have tailored these two presentations to be relevant to freelancers to business owners to large design agencies. It is based on best practices from professional services firms including advertising agencies, law firms, brand consultancies, architectural firms, and more.


Slide 2: Title Slide
Today’s presentation covers Positioning & Marketing. That is, basically, driving and maintaining awareness among your desired clients.


The next in the series covers Prospecting & Pitching. It was very difficult to separate the two as there is no clean break between the two areas. So hopefully you will tune in for the next one in April as well.


A couple of things upfront, first, RGD Ontario and I do not advocate or support doing any speculative work. So if that comes across or you sense an inference in what is presented – please know that is not the intention. Speculative work gives away intellectual property and does not benefit the industry.


Secondly, I am going to practice what is presented here and share upfront the things I want you to walk away with from this presentation. I that people digest at best four pieces of new information in any one sitting. So I am being conservative here and want you to remember just three things...


Slide 3: 1
Everyone tries very hard to get that beautiful positioning, that succinct statement, the cocktail party explanation of what they do. But that is extremely elusive because it is actually a mix of attributes, talents, and accomplishments. While it is great to be clear and concise, I never recommend avoiding or dumbing down the complexity and value of what you bring.


Slide 4: 2
So many of my clients start off conversations with tactical queries. Should I be on Facebook? Are print brochures still relevant? Or they want to pen the most elaborate and expensive marketing program untethered from the business strategy and metrics. Those who actually win at marketing demonstrate a constancy of purpose that allows flexibility in strategy and tactics. I get that phrase from Benjamin Disraeli who said, “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”


Slide 5: Pret
I have seen this expressed another way by Andrew Rolfe of the quick service food shop Pret A Manger. “We're not concerned about having consistency of brand so much as about a constancy of purpose that flows throughout the whole organization. It doesn't actually matter what we write on the napkins or say through advertising, all that matters is that when you go into a Pret shop you get that set of experiences that describes Pret.”


Slide 6: 3
And third, nothing is static. Marketing is an ongoing experiment to anticipate and satisfy client’s objectives and goals.


Slide 7: Contents
The contents are straightforward. I will set the stage and provide context for our discussion, show you some ways to consider for getting your brand and marketing right, offer up a few easily implementable ideas, and take your questions.


Slide 8: Setting the Stage
Lets kick off with some critical context to make the content relevant and applicable.


Slide 9: What we are talking about
The majority of people listening in have the challenge of helping clients stand out every day. You are communicators, designers, social media experts, marketers, advertisers, and media professionals amongst others.


And that means you are providing a commodity service. You are one among many. There are ten people in front of you and ten behind you that offer what you offer and may do so at a lower cost.
So how you position and market yourself is the truest demonstration of your abilities, in other words ... no pressure. What positioning and marketing needs to do for you is...

Establish credibility

Express relevance

Highlight differentiators

The best way to begin the process of articulating your positioning is to understand how clients evaluate and engage professional services.

 

Slide 10: How clients decide
In the past twenty years I have worked with over forty professional services firms ranging from KPMG to Baker & McKenzie to Dentsu. Also in that time I led the marketing practice for Canada at Price Waterhouse and was responsible for global communications and marketing at both DDB and Interbrand. This gave me a catbird seat to observe and note commonalities in client decision-making.
This chart is a bit simplified but the essence is intact. First, clients are looking for solutions that will enhance their business performance. Related to this is the services you deliver must provide a clear return on investment. In short, clients want us to help them make a gain or avoid a loss.


What gets you to the door is everything in column two. Your general business reputation, experience best expressed through the work you have done with the clients you have worked with, your specific expertise, how you do what you do which can be its own differentiator, your client pedigree because you are assessed on the company you keep, your size which is not a determinant of quality but still communicates an attribute many clients evaluate, and where you are in relation to your ability to service clients where they compete. The last one depends on the client and can be important or immaterial depending on how they like to work.

 

The third column is the most important and one we will deal with more in the second part of this series. It should show you that the decision gets more personal and emotional though tangibles like price are still very much a factor.

 

To further set the stage for effective positioning and marketing, lets run through seven challenges we all face in the business of offering professional services.


Slide 11: Challenge: Supply
The first one brings up the issue of over supply. Even in a contraction in the global economy, professional services grew. Many corporations that purged employees sent very talented folks out into the workforce and they ended up setting up their own businesses or freelancing.


In the U.S. in the 2000’s net of consolidations..

  • 4,600 new accounting firms
  • Executive recruiters increased 54% to 20,490
  • 70,200 firms provided technology consulting
  • 3,300 advertising firms were created
  • US freelance consultants are too high to count

This has had impact on quality, pricing, and confused clients with the over supply of talent.

Slide 12: Challenge: Commodity
There is a ton of pressure on providers of professional services to give more away while getting a lot less in return. And what had once been differentiators for many businesses are no longer. A good example of that is technology consultants who give away strategic business advice to sell-in a large shiny new systems.


Slide 13: Challenge: Differentiation
Then there is the challenge of how we package our perceived differentiation. Everyone sounds the same and mostly looks the same. I could have shown a collage of advertising agency websites or a collection of accounting firm websites and the similarities between would astound.


Slide 14: Challenge: Jaded
Clients are really jaded and perceive an abundance of short-lived and benefit- bereft services. They also view most professional services as commodities. This perception is a huge challenge.


