Episode 164:

In last week’s encore interview with Robin Boehler — we talked about the biz dev practices that she and the team at Mercer Island Group see when they’re sitting on the client’s side of the room. If you listened to that episode — you heard me say that if you implement the best practices Robin shared, you’re going to see the difference in your win rate.

And because I want you to be as prepared as possible as you step into 2019 — I invited Steve Boehler and Lindsay O’Neil, also from Mercer Island Group, to join me for this week’s episode. Think of this as a new biz one-two punch!

There is nobody more in the fray of seeing why agencies win, lose, or how the pitch process plays out than Steve, Lindsay, and their team. And nobody is more generous in sharing what they observe.

This episode will give you the inside look at how agencies present themselves (accidentally and on purpose) and the influence each nuance has on our prospects as they weigh one agency against the others.

We talked about the prep work agencies need to be doing so they’re ready to make a successful pitch. My guests dove into the details like researching a prospect, building out a business profile, preparing your PowerPoint so it stands out, some best practices around rehearsing, and even how your agency should ask for a client’s business at the end. Because making the “ask” really matters.

Steve and Lindsay also shared examples of case studies from agencies that won a pitch because their teams showcased the client as the hero in the work, as opposed to putting the spotlight on themselves.

Whether you’re pitching a new prospect — or you’re strategically merchandising the work you did for an existing client during the last year — the case study process we discuss is worth the listen alone!

I’m excited for you to listen to these two (this one and episode #163 with Robin) interviews because I know Robin, Steve, and Lindsay will help you put your best foot forward in 2019.

And if you found the episodes helpful – 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:

  • How to build a detailed dossier for your prospective client in about two hours
  • Why learning how a prospective client talks about themselves is a valuable piece of information to uncover in your research process
  • How to ask the right questions that uncover a prospect’s business issues while instilling confidence that you understand them and their industry
  • Why preparing brilliant case studies like those of FIG Agency makes your client the hero — not your work
  • How to make your client a celebrity as McCANN WORLDGROUP did for its client, State Street Advisors with “Fearless Girl
  • Why less is more when it comes to the written proposal and what are the key elements that must be included — and most agencies miss
  • How to front-load your proposal and presentation so that you focus on the client and not your agency
  • How and why you should invite your prospective client to your agency for a visit
  • How to build and document your business issue success experience so it is at the ready for your next presentation
  • How to let a client know at the end of the presentation that your agency wants their business without sounding schmaltzy

The Golden Nuggets:

“If you're still talking in a language that doesn't speak to the client, then you've missed a step in terms of doing your homework.” — @MIG_Steve Click To Tweet “Every single time — if an agency didn't ask for the business, somebody from the client says, “Well, I don't know if they really want our business.” — @MIG_Steve Click To Tweet “There are three things that a great case study needs to accomplish. And the first is to instill confidence that the agency can solve the client’s problems.” — @MIG_Steve Click To Tweet “The questions you ask build confidence in the prospect and show you know their business. And that makes you different.” — @MIG_Steve Click To Tweet “If you're talking about them from the start, you've got them interested. If you're talking about yourself, it's really easy to tune you out” — @MIG_Steve Click To Tweet

 

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Ways to Contact Steve Boehler and Lindsay O’Neil:

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, now on our third year of bringing you insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. We’ll show you how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money, and keep more of what you make. With 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Thanks for coming back if you are a repeat listener, and if this is your first podcast you picked a great one to jump into. Today we are going to talk to Steve Boehler and Lindsay O’Neil from Mercer Island Group and we are going to talk about some of the prep work that we need to be doing to really ready ourselves for a successful business development effort, and also some topics around the theatrics of what we do and sort of how the look and feel of how we present ourselves really has a huge influence on the prospect when they are sort of weighing us against all of the other prospects. I have no doubt we’re going to get into a lot of other conversations because they are always sort of bursting with information to share with us, which I am always grateful for.

If you’re not familiar with Mercer Island Group, they are an agency consultancy and search firm, so they often are hired by brands to matchmake brands with agencies, and they also do some consulting work with agencies to help them get better prepared to win more of the biz dev opportunities that are presented to them. If you have been around AMI for a while you’re probably familiar with them and the good work they do and how valuable they are to agency owners, but if you’re not familiar with them you may not know that for the last several years we’ve done workshops with the Mercer Island Group folks, and we’ve got another one coming up.

