Author Archive

The Ultimate Test of Your Positioning

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Our post today is compliments of our friend Blair Enns @ Win Without Pitching

When we’re working with owners of independent creative firms on the positioning of their firms, we separate the exercise of choosing a focus, from the exercise of articulating a claim. The first is an act of sacrifice, which most people in the creative professions struggle with (even more so than the average business owner, I believe), and the second is an act of communication, something creative professionals revel and delight in.

The problem, I think you will agree, is obvious.

As coaches, our job is to politely point out when we see someone trying to gloss over a lack of courage in their positioning with slick language. One way we do this is to have a discussion about standards.

When it comes to positioning a creative firm, the principal might put forward a positioning claim of energizing tired brands, or working with challenger brands, or building cult brands. All these are examples of broad, quasi-nebulous claims that are possible to stake out, in theory anyway, but are almost never lived up to. The proof, and the problem, is in the application of standards, or lack thereof.

The standards I’m talking about when it comes to positioning are the standards of client qualification. For whom does it make sense for you to work and for whom does it not make sense for not to work?

Four Criteria

Positioning is a forward-looking exercise about targeting future business in an area where you have, or are building, deep expertise. Proper positioning however, will attract opportunity from outside of your target market. From time to time it may make sense to take those opportunities, provided they meet four criteria:

  1. You have the capability – you can do the work
  2. You have the capacity – you wouldn’t be displacing better-fit clients (you would essentially be selling excess capacity)
  3. You can do it profitably
  4. You don’t have to compete for it

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to take work outside of your area of focus if it meets these criteria. (I’ve written about this more fully in Expanding Your Expertise and On Project Work.) Most firms are pretty good about adhering to the first three criteria but many fail at the fourth, where the proof of your positioning is really measured: by your enforced standards around the work that you will and will not compete for.

Examples of False Claims Laid Bare

A firm that claims to focus on challenger brands competing for work with Coca Cola. An experiential design firm competing on a branding assignment. An internal comms firm pitching for an ad campaign. These are all examples of a lack of standards which expose the positioning as just an exercise in language, nothing but a spun phrase.

Narrowing your focus is supposed to force you deeper into your chosen area of expertise. The goal of positioning is not to go narrow, it’s to go deep. Narrow is simply the path to depth.

Every competitive opportunity that is brought to the table (or created in the CRM application) should be vetted against the firm’s positioning, with the question posed: “Would winning this business increase our perception as experts in our declared field or decrease it?”

Again, the crime is not in doing this work, it’s in competing for it. By competing for work outside of your focus you tell your people and your market that yours is not really an expert firm at all, it’s one more generalist spinning another story of expertise.

An enforced policy or standard on the clients and engagements for which you will and will not compete is the realest application of your business strategy, which, in the creative professions, we call positioning. A firm that does not enforce this standard has no strategy, is not well positioned, and everybody knows it.

Thanks Blair!

Master Architect will Manage and Direct Your Business – Most Commonly those in Trouble but That Don’t know it Yet! Help Introduce the Two.

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Pitchcast, USA/North America

In some respects, this client needs an “agencyfinder” model. However it’s on behalf of a single agency (architect) looking to link up with businesses worldwide that need an experts’ guidance. Beautiful location, expert credentials. Client confesses (so refreshing to hear) know little to nothing about marketing or advertising, except they do expect to experience a return on their investment. Even went so far as to suggest they want the agency to assume the CMO position. Budget $250,000 to $500,000 (fees product & media). Prefer candidates in Colorado.

Office Space on a Limited Budget in a Major City! This Client Has the Answer but Needs Your Help to tell the World

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Pitchcast, USA/North America

New landlord has options to suit almost anyone. From private offices to dedicated desks to open co-working to virtual tenancies and starting at less the $100. Who or what business could resist? A new and appealing website tells their story but they’re on a limited budget; as the saying goes, they need to break through the clutter. Can YOU do that for them? East coast location, budget TBD.