Slide 15: Challenge: Communications
This has created an environment where many feel the need to be fresh all the time to stand out. This actually discounts the tried and true. It has created an interesting situation in professional services marketing – it either has agencies and consultancies changing too frequently so no one knows what they stand for or it creates a paralysis where communications are stagnant. While I headed communications at DDB, we would evaluate our core competitors and were shocked to see that their websites and social media sites could go unchanged for six months or more. Hardly a best practice. At the same time, there is no point in saying something if you have no point.


Slide 16: Horrible Graphic
One reaction or tactic I have seen to these challenges, is to an attempt to dazzle clients with complex methodologies and approaches. These are overwhelming, unfathomable and most importantly, most clients don’t believe that anyone truly has a secret sauce that is both repeatable and relevant in every situation.


Slide 17: Challenge: Parity
It is tough to be different too when the underlying business model, strategies, and missions of you and your competitors are the same. Strategy consultants like McKinsey and Bain are identical in this regard, advertising agencies too carry the same foundations amongst each other.


Slide 18: Challenge: Marketing
Let’s wrap up these challenges by returning to our primary subject today, though all of these have impact on our ability to stand out. I am generalizing a bit here but suffice it to say that there are cycles concerning success in business development. When times are good, we drink it and celebrate the arrival of new clients or add-on work. And when times are bad, we run around in highly reactive modes.


And our traditional means of attempting to articulate a differentiated position and communicate it through various marketing approaches is no longer working.


Slide 19: Getting it Right
Most of us follow a very traditional approach to arriving at our positioning and to determine our marketing. It is the way I was taught and have largely practiced and it still can work.


Slide 20: Traditional Approach
What we do is go through a somewhat linear and pedantic exercise of identifying our strengths and weaknesses. It may involve some sort of prioritization and we may also compare it to competitors to ensure its uniqueness.


Slide 21: Target
Then we identify a target market that we believe will be interested in what we have come up with.


Slide 22: Communications Plan
This lead us to develop a mostly tactical communications plan. It will probably mean having a website, maybe an e-newsletter, and other generally accepted means of marketing.


Then we sit back and wait for the phone to ring. But it doesn’t.


Slide 23: The Big Problem
Why? Because we made it all about us. We forgot that clients buy for their reasons not ours.


Slide 24: Illogical Extremes
We have taken this approach to illogical extremes. Ninety-nine out of one hundred websites will have one or both of these bits of navigation and content. Brochures will be the same. White papers are devoid of real content with half of them talking “about us”.


Slide 25: About You
So we end positioning ourselves as the irrelevant expert. Instead of ‘about us’ it should be ‘about you’. I admit that I have fallen into this trap too. We have to remember that they are buying solutions that will improve their business. We think they are buying us. It is a subtle but important point and that is why positioning and marketing professional services is arguably the most difficult form of branding.

 

Slide 26: Remember
Take a moment right now and recall your best experience with someone offering a professional service. Was it an executive search person who not only found you a job but was empathetic and supportive during the process? Was it the interior designer who instantly ‘got you’ and came in under budget? Or was it, as in my case, an accountant who miraculously whisked away a tax problem that had kept me up at night for days?


I am confident that whatever your remembered two things happened. The provider of that professional service did all the functional things you expected – they solved your legal or accounting or business problem. That was your simple expectation. But what differentiated them was how they delivered their service and solution. It is how they made you feel that you remember.
And that is what your clients want from you. Yes, they want a great logo, a fantastic marketing plan, or ad campaign. That is their need.

 

On top of that they want a great experience that they will remember long after the project is concluded. And you want that too because it is going to bring you more business.


Slide 27: Its not about you
It is not about you – it is about your clients. It is all about the problem you are trying to solve. Professional services took a wrong turn in the 1970’s when management consultants became rock stars, creative directors became divas, designers became brands, and lawyers became celebrities. Focus on the client became subservient to the idea that they needed us more than we needed them and that has never been the case.


Slide 28: Your Positioning
Your positioning as a provider of professional services answers one question: what problem are you trying to solve. This is your uniqueness, your differentiation. Do whatever exercise you need to articulate it. Write it as 140 character tweet, a short story, an elevator pitch, pretend you are explaining your business to a five year old – whatever works for you but answer that question.
If you answer it authentically and creatively it will help identify who are your most desired clients. It is the start to an approach that I believe will help you attract and retain those desired clients.
I want to propose a a way to get us back to what makes sense and what works. It is a consistent approach to marketing and business development. This does not mean a rigid strategy or predictable tactics, it means following a model that provides both consistency and flexibility.


Slide 29: Win Deliver Capture
This is a model I developed while at Price Waterhouse and applied to the consultancy’s marketing and customer management practice. I have since used it at Interbrand and DDB while advocating its adoption at many clients. It helps you stand out, grow revenue, and manage marketing.


Having the model does not guarantee differentiation, implementing on an consistent basis does. There is no start or finish to it but for the sake of illustration lets start at the top with Win. This shows that an agency, business, or freelancer has won a piece of work based on credibility, relevance, and differentiation.


Then hopefully the client is delighted. What was promised was delivered and it was an experience that was mutually beneficial. Then it is up to you to capture all of the learnings from that engagement. What were the insights related to the solution that could be used on other client work? What additional lessons did you take away from working with the client? It is not just the tangible lessons but also the very human ones in working with people.


This is where 99% of professional services miss the boat. They do not capture the proprietary learnings from their client work that will actually differentiate them in ongoing business development. This amazingly unique stuff gets chuffed away or forgotten. Which is a huge loss because this is where the value is.


