As an agency leader, you’re aware of the challenge of converting prospects into clients. The rise of quantifiable advertising and marketing approaches means top execs are more skeptical than ever.
But this hurdle also presents an opportunity. One that shows your potential clients exactly how you’ll serve them.
In this article, we’re going to show you how to make your new business pitches more watertight than ever.
Interview your current clients for deeper insight
For agency executives and business development professionals, having a clear understanding of your prospects is not new advice.
Yet how often do you make a practice of this? And how deep do you go with your questions?
Interviewing your prospects before you pitch is key. But yielding insights from your current clients can give you an edge over anything they don’t tell you.
This is where client interviews come in. Not only will you understand the pains of your audience, but you’ll know what motivated your past clients to do business with you.
To truly understand their motivations, go beyond surface-level answers and dig deep. The initial answers are likely to be driven by logic. Therefore, you must ask follow-up questions to understand true motivations.
Begin by identifying the key decision makers in the organizations you work with. These executives are:
- Stakeholders you communicated with during discovery
- Executives you pitched to
- Decision makers those executives report to
The last group is key. These are people you don’t usually interact with, and can present the best opportunity for insight. Identify these people during conversations with the first two groups.
Here are some surface-level questions you might ask your clients:
- Why did you decide to do business with us?
- What were your biggest motivations when look for a solution to X?
- When making the decision to become our client, how big a role did budget play?
Some answers might include “You made us feel most confident that you could do the job” or “The ideas you pitched were on-brand.” From here, ask questions that dig deeper:
- What was it that we did that gave you this confidence?
- Which aspect of our service best solves this problem?
- What was it about idea X that made you feel we were on-brand?
Valuable insight will come from the answers from these questions. It will show you which aspects of your pitch and services convince prospects to become clients.
Look for patterns across your interviews. Look for things that nearly put them off doing business with you. Finding negative patterns will show you what to avoid when pitching, allowing you to focus on the things that attract.
When talking with your point of contact, ask them who else is in charge of the decision making process. Get names, job titles and ask how the decision making process works. You may uncover some people who influence the decision that you were unaware of.
There are several benefits to this. First, you may expand your buyer personas to find out their motivations. When creating your pitch materials, you can include messaging that will address their challenges directly – even if you don’t communicate with them.
Use insight to understand your prospect’s audience
In the old days, it would be enough to use gut feeling and creative jargon to justify the work you pitched to clients. Think Mad Men.
Those days are long gone. Clients understand that everything is quantifiable. Data is available for nearly all campaigns and marketing tactics.
While this may seem like a challenge, it presents a huge opportunity. If you’re an agency that values client results, you’ll make decisions based on data to help them succeed.
Unsurprisingly, this data is invaluable during the pitch process itself. It will help you backup your ideas and help them feel confident in your ability to deliver results. Your competition may not be doing this, providing a way to undercut them during the pitch process.
Let’s take a look at an example of this in action. Let’s say you’re pitching to Neutrogena, and want to uncover insights on their audience’s demographics and interests to direct your pitch.
As it happens, Neutrogena buyers have an interest in household and beauty brands such as Fresh Wave, John Frieda and Marc Anthony Hair products. This data can help back up targeting decisions, as well as any proposed influencer marketing and co-branded efforts:
This gives you new options that you may not have considered before. Not only will you demonstrate an out-of-the-box way of thinking to your prospects, but you’ll be able to back it up with compelling data.
In the past, it would have taken six to eight weeks and a heavy fee to receive a fraction of data. Thanks to technology and tools (such as our own SpotRight platform) you can get this near-instantly.
On top of this, you can shed insights into your prospect’s customer that they may not have known. Providing this kind of value from the beginning is a pleasant surprise. Delighting them in this manner can help you stand out from other agencies trying to get their foot in the door.
While data is important, it’s only half the battle. Having data will help make your case, providing a logical argument for your ideas. But it won’t move them in a way that helps them connect with your ideas.
Tell your story
As humans we make decisions on an emotional level. Your prospects need to engage with your ideas and feel excited by them. Which is where storytelling comes in.
Here’s a framework you can use to build a story around your pitch:
1) Identify the change
Forget your credentials. Don’t even talk about your level of service or in-house talent. Instead, focus on an urgent direction the world is moving in that affects your prospect.
This shifts away from the traditional advice of focusing on the pain point, which puts them on a defensive stance. Instead, you help prospects see a bigger picture that will affect them directly and present opportunities.
An unavoidable change is presented. And when change happens people pay attention.
2) Winners & losers
We are psychologically wired to be motivated to avoid loss than we are to gain something. Therefore, you need to show your prospects how they risk losing if they continue going the way they are.
Do this by showing how this change in the world will create winners and losers. Demonstrate how adapting to this change will result in a positive future.
Likewise, you must show them how ignoring this change will result in failure. In order to get their attention, this failure must be unacceptable to them.
You can do this by showing traits that failed companies share. Show them “this is what they did” and where it got them.
Then, highlight those who are already winning using these approaches. This is the perfect opportunity to celebrate your own clients, providing social proof and demonstrating that you’ve done this before.
3) Show them paradise
Before you dive into your ideas, you must show them what life actually looks like for the winners.
This is the outcome that your service brings. To do this, the paradise you’re creating for them must:
- Be appealing and
- Hard to achieve without your help
Your service must be the primary thing that can help them. Your mission is to take your prospect away from danger and into the paradise your service creates for them.
Do this by outlining benefits of your service. Show them how their brand will stand out, win the hearts of customers and make them look great to the rest of the organization.