It’s Getting Cold Outside but HOT in the CMO Suite

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Client Search News

CONTENTS:

1. It’s Getting Cold Outside but HOT in the CMO Suite
2. What’s A Digital Agency? The World Wants to Know
3. If You Belong to the ANA, You Were Called Unproductive, Unsustainable and Undesirable. 
4. If You Want to Hire a New Marketing Partner by Year-End, Please Start Now

IT’S GETTING COLD OUTSIDE BUT HOT IN THE CMO SUITE

Pity the poor CMO. One person all alone held responsible for what scores of agency folks are doing for the brand. Beyond that, it’s not unusual for many other C-Suite execs to provide input to agency decisions and actions. Read what AdAge’s Jack Neff had to say. “Chief marketing officers are most likely among C-suite players to get fired when companies miss growth targets, but they often aren’t given the time or authority to develop the most significant innovations, according to a new study by Accenture Strategy. The study found 37{0a8ae5f917f4d40f140f56135b46c870555d227d6df5c87452b66d0a8807ba2b} of the 535 global-company CEOs who responded to the survey said that their CMOs would be the first fired if corporate growth targets aren’t met. The CMOs edged out chief sales officers (34{0a8ae5f917f4d40f140f56135b46c870555d227d6df5c87452b66d0a8807ba2b}) and chief strategy officers (29{0a8ae5f917f4d40f140f56135b46c870555d227d6df5c87452b66d0a8807ba2b}) on the firing line.” (continue)

WHAT’S A DIGITAL AGENCY? THE WORLD WANTS TO KNOW

I don’t recall when, but more than a few years ago, as agencies registered to create new profiles here at AgencyFinder.com, they wanted an option to call themselves a “digital” agency. We accommodated that and watched to see what was incoming. We had telephone conversations to address the issue and initially learned they meant “we produce digitally.” Then the industry current suggested that every agency needed to understand and produce using digital technology. That allowed agencies to label themselves as “Integrated firms” and the world was “good.”

Fast-forward to today. Everything is produced using digital technologies and analog has faded away. And the expression “Digital Agency” now means – we produce and execute only in digital media. To quote Wikipedia – “Services provided range from the general website design, e-mail marketing and micro-sites, etc. to the more specialized such as viral campaigns, pay-per-click ad management, banner advertising, search engine optimization and marketing, podcasting, and front-end development.

Traditional advertising agencies usually collect fees off ad placement instead of the work itself. Digital agencies usually bill their fees through the service time involved in artwork, design, creative and technical services that you hire them to complete.”

So – if you go looking for a Digital Agency, don’t later expect them to produce and run your ads in magazines, newspapers and other traditional media.

P.S. – If you have a better definition, please share it so I can share with others!

IF YOU BELONG TO THE ANA, HE CALLED YOU UNPRODUCTIVE, UNSUSTAINABLE AND UNDESIRABLE

If you’ve been in marketing for some time and follow the trades, the name Rance Crain should catch your attention, and so should his AdAge article entitled “ANA Chief Calls on CMOs to Take Back Marketing, But Do They Really Want To?” Rance has always looked closely and spoken freely about our industry and this is no exception.

He begins, “When the head of a major trade association characterizes the industry that his members work in as “unproductive, unsustainable and undesirable,” you know you’ve got problems. And when he lays the blame for this dilemma at the feet of his own members, you know you’ve got even bigger problems.

That’s the situation the advertising business finds itself in today. Bob Liodice, president-CEO of the Association of National Advertisers, unloaded a barrage of litanies on the failings of the marketing community at the ANA’s annual conference in Orlando two weeks ago.”

“As we acknowledge our industry’s brand-building creativity, it is also important for us to take a step back and candidly assess our industry’s direction,” Bob said. “Yes, there has been quite a bit of progress to leverage technology—as evidenced by our expanding media platforms. But is that progress getting us anywhere?” (continue)

IF YOU WANT TO HIRE A NEW MARKETING PARTNER BY YEAR-END, PLEASE START NOW  

Check your calendar – remove non-productive Holiday Days and other “unofficial” days off and you’ll see there aren’t many productive days remaining to run an effective agency review. And it’s not fair to ask any agency to work over Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s either.

No words are really needed if you find yourself wanting an agency for whatever reason. Let’s find you one!

Start a fresh registration here or send me an e-mail at ; I’ll call you to learn your wishes. Remember, you search for free.

 

Why Your Positioning Problem Doesn’t Go Away

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Our post today is compliments of our friend Blair Enns @ Win Without Pitching

Positioning the firm is the most fundamental act of leadership, and yet in many firms it remains largely undone, even after much effort and investment. I think I finally understand why, and it turns out I may have been no small part of the problem.