So everyone ends up marketing themselves with the same industry motherhood material instead of the unique content they actually develop on every engagement. Content that is available to them if they actually take the time to collect, package, and market it.
Let me give you an example.


Slide 30: Law Firm
I have recently completed a marketing strategy for a North American law firm. Social media played a huge part in it, which was refreshing for the legal category. Most law firms are only teasing around with social media while this client was committed to exploring its real potential.


I went about the challenge of helping them in the cheerfully creative and strategic manner that characterizes my work. Along the way I was consciously documenting what I was learning and plunking them into three buckets. First were the lessons that reinforced what I had previously known or experienced. These are worth collecting because they show trends and remind you of common problems and situations so you do not recreate the wheel on every engagement.


The project reminded me that social media is often seen as a must do by many clients, that for law firms the very nature of their work is a concern in social media, and that given the subject matter social media cannot be left to a non lawyer from the marketing department who simply retweets legal articles.
 
The next bucket contained insights, actual new things that I learned along with the client on this particular project. I discovered that lawyers love to know that someone has done it before – precedent in their business is comfort. The folks work by the hour so they do not want to do anything that sacrifices billing. And this firm needed more thought leadership material to pump through social media.
From the two, I distilled real, tangible and promotable content that makes my agency and I unique. I liked their desire to really go for it and recognized that all clients need to have that drive, that authenticity of content is a must, and that we needed mechanisms in place to ensure this did not peter out after a couple of months.

 

Coming up I will show you how I used what I captured to refine my own positioning and win new work that fulfills the Win – Deliver – Capture model. But first, lets return to client behavior and why we need to be top of mind.


Slide 31: Decision Behavior
We know people buy for their reasons not yours and that means being in the right place at the right time by being in contact with the right people.


This brings me to a cool study by Broderick & Associates. This firm consults to professional service clients on marketing professional services. A few years back they conducted a chunk of research that put the number seventeen into my head ever since.


Slide 32: Touches
Broderick found that it takes upwards of seventeen “touches” for a client to be predisposed to your services. That is, they will have to be touched by an e-mail, a blog, a phonecall, a visit to your website, seeing you speak at a conference, hear that you are working with one of their competitors, see you quoted in an article, hear someone speak favorably of you at a cocktail party.


That seems daunting enough but the more important implication is that even with the seventeen touches, a client must have a real need for your services. They will not give you work out of the goodness of their heart but you have a better chance in being the first consideration set if you do this well.


Here is how I apply the seventeen touches into positioning and marketing to make it work for me and my clients.


Slide 33: Work Backwards
The best way to think of this is to work backwards. It starts with identifying a manageable number of desired or target clients because you are going to spend some time getting to know them. This includes absolutely new clients and clients you once had or want to retain.

The next task is part of any good business planning process...setting financial goals for what you want in revenue from each of those targets.


It is then a question of determining the unique content you can share with those desired clients to create a dialogue. This includes the frequency of contact laid out on a six or twelve month calendar.
This leads to the decision of what “touches” to use – these are the tactics for marketing your business. The beauty of working backwards is it becomes both a client acquisition strategy and a marketing plan. Most of us get this wrong, we start with the tactics and get lost in the options.


Slide 34: Tactics
So many of my clients come to me and want to talk about their touches without dealing with objectives and the proprietary content that would interest clients and customers in the first place. Working backwards establishes in order: objectives, targets, content, and communications.


Slide 35: Law Firm Revisited
Lets revisit the example of the law firm I recently worked with. How did I use this captured information in my marketing and how did it impact my positioning?


Slide 36: Law Firm Results
I took the information from the law firm social media work which was absolutely proprietary to me and I packaged it into a blog post with the headline and insights about the detail required in such efforts. It could be a case study, a paper, or even a print ad but I went that route.


I posted it on my site and positioned it on Business2Community. Nicely, it was picked up by Yahoo Small Business. It was also Tweeted and I received a request to share a future article in an industry publication. But more importantly, it resulted in a request to speak and two real client opportunities.


The four tangible conversations that came out of this all mentioned that the content was honest, relevant, and valuable. In other words, it demonstrated what problems I actually solve. They also mentioned that the language was clear and not full of jargon like a lot of social media marketers use.


And you know who is really happy, my original law firm client – they think it is awesome.


Slide 37: Positioning
It also makes me check how I am talking about my own business. Given I appear in media and often public speak, I have to make sure that I am not talking about me and break one of my own principles. My experimentation continues by marketing a position that speaks of a shared benefit – that is being different. I definitely will not have About Us, Who We Are, What We Do on my website and materials.


Slide 38: POWN
The best way to capture the content that will help position, reposition, and market your business is to think of the acronym POWN. Look at what you do and the work you deliver and identify the problems solved, opportunities captured, and the wants or needs addressed. This will ensure you Establish credibility, Express relevance and Highlight your differentiators.


Slide 39: Benefits
So you can see if this is done right, it can produce many benefits. It can increase revenue, allow you to command a premium price, is more efficient and effective, and continues to refine your positioning appropriately.


Slide 40: Tidbits
Now I want to share some tidbits or smaller best practices for your consideration and potential immediate implementation.


Slide 41: Linked
Not all of us want to write or speak or burrow into other’s conversations at cocktail parties. Yet we all have unique stuff to share – recommendations you receive on client work should live on Linkedin and your website. But this assumes you are even on Linkedin and that you are asking for recommendations – please do both. The projects and job opportunities that I have been approached with through Linkedin have surprised me by their quality.


