The goal is to win but when you don’t the next best thing is to understand why so the agency can improve and grow. Surprisingly, many agencies don’t ask why. When they do, it is likely the Business Development person who asks the hard questions when a decision doesn’t go their way.
In a recent survey among advertising agency business development professionals, not including company owners or leaders, I asked what the most frequent feedback is of lost prospects. I excluded owners because I wanted to hear directly from the front line and get their perspective on the battlefield.
The number one reason is a subjective judgment about the creative. Spec creative is the bane of our existence yet so often a requirement. Even if the strategy is spot on or the insights are powerful, we live and die by the creative that is done in a hurry without input from the client. It is a bitter pill to swallow but important to dig deeper and try to understand why it didn’t hit the mark so that the next pitch can be shaped with a little more insight.
For example, the postmortem questioning might go something like this. You stated that another agency’s creative was better. How would you contrast the winning creative with what we showed? If our strategy was solid, what would you change about the creative to make it stronger? Was there creative from our past work or case studies that originally got you interested in us? The answers will provide a better idea of their subjectivity and shed light on whether they felt the agency’s creative was challenged from the start.
The second most often heard reason is the lack of experience. It is often characterized by the winning firm having more expertise in the category or greater familiarity with the customer. A cruel twist of fate if the prospect assured you that they were open to ideas outside of the category. In some cases, she or he may be, but there are others in the decision-making process who aren’t. On average, 3 - 5 people participate in the decision and so 3 or more have to be open minded to category experience to be successful.
For example, the postmortem questions might go something like this. What was it about our presentation that left you concerned about our experience that wasn’t a concern when we first submitted our capabilities? What changed your mind about the importance of category experience from the beginning of your process to this conclusion? What did the winning agency demonstrate about their experience that you didn’t see in us?
Some of the other post pitch feedback just shouldn't be on the list. Lack of strategy, too much time talking about the agency or didn’t know my business are all things we should never hear after a pitch. If you do, you should ask what things in our presentation came across as off strategy and what things did we include that left you feeling like we didn’t know your business. As to the too much agency talk issue, ask what part of the presentation about the agency do you think we could have left out. If their answer makes sense, leave it out.
Whatever kind of agency you have, I’m pretty sure you invest a lot of time and energy developing what you believe is a winning pitch. Sadly, agencies lose pitches for a variety of legitimate reasons, but you will never know unless you ask. But simply asking doesn’t always get meaningful answers because far too often, the pitch consultant, procurement person or marketer is reluctant to share the truth. You were a close second, so agonizingly close or it was a really hard decision is what we hear most often. Don’t accept it. Go deeper.
I find it is helpful to begin the postmortem by stating the facts of your agency’s pitch investment. For example, we spent 500 agency hours, including over 25 different people and spent about $30,000 on research, video and creative production, an investment of our own money to prepare for our pitch. Our intent is not to debate the decision or argue the reasons but to get some value from that investment in the form of honest, critical feedback about what we presented and how it compares to the winning firm so we can improve as an agency.
The kinds of questions to ask will depend on the nature of the pitch. You may have more or less but be sure to prioritize the most critical in case your call ends before getting through the entire list. In addition to the ones I mentioned previously, I try to ask questions like these.
- Did you use a scoring system? if so, may I have a copy of ours and the other agencies? If not, how did you determine the ranking of the finalists?
- If no score sheets are available
- How many people and who did the scoring?
- How did we perform against your specified evaluation criteria?
- How did we compare to the other agencies?
- Did we cover all of your pitch questions, requirements, and business challenges?
- Did we clearly communicate or strategy and creative solutions according to your business opportunities?
- Did you think our creative examples could be successful in achieving your objectives?
- Did we instill confidence in our technology execution and capabilities
- Did our team connect with yours? Did each presenter seem well prepared? Who was the best and the worst?
- What did you like the most about our presentation?
- What did you like the least?
- Did your impression of our agency change during the pitch process? If so why and how?
- Did you see any errors in what we presented or in the logic of our thinking?
- If pricing was included, how did our prices compare with others?
- What one thing would you suggest we do to knock our next presentation out of the park?
- Any final comments, suggestions or advice?
Be sure to thank them for their time and honesty and reaffirm that you know it’s not personal. And, don’t be shy about asking to be included in the next RFP. If you liked this post and want more new business advice delivered to your inbox sign up for the newsletter. #LetsGrow!