Work Undone
Creative firms are businesses, sharing a host of challenges common to all businesses. There are some challenges however that they seem to struggle with more than the average business, and positioning the firm is the prime example. While an increasing number of firms are getting their positioning right, the norm is that most agency principals still see their positioning as something they need to fix, even after working on it for a long time.

David C. Baker and I ran the three-day New Business Summit every year for ten straight years. I was always impressed that people would return, sometimes for consecutive years. I assumed that they laid the positioning foundation in their first year (we spent all of day one on positioning) and then came back again to focus more on the sales-based curriculum that built on a solid positioning. One year however, an agency principal who was attending for the third straight year said to me, “I’m finally getting my head around this positioning thing.”

Three years, nine days out of the office and who knows what else in the way of reading, thinking, working with outside consultants and perhaps attending other conferences and seminars, and the fundamental business strategy of this small business was still undeclared and uncertain. I can’t say this is the norm, but what I’ve seen over the years is the firm’s positioning (the business’ strategy) is usually something the principal thinks is “not there yet.” This is the most fundamental act of leadership and yet in the creative professions it remains chronically undone.

The Million Dollar Question: Why?
I’ve written many times about why positioning is more difficult for the creative mind (short answer: creative people are drawn to variety and therefore resist focus and the repetition it implies) but what I want to explore here is not the people who avoid the challenge of positioning their firms, but those who embrace the challenge, take on the hard work and difficult decisions and still do not get it done. They try, they really do, but they remain broad generalists trying to pull off way too much without much credibility, all while the world around them specializes and their more narrowly-focused competitors hoover up the most lucrative opportunities.

The answer to why, I believe, is two-fold.

Outside Help is Often Required
First, I’ve observed that firms that don’t nail their positioning quickly are not likely to at all without outside help. There are a number of possible reasons for this, including an inability to get team members onside, uncertainty of the most appropriate area of focus or just giving up after the results don’t come as quickly as expected.

Yes, you might be in the business of positioning your clients’ brands but there’s a reason surgeons don’t operate on themselves, lawyers don’t defend themselves and stylists don’t cut their own hair. Some things require an outside perspective.

The Decisions, And Struggle, Cannot Be Delegated
The second part of our answer might seem to contradict the first part: while an outside perspective is invaluable, the work has to be yours or you will not be fully invested in the decision.

We are a sales training company and our training program begins with an exploration of the firm’s positioning. Back when I was a sales consultant I likewise always began with positioning. “Let’s fix what it is you’re selling before we focus on making you a better salesperson,” was, and remains, my philosophy. Back then however I saw positioning as a problem for which I would quickly deliver a solution to my client. “Position the firm like this. Now let’s go.”

We would get it done quickly and move on to how to sell this new value proposition. It’s only clear to me now how rarely that new value proposition stuck. A client from my consulting days explained recently. “When you came in to work with us, we started with positioning, made some quick progress, but then you moved on and we started regressing almost immediately.”

That client is now a Win Without Pitching coach who was marvelling at how well her clients nail and stick to their positioning in our training program, compared to her team’s failure (ultimately my failure) to do so when working with me in a different form. It’s clear that she is a better coach than I am but beyond that it’s the structure that’s different, which leads me to conclude that while positioning is difficult to do on your own without outside assistance, it is also not a problem that can be solved by an outsider.

“While positioning your firm is difficult to do without outside help, it cannot be done for you.”

Required: Struggling Down a Well-Lit Path
My coaches are better at using our curriculum to help their clients’ position their firms because they see the positioning challenge as their clients’ and not theirs. I think my pride in wanting to be the person with the answers has long gotten in the way of my clients’ success. I see now that you, the principal of the firm, need to struggle, and own the struggle. By struggle I don’t mean grope blindly in the dark. It’s our job to show you the path, so you’re never doubting the steps or direction, and to offer the occasional hand as you walk it, but I now know that if you don’t walk it yourself and struggle while doing so there will be no meaning in the destination at the end.

I think this contradiction of the difficulty of doing it alone and the emptiness of having someone else do it for you is at the heart of why so many principals struggle at positioning their firms, even after so much effort and investment. They exhaust themselves on the problem and then bring in someone else, who, with the benefit of an unemotional, outside perspective, says “Here, this is the answer.” Those easily won solutions however are also easy to throw away when they don’t bear fruit immediately. When you’ve followed a process you trust and you’ve laboured over the decisions, when you’ve laid awake at night weighing the sacrifices, exploring the options and permutations and you finally come to the decision on your own that yes, “we are going to stand for this from now on,” that you are going to put all your chips on one narrow, consolidated strategy, that is when the decision is a meaningful one, more likely to stick – when it’s yours at the end of a long struggle.