If you do not want to write for whatever reason then at least comment on articles or blogs where you have an opinion...add your two cents. This worked for me when I wrote into McKinsey Quarterly on a marketing piece that prompted a phonecall from the author. I made a valuable new connection.


Discover MailChimp. If you have under 2,000 e-mails you intend to send to – it is free. I send a monthly publication out called The Brand Intelligencer. MailChimp makes it professional, easy, great looking, and it is replete with metrics on opens and click-thrus.


Slide 42: More Tidbits
Frequently, I am asked about social media and where a professional service should be. You can really blow your brains out trying to be everywhere. So determine through the approaches highlighted today where your desired clients are most likely to frequent. There are so many considerations depending on your business that I cannot be more specific. However, think of it as a tradeshow or conference, you may not get a ton of new business from being there but you will lose business if you are not.

You never know what will take off on social media. I posted a print campaign for Waterstone’s bookstore from the UK on Tumblr and it has been well liked. That blog highlights my website so a few of those 2,000 fans were directed to check me out further.
One point I have not made in this presentation is the need for face-to-face in your marketing. Most ideas here have leveraged other communications channels. I cannot stress enough the need to personally network, attend conferences, teach, public speak or hold your own events.

 

These activities communicate more personally what problems you solve and shares more about the person you are. I was just reading about the Via Group of Portland, Maine, where “Once a month, founder-CEO John Coleman organizes a get-together of eight to 10 marketing executives to discuss topics such as “technology’s role on the evolution of society and culture.” These can work very well and if you consistently deliver them you will become a connector between businesses.


Slide 43: Rules
As a last tidbit I wanted to share a print piece from PR firm Weber Shandwick that I thought was particularly good and backs the discussions today. They made this available on their site as a PDF which is not the most progressive form of media but acknowledges the comfort zone and technology of their audiences. It is a clean piece that uses clever copy to describe how they do what they do.


Slide 44: Series
It is a series of fun rules that are direct in message and vibrant in image. It is not the stodgy, dated PR firm look that one is used to seeing in the industry.


Slide 45: Hire Us
I love that in it they actually say “Hire Us”. This asking for the business will be covered in the next webinar on Prospecting and Pitching. See here how they also give the contact information for their senior leadership that is gutsy and will end up receiving a lot of spam but it is well intentioned. They also show social media savvy.
This takes us to the end and this webinar itself has been an example of what I have advanced. Being the smart folks that you are you probably noted how I demonstrated Win-Deliver-Capture and the working backwards to ensure 17 touches in the content. My goal was to communicate to you the problems I help clients solve.


Slide 46: Process
So here again are the three things you should take away even if you do not buy into the best practices presented today. Marketing is a dynamic process that is never perfected so enjoy the experiment and just keep moving forward.


Slide 47: Waterstone’s
While we see if there are any questions, here is that Waterstone print campaign that is a hit on my Tumblr blog. The simple, compelling copy sells itself.


Slide 48: Cheers
Thanks so much to all of you and RGD Ontario. Join us in month’s time for Prospecting & Pitching. Here is my e-mail if you have any more questions, want to sign up for The Brand Intelligencer, or wish to collaborate on projects and pitches.

 

For a PDF of the slides that accompany this presentation, click here.

 

Part 2: Presented on April 23, 2013

Slide 1: Hello
Hello and welcome to the second of a two-part series covering new business for creative agencies. My name is Jeff Swystun and I am happy to continue working RGD Ontario on topics such as these.
I have tailored these two presentations to be relevant to freelancers to business owners to large design agencies. It is based on best practices from professional services firms including advertising agencies, law firms, brand consultancies, architectural firms, and more.

 

Slide 2: Title Slide
The first part covered positioning and marketing. Today we will get a bit more granular and look at ways to proactively build our businesses through prospecting and pitching. One thing will come clear and that is I absolutely love this stuff. Winning new business is obviously gratifying but I am constantly learning and refining so these activities are never boring.


Slide 3: 3 Things
There is a lot of material here so to be clear and concise I want you to remember these three things as we go through the presentation. First off, I will attempt to convince you that consistent prospecting is the best way to sell professional services.


Slide 4: 2
Secondly, it is imperative that you invest the time into knowing a prospect’s industry and their place in that industry. I will share studies where clients indicate this is their number one consideration when selecting a professional partner.


Slide 5: 3
And lastly, as much as we would not like to ever pitch again, it is always going to be something we need to do and need to do well. It is a demonstration of how we think and what it would be like to work with us.


Slide 6: Contents
To kick things off we will do a short reprise of the highlights from the first webinar on positioning and marketing to set context. Then we will look at best practices in prospecting followed by ways to stand out when you are in front of potential clients. And I am happy to take questions so please have yours ready and they will be taken at the end of the presentation.


Slide 7: Part 1
So briefly here are the things from the first part of the series that are good to reprise for this discussion.


Slide 8: Credibility
The majority of people listening in have the challenge of helping clients stand out every day. You are communicators, designers, social media experts, marketers, advertisers, and media professionals amongst others.


And that means you are providing a commodity service. You are one among many. There are ten people in front of you and ten behind you that offer what you offer and may do so at a lower cost. The first part in the series looked at how best to Establish credibility, Express relevance, and Highlight differentiators.


