Episode 163:

Business development is a topic that is always front-and-center for agency owners. So I’m welcoming back one of our most popular guests, Robin Boehler from Mercer Island Group, to talk to us about the observations she and her team have made as they work with both agencies and clients who are asking to be matched with agencies. From those observations, Robin will outline some of the best practices that we need to be mindful of as we work to grow our agencies.

One of my favorite songs from the play Hamilton is “In the Room Where it Happens” where Aaron Burr laments that he’s not an insider, seeing how decisions are made. Mercer Island Group is always front and center in that room, as brands decide which agency has earned their business. You and I, as agency owners, are like Burr. We’re never going to be invited in, but fortunately, we have access to someone who is always there. In this podcast, Robin will help us understand how clients respond to the work we do, our level of preparation before and during a pitch, and how we communicate our understanding of the client’s business issues.

Sadly, sometimes the best fit agency doesn’t win. The agency lined up perfectly with the client and maybe should have been the agency that was selected. But something the agency did or didn’t do take them out of the running. All without them even knowing what they did.

We’ve all made mistakes during a pitch and didn’t come out ahead. Those mistakes are painful and expensive. But they’re fixable if you heed the insights Robin shared in this episode.

I promise you — if you implement the best practices Robin and I talk about in this episode, you’re going to see the difference in your win rate. This is the perfect time of year to put this advice into action so you step into 2019 ready to serve your prospects and build your agency.

If you love this episode – you can get even more by spending 2-4 days learning from Robin and Steve Boehler at AMI’s Win More Business workshops this January. Learn more here.

 

 

What You Will Learn About in This Episode:

  • Common mistakes Robin sees agencies make when preparing, or while making, their pitch to a client
  • How agencies need to stop underutilizing the cover letter to their presentation
  • How to read, analyze, and uncover what a client is requesting in their RFP / RFI
  • Why it’s important to focus the majority of your presentation around the client’s business issues — and not your agency
  • How to evoke curiosity and make your prospects want to lean in when you describe your agency
  • How to write a cold email to a prospect and stand out from the crowd
  • How to ensure everyone on your team is telling the same story about the agency and how you serve clients
  • Why “frame of reference” is important when communicating with a prospect about what your agency does
  • Why you should put the entire pitch process, assets, and everything you will need to be successful onto an agency calendar — and allow enough time at the end for adjustments
  • How problems around attention to detail make clients begin to question an agency’s bandwidth and capacity

The Golden Nuggets:

[email protected]_robin reminds agencies to be mindful of not fire hosing prospect with too much information at any stage of the review process. Click To Tweet Prep all the evergreen pieces you need — framework, philosophy, point-of-view, processes, & case studies so you have a library ready. Then spend more time thinking about the problems the prospect has put in front of you. Wisdom from… Click To Tweet According to @mig_robin we have to evoke curiosity by offering a little less at each stage so prospects want to hear more from us. Get them to invite you to share more. Click To Tweet Agencies don’t want to call themselves “agencies” when they are agencies. @mig_robin says they call themselves something else that they think will provoke curiosity. Instead it provokes confusion. Click To Tweet Focus on the things the client is thinking about advises @mig_robin Honing in on messaging is a discipline. Agencies get so excited to have the chance to talk to a prospect that they conflate everything and become difficult to follow. Click To Tweet

 

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Ways to contact Robin Boehler:

Speaker 1:

Are you tired of feeling like a lonely lighthouse keeper as you run your agency? Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency podcast is now in our third year of sharing insights on how small to midsize agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultants, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, welcome back to another episode of Build a Better Agency. Drew McLellan here from Agency Management Institute, glad to host you on this lovely day, to let me talk about a topic that is always front and center for agency owners, and that’s biz dev. I am welcoming back a very popular guest, Robin Boehler, from the Mercer Island Group to talk to us about some of the observations that she and her team have made as they work with both agencies and clients who are asking to be matchmade with agencies, and some best practices around some of those observations.

So, what I love about Mercer Island Group is that, they are in the side of the room that we don’t get to be a part of, they get to see how clients respond, they get to see how the work we do, how the preparation we do or don’t do, plays out from the client’s perspective. So, I love that they bring that perspective to us. As they work with agencies, the insights that they get from how we show up in prep for that work. That’s really where I’m going to focus my attention today is asking Robin to delve into some of the things that they’re noticing as they are working with both agencies and clients trying to find agencies.

What I’m really excited about is the timing of this interview. If you’re listening to this live, which means that it is in November of 2018. What that means is you have a huge opportunity, which is the Mercer Island Group folks are going to be joining AMI in Orlando in January to put on not one but two, two day workshops. We have a workshop on January 15th and 16th, and then we have a second workshop, new topics, new content on the 17th and 18th. The first one is all about … The name of the workshop is from incoming to income. So how do we respond in writing? How do we show up for clients in a way that, whether we’re answering RFP or we’re sending a proposal, how do we do that in a way that wins us the business or in some cases costs us the business?

One of the things I’m super excited about is they’re going to show us RFPs and proposals that one and pieces of them that did not win and why those elements from those responses either won the business or costed the agency the business. So that’s going to be awesome, that’s January 15th and 16th. Then on the 17th and 18th, we’re going to talk about … That workshop is called show up ready to win it, and that’s going to be all about our presentation. Our verbal presentation. So whether we are sitting across the table from someone having a conversation one on one, or we’re in a formal pitch and everything in between.

And so again, what they’re going to do is they’re going to show us some winning and losing examples of how we shoot ourselves in the foot or how we really position ourselves as the one to beat. So those workshops are going to be amazing, you can attend one, you can take a bundled price and attend to all four days, and a beautiful thing is that those workshops are being held at the Grand Floridian on Disney property in Orlando, Florida. That’s not a bad place to be in January.

