Episode 163

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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:

.@mig_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, oftenti