So, if you’re listening to this live, so it is around Thanksgiving time 2018, you have a unique opportunity that if you’re listening to this a year from now unfortunately may have passed. We are going to be doing two workshops, so four days of learning from the Mercer Island Group folks in January of 2019. The first workshop is January 15th and 16th, and the second set of dates is the 17th and 18th. The topics are different, so you can attend one workshop or you can buy bundle pricing and then stay for all four days and really learn about both how to present ourselves better in a written format, proposal, RFP response, anything along those lines, but also how to present ourselves better in person, whether we are just having a one-on-one conversation with someone at a cocktail party or if you’re in a formal pitch and you’re standing up in front of a room full of decision makers.

So, the content is going to be amazing. Always is. If you’ve been to one of their workshops before I promise you that this is fresh content. There might probably be a little bit of review, but review that we all need, and just to set up the new content. So, again, highly recommend these workshops. Not only is the content going to be awesome, but it’s January, which for many of us means it’s cold weather at home, and these workshops are held in Orlando, Florida on Disney property at the amazing Grand Floridian Resort. So, there is nothing bad about that. The timing is perfect. It’s a great time for you to be thinking about your business development efforts as you go into 2019, so I highly recommend that you head over to the website and check out those offerings.

If you are not listening to this live, the good news is we’re probably doing this with Mercer Island Group in January of whatever year that you’re listening to this recording, so head over to the website anyway because they are in such demand that we constantly get a request to do more workshops with them, and I see no reason that we would not keep doing that. But whether you attend the workshop or not, this next hour is going to be packed with actionable ideas that I want you to really be thinking about, and I want you to take back to your team, and I want you to prioritize some of these things because this is the real deal. This is what actually helps agencies win or costs them business opportunities, and there is nobody who is more in the fray of seeing how this plays out than Mercer Island Group, and nobody more generous in sharing what they observe than these folks. Super excited to bring Steve Boehler and Lindsay O’Neil to you in this conversation, so let’s not waste anymore time. Let’s get to it.

Okay, so let’s get to it. Steve and Lindsay, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for coming back, and Lindsay, thanks for joining us.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Thank you for having me.

Steve Boehler:

Me too.

Drew McLellan:

All right. So, you guys are immersed every day in the dance that is biz dev for agencies, and I know you see it from two perspectives, that you often are sitting in a room with the client reviewing the agencies and what the agencies did and didn’t do well to help them sort of matchmake, but that you also spend a fair amount of your time coaching and consulting with agencies about how to sort of put their best foot forward. I know one of the things that you really talk a lot about is this idea of the business profile and building out your knowledge base about the prospect, so tell me a little bit about your philosophy around that and what we need to do better around that as agencies.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Well, I would say that when we talk about business profiles what we’re suggesting is that agencies should do a lot of research before they sit down with the client, or prospective client I should say, and while many agencies do research those prospective clients, they’re really only scratching the surface when it comes to getting down to the nitty gritty of what will help them better relate to this prospective client. So, I think a lot of agencies look into the basics of a prospective client, but really finding out more about their culture, the way they talk about themselves, their online presence, their headcount, their number of locations. I mean, the more you know, the better you can have a conversation that is going to lead potentially to a great business relationship.

Drew McLellan:

So, where do I go to find all of that? How do I do that? I think everybody goes and looks on Google. I think everybody probably tries to download an annual report or poke around on their website. So, beyond that, where should I be going to put together this more detailed dossier of the prospect?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Well, I think there are a lot of places that you can do this research. I think the first place that you should be jumping on is their website and looking at every little nook and cranny of that website, what they do, how they talk about themselves, their latest news, what news are they proud to share with the world, because that gives you a really great insight, and then you can dive further into industry in-house reports and Google Glassdoor to see how current employees talk about how they like working at this place. I mean, the list could go on forever, but I think first and foremost it’s their website, because if you know how they talk about themselves then when you have a conversation with them you can use that same language.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So, how am I going to use that? Once I’ve built up this dossier of information, are we talking 100 pages of information? Are we talking an outline? How in-depth, given that we have a finite amount of time probably to prep to get to whatever the RFP, the RFI, the presentation, whatever it is? How detailed are we talking about?

Steve Boehler:

Well, if I could jump in for a second, Lindsay. I think that it’s sort of fit to purpose. If this is a quick turn you’re going to find out what you can. A good business profile can be created in two hours by somebody that’s done it before with going to Google, doing online research, going to the website. It’s great to have a public library account, as funny as that sounds, because public libraries have immense online resources that you have access to for free just by having the account.