So, I invite you if you’re listening to this live to head over to our website and check that out. All right? So, without further ado, I want to jump right into the conversation because I know Robin has a lot to tell us. So with that, let’s welcome Robin back to the podcast. Robin, thanks for joining us again.

Robin Boehler:

Thanks for having me.

Drew McLellan:

I know before we hit the record button, you and I were chatting and I know you’re doing a lot of work with AMI agencies and other agencies around reviewing and helping them improve and perfect their pitch deck or their pitch. Some of the things that you’ve noticed, some of the trends, if you will, of what you’re seeing before you guys get your hands on it, talk to us a little bit about some of the common mistakes that you’re seeing, because I know we’re lamenting that, sadly, sometimes the best agency in terms of capabilities, they line up perfectly and they should be the agency that gets picked, but because of the way they present themselves or talk about themselves, they eliminate themselves from the running.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah, it’s a really good question. I’m so fresh into it right now, because we’re working with several agencies currently, while they are just submitting this week, or they pitched last week, or they’re waiting to see if they make it to the next round, and we help them with their submission. So, it’s pretty fresh in my mind. So, what are the mistakes that agencies are making? The first mistake, I think, that I’m noticing is, the agencies are under utilizing the cover letter. There’s a cover letter … now we’re talking about a written presentation [crosstalk 00:05:36]

Drew McLellan:

Okay. Yep.

Robin Boehler:

They are under utilizing the cover letter to be the first place where they can stand out and talk about why the company that they’re pitching needs to have a new agency. So what are the reasons that the company has asked them to pitch? What are the business issues that they’re trying to solve? What most agencies do is they write a quick cover letter that just says, “We’re great, here’s who we are. Us, us, us, us. Here’s what we’ve done in the past, we’d be great at this. Hope you’ll consider us. Thanks, sincerely.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, love us.

Robin Boehler:

Love us.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robin Boehler:

But they don’t make that very first such an important connection with the client, the prospective client about the client, they try to make it about them. And inevitably, that all begins to sound the same. So if every agency did that, you can imagine, if you’re four or five, one of 10 agencies, let’s say, submitting, you have to assume that the client has already whittled down the list of 1000s of agencies to 10 agencies that fit the bill [crosstalk 00:06:41] paper. That means you all probably have similar capabilities.

So now is the chance to figure out what else makes you stand out. So just talking about how you are an advertising agency, just like everybody else who’s an advertising agency is not going to be helpful. So that’s the first mistake I think agencies make, they under utilize that. The other is, I think agencies use selective reading ability when they read the RFP or the RFI, or whatever the request for the proposal is, and they look for the things that they want to answer versus what’s really there. What is the client asking you for? Are they asking you for strategy? Are they asking you for creative? Are they asking you to talk about how you solve the problem? Are they just asking for a capabilities presentation? What are they asking for?

And I think my experiences at agencies look for the slimmest easiest version of the answer that they can. So we’re working with one agency right now. I read the RFP and it was clear to me that they were looking for strategy in competitive research, and the agency said, “Oh, no, that’s for the second round.” I said, “I don’t think so, I think you should read it again.” We all read it together, we read it again. It looks to me like they want competitive research, how you would identify the competition, we go back and finally we said, “What don’t you call the client?” “Oh, can we do that?” Of course, you can do that.”

Call the client sure enough. All of that strategy is part of this first round. They would have missed, they would have just sent in a capabilities presentation. So it’s not that I read better than anybody else. It’s that I’m looking for different things when I read, and agencies have to read for what the client needs, not what they want to do.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things that I get asked all the time is, agencies will say, “Well, how much time do you think we should put into this pitch, or this RFP response or this whatever?” What I’ll say is, well, here’s what I hear the Mercer Island Group folks say, which is, “If you’re going to jump in the water, you better be ready to swim all day.” And so, you really should be more discerning about which ones you respond to, because if you’re not willing to go all out at every opportunity, at every round, if you will, then don’t play the game at all. It sounds to me like what you’re saying is, they’re trying to phone it in a little bit to get to the final round.

Robin Boehler:

Well, every agency is a little bit different. I think that most agencies don’t have a new business team sitting around waiting for pitches to come in or-

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely not.

Robin Boehler:

… presentation to come in. Right? Their business model doesn’t allow for that. So you’re using people who are either working on another presentation or pitch or who are working on real clients that are paying clients. So fitting in the time to do this new business development piece is very difficult. I will acknowledge that right from the start. So when you ask the question, how much time should I set aside, the answer is very simple, as much as you need. I know that that’s not helpful in planning.

But one of the things that we suggest agencies do first up when they’ve decided they’re going to go for it, is create a calendar, what’s the calendar look like regarding all the assets we need to create, and when do we need to be done creating those? And then what’s all the work we need to do to get to those assets before, and slot them in and figure out where are you going to put your time in? Because what I see agencies do is they figure that, “As long as we’re done by the time we have to present, we’re good. As long as we’re done by the time we have to put it in the mail, we’re good, or press send on our computers.”

It doesn’t leave you any room for error, it doesn’t leave you any room for getting feedback or help looking at it with another set of eyes, put a calendar together and figure out how much time are we going to need to actually develop the assets, the thinking, the strategy, pull together case studies, whatever it might be, to be able to go ahead and finish with panache.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robin Boehler:

On the day that we’re due.

Drew McLellan:

And have enough time to actually review it, rehearse it, put other eyes on it. I think a lot of times agencies that go right to the wire, I often say to agency owners, talking through what you’re going to say in the car on the drive over is not rehearsal.

Robin Boehler:

No, no.

