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Chip Griffin is the founder and the Small Agency Growth Alliance where he helps PR & marketing agencies grow and thrive. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur. He shares the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

Recent Episodes

Common mistakes agencies make when pursuing new business

Most agencies want to do whatever it takes to win new accounts. There is a natural urge to please prospects and demonstrate your expertise to get that contract signed.

There are some common mistakes that agencies make, especially in the excitement that comes around a pitch or proposal.

Chip and Gini explore some of the mistakes they have seen made, as well as how they suggest avoiding them.

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin 

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich 

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

and we’re going to talk about all the things that you’re doing wrong when you try to get new business because we like scolding people. And that’s what we’ll do in this episode. Right after this. And if truth be told, I’m not the scold, you are, this is your topic. You have a bee in your bonnet today, and we’re gonna let you excise it.

Gini Dietrich 

Okay, listen. We’ve talked about before that I am leading a marketing team for a client, and new you’re currently going through an agency search. It is so bad, so bad. Like, in every meeting we’ve had so far, I take notes on things you should not do in a new business pitch. Everything from not following the requests for proposal. We had simple questions in there, we wanted everyone to answer during a presentation, not presenting anything, not being on camera for while the prospect is on camera. They all sorts of things. It’s astoundingly Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.

Chip Griffin 

And why do you think that is?

Gini Dietrich 

I honestly don’t know. Because I think I think there’s a few things, I think that there are lots of quote unquote experts out there who have said, You should do things this way. And that’s what they do. And, quite honestly, there are things that I have seen some of these agencies do that we’ve done, because we thought that that was the right thing to do. But from a client’s perspective, it’s really bad. Like, tell me who’s gonna be on the account team, tell me who I’m going to be working with. And in the past, I would protect my team, from new business meetings, because it takes time, and it’s not billable, and yada, yada, yada. But as a client, I would never hire an agency without meeting the team that I was I’d be working with. So is there’s just like, things, I think that we’re told, as we build our agencies to do that, from a client’s perspective is not good, it’s not good. And I get that I might be a little. A little, my expectations may be a little higher than most, because this is what I do for a living, but it’s bad, bad.

Chip Griffin 

Well, I mean, some of these things, I would argue, aren’t even good from an agency perspective. I mean, and in the past, I’ve been of the same mindset that you don’t, you know, you don’t waste your team’s time, if you will, with new business development meetings and that kind of stuff. But that’s, it’s absolutely the wrong way to look at it, because it has a huge impact on retention and the success of a project because, frankly, if your team doesn’t gel with their team, you want to know that before you’ve actually agreed to do something, right. And and if you don’t have them in the room during those meetings, then it becomes very difficult. Once you’re, you know, then introducing this brand new client to people they’ve never met and saying, they’ll take care of you, I’m gone bye bye.

Gini Dietrich 

Right, and introducing this brand new client they’ve never met, while also saying and this is the work that you’re going to do. So they haven’t been involved in any of the strategy discussions, they haven’t been involved in the audit, they haven’t been involved in any tactical agreement, any metrics, they haven’t been involved in any of it, and you just hand it over to them and walk away, it’s the absolute wrong thing to do. Wrong.

Chip Griffin 

I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that that most agencies think they need to pitch far more than they really do. And so they’re spending a lot of time pitching, which means that they have if they asked their teams to be involved, it would take more and more of their time. Right. And I think part of this is because and I’ve ranted about this myself recently in an article, people think of agency business development as sales. And if you’re selling cars, or software or something like that, you want to try to get as many meetings as you can. Because the more meetings, the more sales. In the agency world, that’s not what it is. It’s really matchmaking and finding the right fit. And so if you spent less time writing proposals and showing up at pitches, you could be a lot more intelligent about how you do it.

Gini Dietrich 

Right. And I will say that, you know, the agencies that we’ve chosen for this pitch process, they have the expertise that we need, they have deep expertise in the areas that we need, so we already know they’re capable. What we want to know is, is it a good match? Are you willing to be flexible? Can you go deep with us? Are you going to be a partner of you know, an extension of our team or are you going to be a vendor for lack of a better term? Those are the things that we want to know. Show us a couple of case studies that might be similar to the kind of work that we’re asking you to do. We already know you’re capable. We don’t want the ideas, we want to know…and maybe we’ll ask for ideas later as we narrow it down. But right now we want to know, what your team is like. You know, what kinds of clients you have, and where you have similar experience that’s going to help us grow really fast. Because you have experience that the internal team doesn’t have.