Drew McLellan:

And a lot of times they’ll do the work for you, the librarians.

Steve Boehler:

That’s right. Well, I actually hadn’t even thought of that, so that’s a fantastic suggestion. I think you have to be fit to purpose though. So, if this is a small opportunity in a field where you have pretty good working knowledge, you work with a lot of retailers, it’s a small, little local retailer that probably doesn’t have a huge budget, you can probably quickly check and see what’s going on relative to what’s happening in the press or on their website, their news announcement. It’s just to have a sense of what’s going on with their business because you already know the retail industry and you have a sense of what’s going on.

If it’s some ginormous opportunity, this is like you’re a nice, small agency and Walmart calls, somebody with huge budgets, you’re probably going to want to invest the few hours putting together a pretty rich profile so that it prepares you to ask the right questions. You’ll know how many new store openings they have. You’ll know where they may be having trouble with their business. You’ll know what the challenges are versus Amazon. Et cetera. Et cetera. And that helps guide the conversation when you do have the conversation.

Drew McLellan:

So, I think this is one of those things, because I’ve heard you guys talk about this before, and I think agencies believe they do a good job at this, so where are they dropping the ball? Where are they maybe not digging deep enough? What are they missing? Because if I pulled 100 agencies and I said, “Do you do your homework before you do a pitch?” They will all say, “Absolutely, we do.” But it sounds to me like what you’re saying is when they show up it’s clear that they haven’t done their homework, so what parts of that are they missing?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Well, I personally can’t stress enough the idea of really understanding the business and the way they talk about themselves. For instance, PetSmart doesn’t refer to pet owners as pet owners. It refers to pet owners as pet parents, and we had an agency pitch to PetSmart and work in the room and refer to pet owners as pet owners. That’s clearly an agency that had done a lot of research and work leading up to this pitch, but if you’re still talking in a language that doesn’t speak to the client then you’ve missed a step in terms of doing your homework. I would also say that it’s not just enough to know the basics. You need to know more so that you can provide insight, so that if you can understand possible problems that this client may be looking to solve, then you’ve done an extra set of homework.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Steve Boehler:

Yeah, and if I was to build on that, Drew, I think Lindsay made a really important point there, that is that an important part of the business development process is developing the needs of your prospect, and you can’t do that very well if you’re not facile in what’s going on with their business. You have to understand. You have to be able to ask the right questions. You have to be able to ask questions that get out what might be on their mind even if it’s not the thing that they immediately wanted to talk about. And all of that conversation builds confidence in the prospect that you know their business, and that makes you different.

Most agencies get into a meeting like this and they want to talk about themselves and how great their creative is or how great their data is or how great their digital is. It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s always about them, and so the more you can tailor your conversation to them… And by the way, just going through this process of having a several page long business profile like Lindsay was talking about puts you in the mindset that that’s what you’re supposed to be talking about.

Drew McLellan:

And it gives you more to talk about.

Steve Boehler:

That’s exactly right.

Drew McLellan:

Because in a vacuum, we fill it by talking about ourselves, right?

Steve Boehler:

Right. I can talk about myself all day, which is why we have Lindsay on, because we want to hear intelligent people talk about things.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So, after I have the profile done, after I’ve gotten that sort of done, I know one of the other things that in most… Again, whether it’s a written RFP response or RFI or I’m going to be presenting live to a client or I’m even going to be chatting with somebody over coffee and then sending them a followup, one of the tools that most agencies believe, and I believe you agree with this, is that we have to have good case studies. But I see a wide variety of case study styles and content amongst agencies. What do you guys think are a best practices for case studies, and how should they be used?

Steve Boehler:

That’s a really important area for agencies to think about because we don’t see very many good case studies. I think the starting point is to make sure that we’re clear about what a great case study needs to accomplish, and we think there’s really three things. We think it needs to instill confidence that the agency can solve my problems. That makes it relevant. The second thing it needs to do, it needs to be told via the agency’s process so that I have confidence that there’s something repeatable going on at the agency, that they didn’t wake up one morning and solve my problem in the shower. It’s not that they have this one great strategist or creative. It’s that they have a machine, that they can do what they’ve done for their other five clients for me. The third is that there should be some kind of demonstration of how they work with clients so that I can sort of assess, “Are they my kind of people? Are they doing things in a way that I would like to work with them?” I think the best way to learn from case studies in many ways is to go and look at some great examples, and so if our listeners go to figagency.com-

Drew McLellan:

F-I-G.