Drew McLellan:

I think a lot of agencies both on the written RFPs and the presentations, whether it’s by video or live or whatever it is, or across a cup of coffee, across the table, Panera with coffee, I don’t think they’re well prepared.

Robin Boehler:

Right. It’s interesting, because if you run to the last minute before you have to go to the printer, let’s say it’s a written presentation, then what you’re running up against is, what if something happens at the printer? You’re not going to make it. Do you have time to proofread? I know that sounds like a very silly little thing, proofreading, but clients notice when there are typos. That’s going to be a problem. So if you run up to the wire, and then this rehearsal thing is so huge for in person presentations, because a lot of people are not used to presenting, especially small agency owners. And if it’s your first presentation, your first time getting up, you had better practice it because saying it in your head is not the same as coming out of your mouth.

I would even go so far as to say, try to set up an environment that will be similar to the one that you’re going to present in. So for instance, if you’re going to be presenting at a podium, practice with a podium, if you’re going to be presenting at a table, practice with a table. Don’t lean on something, if you’re not going to have something to lean on when you present. Think of it as a dress rehearsal in the most literal sense, and practice the way you would without stopping, run the whole thing all the way through to the end, and then have your critique.

Drew McLellan:

It’s interesting, we did some research a couple years ago, where we were talking to business decision makers about how they determine what agencies they’re going to hire, and what caused them to later fire an agency. And one of the big takeaways was how critical typos are. For many client-side people, if there’s a typo in a written RFP response, or whatever. That’s an automatic disqualifier, that lack of attention to detail, what they all said in the verbatim was, “This is the most important document you’re going to put in front of us, and if we can’t trust you to be accurate in that document, what makes me think that anything you’re going to do for us and send out to our clients is going to be any more accurate?”

Robin Boehler:

Exactly, exactly. One of the thing is, we do a lot of work with clients and agencies that are currently together, and we do 360 reviews too. So the agency reviews the client, client reviews the agency, when they’re well into a relationship, we usually do it with at least one year under the belt of the agency. And one of the complaints that we see over and over again from clients about agencies is attention to detail.

Drew McLellan:

Yep.

Robin Boehler:

Right? If it’s a media agency, let’s say, and the client says, “You know what? None of the spreadsheets are right. Or some of the spreadsheets are not right.” That means the client has to read every spreadsheet. Right? Because I don’t know which ones you made the mistake on, and that’s not what clients expect to have to do with their agencies. So, when they’re looking at a presentation when you’re still haven’t been hired yet, if you haven’t taken the time to correct all the errors in that, what should I expect for the working relationship when you’re already on retainer?

Now, I’m worried that you guys don’t have either the bandwidth, the capacity. It could be a capacity issue, it also could be just your frame of references not to focus on details, I don’t know which, and that nature abhors a vacuum. So I’ll fill in the answer by myself based on my past experience with agencies that didn’t do well for me, and I put you in that bucket.

Drew McLellan:

Well, the research that we did this last year where we talked about why clients give work to agencies versus bring it in house or whatever, one of the criteria was, how much do I have to babysit you? And if I have to babysit you too much, I’m just going to bring it in-house.

Robin Boehler:

Right. One of the-

Drew McLellan:

I don’t want to have to follow behind you and check your work.

Robin Boehler:

Some agencies will come to us and ask us if we would review their recent RFPs or RFIs, their presentations that they’ve lost, and why did they lose, which is something I could talk about all day long. Recently, we were working with an agency, here is an AMI agency, and they put in a pitch, and we got to a section where they were talking about their agency processes. And there were three slides, all with different processes. So I’m reading them thinking, “So, am I missing. Is there a connection between these three, or is one bigger than the other? I don’t understand.”

So I asked on the phone call when we were doing the debrief, and they said, “Oh, yeah, we probably should have arranged one. But we liked all three, so we couldn’t narrow it down. So we put all three in.” Okay. So as the reader, and of course, we laughed about it, and they understood completely afterwards, it looks so obvious in the hindsight [crosstalk 00:16:00]

Drew McLellan:

Of course, of course.

Robin Boehler:

It is why you want to do these things, because that’s when you can actually see them. But in the moment when they’re trying to call down slides and figure out which ones to put, it’s like, “All three of those are good, let’s just put them all in.” This is part of the planning for getting ready to put your credentials out in front of a client, is to figure out how exactly you want to talk about yourself, and it’s something I think agencies should be thinking about all the time. Because there are different ways to talk about yourself, depending upon the actual circumstance that you’re in.

So, are you on an airplane sitting next to someone, how do you talk about your agency? Are you leaving a voicemail for someone, how do you talk about your agency? Are you writing an email? Are you in a pitch? Are you sending a written presentation? You have to be thinking about how you talk about your agency, and cater it to … Customize, it is a better word. Customize it to the situation that you’re in thinking about how is the receiver hearing me now, and what kinds of things are they expecting to hear? How will their brain process what I need them to process? Is it different if it’s someone sitting next to you on an airplane, and someone who’s in a room waiting to see you present for an hour and a half? So what you say about yourself has to be customized.

Drew McLellan:

I think about the old adage that services businesses don’t sell, they get bought. And so you can’t force someone to want an agency if they don’t need one or want one, you can’t. Whatever the business service is, we can be available, we can make ourselves interesting, but until the buyer actually has some interest or a need, we’re not really providing a lot of value. So given that sellers, in essence, given that agencies offer no or little value, until the prospect actually has a defined need, how do we get on their radar screen? How do we begin to trigger the idea in their mind that they might have a need? Especially when we’re talking about people leaving voicemail messages or sending emails? How do we begin to advance ourselves in the prospects mind and begin to trigger the idea that, “Hey, maybe I do have a need?”

