When a client chooses not to hire your agency, it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself. Often, I hear from agencies that are curious to know why they were disqualified and what they can do to improve.

In our 2015 report, Agency Hiring & Firing Insights, we got the scoop on what 500 marketers — CMOs with budgets up to $10 million — believe and how those beliefs influence whether they hire or fire an agency.

The results surprised us. We found that a whopping 94% of respondents believe their search and selection process is effective in finding agencies that are good fits for their organizations. So if their processes are so effective, what’s that “special sauce” that makes them hire an agency? We saw a range of answers — everything from “gut” to “socializing with clients” to a “review by a variety of staff, not just the marketing department.”

But we also learned a number of surefire deal breakers.

What’s Getting You Kicked to the Curb?

We asked clients why they would disqualify a firm. These reasons came up consistently:

The agency is a generalist.

In other words, it doesn’t have experience in the client’s industry. It’s increasingly important for agencies to find their niches and stick to them.

The agency personnel is arrogant.

The employees are self-aggrandizing or imply that the client should be grateful just to work with them.

The agency has poor testimonials.

The potential client reaches out to the current clients (often on LinkedIn) and learns that it hasn’t grown those clients’ businesses.

The agency brings a pitch team, not the people the client would be working with on a daily basis.

Clients want to know exactly with whom they’ll be working so they can evaluate those people.

The agency doesn’t listen.

Employees come in thinking they have all the answers, refusing to listen to the client’s perspective.

More importantly, however, is what clients actively want to see when hiring agencies. The natural follow-up question is, “OK, now we know what would disqualify us. But what do clients actively want to see?”

Many respondents naturally cited industry expertise and recommendations from someone they trust. Examples of specific results achieved for clients were persuasive, as was the effective use of research and data in driving recommendations.

How to Avoid the Ax (and Get Hired)

When reviewing the research, the lengths to which prospects go in doing their legwork particularly surprised me. They’ll track down former employees and clients on LinkedIn, for example. To me, it demonstrates how vulnerable they feel and how important the agency buying decision is to them.

What wasn’t surprising were the ways the data suggested agencies can set themselves apart in the hiring process. For example, once we learned how destructive it can be when an agency brings its pitch team (not the people the client would be working with), we expected respondents to say it was important to include the day-to-day team in a pitch meeting. And they did.

However, we also learned how important it is to:

  • Do your homework. Always research the prospect, but instead of trying to learn everything so you can have all the answers and “defend” your work, go in willing to learn and ask better questions.
  • Get feedback. Constantly collect testimonials and case studies from clients so you have a fresh batch for each area of expertise.

The overwhelming majority of respondents (75%) said receiving information about an agency’s clients and projects in their industry positively impacts their opinion of a firm. Further, 74% said receiving information about agency clients who have faced similar challenges to their own and have overcome them is also a plus.

Armed with this information about what has tripped up agencies, you can go confidently into a client meeting knowing you’ve given yourself and your agency the best chance you could to land the client.

This article is written by Drew McLellan and first published on HubSpot.