Steve Boehler:

Agency.com.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Steve Boehler:

Now, FIG is recently renamed. It’s a small agency in New York. Probably 45 to 55 people. They recently won a search that we did for Seabourn Cruise Lines. So, go to the site and look at the Seabourn video case. They also have a written case online, and I can actually read the opening, and I should, to their case because it’s packed with learning. So, they open their case by saying that the challenges, that Seabourn is the jewel and carnival corporation support portfolio of cruise lines, the pioneer of small ship, ultra luxury cruising. They’ve won every major travel accolade and award in the last 20 years. The brand has a strong following of loyal guests, and has always maintained yields despite low capacity and high demand. However, with two new ships on the horizon effectively doubling their capacity, they had to fill the funnel with new voyagers, and to do so they would need to appeal to a new, younger audience of highly affluent travelers, many of which have never cruised before.

Okay, so they have perfectly set up what the business issue was. The case broadcasts to anybody that reads it that they get business, that they understood this business. This agency by the way had never worked on cruises. They were able to clearly communicate this story. So, the opening itself is brilliant. It summarizes the business challenge. If you actually go to the website and either see the video case, which is just absolutely beautiful, or read the written case… They’ve got a video case online. They actually have a written case. You’ll see on the written case that they walk you through that business challenge, they talk about the key insights they uncovered as part of their strategic work, they showcase how they turned those insights into just amazing and beautiful creative, and then they talk about the business results.

I mean, it is brilliant. It’s case study poetry, and having that prepared, that kind of work prepared just as you would for an ongoing client, a great presentation, a really important business meeting, to some extent the agencies are sort of like the shoemaker’s children. They don’t do this for themselves and they need to. They’re so focused on their clients, as they should be, but this is prime work to do to grind out these great case studies.

Drew McLellan:

Case study poetry right there.

Steve Boehler:

Case study poetry. I got to tell you, we’re very proud of this because we helped make the marriage, but there’s nothing preventing other agencies from having cases that sing like this.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well, what prevents them is they don’t put in the time and the effort.

Steve Boehler:

That’s right.

Drew McLellan:

It’s their own prioritization. So, as you were talking about one of the things, and I’m taking us off on a bit of a tangent and I’ll come right back to the biz dev conversation, but as you were talking about this case study one of the things that I think agencies also don’t do with case studies is they don’t leverage them with the existing client that the case study is about. So, in your annual meeting where you’re asking for more money or you’re talking about new opportunities, we sort of quickly go through what we did last year, but we don’t really merchandise it, and what you’re describing sounds like a great way to merchandise for a client who could then share it inside to their internal audiences. Now you’re making your client look like the hero, but it would be a great way to remind them what we’ve done for them in the past year as we look towards what we’re going to get to do in the year coming.

Steve Boehler:

Well, I think that’s right. I think also in addition to that, because I love that, and we are strong believers in organic business development and sort of flipping the funnel around. Not worrying quite so much about the new stuff. Making sure that you’re developing your existing clients as much as possible, because those are the core relationships you have and because that’s the best new business you can get. It’s the least expensive. It makes sense.

To add to your point though, Drew, about using those case studies, another way to use those case studies is publicly in making your client a hero, making your client a celebrity. Another place to go is to go to the McCann website. Now, I know McCann is a huge global agency, but if you look at the Fearless Girl case study, the Fearless Girl case study lionizes not just the idea, but because of the extraordinary work, award-winning work that was created, it also lionizes the client. It’s clear who the client was. It’s clear that this client took this risk. It’s clear that this agency worked with this client to develop this amazing strategy that delivered this amazing work in Manhattan with the Fearless Girl statue, and it’s… There’s a lot of clients out there that would love to be in the position that the State Street folks were.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. But you know, when you think about it, and this I always find ironic, there is no business who should be better suited at creating case study poetry or an RFP that’s beautiful or whatever than a freaking agency. I mean, we have all of the people and the tools and the skills that most clients would kill for to be able to present themselves in the best light, and yet we rarely… And these are the same people skills and tool sets that we use every day to put our clients in a great light, but we very rarely use those assets to their full advantage when it comes to our own agency.

