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Mr. Mark D. Goldstein

Making the Tough Decisions

Every single screw up, every lost account, every embarrassing pitch can be traced to one thing: a bad decision.  Not a bad intention, but a bad decision.
 
New Business is a series of tough decisions—from the galactic (like what kind of agency are you) to the infinitesimally tiny (who sits where in the pitch).  I’m here to tell you that you cannot win continually if you don’t pay extraordinary attention to both.  Your batting average (which for the non baseball fans among us is your percentage of wins to pitches) will be in direct proportion to the quality of your decisions.
 
One of those decisions was to never involve incompetent people in pitches.  I know that sounds funny, but you’d be amazed—or maybe you wouldn’t—at how often agencies hand over critical responsibilities to people who couldn’t handle them.  Those days are over.
 
I personally think that if you make the right decisions, you’ll win 3 out of 4 pitches.  And in batting .750, we’ll be light years better than every other agency in the world.
 
In my experience, there are fifteen crucial decisions.  Here are seven of them.
 
1. Deciding who decides: How do you decide who makes the call?  Just because someone can run an account doesn’t mean they can run a pitch.
 
2. Deciding who to pitch: How many of you have pitched a piece of business and known every step of the way that they’d be a bad client?  You need a screener for how you decide.  We have five criteria, and a client needs to hit all five for us to get excited.
 
3. Deciding on the team: Keep in mind that the pitch pursuit team doesn’t have to be the presentation team.  There’s getting prepared to win, and then there’s winning.  Different skills are required for both.
 
4. Deciding whether to pitch: This isn’t about the client, or the opportunity, or the size, or anything.  It’s really about the most precious thing you have: the energy and enthusiasm of your people.  There are some agencies who squander it on anything that moves.  Then they wonder why they can’t get the blood boiling when something exciting comes along.  Every time you’re faced with a pitch decision you have to say to yourself, "Is this worth me turning on the machine?  Can I get the enthusiastic support and passion of the team?"  If not, don’t pitch.
 
5. Deciding whether a client’s right for you: This is different than deciding who to pitch.  Often you can choose to pursue a client for all the right reasons, and then comes the chemistry meeting.  Sure, they’re interviewing you.  But are you interviewing them?  Do you make it clear—not just in your own mind but right out in the open—what you expect from them?
 
6. Deciding what to present: How many of you have sat in a pitch knowing you were presenting too many campaigns?  Or the wrong work?  Never think you’ll win by figuring out what the client wants to hear.  What they want to hear, and what they need, are virtually always different.  Trying to second-guess what the client wants means you don’t have a point of view.
 
7. Deciding who should present: I have one rule that is unbreakable.  If a person’s not a world-class presenter, they don’t get to present.  Period.  It doesn’t matter how important they’ll be on the business.  It doesn’t matter how much work they did on the pitch.  You’ve got one job in a new business pitch.  To win.  And a mediocre presenter can bring the proceedings to a screeching halt.  How do you tell them they don’t get to be in the room?  It’s easy.  Tell them they don’t get to be in the room.

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Comments

Tough Decisions--Deciding Whether or Not To Pitch

In this economic environment there may be a propensity to chase everything--what techniques are you using at your agency to screen opportunities and make tough decisions upfront?
 
 
Tom Finneran; 4A's
Posted by Mr. Thomas Finneran (Thursday, April 30, 2009 2:47 PM)

7. Deciding who should present:

Hello Mark, I agree with the fact that no matter how well you're prepared, if the presenter does not shine and hit home run, it's all gone down the sewer.

In my years of experience of presentations in particular my neuromarketing presentations, I found that relaxing the audience, and being transparent are important.

Cheers,
James

Posted by James F (Friday, May 01, 2009 11:36 AM)

No agency today (that I know) has the skills to win 3 out of 4 (on a regular basis)

But they can, if the agency team:
 
1. really understand the business issues the prospect faces
2. understands the implications to the prospect of those issues
3. bonds with the prospect around those issues, not around the wonderfulness of the agency (the sale is about the prospect, not you)
 
4. engages the prospect in an interactive dialogue about the challenges in briefings and the pitch
 
All agencies have smart people. Good strategists. Good creative. Virtually no agency does the above very well, and the result is agencies that win pitches today are generally winning behind "perfromances" that aren't very repeatable - they had the best idea; the best creative; chemistry won the day, etc. Learn to do #'s 1 thru 4 above and you'll be in a far better position to differentiate yourselves.
 
Posted by Mr. Stephen Boehler (Saturday, May 02, 2009 1:07 PM)

Some haunt, some inspire. Tough decisions do make or break.

Great post by Mark. By the end of the second sentence I was having flashbacks--to the great decisions--and some of the really bad decisions that have contributed to our own agency batting average. (And Lord, if we ever get another chance to pitch again in this upside down economy, I promise our team will think twice and make amends.)
Posted by Mr. John Sharpe (Wednesday, May 06, 2009 10:01 AM)

You gotta want the business

Totally concur with Steve. Every pitch that I've been involved with that resulted in a win has two things in common: 1. we made an emotional connection with the client and 2. we WANTED the business. And this also relates back to Mark's point #4, deciding whether to pitch, which I think is one of the hardest decisions to manage. I'd like to hear others thoughts on how to manage a management team that has never met a pitch they didn't like.
Posted by Jody Sutter (Wednesday, May 13, 2009 10:44 AM)
 

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