Early warning signs your pitch will likely go sideways

Whether you’re a marketer excited to meet potential new agencies, or an agency determined to wow your next client, pitches can be funny things. Excitement one minute.  Dread and loathing the next. And while the anticipation and excitement can often seem irresistible, there are some early warnings a pitch may quickly go sideways.

So whether you’re an agency contemplating a response, or a client fearing a luke-warm response, here are some of the tell-tale signs that should have you re-evaluating:

Not knowing what you want

This applies as much to agencies as it does to marketers – as agencies can get swept-up with the idea of growing – without considering the types or size of clients that would be best for their teams.  On the flip side, marketers who can’t define what kind of agency would best meet their needs, need to spend time defining their requirements before initiating their search process. Either way, an agency not understanding their sweet-spot for new clients, or a client not knowing what they’re looking for, is probably the number one indication a pitch will go sideways.

Not answering basic questions

If you can’t get answers or be prepared to answer basic questions about why you’re looking, what you’re looking for, the size and scope of the opportunity, and the kind of agency you think you need, then prepare to be disappointed.  The more you information you’re able to give about your business, the more likely you are to find an agency that can deliver what you need. This doesn’t mean you have to give away proprietary information, but it does mean you need to give enough to help agencies tailor their answers or rule themselves out if they don’t see a good fit

Being rude or disrespectful

If your potential new client is crossing the line from high expectations to the point of being rude or disrespectful around asks, timelines, deliverables, travel costs or unpaid work, then it’s probably time to say ‘no thank you’.  Agencies and their teams should be comfortable walking away from any client that’s choosing to behave badly. Who wants to work on that?  Me neither. Thanks – but no thanks.   

Trashing current agencies

OK, so chances are that if you’re out looking for a new agency then you’ve likely decided your current agency isn’t able to deliver what you need. But that doesn’t mean to say you have to trash your incumbent’s capabilities. Someone in your organization chose that agency in the first place, you’ve likely had them as an agency for several years and, like any relationship, there will have been learnings and areas for improvement on both sides.  So be graceful – provide direction on areas where you’d like to see greater strength, and demonstrate to your potential new agencies you’ve recognized how your organization has evolved and outgrown your incumbent.        

Agency churn

Agency churn should be a red flag to both clients and agencies. If you’re a marketer finding yourself searching for another agency after just a couple of years, some introspection is required to find out what didn’t work with your incumbent and why. If you’re an agency about to pitch a client that’s been churning agencies, you’ll want to get to the bottom of ‘why’ before agreeing to pitch. Introspective homework is essential before either side commits to a search to avoid the otherwise inevitable sideways slide into the nearest ditch.  

Unreasonable terms

While it’s tempting not to want to rock the proverbial boat in the early stages of a pitch, any unreasonable terms you think you can’t live with, like lengthy payment terms, onerous non-competes across broad industry verticals, unrealistic timelines or other constraints should be dealt with as early as possible.  Far from rocking the boat, defining boundaries helps proactively weed-out and address otherwise non-negotiable terms later in the process.

Procurement and marketing on different pages

For any search process to work effectively, marketing and procurement teams have to be aligned in their requirements and evaluation methodology. And while a potential client’s marketing / procurement relationship may not be immediately obvious, their evaluation criteria should be.  If there’s any doubt about how competing agencies will be evaluated, ensure criteria are clearly defined and shared.  Anything less, and it may be a client that uncertain about their own requirements.

No agency will want to waste time on pitches that don’t have clearly defined parameters and evaluation criteria.  Marketers shouldn’t either.  If you’re in any doubt about the focus and direction of your upcoming search, let us lead you off the slippery slope and get your pitch on sure footing.

Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc  offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for help with agency search and truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent

Photo: Julie anne Johnson
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