Steve Boehler:

That’s right.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Oh, sorry. I was going to jump in and say which is one of the reasons that it’s so unfortunate for clients when they’re looking through, for instance, a stack of written proposal responses and they’re lackluster in appearance, because that usually doesn’t tell the true story of the firm that is responding, but that’s what the client is seeing. And so, if you present something that doesn’t look fantastic and you’re vying to be their new creative agency, what they’re left to believe is that you’re not fantastic at creative, which is just a sad missed opportunity if you’re stellar at creative.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I want to transition and talk about sort of how our proposals look and how they should look, because I think this is the perfect segue to that, but let’s take a quick break and then we’ll come back. And then, Lindsay, just know I’m going to be asking you to elaborate on 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 the business that we have worked very hard to have and that we deserve. And so, often times 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 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.

Okay. We are back with some folks from Mercer Island Group and we were talking about that we don’t really do a great job of case studies and it’s sort of ironic given the talent that we have under our roof, and then Lindsay made the point that that also translates to what our proposals look like, our written proposals and our decks when we’re doing live presentations. Lindsay, can you elaborate on that a little bit more?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Well, I think it’s something that we all assume that we’re doing is presenting a nice-looking written proposal, but when you’re on the other end digesting it simple changes make something look so much more aesthetically pleasing and easier to digest. I mean, we are a superficial species, so making something look aesthetically pleasing, making it beautiful and easy to read, is kind of one of those huge check marks that you should be able to tick off.

But then there are other things like a table of contents and clearly marked sections. I can’t tell you how many times I have been dissecting RFI responses and there are no page numbers, which makes it really difficult to share with my other team members when I find something great or questionable to tell them which page to look that up on. But also, utilizing the white space. Less is more really when it comes to looking at these because often times a client is looking at many written proposals, so your best content should be in front of the client and it should sing, and that’s hard to do when there is a full page of content.

Drew McLellan:

So again though, this is the stuff we preach to our clients every single day, but you would think if there is one thing we should know better, one mistake we should be able to avoid every single time, it is this notion of shoving too much content into a page or a section that makes it difficult to consume or pull out the big idea.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. Well, I think that the trap agencies fall into is they think that by providing more evidence that they can do the work that they will be chosen, and if you’re being invited to write a written proposal, then the likelihood of the client thinking that you have the capabilities to do what they need done is already there. They just want to know that you can specifically do it for them. So, five to fifteen, I mean I could go on, pages about your capabilities and the tactics that you use is not romantic. The client wants to be romanced, so if you’re telling them how you’ve done this before for other people and why you can do it for them, that’s a great written proposal, and if it looks great and it’s easy to print and it’s easy to share, it’s easy to search, then you’re a leg up.

Drew McLellan:

So, give me some examples, Lindsay, of where… Are there certain sections of the RFP response or the pitch deck where agencies tend to overstuff the content and actually diminish the value of what they’re saying?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Well, first and foremost I would say that not only should you incorporate your brand look into the look and feel of your written proposal, but make sure that you’re customizing it to showcase the client that you’re responding to. I would start any written proposal response off with an introductory letter that says, “Thank you. We’re so excited, and here’s why.” And I would front load your proposal with stuff about the client and put the stuff about you at the end. I think that it’s really that order that is going to help you the most, because if you’re talking about them from the start you’ve got them interested. If you’re talking about yourself, it’s really easy to tune you out. And when it comes to your capabilities and your team, I would, one, make sure that you’re presenting the stuff that is relevant to the client, relevant to the ask, and make sure that you’re just doing an overview. Because again, if they’re asking you to provide a written response and they’ve invited you they already know that you can do this stuff.

Drew McLellan:

So, let’s talk a little bit more about the look. Are you seeing a lot of RFP responses or even presentation decks that… It sounds like just aesthetically they’re not great, they don’t look great, which sort of surprises me. I mean, again, this is what we do for a living.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. I mean, it runs a gamut, but I would say a lot of them look like canned responses. I do think it is great to have your work ready to pull. It’s important to have your process slide, how you work with other agencies, your case studies ready, your brand and industry experience. Have your file set that you can pull stuff out, but customization is lacking a lot. So, explaining on each side, for instance, why you’re including this case study or how your agency’s process would work for this particular client. It’s those touches I think that really make something look like you built it just for them.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So, it’s not so much that the design quality is good or not good. It’s about making it not look like it’s cookie cutter.

Lindsay O’Neil:

I would say it’s both.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So, what are some of the design mistakes that you see?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Our team personally prefers PowerPoint decks. I think a Word document, one, gives the impression that you’re about to read a lot of stuff, and just implying that turns somebody off. Clients don’t want to have to do more work, and if something is 50 pages long and it’s a Word document, that’s a lot of work. It’s also just easier to make a PowerPoint deck look pretty. I would also say simple things like even if your agency logo utilizes a lot of black, if your slides are black with white print I can’t print a 25-page PowerPoint and share it with my team without running through a ton of ink. It’s a waste.