Chip Griffin 

Right, I mean, this is very much the getting to know you stage between agency and client. And so, you know, you have to understand where you’re at in the process. And we’ve talked about this before, a lot of agencies love to go into those initial meetings, and just, you know, barrage the client with ideas. Yes. And and those are generally very uninformed ideas, because you simply don’t have enough data and information and understanding of the client to offer intelligent suggestions. You’re just offering based on you know, what, you and your team have sat down and mused about, oh, wouldn’t this be cool? If we could do this for them? Or that for them? Well, maybe, but how does that fit in with what they need? What have they tried before that worked, Or didn’t. Wouldn’t you like to know those things before you actually come up with your strategy and tactics? Yeah, I mean, I feel like you would want to know those things. I also feel like you should do things like, you know, understand where the client or prospect is located. And Google the people who are going to be on the call and, you know, have enough information about this is just business development, have enough information about the business and the people so that you don’t go so where are you guys headquartered? We’ve had that question twice. It’s really easy to figure out if you go to the website, where we’re headquartered, it’s really easy to Google the people who are on the call, really easy, because you get the the invite, you know who’s going to be on the call. So it just basic stuff, basic stuff is not being done, and it’s across the board. It’s across the board. And I don’t understand this not being on camera. I mean, not in 2022. There’s, there’s no reason for you to do a new business pitch and not be on camera. Unless, unless the client has specifically asked for that for whatever reason, right? I think that’s still weird. But, you know, the client should drive that not you as the agency.

Gini Dietrich 

100%. And it’s been kind of funny, because we’re the only ones on camera and the agency is pitching off camera, and we’re like, should we go off camera? Like, what do we do? This is weird.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, if I’m talking to someone, and they’re off camera, I always kill the camera. Because it does feel weird that they’re seeing me and I’m not it’s so weird. Yeah, yeah. But it’s, I mean, if you have the opportunity to have your camera on during and do business pitch, take it because that’s allowing you to make a much better connection. Right? Those of you who are watching this on YouTube probably feel a better connection to us than those of you who are listening in audio. I mean, obviously, if you’re a regular listener may be different. But if this is the first time you’re going to feel a much deeper connection, if you can actually see us see, yes, you know, just cover just cover my half of the camera and you’re you’re fine.

Gini Dietrich 

See facial expressions read body language, like, most people don’t play poker very well. So you can see, you know, you can see people glazing over if you’re boring them, or whatever happens to be you can see it. So yeah, I it’s it’s,

Chip Griffin 

but I suspect that maybe part of the problem too is that that  the agency may be concerned that their staff’s eyes will be glazing over..

Gini Dietrich 

Well, then they have to work on that. And that’s not my problem.

Chip Griffin 

Exactly. But I think then that goes back to, you know, trying to do too high a volume, because when you start doing too high a volume, you sort of you kind of get tired of them, right, you’re just kind of going through the motions. But the other thing that you mentioned was, you know, that they’re ignoring the instructions effectively, that you give them and this is something that that some consultants preach religiously, that you should, you know, basically treat RFPs RFQs as an invitation to do kind of your own whatever you want. Yeah. And to me, that’s kind of silly. It’s really silly. I do think that there are potentially times where you can, you know, skip questions that you’re just say, Hey, I’m not, we’re not going to really, I mean, sometimes some RFPs will ask for financial information or things like that. Sure. And in the past, I’ve routinely said, Yeah, we were a private company, we don’t disclose that kind of stuff. But that’s different from, you know, basics, fundamentals of the RFP, RFQ RFI, whatever it is, and just saying, yeah, no, I’m going to go in a totally different direction, because I know better. Yes, or get in the door, have the conversation, then maybe go somewhere else. But don’t, don’t start by if you if you’re told to go to their front door and you go to their back door intentionally, that’s just dumb.

Gini Dietrich 

So I would say, obviously, do your research, figure out who the company is who the people are that are going to be on the call. Google them. It’s not hard, but also ask some simple questions. What is it that you’re expecting from this meeting? Would you like us to present capabilities? Are you looking for ideas? Like, ask them those kinds of questions so that you’re prepared. And don’t just launch into something that you think the prospect wants without asking. Because, first of all, it’s not not to say that everybody should be going into request for proposals or into competitive pitches like that I have, we have a thought on that. And I think we’ve done an episode on that as well. But if you are in a competitive pitch, part of the reason the client is asking the same thing of everybody is so that way they can compare apples to apples, if you don’t follow directions, you’re automatically going to get cut out because it doesn’t allow us to compare effectively. I mean, certainly, there are other things like you know, you might gel with one agency better than another and those but from a from a like, logistical, cerebral point of point of view, you have to have something that you can you can effectively compare against one another.

