Nothing changes by staying the same. This is particularly true in B2B tech agencies where, if an account team cannot deliver the goods, a change will inevitably be made. Across my career, I have seen numerous ‘changings of the guard’ at client companies – as old agencies are moved out and new ones brought on board.
Sometimes this works really well because a fresh perspective and bright new team are needed to get the job done. Other times, the change is a result of frustration on both sides which leads to an ultimate inability to gain results. A harsh but frequent reality.
Don’t change for change’s sake
Needless to say, we’ve all experienced being approached by prospects who need to make that change for the wrong reasons. Too many have some negatives to say about the incumbent agency, which let’s face it worked at some point. So, you need to be really sure about making that change.
For those pitching, it’s an exciting but also nerve wracking time. The ‘pitch’ or ‘new business’ process for an agency is incredibly time-consuming. Not only does an agency have to put its best foot forward in terms of its team and dynamic, but also have killer ideas and an almost expert-level understanding of the prospect’s business and technology offering.
Pitching to win, as opposed to ‘making up the numbers’ in the much-derided and frankly wasteful, ‘beauty parade’ requires hundreds of hours of research, ideation, rehearsal and ultimately, pitch meetings. The opportunity costs for the client are large. For ambitious agencies they are huge. Who is doing the day job for many existing clients? Oh, and will they recoup the lost fees for all of this ‘free’ work on the pitch?
No guarantees. That’s the gamble
So, with all of this free investment from the agency-side, it’s important for in-house marketing and comms leaders to treat agencies with a certain level of respect. After all, the way you treat unsuccessful agencies is also a good guide as to how you will treat the winning one.
Agencies are teams of people who, for the most part, really care about impressing and getting the chance to work with innovative tech companies.
The way brands treat suppliers, especially those which have the power to boost a brand’s profile matters a lot. With this in mind, here are some Do’s and Don’ts, to get the best out of a prospective set of agencies during the pitch process.
Be honest about who is in the ‘beauty parade’– for many agencies the pitch process is made much harder by not knowing what the competition looks like. This makes it harder for an agency to differentiate itself. So sharing this information delivers better pitches. If it feels impossible to divulge names of perspective agencies, at least provide a flavour.
Give real-time pointers to pitch teams as you learn from the process – you want the best pitch possible, right? Then brief thoroughly. OK it takes time, but it’s up to internal teams to brief the agencies correctly as to the expectations for the pitch. Skimp on this and neither side gets the desired output.
Find out the percentage of the team’s time and agency’s budget your business represents – A less obvious but important one. As a marketer, you want your business to matter to the agency. Huge agencies work best with large bureaucracies. Commanding a large proportion of fees, you stand to get a better quality of team and overall service. The inverse is also true.
Understand how fees work – Be clear about which level of fees the agency will retain and which will go to third parties. So if you are asking for a research project remember the vast majority of the fees are not the agency’s. By all means hold back some budget for projects, but don’t expect the agency to deliver large projects at cost at no margin. This is business.
Focus solely on the team – This may sound counterintuitive as so many clients have been burnt with senior-only pitch teams. You need to trust your agency leaders to resource the team effectively. This means, some people in the pitch may not work day-to-day on the account. Do not overly worry about ‘Bait and switch’ pitch team members. You actually WANT young enthusiasts in your team, as well as the ‘grey hairs’. In fact over time, a little churn keeps the approach fresh.
Ask your incumbent to repitch – Don’t ask the incumbent agency to re-pitch if you’re looking for change. It’s a disrespectful waste of their time. It it’s time to move on, best to do just that.
Count pennies and miss pounds – Fees at most agencies are built on well-proven costing models. These may involve some upfront investment by the agency, which is amortized in fees over the months. So don’t announce a 50% budget drop and expect exactly the same results as first agreed. For sure, in a dynamic market ‘haircuts’ can happen, but expecting a new agency to deliver the same results for half the fees of an uncumber is both insulting and very demotivating.
Expect perfection – Not immediately anyway. Remember, agencies often have to split their brains several different ways for different clients. Nobody will ‘get it’ straight away and approaches may need to be ideated. Allow the agency to manage your expectations and give them a chance to ramp-up.
Keep decisions hanging – If the agency hasn’t made the cut, just let them know fast. This is an endemic problem with in-house teams that see hard-working agencies as point solutions which simply execute tactics. Each agency has invested significant time in pitching to you and will have hiring plans based on winning your business, you owe them a swift response.
Refuse feedback – If an agency doesn’t make the cut, it’s very helpful to say why. This feedback is vital for them to improve their new business process. Rather than leave them guessing, like in the above point, let them know what let them down. Like many mistakes, we only have to learn once.