Lessons Learned

A big part of my Incredibly Successful Career (ISC) was making presentations.  I was involved in tons of them during my ISC.  Many were to clients and many more were to prospective new clients — known as new business pitches in the ad biz.

A good conversion rate was 10%.  If you pitched ten clients and won one you were doing okay.  Sometimes we got on a roll and won a bunch.  More often we won a few and lost more.  Over the ISC I was involved in more losses than wins.  But I never stopped getting excited about the possibility of winning.  It was sort of like Vegas.  You knew the odds were against you but you did it anyway.  The losses always hurt.  But, oh the wins … that feeling was an amazing rush. 

I learned a few things along the way.  Like always rehearse.  It takes a ton of practice to sound spontaneous.  When you wing it (and we did many times) it shows, and more important it shows the prospect you didn’t care enough. It makes them wonder how you will treat them if you become the agency.   Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.  It’s a cliche, but oh so true.  Even if you are brilliant you will lose if you are an asshole.  Ultimately prospects pick people they want to work with.  Think about it.  Nobody presents bad case studies.  (“Here are our biggest failures!”) Everybody shows awesome results.  So who do they pick?  Right, the ones they want to work with.

Anyway, I digress.  One time after a loss the client took me to lunch.  That’s right, he bought me lunch to tell me why we lost.  Isn’t that amazing?  Too often prospects mumble something about how close it was and how they really couldn’t give a reason why we lost.  They need to.   What follows is the memo I wrote to the agency after that lunch.  Just four points that are pretty basic — common sense.   A few years later we got to pitch the client again.  We won.

Four Worthy Comments From a Client Who Didn’t Hire Us

1.  We Must Offer A Unique Insight.   Tell the prospect something about their business they don’t already know.  Preferably, this will be an insight about their key audience.  Our role is to provide the client with a perspective they cannot have — and are willing to pay to have.  We should give them information that makes them say:  “I never thought of that.”

2.  We Must Have Wall-To-Wall Energy and Enthusiasm.  This doesn’t mean shouting or hype, but an obvious demonstration of our genuine passion and belief in the prospect and his/her business. The prospect wants to be romanced.  They want to be convinced that their business is more important to us than God.

3.  The Presentation Must Be Seamless.  The entire presentation should be like a stage performance.  Each member should know his or her own role as well as the role of the other participants.  The segues should be flawless and dialogue appropriate and comfortable.  If that sounds like a play, it should.  We are actors in a performance.  We need to rehearse to perfection.  When we have complete confidence with our material, we will give a spontaneous and enthusiastic performance.

4.  We Must Not Educate the Client.  Metaphors, analogies and examples are much more interesting than process.  Never tell a prospect our “rules” of communication.  It’s condescending, self-serving and probably wrong anyway. The prospect does need to know we have knowledge.  And that we have a disciplined approach to problem solving, which leads to brilliant ideas.  But we must tell a story in a thoughtful and provocative manner.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Jan,
    Did you know I’ve been reading your blog for the last few weeks? It’s really excellent, and I think (here it comes!) you should consider doing some teaching. But that’s not why I’m writing. It’s to ask if I could have your permission to repost this particular post on our seldom-updated SVC blog? When I left BP&N (I think our conversion ratio was more like 0 out of 10), I put a note on the document server in a folder labeled “READ BEFORE NEXT NEW BIZ PITCH.” All that was in it was a one sentence Word document that said, “Don’t forget to find out who’s coming.” The mistake we continually made was to not know the players, their background, their role in the decision, their likes and dislikes. As you correctly point out, you need to treat a pitch like a Broadway show. With that said, it helps to know as best you can who’s sitting in the audience.


  2. Posted by Craig on May 10, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Your win rate goes way up if you can prove to me (client) that you’re smart and make sure I like you.

    Also, never draw a methodology diagram on a flip chart, (see #4 above)


  3. Posted by kass on May 12, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Good stuff Jan. Made me take a fresh look at the presentation I’m giving today and rethink it – take out the process and offer more insight.


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