Chip Griffin 

Yeah, I mean, the only thing I would say to that, though, too, is that, you know, you come from an agency background, so you’re treating the process from the client side, in a in an ostensibly fair, fair manner. And a lot of clients don’t do that, that’s a good point. So some of this behavior may have been conditioned by experiences where the client isn’t having a fair and open process where they’re truly looking to compare apples to apples and all that. And so in those cases, there may be an advantage to, you know, to coloring outside the lines. But fundamentally, anytime that you’re meeting with a prospect, no matter how you’ve gotten there, whether it’s through an RFP process, or whether it’s just, you know, an introductory meeting or something like that, you should be spending time showing your intelligence by asking questions, not by you know, spewing stuff out, right, and, and if you can get a conversation going, where you’ve got the prospect talking, at least as much as you are, in those first meetings, you’re going to be in much better shape, because they’re giving you the roadmap to how to succeed with them both in winning their business, and then in being successful with their business. But far too often, agencies go in and just want to tell you, all of the great things they’ve done, all of the great team that they’ve got, all the great ideas they have. And none of that really helps advance the ball in the way that you really want to.

Gini Dietrich 

100%. And I think we’ve done an episode on this as well, but giving away ideas, it doesn’t, you might have a great idea. And you might be able to say, you know, we thought maybe this would work, like okay for the end of a conversation, but going in and just dumping ideas without understanding anything. It’s first of all, it’s overwhelming. And it’s it makes, it makes the team defensive, because they’re like, I’ve been doing this for three years. And you’re telling me it’s all wrong. Like it’s just the completely wrong approach, completely wrong approach.

Chip Griffin 

Right. I mean, you know, the the, I guess is as you as you think about these agencies that are coming in and giving these pitches. Is there some big picture thing that they should be rethinking when they go in in order to try to be more successful? Or is it really these individual granule items we’ve been talking about?

Gini Dietrich 

Um, I think just from a big picture standpoint, it’s really understanding what it is that the prospect is looking for, and building a proposal or a presentation or a conversation around that. So ask them ask questions, try to get as much information as you can, like, every single one of these agencies has had a conversation with my internal team ahead of time, to say, you know, to be able to ask questions, and none of them from what I understand none of them have asked these kinds of questions. It’s pretty apparent that, you know, we I’ve seen the emails that have said, we want this, we want this and we want this in the end. We still have two more presentations, but four out of six have not done that. And I’ve seen the emails. So it’s not like it’s confusing.

Chip Griffin 

In the questions they asked, Did they ask what’s your budget? No, no, I’m a little surprised. I would have thought that that would have been the one common question that would have been…

Gini Dietrich 

We’ve not had any questions. The other than, where are you headquartered? What’s your experience? Um, you know, stuff that we the questions they have asked us have been things that you can find online. That’s it.

Chip Griffin 

That’s, that’s mind numbing. To me. It’s, it’s,

Gini Dietrich 

I mean, like, I get to the point where I’m just like, you have to pay attention. You have to pay attention. You have to because it’s so bad. And the other thing that really I, huh, then

Chip Griffin 

You’ve really been enjoying this process, haven’t you?

Gini Dietrich 

It’s so bad. I literally have three pages of notes of things not to do. It’s that bad. But, okay. I’m big on process. I think It’s really hard to scale a business without a process. We launched the PESO model several years ago, we use the PESO model for all clients. But we also refine it and customize it based on the client’s needs. So they may not need any paid media or they have an agency that does paid media, or they have a great internal team doing paid media. So we may not include that in the work that we do, we may include working with them, but we’re not including that in the work that we do. So we customize it based on the client’s needs, the other thing that we do is, we don’t force the client to use the software that we use. So if you use a project management system that we don’t use, we’re going to learn it really fast, because it’s easier for us to jump into your project management system than for you to try to come into ours. All of these agencies have said, we use this, we use this, we use this, and we use this and you have to use it. And it’s like, I can’t ask my team to add one more piece of technology to there. I can’t.