This is also the perfect opportunity to highlight results you’ve generated your previous clients. If your campaigns brings a 100%+ lift in sales, then state it. Get specific with the results and sprinkle in some testimonials of those who already live in the paradise you’ve created.
4) Overcoming obstacles
Like every great story, there’s a hero and an antagonist. And every hero needs something to help them overcome their obstacles.
The silver bullet that breaks through those obstacles is your service. This is where you present the data we talked about the previous section, applying it to your offering.
Talking about demographic and psychographic data might seem boring on a surface level. But applied to the context of the challenge it should get your prospects excited.
Position it against the old way of doing things (aka “the loser’s” way) and you increase the chances of winning them over.
5) Case studies
We’ve already touched lightly upon social proof. This is the stage to go all in, encapsulating a micro-story inside the larger narrative.
If you’ve done your job correctly, your prospects will be excited but skeptical. Sure, you’ve already included some testimonials, but they need to see how others have traversed the same path.
Like all good case studies, you should structure it in a before-and-after format:
- The challenge: What obstacle was your client trying to overcome? What would failure have meant to them?
- The solution: This is where you outline exactly what you did for your client. The scope, creative, work you did – summarize it here.
- The results: What happened? How is the client better off, and how do they continue to be better off by working with you?
This is where you move on to your ideas. This is the pitch itself – the building blocks of your service and offering.
You’re still leading the conversation, but you shouldn’t run the pitch into wall. Opening up a conversation around your ideas is key. Here’s how you do it.
Don’t pitch, collaborate
While we advocate a structure to your pitch, it’s important to encourage an open conversation around your ideas.
You can integrate this within the pitch itself, or you can spark it at the end of the story you’ve told them.
Regardless, collaborating with your prospects is one of the best ways to sell (according to RAIN Group). It helps encourage your audience to take part, keeping things engaging until the very end.
After telling your story, let the prospect decide what they’d like to learn next. This conversational method lets you come across as more memorable.
Questions will arise that can be answered by the insight generated from your current clients. This requires a flexible approach before you create the pitch.
While you may have a deck of slides, you must also visually map out potential discussion points. List out the most frequently asked questions and map the answers to them. Include demonstrative answers and examples you can use to backup your reasoning.
Make no mistake, open conversation does not mean the prospect guides the presentation. You must treat these simply as a “choose-your-own adventure” format. They decide where to go, but you must guide them down the path.
For each question, therefore, you must prepare answers that follow the same storytelling structure above. Begin your answer by reminding them of the old world. Guide them to the new world and back your reasoning up with social proof and data.
End by maintaining control, asking follow-up questions to further dig into their understanding or moving the conversation and pitch to a new topic. Wrap things up with next steps.
5 Pitch Lessons from the Startup World
The best lessons of these principles in action come from the startup world. Many tech and app startups have used the elements from this guide to great success.
Let’s wrap up this guide with examples to see these principles in action:
1) That’s Suspicious Behavior
The founders of the local “suspicious activity” reporting app does a great job of opening their pitch up with conversational presenting.
They start by asking who in the audience uses their local neighborhood watch. Very few raise their hand. From here, they dive right into the pain point. It hits home for many of the audience members, citing 5 different cases of indecent exposure in a three block radius.
Despite the serious topic, they still manage to inject some humor as they present their app as the solution to this issue. Check out the full presentation below:
The transactional email service first pitched their idea in 2009. Fast-forward to today and they generate over $60 million in annual revenue with a team of over 400 employees.
Their offering is incredibly technical, but found Isaac Saldana did a terrific job of positioning their offering against other email marketing providers.
Similar to the above, he kicks the bruise on the pain, stating that 20% of emails never get delivered. “If 1% of eBay’s emails fail to deliver, they lose an estimated $14 million a year.”
Most importantly, he understands the needs of his investors, repeatedly addressing the importance of paying customers from the beginning of SendGrid’s life. This demonstrates exactly how they’ll get a return on their investment, an important item on every investor’s list.
When securing their first round of funding, Airbnb (then named “Air Bed & Breakfast”) relied heavily upon market data to back up their idea. Here’s a slide that illustrates the opportunity in simple terms:
Using the customer journey as a storytelling device, they demonstrated how easy it is for users to go from the front page to booking a room. Sure, it’s a product story. But it’s a story well told.
Similar to SendGrid, they outline the business model and how they’ll be making money. The truly understand what their investors care about, and this shines through the entire deck.
Check out this article on Business Insider to view all the slides.
Before Facebook, there was TheFacebook. Eduardo Saverin was still CFO, and it was his job to knock on every investor’s door in New York City to sell ads.
The platform was vastly different to how it is today, and social ads as we know them didn’t exist yet. However, they still had unique and personal data that they could help advertisers use to target the right audience.
This is what their media kit looked like:
It’s a far-cry from the level of sophistications it’s at today. But the data they used to backup their claims helped them to get their start to becoming the empire it is today.
I’ve saved the best for last. These guys use the exact storytelling method outlined in this article. The shift they describe is from a transaction-based world to a subscription-based one, showing a timeline of how we got here:
They outline the losers from the winners, showing the average life expectancy of a Fortune 500 company plummeting from 75 years to only 15. Then, they show the winners: like how IBM adapted to the new world and succeeded:
Then they show them the silver bullets that will help them overcome obstacles, wrapping things up with social proof:
Following this framework helped them secure huge amounts of funding, and the company forecasts a huge amount of growth moving forward.
When you turn storytelling into a framework, your pitches will become more engaging and compelling. Add data to the mix and you’re going to be unstoppable.
But don’t neglect your current clients. By talking to them before heading into the trenches, you’ll be better equipped to tackle unsuspecting questions. This gives you the opportunity to address concerns before they even arise.