Slide 9: Client Expectations
We also looked at client expectations as they go through the decision of buying professional services. In the past twenty years I have worked with over forty professional services firms ranging from KPMG to Baker & McKenzie to Dentsu. Also in that time I led the marketing practice for Canada at Price Waterhouse and was responsible for global communications and marketing at both DDB and Interbrand. This gave me a catbird seat to observe and note commonalities in client decision-making.


This chart is a bit simplified but the essence is intact. First, clients are looking for solutions that will enhance their business performance. Related to this is the services you deliver must provide a clear return on investment. In short, clients want us to help them make a gain or avoid a loss.


What gets you to the door is everything in column two. Your general business reputation, experience best expressed through the work you have done with the clients you have worked with, your specific expertise, how you do what you do which can be its own differentiator, your client pedigree because you are assessed on the company you keep, your size which is not a determinant of quality but still communicates an attribute many clients evaluate, and where you are in relation to your ability to service clients where they compete. The last one depends on the client and can be important or immaterial depending on how they like to work.


The third column is the most important and one we will deal with through this presentation. It shows that the client decision gets much more personal and emotional though tangibles like price are still very much a factor.


Slide 10: We Blow It
As we discussed in the last presentation, the big mistake professional services make is making their brand and marketing all about them. We forget that clients buy for their reasons not ours.


So we end up positioning ourselves as what I call the “irrelevant expert”. Instead of ‘about us’ it should be ‘about you’. I admit that I have fallen into this trap too. We have to remember that they are buying solutions that will improve their business. We think they are buying us. This is a subtle but important point and that is why positioning and marketing professional services is arguably the most difficult form of branding.


Professional services took a wrong turn in the 1970’s when management consultants became rock stars, creative directors became divas, designers became brands, and lawyers became celebrities. Focus on the client became subservient to the idea that they needed us more than we needed them and that has never been the case.


Slide 11: 17
We know people buy for their reasons not ours and that means being in the right place at the right time by being in contact with the right people.


This brings me to a study by Broderick & Associates. This firm consults to professional service clients on marketing professional services. A few years back they conducted a chunk of research that put the number seventeen into my head ever since.


Broderick found that it takes upwards of seventeen “touches” for a client to be predisposed to your services. That is, they will have to be touched by an e-mail, a blog, a phonecall, a visit to your website, seeing you speak at a conference, hear that you are working with one of their competitors, see you quoted in an article, hear someone speak favorably of you at a cocktail party.


That seems daunting enough but the more important implication is that even with the seventeen touches, a client must have a real need for your services. They will not give you work out of the goodness of their heart but you have a better chance in being the first consideration set if you do this well.


Slide 12: Touches
Those touches can take many forms but we have to ensure we are doing the right things right because we have limited time and resources. And as important, how we market, prospect and pitch is a huge reflection on our abilities in delivering creative services.


Slide 13: Divider
To many this innocuous image I have selected for this divider slide sends shivers down their spines. The idea of cold-calling, face-to-face networking for business...basically setting ourselves up for rejection or embarrassment is highly unattractive. Yet, prospecting does not have to be demeaning or tactically exhausting and frustrating. Smart prospecting is about getting the work you want to do with the clients you want to do it with.


Slide 14: PP
As we get into the material. I want to clarify some terms and definitions. When I say prospecting it is important to know that it is selling. For some reason we have made selling a dirty word in professional services. We believe it is beneath us to actually sell because, once again, we make it about us and believe that clients need us more than we need them. This results in a whole lot of ineffective and possibly expensive marketing.


The second term is ‘pitching’. I am not a huge fan of the word. If you are a client and you are pitched at, you either swing to bat it away or duck to avoid it. “Pitch” smacks of a one-wayness versus the dialogue that is found in effective solution selling. Yet, it is so universally used and accepted that I use it here for the sake of simplicity.


Slide 15: Prospecting
The definition of prospecting I enjoy and subscribe to is ... it is the process of proactively identifying your most desired clients and tailoring your marketing and sales activities to them.


Slide 16: Work Backwards
The best way to think of this is to work backwards. It starts with identifying a manageable number of desired or target clients because you are going to spend some time getting to know them. This includes absolutely new clients and clients you once had or want to retain.
The next task is part of any good business planning process...setting financial goals for what you want in revenue from each of those targets.


It is then a question of determining the unique content you can share with those desired clients to create a dialogue. This includes the frequency of contact laid out on a six or twelve month calendar.

 

TOUCH PLANS
This leads to the decision of what “touches” to use – these are the tactics for marketing your business. The beauty of working backwards is it becomes both a client acquisition strategy and a marketing plan. Most of us get this wrong, we start with the tactics and get lost in the options.


Slide 17: Desired
The first step is identifying your desired clients. There are many ways to go about this so I will offer up some considerations. I look for shared values and sensibilities because that helps with initial contact and dialogue. I work with many professional services and can now tell upfront whether a fit along these terms is first apparent.


Of course, part of the identification process is an assessment of a real need. Does your desired target client have an issue or opportunity that you can help them resolve or gain? Will that work be of mutual benefit so you are building your experience? And very sensibly, does the desired client have the ability to pay for your services?


Then there are associated benefits that could result from the relationship. Will the client refer you to their network? A recent study from Bain Consultants shocked me regarding referrals which are a rich source of business. It asked clients why they do not refer their professional services providers to their contacts. Amazingly it is because 80% of them have never been asked to do so. A happy client is more than willing to make introduction or referral but we are either afraid to or neglect to ask.