Ah, But The Doubt Still Creeps In
But even then you will have doubts, and I think maybe that’s the last piece of the puzzle here. My consulting engagements typically began with a remote audit, in which I ‘solved’ the positioning problem, followed by two intense onsite training days backed up with some remote support. In our program today we spend twelve weeks on positioning (if that seems long, you might not fully appreciate the steps required) and then we’re with you for the rest of the year as you build on this positioning, developing a lead generation plan and intellectual property specific to it. By the end of the year, you’re invested!

From Answers to Questions
There are two types of consultants, according to my Canadian Association of Management Consultants guidebook: subject matter experts and process experts. If I’m fully honest, I’ll admit that when I read those words years ago I saw myself as a subject matter expert and I felt myself to be superior to the process experts. (Far superior – I didn’t even see process knowledge as real expertise at all. Rather, I viewed it like B2C creative firms used to view B2B firms: the domain of those not good enough to do the real work.)

Having the answers, I felt, was the height of expertise. Sixteen years and hundreds of engagements later, I now see that when it comes to positioning your firm and so many other issues, for the answers to stick they have to be yours, and they have to be hard-won. The key to your success is in the struggle that I long thought I could make go away. Of course you have to have complete faith in the path as you struggle, and it’s helpful to have others to lean on as you travel it, but there is no success without the struggle. Our job is to show the way, ask some tough questions, lend some occasional support and guide you further as you translate that decision into the tools for success, building your investment in your decision to the point where you are fully committed, and success becomes inevitable.

Then your positioning work will be done.

Here’s the positioning path we have our clients take.

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You Can’t Teach People To Sell By Teaching People To Sell

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Why are so few salespeople highly successful? Why do talented, intelligent people, with outstanding products and excellent training, still plateau well beneath their potential?

In fact, many more salespeople fail than succeed, with less than a quarter typically reaching high sales levels. Just teaching someone product knowledge, sales skills, and activity-management processes, although necessary, won’t cause the person to sell successfully.

That’s because up to 85 percent of success in selling is rooted in feelings, attitudes, emotions and beliefs. Yet most sales training fails to take these critical factors into account, and as a result, most sales training ultimately fails the people (and the organizations) it’s supposed to be helping.

So say Sales & Marketing Management, in offering a Webinar to explore practical, proven ways of training professionals and sales managers to influence behaviors and attitudes that lead to higher levels of productivity and better bottom-line results. (Note: That’s easy to say; much more difficult to resolve).

I suggest an even more important bottom line. It takes a certain “personality-type” to sell, to be prepared for what a salesperson experiences. The prospect’s failure to listen, the rejection, mistrust and suspicion. The incredibly long lead-times from introduction to close. The jigs & jags along the way. An introvert can become a successful outgoing comedian; we’ve all heard about their introverted off-stage personalities. But an introvert seldom succeeds at sales if what they need to do day-in and day-out is in conflict with their basic areas of comfort. Within the agency world, many are educated in creativity and expression. Ironically, few ever receive training in new business development. In my experience, creative personalities struggle to fare well in a leading new business development role. But there’s hope; that’s not to say they wouldn’t fare well in a presentation role.

The lesson?  Don’t try to fit a square peg in the round hole of sales.

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Breaking News! Clients Are Taking Longer to Select an Agency

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Flash Reports

CONTENTS:

1. Breaking News! Clients Are Taking Longer to Select an Agency
2. What’s the Prospect’s Experience When They Call Your Agency?
3. Thank Goodness, Everyone Has New Business Advice to Sell
4. The Client’s Search Steps Are More Involved – Here’s Why
5. No One Uses Fax Machines Anymore – Really?
6. Hard to Believe You Don’t Offer Social Media

BREAKING NEWS! CLIENTS ARE TAKING LONGER TO SELECT AN AGENCY

We’ve been massaging multiple client searches since early summer. They are wrapping up now, with a number of reasons for the extended timelines. It’s not because we haven’t encouraged dispatch. Our search procedure outline for the client mentions this for Search Duration: As a result of cost reductions and time saved by the AgencyFinder process, BPI clients have frequently conducted and concluded rigorous agency searches and reviews in 60 days or less once the agency invitations have been issued. If you anticipate a delay that would extend your search decision and notification beyond 60-days of invitation, please explain the circumstances and advise us in writing so we can arrange for an authorized extension.