Drew McLellan:

And it’s hard to read.

Lindsay O’Neil:

It is, especially on a computer. So, those little things make a huge difference. And I would also say simplifying the amount that you stuff on a page, which we talked about earlier. If there’s a lot on a page it’s overwhelming to look at.

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Steve Boehler:

If I could add a couple things I think, because Lindsay’s spot on on that. It’s not that hard to customize, picking up on where Lindsay was going. In PowerPoint it’s really easy to drop in visuals into your own branded template that make it clear that you are thinking about the client. It’s a grocery chain. You can drop in some pictures of shopping carts with beautiful food in them. This is not hard stuff, but what it does is it communicates that you’re thinking about their business. And so, there’s a ton of opportunities.

We also, by the way, see every now and then Word document responses or proposals that just have very limited use of visuals, that have really in essence crappy use of visuals, that look so unsophisticated. It comes across as if the responding firm doesn’t care how they look in their presentation, and boy, that’s not the firm I want working on my business. It doesn’t even matter what kind of firm they are. They could be accountants and I don’t want them working on my business. They could be lawyers and I don’t want them working on my business. I certainly don’t want a marketing services agency that can’t put together a good-looking presentation doing work for me.

Drew McLellan:

Of all the service industries I certainly expect them to be able to do it.

Steve Boehler:

That’s right. And this is not that hard, people.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And again, one of the things that I know we’ve talked about in the past is that a lot of agencies sort of front load, and Lindsay, you sort of implied this already, that a lot of agencies front load the all about us part on the front end as opposed to sort of making that the afterthought. It seems to me that again, if the client has already invited you to participate at whatever part of the process you’re in they already have a sense of who you are, and yes you want to provide some sort of support information but it’s really not the thing that they’re hungry to hear about. Like all of us, they’re hungry to hear about themselves and how you can help them solve their problems.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. Well, I mean when you’re meeting someone for the first time and you shake hands and you introduce yourself you don’t launch into your life story, because that would be odd, and that’s kind of what agencies do sometimes in their written proposals and in their pitches.

Steve Boehler:

It’s really like a bad date.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Or the person at a party where it’s like you’re going, “I’m sorry. I have to run to make a phone call.”

Steve Boehler:

Right, and I’m sorry I didn’t make that phone call 10 minutes ago when you said hi.

Drew McLellan:

That’s right. Yeah. So, I’m curious, speaking of dates, how do agencies differentiate themselves in what I think of as sort of the goodnight kiss part of the interaction? So, whether it’s after they’ve sent a written document or after they’ve given a live presentation, what have you guys seen in terms of what comes off as sort of cheesy, what works, what doesn’t? How do I let the prospect know that this is really important to us and we’re really committed to doing it without it coming off as sort of schmaltzy?

Steve Boehler:

I think that it’s really important for people to be genuine while asking for the business, and so if it’s a live presentation you definitely want to wrap up saying that you would love to work with them, and you show some admiration and respect for whatever their challenge is, for whatever their business, their industry, but it’s about them. It’s about the fact that you want to be part of what they have going on. You want to be on their team. I’ll tell you, it doesn’t matter how good a presenter you are. If you do that and you do it authentically, it comes across well. And in the meeting after… This is interesting. So, in the meeting after the meeting we hear often… Maybe they’ll see three or four presentations and somebody will ask for the business or two or three of the firms will ask for the business and somebody won’t, and in that meeting after the meeting, every single time the agency that didn’t ask for the business, somebody in the client says, “Well, I don’t know if they really want our business.”

Drew McLellan:

So, they don’t factor in the fact that you did the RFP, that you flew to visit them, that you spent an hour talking to them, but the fact that you just point blank didn’t say, “Wow. We really want your business.” That’s the part that they feel.

Steve Boehler:

Exactly. This is as you said, as you alluded to, this is after the agency probably spent weeks preparing, thousands of dollars of resources plus out of pocket, and the outcome is-

Drew McLellan:

Because they didn’t say it.