Whether we like it or not, we are judged by the company we keep. So even though we cannot all work for blue chip or super hot companies all the time, we have to be cognizant of what our client list says about us and that starts in this identification process.


Slide 18: Be Smart
Focusing on the most viable desired clients saves incredible effort through the prospecting process. In this case, definitely less is more. I recommend starting with 3-5 targets and have 3-5 in reserve. So the minute you gain a client from that original list or get a definitive ‘no thanks’ from one then bring a reserve target up so you are always working 3-5. The goal is to appeal more intensely to a focused group of prospects rather than spreading efforts thin.


Slide 19: Involved
For each of the ones you have prioritized you are now going to set up what I call mini-marketing plans for each that will form your proactive prospecting efforts. This involves asking these key questions. What problem are you trying to solve? This means researching the clients business and issues to find something they may not have thought of. You would be surprised to know that businesses are not insulted when approached with ideas that will improve their performance. This is especially true if the message is delivered in helpful and nonthreatening or critical ways. Clients dislike vague fishing expeditions – they want to hear specifics.


The next question is to ask yourself, what is unique about what I do that can help them with this specific problem. Make your services and talents relevant to the client situation.


Then the third question is abundantly difficult. It challenges you to approach the client in such a way that it proves you can help them with their business problem. Say you have recognized that a business is doing a poor job on their website. It would be amazingly relevant if you sent them a brief compelling analysis of their site versus competitors or you shared some best-in-class sites highlighting how they could improve their performance by considering certain changes. That represents huge value and is a little investment in time and thinking that will differentiate you considerably.


These three questions set up the objectives for how you can prospect to them in a valuable, noncritical, and appropriate way.


Slide 20: Proprietary
Focused prospecting can eliminate unnecessary marketing efforts. This is well demonstrated in the strategic consulting category. McKinsey, Boston, and Bain all still market with studies, papers, conferences, speaking engagements, and media but the majority of their budget goes into targeting desired clients with proprietary research and thinking about their businesses. These consultants follow the essence of this anonymous quote that immersion in the business is the best way to sell.


I have been on shared projects will all of these firms and have been astounded by their confidence, sometimes arrogance in how they work with clients. They train their people to be constantly vigilant in the observation and identification of new opportunities for their clients. This minimizes marketing and sales investments with the added benefit of fewer competitive pitches. Their percentage of sole-sourced work is enviable.


Slide 21: ROI
Another compelling best practice from these strategy consultants is that they position everything as a business case for change. As part of that business case is the return on investment they intend to deliver for their services and what the changes will produce in improved performance overall.


Let me tell you a little story about misplaced relevance. I was a member of a roundtable discussion at the American Marketing Association that covered advertising agency effectiveness. A marketer from a consumer products company was frustrated by the discussion. He said that when agencies attempted to sell to him all they did was mention the awards they had won.


He then asked, “Does this industry suffer from low self esteem? Are all these awards to make you guys feel better somehow? What is the deal with all this patting on your own backs?” This flustered client could not understand the extent of self-congratulation and irrelevance of this form of marketing and selling. He then went onto say how other professional services including legal, consulting and accounting were far more tangible in their promises and their delivery. To him, awards were irrelevant.


The strategy consultants also do not wait for the phone to ring. Certainly their brands are great pre-qualifiers but they do an admirable job in the prospecting process by confidently contacting the client with an idea that creates a business case and promises of great returns.


Slide 22: Persistence
This is a reflection of a persistence and an attitude that is inspiring. It is also infectious, it acts as a draw for clients. It is definitely best practice. Attitude and passion working in tandem with talent and expertise are powerful.


Slide 23: Miller
Miller Heiman’s Sales Best Practices Study from 2012 of 1,500 companies gave us two chunks of information that are important. The study found that 76% of best-practice business development teams reported they “consistently utilize comprehensive prospecting plans”. Only 19% of all companies reported the same.


90% of best-practice organizations reported, “Our salespeople have a solid understanding of our customers’ business needs.” Only 46% of all companies report the same.


The conclusion is – prospecting plans are a best practice. As is a deep applied understanding of the client’s business. If you implement an approach that identifies a manageable number of desired clients, get to know their business, and approach them with meaningful ideas for improvement, you will achieve much better than average new business success.


Yet no matter how successful you are at prospecting you will have to pitch your services.


Slide 24: Divider
Okay I got a little lazy using the Don Draper photo here but I actually like the use of boards versus Powerpoint so take that away as the relevant part of this slide. Suffice it to say that I have relatively little time to impart everything that I could share about pitching. As well, there is a ton of material out there on the subject that is mostly consistent covering the basic things most of us know either inherently or from personal experience. So I am going to attempt to share a handful of principles backed up by winning tactics that should benefit you the next time you are standing up to compel and sell.


Slide 25: Remember
Now I am going to have you recall four experiences from your past. Jot these down because you will want to reference them the next time you are pitching or presenting anything. Number one – think about a presentation you saw that really wowed you. Write down the one reason you were wowed by the experience. Be specific about what particularly grabbed you.


Next think of a presentation you had to sit through that was horrible. And you are not allowed to reference this webinar. Actually, if you must you must. What I want you to do is be specific again and jot down what was particularly bad about that experience.


Now I want you to think of a presentation you gave that was a resounding success. Write down a specific reason why it worked. And do the same for a less than successful presentation you gave. Once again, be specific. If you happen to say that rehearsing was what made yours work – write down how much rehearsing, in what format, did you do it in front of people that were not involved in developing the presentation – be specific.