These aren’t Fortune 500 clients and in some cases, significant corporate changes were occurring at the same time. We were accustomed to seeing those 60-day turnarounds and got spoiled. We’re starting to address some client issues up-front that hadn’t been topics for discussion before.

WHAT’S THE PROSPPECT’S EXPERIENCE WHEN THEY CALL YOUR AGENCY?

In the days of yore, agencies had operators who answered the phone and directed calls. Generally a kind, helpful individual. But today that’s only a memory. Now we have automated platforms. The caller (let’s assume someone looking to hire your firm) is expected to know your extension, though they don’t even know your name yet. The automated options are of little value other than potentially irritating the caller. The recorded announcement loops and loops if you keep trying. When that happens, some callers have learned to dial “O.” That invites real annoyance – a voice announces, “Hi this is NAME,” I can’t get to the phone right now, please leave a message.” Some callers even learned to start punching in random extensions, only to find no one is picking up their phones. Gives the impression that it’s a virtual agency! Black mark for new business.

Suggestion – Call your agency from afar to see what you (and potential clients) experience.

THANK GOODNESS. EVERYONE HAS NEW BUSINESS ADVICE TO SELL

Oh, do I feel for anyone at your agency charged with business development. Same might apply for the agency Owner.  Everyone (particularly those in India) has a lead development program guaranteed to connect you with “qualified prospects.” Or they’ve studied your agency website and took the liberty to share the weaknesses they spotted. They offer to provide SEO for you and its incredibly cheap – says the author who wrote you (as they did me) something like this – “Dear Team, I got to stumble your website “”. You have created a nice website which holds the vigor to drive lot of sales/leads. But are you getting enough sales? No???? Let’s help you out.” They promise their lists are “Opt In”, and to what and whom you should ask. With the complexities of email these days, I’d suggest getting some quality data from a reputable firm like www.Redbooks.com. Not for e-mails though, but for good old fashioned USPS addresses. And rather than address the person, address the title; your mail will get there. Some old-fashioned methods still deliver!

THE CLIENT’S SEARCH STEPS ARE MORE INVOLVED – HERE’S WHY

We have little to contribute other than to suggest your read Lindsey Slaby’s fine report/article “A tough time for ad agency positioning.”

http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tough-time-ad-agency-positioning-lindsey-slaby

NO ONE USES FAX MACHINES ANYMORE – REALLY?

For years we’ve been sending our registered agencies client invitations in three (3) ways:

1. First an email advisory to Primary and Alternate NB to let them know they have been selected; including a thumbnail to identify the client.
2. A multi-page (5-7) fax with the RFD, instructions and invoice (if appropriate) (to Primary only)
3. An actual phone call to confirm receipt & answer questions (to Primary or Alternate)

Some agencies tell us no one uses faxes anymore (they themselves don’t have one) – Really? Visit websites of the “Greats” and then some – at Contact Us you will see their fax number along with primary phone, NB contact and email.

We did learn recently that financial information (as in Banks, Brokerage Firms, etc.) can’t be sent by email. For them fax is mandatory. So if your agency is large enough (as in Gross Receipts) your CFO may confirm this or at least be aware. And here’s our bottom line – we want you to receive, read and respond to the client’s invitation. And since you registered here for new business, you should too.

You can purchase a current state-of-the-art combo fax/printer/scanner for less than $200. You don’t need a separate line; you can camp on an existing. You can also install one of the e-fax options. If you’re full-service, include fax service!

HARD TO BELIEVE YOU DON’T OFFER SOCIAL MEDIA

First glance at many agency profiles, there’s no “tic” at social media. As in: Social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) How can that be? Because the agency hasn’t been in to update in some time, that’s why. Same for Digital production & Experiential. If you don’t have them checked (if you can), please do so. You could see an invitation soon.

The Agency’s Educational Transgression

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

A recent HubSpot article described an agency survey that revealed few agency employees stood up to accept responsibility for the development of new business for the agency.

No surprise there, it’s a function of the age-old agency mantra – New business is everybody’s business! Or, as you so clearly identified – new business is nobody’s business! Dating back to 1990 when we were conducting agency new business seminars stateside and in the UK, it was just the same. Agencies have managed to avoid the obvious for at least 26 years! Why? Because none of those in advertising ever had a class in what it takes to grow an agency business. It is almost a criminal oversight in the University community. And to suggest that agency “types” stoop to the lows of salesmanship, we’re not having any of that!