Chip Griffin 

RIght. Yeah, I think it’s fine if you’re an agency, and you want to suggest that you use a certain piece of software, particularly if the client doesn’t aren’t actively using absolutely right. And and and you always do have to try to dig as to whether they’re actively using it because the number of of organizations that own subscriptions to project management software, but never use them is astronomical. But you’re right at the end of the day, you you need to use what the client uses. Yes. That’s I mean, if you want to get the information that you need from the client, use their system. If you want them not to comply, use your own system. Correct, you can kind of pick and you can still use your own system for the internal pieces of it that are not quite and in fact, there can be benefits to that, because a lot of these project management tools, you end up having to run sort of parallel projects anyway, if you’re gonna have the client see some of it, but you want some stuff behind the scenes that the client’s not seeing, because most of them are not really good at the granular permissions you need in order to be able to bifurcate. So you’re probably going to have two different projects anyway, the public facing and the internal. So what’s wrong with using theirs for the pieces you they need to see? And you need to get from them? And then having your own system for the internal that’s fine.

Gini Dietrich 

100%. It’s, it’s been fascinating. So I’ve started to ask. I’ve asked, who’s on the team? And that’s, that is a hard question to answer. What software do you use? And? And really, are you willing to use ours? Do you use Slack? And can we loop you into our channel? Like? And the answer is always no. And you’re just like, Okay, you’re making it really challenging to hire you. Because I’m not going to ask my team to use to two different project management systems. I’m just not.

Chip Griffin 

Well, I mean, and to me, this, this speaks to, you know, agencies that are looking to take a bit more of a cookie cutter approach, even though they’ll pretend that it’s…

Gini Dietrich 

 It’s definitely cookie cutter.

Chip Griffin 

You know, they pretend that they’re doing custom work for you. But they’re really, you know, working off of not just a process but a template. Yep. And once you’re… I mean, I would argue that that’s not truly an agency in the traditional sense of the term, right? It’s a service provider. And, but it’s not working with an agency in the way that a lot of folks in the agency community would use that term. And so you need to be thoughtful about what kind of business are you running, right? If you’re running a glorified service provider business, and maybe you call it an agency, because that’s the that’s the way that you can sell, okay, fine. But if you really, truly want to run an agency, then you need to have a process, but it needs to be adaptable to the individual client. It doesn’t need to be a one size fits all right, you know, like you’re building a piece of software, or you’re selling a burger at McDonald’s. And yes, you can ask to hold the onions, 50/50 whether it actually happens, but you know,

Gini Dietrich 

Or one or two actually end up on there.

Chip Griffin 

Right? You know, I mean, and I’m not picking on McDonald’s here, all restaurants have these issues. When you ask for customization stores, even fancy high end places, sometimes make mistakes.

Gini Dietrich 

Sometimes, not very often.

Chip Griffin 

Not not, not nearly as often. Not nearly as often.

Gini Dietrich 

Yeah, it’s been a fascinating experience. But I would say that, you know, you asked the big picture question. And I would say from a big picture perspective, just really understand what the prospect is looking for and deliver that. You can always talk about, you know, one of my favorite things to do is ask questions, they may throw a question back at me and I can say something like, in my experience, blah, blah, or we have a client that we’ve done so you can tie in your experience and your case studies and your testimonies and things like that in the conversation. But doing it without asking or being prepared for what the prospect wants is just it’s mind numbing, and we’re going through a lot of these it’s really bad. It’s really bad.

Chip Griffin 

And look, I mean, here’s the thing, if you don’t like the prospect’s process, if you don’t like what they’re asking for, you don’t have to present.

Gini Dietrich 

Right, then they’re not a good fit you!

Chip Griffin 

You are in charge of your own business. And you can decide this isn’t a fit for us, we’re going to opt out of the process, right? Nobody is forcing you to come in and make a pitch. Nobody is forcing you to fill out an RFP, nobody is forcing you to deliver a proposal, you’re choosing to do it because you believe that you’re a good fit with what they’re looking for. And a lot of the behavior here suggests that perhaps they recognize it’s not a good fit, but they’re going to somehow try to shoehorn you into the way they do things. Rather than figuring out that there’s a match and that, honestly, that doesn’t work. This is this is like, you know, when you’re dating somebody, you think you can change them. You know, I know you’re always late, but no, once we start going out together, I’ll fix that. You’ll be on time. Yeah, guess what? Probably not happen. Because Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Right. Or like the crazy people who decide the way to solve their marriage is to have a kid. You’re right. Yeah, that always works. that’s absolutely the solution. Yes, kids make things so much easier.

Gini Dietrich 

So much easier. Yes. Yeah. Yep, way easier.

Chip Griffin 

So use your brain. Use your power of choice. Don’t go after prospects that are not good fits. If you go after a prospect because you think it might be a good fit. follow their rules. Simple.

Gini Dietrich 

Easy. That’s it. Great. Google them. That’s it.

Chip Griffin 

And that’s it for this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. We’re gonna draw it to a close. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich 

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin 

And it depends.

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