What you have put to paper is a gift and a guide you are giving yourself to direct your next pitch. Instead of being overwhelmed and recreating the wheel next time out, you now have a succinct starting point comprised of two things to try to incorporate and two things to avoid. Keep updating this as you witness presentations and as you give them. This will become your relevant guide to what works best for you because we all do this differently. And no checklist off the internet will be properly tailored to your strengths and weaknesses in this area.
So lets look to three key tenets that can help you standout, be compelling, and convince clients to engage you.


Slide 26: 3 things
First, I am firm believer that every pitch presentation should tell a story. Second, that story must be based on an captivating idea. And, third, the story has to be told in an entertaining and memorable fashion to the point of creating theater. Lets talk about storytelling.


Slide 27: Tell a story
The fact that best practice presentations involve storytelling is not an original insight but it is incredible how few presentations follow this format. I have seen too many that provide no context and lack a point. By formulating your pitch as a story it will make you think about how the audience would like to receive the information.


It gets me to explore what the clients are thinking and what their concerns, interests, and expectations are. By the way, that is a great question to ask before a pitch – what is the clients’ expectation? If possible, ask them for a written brief so you are not off the mark or so different from competitors that you lose before you even start. At the very least you have to know their decision criteria.


Let me put this in context. A 2012 study of 1,900 business leaders in marketing, media, and procurement conducted by Avidan Strategies when evaluating agencies, 90% of respondents point to the quality of the creative ideas and strategy as the most important attribute, while 74% say that understanding the clients business is essential. What this says is that clients are looking for agencies to know their business and approach them with relevant strategic and creative ideas.


Slide 28: Why Then?
Why then do 99% of all pitch presentations follow some variation on the following format: Who I am, What I do (or what my company does), How my product/company/idea is different, Why you should buy/invest/support me now. Once again, we end up talking about us. We have to remember if we are invited to pitch, we are already qualified so do not have to recite our resume.


Slide 29: Why then?
Why then do so many say we’re full service, we are creative. In both branding and pitching agencies fail at truly stating what they stand for. At DDB we would ask our clients what is your fight? Standing for everything is just another way of standing for nothing. Saying these things today is the equivalent of saying nothing in a pitch.


Slide 30: Compelling content
Start your story with the problem you are trying to solve. Structure it around the client because it is not about you. Just by doing this you will appear different than others who come with the same tired format. Make sure to include insights that tell them something they do not know – offer real value.


As we have seen studies that evaluate strategic consultancies, ad agencies, and accounting firms found that clients’ number one criteria at both the credentials and pitch stages is understanding of their industry and their business.


This story approach will communicate how can you make them more successful while making your expertise and experience relevant. A story will also keep people’s attention, because they will want to know what happens next. It means presenting them with a captivating big idea.

 

Slide 31: Idea
I recommend that pitches contain only one idea and I am backed up on this point.


Slide 32: Nancy
Nancy Duarte, graphic designer and author of the books Slideology and Resonate, has become an expert on presenting and says, “Most presentations suffer from too many ideas, not too few.”
Nancy is also a realist when it comes to the work involved in expressing an idea “It takes a lot of work to breathe life into an idea. Creating an interesting presentation requires a more thoughtful process than throwing together the blather that we’ve come to call a presentation today. Spending energy to understand the audience and carefully crafting a message that resonates with them means making a commitment of time and discipline to the process.”


Slide 33: Stat
According to Nancy who was behind how Al Gore presented his An Inconvenient Truth, presenters should dedicate roughly 30 hours to researching, organizing, sketching, storyboarding, scripting, and revising the story for a one-hour presentation. Later, they’ll invest another 30 hours to building their slides, and a final 30 hours to rehearsing the delivery.


Slide 34: Surprise
When composing the story and introducing the big idea it is important to maintain an element of surprise or edge. One reason many presentations fail is because they're so predictable; when people know what's coming next, they'll start checking their iPhones or engaging in other forms of multitasking.


Slide 35: Challenging Convention
I recommend challenging standard pitch convention. For the past twenty years in my career, I have been taught and applied the technique of reiterating what you want the client to remember over and over again. Many now have taken this to such extremes that we create pitches that are either oversimplified or horribly repetitive.
These efforts do not credit our audience with having a brain and they demonstrate that we are exceedingly pedantic in our approach. We basically tell clients the same thing in the same way five to seven times in the same presentation.


This is because we forget to do one thing in our development of the story and the way in which our big idea is presented. We do not put ourselves in the client’s shoes. We are excited, somewhat self-absorbed in the brilliance and effort of what we have put together, and are so scripted that we become rigid.


We make the assumption that the client is feeling about things exactly the way we are which is largely positive and enthusiastic. This can be a deadly misread of what is actually going on with them.


Slide 36: Forget
David Maister who wrote the leading books on professional services found that in most cases clients are experiencing apprehension more than anything else when hiring professional services.


First, the actual client is taking a personal and professional risk by deciding to select you. Your presence could actually make them feel insecure or even threatened as it may expose deficiencies they are responsible for. They could be skeptical because they have had previously poor experiences and think people over promise to get the work and then disappoint.


What all this reveals is that from among the set of qualified options they are looking for the one they can trust. The act of hiring a professional is, by very definition, an act of faith. In selecting a professional they are not just buying a service, they are entering into a relationship. So they need believe your story.


Selling and pitching is really a process of earning trust and providing confidence.