Robin Boehler:

There are really just a few ways to do that, because we get so many messages in our lives every day. So one way is to get a referral, is to have someone refer you. So if I get an email from someone saying, “Drew referred me to you.” I’m going to read the whole email, I’m going to assume that there’s something there for us because I have a relationship with Drew, and Drew wouldn’t refer someone to me if there wasn’t a possibility that we could have some kind of connection, either me helping them, then helping me, whatever it might be.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Robin Boehler:

The referral is always the best, and I think agencies under leverage their networks. So that’s the first. Use referrals, people love to help each other, people actually love to help each other.

Drew McLellan:

Sure.

Robin Boehler:

Just ask for help. If you know someone knows someone that you want to meet, ask, “Could you make the introduction?” I mean, that’s why LinkedIn is as successful as it is. So that’s number one. The other way is to leverage curiosity. People respond to messages or to email messages or to emails generally or voicemail messages if they either have a connection to the person through a referral, or they’re curious. If you’re just talking about yourself, they will never be curious. You have to actually leverage some kind of curiosity.

So, it depends on what the situation is in terms of voicemails and emails, you’ve got to know something about the business or the client to be able to leverage curiosity so that you can lean in against something that might be of interest to them. So if it’s a company that, let’s say it’s a retailer, and you work with lots of retailers, and you just read something about their quarterly earnings, you can send an email to someone there who may or may not know your cold email, which most agencies actually don’t do too many cold emails. But if you were, it would be a cold email saying, “I just read your quarterly earnings, we’ve worked with companies like yours to help those increase. If you’d like to know more, I’m available this time on this day.” That’s it.

You don’t do this song or dance about who you are, you try to connect with them about an issue that is important to them. My experience is that most agencies, especially the smaller ones, don’t do a whole lot of cold calling. It’s all about trying to get a meeting with someone that you know, or referred by someone that you know, and then how do you get them to want to actually go further with you? And that’s where you start to lean in against what you know about their business.

Drew McLellan:

Let’s take a quick break, and then let’s pick up there and say, all right, let’s assume that we do have this tangential relationship, what does that elevator speech look like, and all of that sort of stuff. But let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back to that.

I don’t know about you, but I love learning from the Mercer Island Group folks, they have so much insight that helps us be better at what we do, and quite frankly, helps us earn and win that business that we have worked very hard to have and that we deserve. And so, oftentimes, we shoot ourselves in the foot, and we can avoid some of these silly mistakes that get in the way of us being victorious in the biz dev space. So, if you’re loving this interview, and you’re listening to it live, remember that we’ve got that workshop available for you in January of 2019. So you have a couple of ways to go find out more about that.

You can head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com/win-more-business. Or if that’s too hard to remember, just head over to the Agency Management Institute website, and under the training tab, look for the workshop called Win More Business. Either way, we have a limited amount of space, but we certainly still have room for you. So go ahead and register, I do expect that both of those workshops will sell out. So don’t wait too long, but we would love to have you join us in Orlando, Florida in January of 2019. Let’s get back to the conversation.

All right, I am back with Robin Boehler from the Mercer Island Group, and we are talking about biz dev and how to position your agency in a way that evokes curiosity and conversation with prospects who may or may not know that they need us yet. So right before the break, we were talking about that most agencies don’t do a lot of cold calling out of the blue, but the odds are that they’re pursuing someone who has some tangential knowledge of the agency or the person, and how do you move that along.

So, I’m guessing and I think this came through when you were talking about the cover letter, my guess is that when we have the opportunity to have a phone exchange, or a quick meeting, or whatever it may be with a prospect that we agency folks, jump right into talking about ourselves too quickly. Right?

Robin Boehler:

Way too quickly. I think it makes sense to break down the elements of the way agencies talk about themselves. Let’s do it this way. First, there’s something that I like to call a frame of reference. How do I think about you? Are you an advertising agency? Are you a media agency? Are you a digital marketing agency? How do you describe yourself? Are you a full service creative agency? What are you? Are you a B2B agency? Are you a B2C? How do you describe yourself in a way where I can actually understand first, what my frame of reference ought to be in considering you?

And a lot of agencies resist this. They don’t want to call themselves ad agencies when they are advertising agency. Because they think that they call themselves something else that will provoke curiosity, and I will tell you that what it does is it provokes confusion.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Robin Boehler:

And it also keeps you from being included in those buckets where you should be included. So you want to be in a list of considered agencies, but if you don’t ever call yourself an agency, you’re not going to be considered on that list. So I think sometimes agencies get too creative when they think about how they want to put themselves out there, you’ve got to use language that the client, the prospect, will understand, because what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to fill a bill right now. Who can we think about when we have this problem we need to solve? That’s the first thing.

So we’ll just talk about that, that’s the frame of reference piece. Then there’s, how do we talk about ourselves without turning someone off, getting being boring, for instance? I urge agencies to consider an exercise, which is, if you had two or three sentences, you are allowed to say by your agency, what would you say, and how would you provoke curiosity?

Drew McLellan:

How would you get someone to say lean in and say, “Tell me more.” Right? That’s your question?

Robin Boehler:

So let me give you some examples, couple of examples. So, imagine that you’re asked by someone, so you were with x agency, “What is that? What do you do?” And let’s say my agency happens to work a lot with retailers, I might say something like this, “You know how retailers are always trying to stimulate sales? Well, we help them do that.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Which begs the question, how do you do that? Right?

Robin Boehler:

And then I get to talk about myself, because I’ve been given permission. And in fact, this person asked me to do that. Then I can start talking about the ways that I do that. Right? If you’ve ever planned a vacation, you probably know that research online is really helpful. We help tourist destinations, get in front of people as they’re making those vacation plans. Two sentences. That’s it. Now I’ve opened the door for the person to say, “So how do you do that? What does that mean?”