I don’t have the statistics at my fingertips, but as I recall, Gallup for years has ranked advertising folks depending, above or below “used car salesmen.”  So what’s the shame in shame! As of now, I have yet to learn of any University or College that offers anything more than a cursory pass at “business development.” So is it any wonder that those at an agency that are brave enough to at least try their hand at focused new business development, bail (unless they aren’t already terminated) after 6-12 months. They weren’t prepared or trained for the pressure that prevails.

I suspect little will change unless and until the industry accepts the fact that education and training are mandatory. BTW, all the recently surfaced “lead generation” software vendors will do little if anything the change that.

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When Clients Ask for Financials

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Agency Search Tips, Blog Posts

Today’s enlightenment was supplied by Blair Enns, CEO with Win Without Pitching

I recently spoke with an agency ownership team about an RFP they had received from a new prospect. One of the submission requirements was a copy of the firm’s financial statements.

How do you respond in such situations?

You would be well within your right to issue the most impolite of two-word responses to such a demand. Of course that’s not necessary, though. This is, after all, merely a game. Rather than stress you out, such a request should bring a smile to your face and an eager acceptance of the challenge. Let’s go over how to play the Show Us Your Money game.

Is This a Game Worth Playing?

Before we begin, prepare yourself for the fact that any selection process that begins with a request for financials might not go well. When the client opens this way then they’re likely a price buyer. If the relationship begins through procurement then whatever you’re being asked to bid on is seen as a commodity and you will have no power. It’s a price-driven decision all day long. Best to bow out.

If things have gone well in the sales cycle only for procurement to pop up at the last minute and demand financials, that’s actually good news. When procurement gets involved at this stage its almost certainly because they see this as final negotiations with the preferred firm – although they will never let on that this is the case. You’ve got more power than you realize in this situation but wielding it begins with the word “no”. Until you clearly say no, procurement is hearing yes. There’s rarely a need to get uppity or indignant. Remember the WWP key principle of kind ruthlessness: be ruthless in your behaviour – in this case getting right to the issue of why the client is asking and what a more appropriate answer might be – but be kind in your words. So a healthy amount of skepticism and direct professional questioning is called for.

Playing The Game

First, let us recall the Win Without Pitching Four Priorities of winning new business:

  1. Win Without Pitching, if possible. If you cannot then…
  2. Derail the pitch. If you cannot then…
  3. Gain the inside track. If you cannot then…
  4. Walk away.

Priorities two and three are about gaining concessions that affect the buying process thereby giving you an indication of how likely you are to win. You proceed with opportunities where you have proven that your odds of winning are good, ideally better than 1/n (with n being the number of firms under consideration). The assumption is someone has the inside track. If it’s not you, it’s someone else. This is the inverse of the saying about poker, that “If you can’t spot the sucker at the table, it’s you.”

Now, the step-by-step guide to our game. A lot of these steps are the same as those you would follow for any RFP response, with the specifics around financials added.

Step 1: Pick Up the Phone

The first thing you do is call – even if the RFP says no phone calls. Don’t apologize, just ignore and call. Get to a real decision maker and not a gate-keeper or process manager if you can. If the opportunity has come to you through procurement and you can’t get to a decision maker then you’re either a filler candidate rounding out the roster, perhaps there as a source of pricing pressure on the others, or the entire engagement is seen by the client organization as a commodity. In either case you want to think deeply about the merits of proceeding.

Step 2: Why Us?

Once on the phone ask why you’ve been selected. You’re looking to see who referred you, if anyone, how they see you and ultimately, how much power you might have in the relationship. Like step one above, this is standard RFP response protocol. “Thanks for thinking of us. I’m curious why you did think of us?”

Step 3: Raise The First Objection

Now put the RFP objection on the table. “We don’t typically respond to RFPs.” You can say this in different ways but I strongly recommend you use these exact words. Now pause, if you have the stomach for it, and listen. Whatever you hear next will be invaluable in letting you know where you stand with this client.

Leaving the objection on the table, which subtly implies the smallest of openings through the word ‘typically,’ proceed. It might sound something like, “I did want to say hello and explore whether or not there’s a path forward here.”

