Before the pitch: why web agencies should become shrinks

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Choice # 1
From the moment they walked in, I knew what was about to happen. A polite-enough greeting, marred by nervous chuckles, handshakes that reminded me manipulating cold wet fish for supper, and an eerie silence that fell through the room as they were about to start.

One of them repeatedly cleared his voice. They all looked expectantly at me. Like kids looking to their mom for permission to get some contra-band candy.

Sigh. “Hello to all of you. I believe we’re here to learn more about your agency,” I started. A wave of relief crashed down in the boardroom. Ah, they had gotten the go-ahead from the potential client (read: me).
And, as I had expected, the pitch monologue began.

Within the first ten minutes, I got inundated by:
• The agency’s history
• Their expertise in the field
• How great they are to work with
• What their competitive advantage was (An unbeatable creative team! A proven track record! Awesome customer service!
• Logos of the clients they worked with, resembling more like the ingredients of a pizza exploded on their slide
• Oh, did I mention how wonderful they were to work with?

Choice #2
Two days later, two account executives from another well-known agency stop by. They both acted and dressed as though the stars of Mad Men had gotten an uber-hipster makeover. One was really trying to keep a quasi-British accent on the go, as though to prove his elevated state of consciousness. They were aloof, in charge. I could sense they were about to bestow on me (read: the poor uneducated client) all the online marketing knowledge and secrets they had. As though they were about to do me a favor—despite me paying for the services.

This pitch was synonymous with modern art. Little verbiage. Impressively sleek, yet almost-too minimalist design. It was as though they kept the content to almost nil to maintain the pitch’s purity and to entice me to come aboard in order to be able to benefit their online marketing otherworldliness.

What I found out about this agency:
• They would create “experiences” to “transform” my business.
• They would bring the best, biggest and boldest ideas.
• They showered me with a confetti of buzzwords: growth hacking, ideation, real-time engagement, SoLoMo, virality, brand journalism.
• My brand (and business) would never be the same again.
I felt I could be elevated to some previously unattainable angelic status. Cue in Moby’s song, Porcelain. Dreaming of being Leonardo DiCaprio finding that beach in the Gulf of Thailand.

Ok. I admit. I am only slightly exaggerating in both of these cases. But hear me out.

You see, over the years, I have been “pitched at” by more than my share of ad and web agencies for the various companies I worked for. I’ve seen the gamut: from smaller agencies to the big behemoths. Many have done outstanding work for me. I’ve also had horror stories that would make Stephen King’s IT cringe. However, there is one aspect that many-many-many agencies overlook, even in this day of hyper-competitiveness and everything “social.”

I am about to have a Tinkerbell moment here.

For the record, to all of you agencies out there: when you pitch to me, when you work for me, make it almost all ABOUT ME.

IT’S ABOUT ME, DAMN IT.

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I am not going through an adult temper tantrum or mid-life crisis. I am not some ego-maniac suffering from the Napoleon complex.

I simply want you to stop saying you understand my business and actually ask me about my business. Do your homework. Learn about my real challenges. Try to glean from me what internal politics I am grappling with. What are my objectives? My boss’ objectives? We’re not just talking conversion rates and sales here, people. As your potential client, I am mystery you need to (somewhat) solve. You need to be doing everything you can to find out what makes me tick.
The better you do that, the more likely I will feel understood. If I feel understood, I’ll be more likely to believe that you will develop the appropriate strategy and budget for my online marketing initiatives. This is more than “just” personas. This becoming intimately aware of who I am and the company I work for.

It’s no small feat, I agree.

Of course, when you are pitching to me, I need to mentally check off the standard boxes about your expertise, services, track record and clients. But I would prefer you spend 20% of your pitch about how you are so fascinating and 80% on asking the right questions to deliver that fascination in terms of results…to ME.

In a nutshell, you need to all become shrinks.

Some of you may be scoffing, thinking that you have gotten inside my head. But consider this: during your last presentation, how many of your slides were about you? How much time did you dedicate to researching a potential client (I mean really researching, not just glossing over their website/industry/a competitor or two? How many questions did you ask him/her? What’s the you-to-me ratio?

Naturally, you cannot machine gun me a bunch of questions, especially if we are just getting to know each other, to get inside my head. That’ll just scare me off. However, you can be better prepared and you can better steer the conversation to find out what I truly need. Sure, I want results. That’s a given. But did you know that:

• My boss doesn’t get the web and I need to find a way to convince him to invest more?
• My finance guy wants cold, hard proof that my marketing initiatives are doing more than “just building the brand” but actually driving sales…like NOW?
• I am overwhelmed with work and deliverables, that I will never EVER read your 30 page website audit?
• I need clear and easy-to-understand reports on how my PPC campaigns are doings—and your ensuing strategy should the campaigns not perform as well as expected?
• I’ve got sales guys looking for every excuse in the book to justify sales are down? They are demanding mo’ leads! mo’ leads from our website.
• My IT guys are either god-like gatekeepers (read: we’ll never get anything done with them), not significantly savvy with the web (“Yes, we have a few meta tags and keywords, Tracey” ) or employed by another firm (their people need to talk to your people…will have to be the go-between?)?
• I’m all for content marketing…but am scared sh****** because I don’t know who will have the time to pump those blog babies out.

The list can go on and on. But I digress.

There are some great resources out there to help you find out what keeps me up at night without the PhD. Here are my top must-reads and must-watches to stop the self-love and start really captivating your potential clients.

• How to make insanely effective presentations: If you haven’t yet watched Simon Sinek’s TED conference, what the heck are you waiting for? Don’t let the title fool you. Any rock-solid pitch should be based on Simon’s principles.
• Psychological selling: From Dean Rieck’s tips on psychological selling to Derek Halpern’s (Social Trigger) blog on psychological master keys to more sales to Hubspot’s article on psychological biases, this approach will help you tap into the business of persuasion.
Neuromarketing blogs: Neuro—what? Some are deceptively simple while other go deep into the science behind what makes clients buy.
• Go the anti-pitch route: Many agencies are actually refusing to pitch to clients. Check out one designer’s manifesto here. You’ll still have to present to clients, but it’s an interesting take on an age-old agency practice.

Key takeaway? If you are going to really be “client-driven,” don’t put it in your presentation. Walk the walk and show me how you can become me-driven.

Tracey has over 15 years experience in sales and marketing in the high-tech sector. She oversees all of DasthThis’ sales and marketing initiatives. Her philosophy: everybody in an organization is in sales. Period.


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