Drew McLellan:

Well, and the first sentence is, it sounds like it’s about you, but it’s actually about them, and whatever their business challenge is or their industries business challenge is. So you’re also acknowledging, “I’m a subject matter expert in your space?”

Robin Boehler:

Right. So how do we do in this more general, right, because one was retailers, one was tourist destinations. Right? So you can tell some of the clients I’ve been working with lately. Because those are top of mind for me. So here’s a more generic one. “So you know how so many brands want to be the most loved brand in the world? Well, we help them do that.”

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Robin Boehler:

And then you just pause, and the person will say, “Really? How do you do that?” There will be a follow up that becomes your invitation then to talk about your agency. So, I know I didn’t answer to the question of how [crosstalk 00:26:35]

Drew McLellan:

What do they want? Right? I mean, because sometimes they’re like, “I don’t have any interest in that.” So that to me, the signal is, as an agency person, this is not today, this is not my prospect, it doesn’t mean I can’t stay in touch, it doesn’t mean I can’t try again. But today, they have no interest in what I have to say.

Robin Boehler:

Right. I can promise every agency that figures out how to put those two sentences together that they will use them. I promise. But more importantly, it will create an adjustment in the way they think about talking about themselves, which is really more important. Which is if you look at the construct of what I’ve said is, the first sentence is indeed, as you pointed out, about the business, about the agency, so there are so many choices where to buy groceries today, we have groceries stand out from the competition, the first sentence is about the client. Or about the kinds of clients I work with, that the businesses I help.

The second sentence gives you a glimpse of value that I might provide, but no more than a glimpse. So that little glimpse of value, that’s how you leverage curiosity. That’s a much more effective elevator speech, or whatever you call it. What you would say, sitting next to someone on airplane, even what you’d say, at a cocktail party, or at dinner, it’s much more compelling than you sitting there saying, “Well, we’re a full service advertising agency, we work with clients like this, this and this.” And by now that person is snoozing [inaudible 00:28:09] everybody else.

Drew McLellan:

Well, what I love about this methodology is it also lends itself, every agency is struggling about how to talk about themselves on their website, in email, signature lines, content, like what do I write about? How do I differentiate myself, and I think when you crack that nut, and let’s say an agency has two or three verticals where they have a depth of expertise, when you crack that nut for each vertical, now that also informs how you write content that attracts those kind of prospects to your website, and all of that sort of stuff. So, it’s not just the cocktail party intro, but it really does begin to have the messaging hierarchy for all of your communications.

Robin Boehler:

Right. And you can do this even if the agency you are isn’t by vertical, but let’s say you’re a social agency. Like you do mostly social, and you’re all about engaging customers. So now you’re not going to talk about retailers necessarily, or groceries necessarily, or tourists. But you might say, “You know how some brands like Nike or Starbucks have really figured out how to engage with their customers? We help companies do that.” Right? So now I could go on all day, I could do this for hours, two sentences. So I prepared some, of course, before got on this call with you now, but honestly, I could. It’s almost like you can throw out a situation to me. It’s a two sentence, it’s very simple. It’s a two sentence formula. Something about them, followed by a little glimpse of value from me [crosstalk 00:29:47]

Drew McLellan:

So let me ask you this. Why is that so hard for agencies? Because you make it look and sound pretty simple.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. Well, it’s always simple when you thought about in advance, and it’s always simple when you’ve done it for years.

Drew McLellan:

And it’s not you, right, it’s about somebody else?

Robin Boehler:

Right. Although I do it for myself too. I do it for myself as well. But I think it’s difficult for a couple of reasons. Those at bats, those moments when you get to talk about yourself, actually don’t come around as often as agencies wish they did. And so in that moment, I actually had an agency owner once say this to me. “Are you kidding? I have his ear, and that’s all you want me to say?” [inaudible 00:30:25] so much.

How do I know if I’m leaving out something that would be critically important? It’s very hard to shift out of that mode of, but I need to give them everything. Someone once said to me, “You know what? Hold back your pearls of wisdom, you don’t have to throw them all on the table at once. One at a time is actually more impactful.” You got to get people to want to know what you have to say.

Drew McLellan:

What I find fascinating about that, because what you’re really describing is we want to show five pounds of information into a one pound bag. And we counsel clients about that, and clients drive us nuts by like, “I want to stick another sentence.” I know it’s a 30 second spot, but I have 75 seconds worth of stuff we have to get, and so we need to speed up the audio or whatever. We battle against that with our clients every single day, and yet we fall victim to it just like they do.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. And it happens over and over again, every agency we work with, really has to struggle to hold back. And don’t say everything about yourself right up front. So this kind of practicing figure out what’s your frame of reference. Right? Am I a creative agency? There’s one agency that we worked with recently, they just come flat out and say, “We’re a digital marketing agency.” Is it exciting and interesting and different? No, but I know exactly where they fit. They have strong digital chops, and they’re an agency that does marketing. So now I know where to consider them. That’s clear. An agency that says, “You know what? We’re just a bunch of regular humans trying to make the ad industry better.” Well, what are you?

Drew McLellan:

What can I buy from you?

Robin Boehler:

Right. I don’t know. Like are you an advocacy group that helps with the ad industry? That doesn’t help me. So that frame of reference is important. That’s the first thing, and I think agencies don’t do that enough. Then there’s this second exercise, we just talked about those two sentences. Right? Something that leans in against a vertical or against it. But it’s about the businesses that you serve, and a little glimpse of value about yourself. And then there’s how will you talk about yourself. What’s your agency philosophy? How do you talk about your process?