One way to help earn trust is to demonstrate your creativity and to be memorable by being entertaining.


Slide 37: Quote
As Mr. Atkinson says, a story will help but I share this quote because of his use of the word “dramatically”. The most consistently successful pitches I have done and experienced involved entertainment and theater.


Slide 38: Create Theater
This is another reason to put ourselves in the client’s position is to imagine all of the presentations and pitches they must sit through. In the advertising industry, pitches may go on for months among multiple agencies. A client may actually see over thirty different presentations before making a decision. It is a challenge for agencies to be original and memorable.


Pitch theater strives to inform, educate and entertain. It shows how you do what you do.


Slide 39: Show and Tell
Entertainment and theater can run the gamut from an individual presenter who is a skilled orator who works with hand outs, Powerpoint or boards to large scale interactive events. Budget and investment is not the sole determinant – it is the story, the idea and how to convey it in a fantastic way.


Slide 40: PwC
One amazing pitch I witnessed was from a colleague at Price Waterhouse who gave an unsolicited presentation to the board of an existing client. This forestry company was in a bad way both strategically and operationally. My colleague devised a strategy for the company to realize a 40% return in operating profits over the following five years. But he needed to convince them to let us help.


He stood up in front of one slide that simply had that “40%” on it. For the next forty-five minutes he gave a presentation that did not reference the slide until the end. Over that time he painted the company’s grim picture and walked them through a strategy to turn things around. All the time they were sitting there
thinking what does the 40% mean? It created drama, was premised on a great idea, and was compelling in the promise of performance improvement.


When he finally explained the 40%, they were already sold.


Slide 41: Seth
It was Seth Godin who said “The minute you put bullet points on the screen, you are announcing ‘write this down, but don’t really pay attention to it now.’ People don’t take notes at the opera.”
I watched the forestry clients totally hanging on every word that my colleague spoke and no one was taking notes. This pitch brilliantly communicated a confidence and knowledge of the business that was unanticipated but greatly welcomed.


Slide 42: Interbrand
Another former employer Interbrand is adept at large scale theater in every sense of the word. On two occasions we replicated actual retail environments to simulate customer experiences and showcase potential improvements to the store’s marketing and merchandising.
For John Deere we designed and laid out a new store and mimicked how customers navigated the interior. We invited the John Deere executives to walk through as customers to have the tangible experience and it positively blew them away. For 7-11 a store was created in one of our offices to demonstrate merchandising of proposed store brand packaging. The new products were mocked up as realistically as possible and once again we invited the clients to walk around and have a tactile experience.


These examples are much more appealing than flipping through an 80 slide pitch deck telling the client everything about you that they already learned by looking at your website. This was a pure demonstration of creative and strategic thinking.


The key also was empathy—the ability to enter the client’s world and see it through their eyes while surprising them with the objective thinking they are hoping you will deliver. The pitch is truly a demonstration of your ability to solve a client’s problem or help capture an opportunity. It shows them what you are capable of.


Slide 43: Passion
Theater is great because it provides a vehicle for passion. Passion has almost become a buzzword in creative businesses but that does not rob it of its relevance. Last week, I had two new business inquiries – one was to write a marketing plan for a healthy line of popsicles and the other was to help a European advertising network enter Canada. They are both quite different but I honestly and authentically responded with passion to both.


The week before that I was approached to help on a new social network directed to families. That one I could not get excited about because I am not sure we need another social network. Now we all have to pay our bills but if you are not passionate about the work you will probably not win it and you run the risk of delivering a substandard result.


Passion in pitching will forever be an advantage. Your technology may fail you, you may forget to say absolutely everything you meant to say but if you brought passion to the pitch it will trump presentation perfection.


Slide 44: Recap
So there you have it – tell your pitch in a story. Make the big idea the star and dramatically reveal that idea. Present the whole package in an entertaining way to create theater and you will have gone a long way to standing out in a way that connects and resonates with the client.


Slide 45: Mini Best Practices
And here are four quick mini-best practices to think about at the end of a pitch. When you wrap it up distil your big idea into a memorable statement at the close – kind of a tagline of sorts.


Reinforce all that you have presented with a creative leave behind. It will act as a tangible reminder of your pitch. At Interbrand, we often made up beautiful books that summarized our idea and left those behind.


And be bold ... ask for the business. Don’t end with “and that is our presentation”. Let them know you really want it.
Finally, follow up in way that is appropriate and allowed in the process but emphasize the great work the two of you could do together.


Slide 46: Figures
Let me put this into context with some statistics from a recent Mirren/IMI Survey Report covering the advertising industry and pitches, if you don’t close 60% of new pitches or more then change your approach, your team, your content, yourself! Survey results showed that the top 10% of agencies close 6 times as many new business pitches as compared to the bottom 10%. And the average win rate being 43%. Of course, someone has to lose but when the average is just 43% it says that pitching overall can be done much, much better.
What I have laid out here today should give you enviable results because you will be prospecting to the right clients and pitching in the most effective way. I believe 60% is too low a target for successful pitches but it is good as a starting benchmark.


Slide 47: Reprise
I am happy to take questions and while those roll in here is a summary of what we just ran through.


Slide 48: Cheers
Thanks so much to all of you and RGD Ontario. Here is my e-mail if you have any more questions, want to sign up for my monthly communications called The Brand Intelligencer, or wish to collaborate on projects and pitches.

 

For a PDF of the slides that accompany this presentation, click here.