Steve Boehler:

They didn’t say it. And you need to do the same thing in writing, by the way, which isn’t that hard. Make it clear. Make it clear in the cover letter to whatever the written response is that you would be honored to work with them and to help them succeed. People have a lot of choices. They can do it themselves. They can hire a range of different resources. They can just leave the status quo alone. And they’re going to want to pick not only people that are competent, that they know can functionally do the work, but that they want to work with, and there’s no better way to communicate that you’re the right person that they might want to work with by expressing how much you want to work with them. Everyone wants to be wanted.

Drew McLellan:

And again, odds are if you’ve gotten that far in the process everybody you’re going up against can do the work.

Steve Boehler:

Absolutely.

Drew McLellan:

So, odds are they’re not talking to agencies who are incompetent. So, that’s the table stakes. It’s really about how do they feel about you and working with you and the chemistry that we all talk about all the time. All of that now becomes even more important.

Steve Boehler:

That’s right. And there’s some small additions. I mean, if it’s a presentation, you’re at their place, after you ask for the business you express how honored you’d be to work with them. Invite them to your place. Recognize how important a decision this is to them. This is really important to their investment, their business, their future, and you’d love to have them come visit you so that they can see how you would work together, so they can see what your place is like and what a great culture fit you think it would be. Still, making it all about them. So, it’s a couple of simple… It’s all straightforward and it’s not rocket science.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Earlier we were talking about having some of those things, your case studies and some of that stuff, and I remember I wanted to come back around and ask you a question about… One of the things that you teach when you work with agencies is that not only should you have case studies sort of queued up and have them organized in a way that you can search for them by industry or by the problem you solve, but also I know, Steve, I’ve heard you talk about the importance of sort of cataloging the team’s experiences and their past client things that they’ve done. So, can you talk a little bit about how do I do it, what do I do with it, and how do I make it relevant so again I’m not talking about ourselves?

Steve Boehler:

Well, I’m going to kick it to Lindsay because she’s really the expert at this, and she’ll say it much more eloquently.

Lindsay O’Neil:

We’ll see.

Drew McLellan:

It’s a lot of pressure now.

Lindsay O’Neil:

The way that I would describe it, the way that I think about it in my head, is that you should have three files at your firm. You should have a file that catalogs your brand and industry experience, so all the clients that you’ve worked with sectioned off into industries and specific brands, another file that has your capabilities and your team experience, and then another file that has your business issue successes. So, with brand and industry experience, that’s simply your relevant experience in every industry, your knowledge in that space, so that you can pull it out when you need to. Capabilities and team experience, that would be a summary of the processes that you use to tackle every tactic, and your team experience offers you an opportunity to show more experience in an industry that your agency may not have experience in. So, if you have team members that have experience working in retail but your agency has not had a retail client before, that’s an opportunity to show experience there.

And then business issue success experience would be examples of how you have successfully tackled problems for other clients. So, if a client comes to you and says, “We need to grow e-commerce sales,” you have an example of how you’ve done that before, and that helps with quick turnarounds because we know that agencies are working at capacity all the time, especially if you’re a smaller agency. You are working with your clients. You don’t have a ton of time for business development, so when opportunity comes in you want to be able to pull this stuff together really quickly so that instead of spending your time on that you can spend your time focusing on that prospective client.

Drew McLellan:

So, what’s reasonable? So, if I have an employee that had let’s say to use your example retail experience 15 years ago, is that still relevant to include? I mean, is there sort of an expiration date on our experiences?

Lindsay O’Neil:

I think it’s always useful to have. I think if it is no longer applicable, maybe don’t highlight it, but it doesn’t hurt to have all of that stuff documented.

Steve Boehler:

I think Lindsay’s right. I think it’s the more the merrier, and if it’s what you have it’s what you have and it’s better than having nothing. And some of these industries don’t really change that much. I mean, as much as retailing, which is a great example, brick and mortar retailing has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years. The core business issues are still the same. They’re worried about traffic. They’re worried about comp store sales, same store sales. They worry about revenue. There’s evergreen issues in many of these industries, and so you might as well catalog it and capture it and it gives you a shot.

I mentioned the Seabourn Cruise Line case study for FIG agency. The FIG Agency didn’t have cruise line experience at the agency. They’re a five-year-old agency. In their previous lives they’d worked on almost every possible category I actually think except cruise lines, but they had some hospitality and they had some travel. They did some airlines, and they did the kind of work that the client was looking for. So, the fact that they could leverage the fact that they understood similar spaces was enough to get them a hearing, given how powerful the rest of their reputation was, the rest of their work. So, there are big boxes to check sometimes and little boxes, and this was for them in that case just a little box. They had a little bit of a check mark, but it was just enough to provide just enough confidence they could probably work on a cruise line.