These are all different elements of how you can talk about yourself. And if agencies would take the time to be disciplined in creating this toolkit for themselves, this could get much easier. But what’s happening, I find, is that agencies haven’t done the work in advance to be disciplined, and they’re having to make it up all the time on the run, whether it’s in person or in a meeting, on the phone, or even in a written presentation. They’re just now thinking about, “So how are we going to talk about ourselves?” Well, that’s not the time to think about it, you have to do that in advance. So this is work where you have to actually invest in yourself a little bit [inaudible 00:33:16]

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, cobbler’s children. Right? But this is also reasonably evergreen work. This is not like, you shouldn’t be creating a new process for every prospect or you shouldn’t be creating a new philosophy. This is brand work in some ways. This is like, who you are, what you’re about, what you believe, how you approach the work that you do, and who you serve. And for most agencies, hopefully, it’s about investing in yourself in a deep meaningful way. I’m not dismissing that or making it sound easy. But this is not something you should be revisiting every quarter.

Robin Boehler:

Definitely not. And in fact, I think what happens is, when agencies try to create something for every client, or for every situation, or every time I’m going to have a phone meeting with someone, what they end up with is, three different ways to talk about their process. And then they can’t choose which one are they going to put in the presentations, they put in all three, or three different ways we talk about ourselves. And now it’s all over the place, and it’s scattershot, and none of it makes any sense.

Agency should be good at telling stories, and they’re not. So they just have all these disparate elements all over the place. And so if I were to interview as we’re doing with some agencies right now, I interview all the key people in an agency and I say, “What are you good at?” If I get a different answer from every person of that agency, that means that you are not solid on the story that you’re telling out in the marketplace, which means you will have no … No one will be able to describe your brand if you can’t describe your brand. You got to stand for something.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I was thinking about that as you were talking. It’s not just about developing it, but it’s also teaching it through the agency. And by the way, this is a conversation I have with agency owners all the time. Telling someone something once is not teaching it, and telling something once it’s not a cornerstone foundational piece of who you are. And to your point about your brand, this is something that you have to teach and preach over and over and then catch people living it and celebrate that, and make it a part of the DNA of your agency. And that doesn’t happen with one presentation during all agency meeting.

Robin Boehler:

I think that that’s really an important point. One of the things that I find is that, the newer people in an agency are the quickest to learn things, because they have little to unlearn. Learning is really interesting, I love to study the dynamics of learning. So there’s learning new things, but the actual utility of those things, and the implementation of those things depends on how much you need to unlearn. So, we’ll come to talk to agencies all the time, and they’re nodding, and they’re, “Why this so obvious and of course?” And then they go to implement their agencies, and they can’t figure out where it fits, because they’re not willing to change anything they already had, they’re trying to slide this in as well. Stop adding more.

Drew McLellan:

It’s not additive.

Robin Boehler:

It’s like clean out your closet, let’s clean up. Then you can see your clothes. Choose the ones that look best on you and keep that, and use that over and over and over, so you have a true north about how you talk about yourself, and buy-into that you’re going to lean in against that. I do think that when agencies have the chance to talk to prospects, there are a couple of places where less is more. So one of those places is how they talk about themselves, and having a clear, solid story that’s relevant to the prospect.

The other is how they talk about the prospect. So if you’re leaning in to do, let’s say, an RFP or request for information about your capabilities to help a retailer sell more and grow revenue, everything you say should be about selling more and growing revenue, and not about, “Well, we also think we could help you with your brand, and we also think we can help you with 50 other things.” Focus in on the things the client is thinking about. So, all of this honing in messaging is a discipline. And agencies just have this desire, they get so excited to have the chance to talk to a prospect or talk to someone, even in the industry that they conflate everything, and it all becomes very difficult to follow.

So, that story, think about what’s my agency’s story, and what are the little snippets for different situations where I can lean in and know exactly what I’m going to say in different situations.

Drew McLellan:

As I’m listening to you talk, also I think, it feels frenetic when it’s not a well thought out, it’s not well rehearsed, it’s packed, it’s the five pound bag, or the five pounds of messages in a one pound bag, it feels less confident, as opposed to somebody who has a very clear and simple story to tell, tells it and then moves on.

Robin Boehler:

Yep.

Drew McLellan:

Right? And so I think it also, without meaning to, it feels like we’re almost … there’s a desperation or inexperience even when that’s not really accurate. But that’s what we portray, when we slap around the water as opposed to having a smooth stroke.

Robin Boehler:

Yep. Clients are … and prospects. While they know what they need, they really don’t know the advertising agency world. It never fails that when I’ve got a client who’s really articulate, they’re trying to figure out a new eCommerce, figuring out eCommerce in a way that’s more experiential for their customers, let’s say. And these people know so much about their brand, and they know so much about their target audience, and they know so much about what they need to achieve with that eCommerce site, then you say, “Have you considered any partners that you might want to include?” They can’t name one. They can’t name one. That’s of course why they hire us.

But in my in some cases, they don’t hire us, which means they’re out there on Google trying to find a partner. Right? They’re very literal and they don’t know advertising. They don’t know the advertising world. So when you come in and you talk advertising speak to them, it’s like Charlie Brown’s teacher … Right? I can’t hear you, you all sound the same. I don’t get it. But if you can talk about me and tell me a story about how you are going to meet my needs, I’m tracking you all the way.

So, I always say to agencies when I’m working with them, lay the breadcrumbs really close together, from the beginning to the end of everything you want them to know about you so that they can make a decision that is in your favor. But the breadcrumbs have to be really close because they will step off as fast as possible to go somewhere else if you don’t actually provide them the path all along the way, and that’s what agencies do for their clients. Right? They try to bring consumers along a path to change behavior, or to impact behavior, that they don’t do that for themselves, because they’re so excited to tell everything they can about themselves.