Step 4: Now Raise the Financials Objection

Proceeding full steam ahead you are now putting on the table all of the items in the RFP about which you have questions or issues. “There are some things in here I’d like to talk about.”

Right to the financials. “You ask for financials. We’re a private company and there are no circumstances under which we would hand over financial statements, but tell me what you’re looking for and why? I’m certain there’s a way to get to you what you really need.” You’re saying no but also that this is not a barrier but a bump. Let’s get over it together.

Step 5: Identify and Address the Real Issue

Now you are two people having a real conversation. You have placed aside the direct request and are in search of the reasons behind it. Some are valid. Some are not. Let’s explore each.

Valid Reason #1

The client wants to know what percentage of your total income their account would represent. This is perfectly valid. You want to know this, too. You want your new clients to be in the green zone, representing between 10% and 25% of your total revenue.

0-4% red zone
5-9% amber zone
10-25% green zone
26-35% amber zone
36%+ red zone

Smaller than 10% would not meet your minimum level of engagement (MLOE) and larger than 35% would be dangerous. The research that ReCourses CEO David C. Baker has done across hundreds of firms shows that when a firm loses a client that represents 35% or more of its income there’s a greater than 50% chance the firm will go out of business.

So, this is valuable for both parties to know, therefore it’s appropriate for you to disclose your revenue and even the number of clients you have, and it’s equally appropriate for the client to disclose the budget. If the client will not take you at your word for your revenue then this isn’t going to be a good partnership, is it? Go ahead and say that, if necessary.

Valid Reason #2

The client might have legitimate concerns over your financial stability. In the example I gave at the top, the agency had over two decades of experience doing this type of work for Fortune 100 clients. If that’s not enough to assuage someone’s stated concern about stability then the concern is a lie and there’s something else the client is looking for.

Find other ways to prove stability. There are many, including references from clients or your bank. Financial statement disclosure should not be required. Some RFPs, especially those crafted by procurement, attempt to pass all risk onto you and that’s just not realistic. They know that – they’re not demanding, they’re negotiating! Don’t assume because it’s in the RFP it’s mandatory. “I have to ask… if you think we’re a fly-by-night operation that might not be around to see this project through then why did you send us the RFP?”

The Big Invalid Reason (Which The Client Will Deny)

The client wants to dictate your profitability. Ahhh, now we come to the real reason. The procurement department wants to control your profit, ideally having you work at or close to cost.

You might want to lean right into this one. “Your only concern regarding our profitability should be that any work we might do for you IS profitable. How profitable is our business and not yours. You just want us to be profitable. And you don’t have to worry because we price all of our work so that it’s profitable for us and for our clients.”

If your spider-sense tells you this a price buyer, lean right into that too. “I’m concerned with this focus on our financials that this decision is all about price and I’ll tell you right now that we’re not likely to be the lowest price.”

The two valid reasons are easily dealt with without having to share your financials. The invalid reason, if it is the reason, needs to be outed and addressed head on before you politely walk away and leave it to your competitors to do the stupid thing. Sometimes that is just as gratifying as a win.

Wrapping Up

In summary, never share your financials. That’s like going into a fencing match in which your opponent decides he’s going to try something outrageous and ask you to hand over your foil – and then you do! Never give procurement the upper hand this way. Yes they sometimes ask but they’re laughing their asses off when you comply.

Look for the reason behind the request and if it’s a valid reason find another way to get them the assurances that any reasonable person would require. If they want to dictate margin to you, tell them to get stuffed. But do it kindly. This is, after all, but a game. Win or lose this should be fun.

Footnote: In any AgencyFinder review, you will know why and how you were selected. But as Blair points out, other parties including Procurement can join in after invitations go out. You can also ask me if you think some questions are out of line!

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Holy Smoke! Another Tobacco Opportunity. This time for CeeGars!

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Pitchcast, USA/North America

Their Florida company sells millions of cigars each year and they’re in search of an agency to provide Social Media Management and Print Advertising. Responsibilities are negotiable based on firm capabilities but should include Copy, Photo sessions, Video, Multi-Channel Operation, Customer Service Interaction, Direct Message and relationship building, contests, yearly campaign concepts, copy, layout & design for ads, final proof & upload, photography, ad hoc design. That’s about it. As you might imagine, they prefer agencies with experience in highly regulated industries such as tobacco and liquor. Specific knowledge of working with Tobacco or Alcohol companies is preferred. Budget $250,001 – $500,000 (fees, production & media) That you?

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