So, if agencies can practice, what’s my frame of reference? What’s my two sentence kind of elevator speech or my two sentence? The way that I could get you engaged to want to know more about my agency, that glimpse of value, and then once I get the chance, how am I going to talk about them, and bring myself in as the obvious solution? That’s the key. But all that work has to be done behind the scenes in advance, so that in the moment, right, that moment when you’re on that airplane next to a possible client, it’s all in there. You just have to pull … which tape am I going to play?

Drew McLellan:

It’s almost muscle memory then. Right?

Robin Boehler:

Yes. It’s muscle memory, which is why when I do those two sentence examples, it’s so easy for me because I’ve done hundreds of them. Well, that doesn’t make me special. It just makes me practiced, and practice is something anyone can lean in on.

Drew McLellan:

I want to circle back around to that idea of everything be done in advance, and all of that. When you’re working with an agency, and let’s say that they’re getting ready to send in a written RFP or RFI, walk us through what you think because you said you need to calendar it out, you need to put together a timeline. What’s the, in air quotes, ideal timeline? What is the best practices that agencies should begin to try and move towards in terms of how far in advance, how much time they give to review, proof, that sort of stuff? Just give us some of your parks around.

Robin Boehler:

Well, it’s rare that you get to choose that for yourself. Because usually, the client will give you that timeline. Right? They’ll send you something, you’ll say, “Yes, we’re interested.” And then there’s a due date [crosstalk 00:42:02]

Drew McLellan:

But you and I both know they’re writing it for hours before they’re supposed to send it. Right?

Robin Boehler:

Every minute you have, the minute you read it the first time to the minute you submit it or stand up and present, should be planned and used to create the right presentation, whether it’s written or live. You should know if I have the six days, if I have 16 days, if I have 26 days, how am I going to use those days to do what I need to do? There is no one answer to this. It’s as many days as you have. If you’re lucky, you get two weeks for written presentation and three for an in person presentation. You’re not always lucky. Sometimes you get it, and it’s due in six days, and that’s just that.

And you have to make a decision, can I submit something that is worthy of our agency in that amount of time? And sometimes that limited amount of time is the reason you decline. So we push clients as a search agency, search consultancy, we push clients to give agencies enough time to never have to decline a pitch simply because we didn’t give them enough time to respond, because that would be silly. Right? Eliminating a really good partner because you didn’t give them enough time. That’s the first thing. But there are things you can do in advance that, have you readier, that a word-

Drew McLellan:

[inaudible 00:43:29]

Robin Boehler:

No matter when you get that really nice email, which is, we’d like you to pitch a piece of business for us. One is you should know what your frame of reference is, you should know how you can talk about your glimpse of value, those two sentence little magic we put together earlier, you should have your agency philosophy already ready to go. You should know how you talk about your agency process, you should talk about what it’s like to work with you. We call it an interactive process, those things should all be done on slides ready to go. You should have your logo slide ready where you can pull logos in and out depending upon which ones you want to show based on who the client is, and you should have case studies at the ready.

You should have a stable of case studies that are ready to go, that way you just have to make some adjustments about what you’re going to lean in on. So case studies that show that you grew sales, case studies that are in certain industries, because the case studies that are going to be relevant are case studies that are either in industry, or showcase that you can solve the same problem. Someone wants to drive traffic for a QSR, but you drove traffic for a different kind of retailer, still irrelevant in a relevant case study because it shows growing traffic. So you have to have your case studies and you have to have them cataloged by the industry that they’re in and the problems that you solved and the results you were able to show. That can be done tomorrow.

Drew McLellan:

That kind of readiness takes so much pressure off the agency in terms of putting together the response.

Robin Boehler:

I would also encourage agencies to think about the look and feel of the presentations that they want to give. And the reason I say that … I think about that more recently than I have in the past, in that, I’m seeing agencies send their presentations in with the contents really good, but they don’t look very good. Now, I’ll read past that, because that’s my job, clients will not. Agency should [crosstalk 00:45:31]

Drew McLellan:

Or even if they do read past it, it influences their opinion immediately. Right?

Robin Boehler:

It does. It does. Like too many words on a slide for in person presentation. Agencies, they’ll take their written presentation and just now put it up on … You got to think about where the people are and how they’re going to be taking in your information. So thinking about what are the rules of the road for our agency in terms of the way we want to look and feel in our in person presentations, and in our written presentations, I would also suggest to agencies that PowerPoint, I know everyone is sick to death of PowerPoint, the PowerPoint is the standard that is expected. So when you send a presentation and a written presentation, and anything other than PowerPoint, yours will tend to look less agency professional than the ones that come in on PowerPoint [crosstalk 00:46:21]

Drew McLellan:

I just want to make sure I’m understanding. So you’re saying if I am responding to a written RFI or RFP, I should construct even that response, not in word or I shouldn’t do it in design or whatever, but I should construct it in PowerPoint?

Robin Boehler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah. Because that’s what most state of the art agencies are doing right now, and it gives you a chance to show your creative chops a little bit because of the way that you can use design and PowerPoint. There’s still plenty of room to put your answers in. But it also forces you not to write long paragraphs that you might do in Word, or in other kinds of documents. Remember that when you submit, you’re submitting probably with 10 other, nine other, eight other respondents. So do you want to be the one that don’t finish because it’s too long? I don’t, I want them to read every word I write. Therefore, I have to know that every word is relevant and every word is important. So, it means a lot of editing. So, go all in, put everything and you can always … it’s easier to strip than it is to add. Just think about who’s reading and how many they’re reading and what you want them to walk away with.

Drew McLellan:

Again, five pounds of information in a one pound bag. So, our recurring theme in this conversation is, try to give them too much too fast.

Robin Boehler:

And it’s because you’re thinking about yourself. I want them to see this, and I like all three of those slides, and I want them to know that. What do they need to know to be able to make a decision to get you on to the next phase of this competition? So whether it’s a written presentation, so you can get into the finals and present, or whether it’s your finals, and you want to get in to be the one of the final too where they maybe come visit you.

Remember, each submission is to get to the next step. You’re never going all in for the win with each submission, it’s what’s the goal of this part? And make sure that what you’re doing is responsive to what they need for this part. I noticed that many clients are telling you exactly how they’re going to grade you too, and somehow agencies are ignoring that as well. Which I totally don’t understand.

Drew McLellan:

When you’re given the cheat sheet, you should use it.

Robin Boehler:

Yes. When you’re given the answer key, this is even more than a cheat sheet. They’re giving you the answer key. Like, “Here’s how we’re going to grade you.” Like, “Okay, so I’m going to lean in on the places where it looks like there’s more points.” Not so hard.

Drew McLellan:

As you know, I find this fascinating, and I could chat with you about this for hours and hours. But we need to wrap this up so people can stop walking the dog and get to work.

Robin Boehler:

Yeah, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

The bottom line is, here’s some takeaways that I’m [inaudible 00:49:12] if I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying, but number one is, be mindful of not firehosing the prospect with too much information at any stage. Number two, that prep and some of the evergreen pieces that we need, the framework and the philosophy and the point of view and the processes, all of that case studies should be done and well cataloged so that you have, in essence, a library of tools that are at your ready so you can spend more time thinking about the specific problems that the prospect has put in front of you, as opposed to how are we going to talk about ourselves.

And number three is that, at the end of the day we have to evoke curiosity by offering a little less at each stage so that the prospect wants to hear more from us and invites us to share more as opposed to deluging them with everything from the get go.

Robin Boehler:

Right. That’s said exactly. I think constantly trying to see through the eyes of the person who’s going to be receiving this information is critically important. I’ll leave you with kind of a funny little story as well. So we were working with an agency recently, and one of the things they wanted to share was that they had the capacity, the actual space in their agency, to house printed material that they could send out. They could print it there on site, and they could actually be the distribution center, which is a huge, would be a huge benefit for this particular client. And so they said, “So should we include pictures of the people who work in that warehouse, that ware room?” Whatever they call it. And they’re like, “No, nobody cares what they look like?”

Drew McLellan:

Right. Right.

Robin Boehler:

I know that is a very harsh answer to the question, but from the point of view … So you’re proud of your people and you want to show them off, right? I care that you have that capability, I don’t need to see a picture of the room, I believe you have it, I don’t need to see the people who are in it. So, this is an agency owner wanting to lean in and be so proud of his people. Which is nice.

Drew McLellan:

Which is a picture of Bob on the two-wheeler that moves the boxes. Right?

Robin Boehler:

Right. So not really thank you from the mind of the person who’s receiving it. This is not someone they know. We also had a conversation with this very same client about what do you say when you’re introducing yourselves to a client? Right? Should we put a big bio in? And I said, “You can put a bio and you can even do a little placemat that has headshots and then a little bio. But keep in mind that no one’s going to read those bios until they think you add value. I used the metaphor of theater. So I know you love to go to theater. So you get a playbill when you walk into the theater. Right? It has all the headshots of all the people that are going to be in, and then a bio of them.

And you read through and then you sit, and then an intermission you open it up, and then you really lean into the actors. Now I have a connection with those actors, because they’ve played a role that I made an emotional connection to. Now I want to know, so what else was she in? What else is she? So I already read it once. But you know I couldn’t tell you one thing about it because I have no connection to that person, unless it’s a famous star. Right?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right.

Robin Boehler:

But in many cases, you never heard of any of the people that are in the cast. But at intermission, you see everyone coming back through their little playbill to lean in, because now I care. Introductions early on when you first meet a client, doing introductions of your team, short and sweet because nobody has any connection to you. But once you’ve now talked about how you can own digital, and I’m going to clean up your data, and I’m going to be the one that makes your data sing. Now, who was she again? Now I want to know everything about her. Where does she start out? Where has she worked before? What brand has she worked on? Now I’m interested. To keep in mind what the context is of everything that you say and make connections first, then you get to talk about yourself later, when they’re interested.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Such great advice. Thank you as always.

Robin Boehler:

My pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

So grateful that you make the time to do this and that you guys are so committed to helping agencies do better and be better. I just can’t thank you enough. Thank you.

Robin Boehler:

It is absolutely my pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

All right guys, that was a ton, a ton of takeaways in this last hour. This is not an episode to listen to and just node your head and say, “Yep, that was interesting.” This is an episode to go back through or grab the show notes and make sure you had created a to do list out of all the things that Robin recommended, because I will tell you, I have a lot of agencies inside the AMI space that I’ve worked with, Mercer Island Group, and here’s the sentence that I hear from all of them, which is, “We went back and we implemented the things that we learned at the workshop or from the podcast or when hired them, we implemented, we followed their instructions, and our win rate changed dramatically.”

So, I promise you, I guarantee you that if you do the things that you heard Robin talk about today, you’re going to see a difference in your win rate. And as we often say, nothing fixes anything that ails an agency like the business. So, take this stuff to heart and put it into action. This wraps up this episode. Thanks for listening. I will be back next week with another subject matter expert. He’s going to help you think about your business in bigger, better way, and in the meantime, if you’re looking to track me down, you can go to Agency Management Institute and find out what we’re up to and shoot me an email if you need some advice or counsel. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week. Thanks for being with us.

Thanks for spending some time with us. Visit our website to learn about our workshops, owner peer groups, and download our salary and benefits survey. Be sure you also sign up for our free podcasts giveaways at agencymanagementinstitute.com/podcastgiveaway.