Drew McLellan:

I think a lot of times we assume that if we don’t have really parallel experience that we’re going to be dismissed as not being an option, and I think what I’m hearing you say is that sometimes you can rework the experience you can have, and if you can show the connective tissue enough, that some clients are able to make that leap and say, “Oh, I can see how you would be able to transfer what you’ve done to this industry.”

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. Well, by having all of that experience cataloged into these separate categories you can paint that story for them, so you can instill that confidence in them by saying well, in industry experience, we do have industry experience. We have a ton of industry experience in tourism and travel. We understand that, and we have solved that same issue for other clients, and that’s your business issues experience. Success experience. And we have team members who have done something similar and we have the capability. So, you can pull it all together and weave that story, and that’s a lot easier to do if you’ve done the backend work by filing it all away.

Drew McLellan:

Right, because sometimes you’re in such a hurry you probably forget, or it takes too much of the time so then you don’t have time to rehearse or whatever because you’re so busy pulling together the pieces.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. Well, I have two examples. We just worked with an agency who had a pitch. Their turnaround was two weeks and they had to put together a huge explanation of how they understood this client’s business issues, but in their pitch they also have to show how they’ve done this kind of thing for other people before. So, they want to spend those two weeks focusing on the client, not pulling together all of this relevant past experience.

And then, right now we’re in the midst of the very early stages of a search, and when we’re doing that we go through to weed out who are the best possible agencies that can solve this specific business issue and have relevant experience, and I might send out emails to all of these agencies that we’re considering and say, “Do you have experience in outdoor brands?” And half of them send back an email right away, and it’s a quick list and they have it documented, which means that somewhere they have a list of all of the outdoor brands that they’ve worked with and all of the other brands that might apply and their team experience. Other agencies might take two days, a week to get back to me, and our meeting is on Thursday, so you don’t get to show up as well as these others that have responded so quickly.

Drew McLellan:

I also have to think, and I know you try and not have a bias or not read into it, but I have to think when three agencies answer you within a day or half a day and the other guys take four days, that there is part of you that says, “Well, clearly these guys have more experience or more relevant experience because it was more at hand.” It’s just human nature to go, “Well, clearly this was more top of mind for them so they probably have a depth that these other folks might not have.”

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. There’s that and there’s also that eagerness for the business. We know on our end that agencies are slammed and responding to emails and incoming requests like this is time consuming and you might be putting out fires with a client, so it’s not necessarily the first thing that you jump at, but even we get distracted by the fact that if you respond quickly, you’re excited, which means we’re more excited to include you.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Makes perfect sense. I have a bazillion more questions but I want to be mindful of time, so last question is it seems to me that at some point in time this is a show. This is like stepping on a stage and being in a performance, and one of the things that I’m always harping at agencies about is that going through your deck while you’re driving to the meeting is not rehearsal. But the reality is for a lot of them that’s how much they rehearse, and so I’m curious in terms of what you think are some best practices around how you actually look on stage and how you present yourself on stage. Just one or two. And I know we could talk for three hours about this, but are there just one or two hints or tips that we could kind of wrap up this conversation of when you are presenting live, again, across a cup of coffee or standing in a formal pitch, are there some things that you see agencies do that just sort of make you shake your head and go ugh?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Well, number one, if you’re standing in front of a group of people presenting a PowerPoint deck please don’t turn your back to that group of people and read your PowerPoint deck to everybody, because that’s not entertaining for anyone. It also gives the impression that this is the first time that you’ve ever seen those slides. I would say it would be the same kind of basic principles in presenting yourself while in any situation. Good posture, making sure you’re not leaning on something. If you’re going into a room to present a presentation you should probably know the layout of that room, get a good sense of it. You should have some contingency plans for technology. You should look nice, and you should practice.

In theater they do dress rehearsals. They also do something called a tech rehearsal which is running through every single technical aspect. I think agencies should do both. I think you should put on your nice clothes and you should set all of your technology up and you should get an audience and you should run through your entire pitch, because even doing it once will make it easier to do it a second time.

Drew McLellan:

And will reveal things that you don’t really want revealed in front of the prospective client audience. Right?

Lindsay O’Neil:

Right. And it’s even an opportunity to go, “Oh, there’s a typo,” or, “I am rambling right now. I need to figure out what I’m going to talk about when I get to this part.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. All great advice. Thank you guys for taking the time and for as always sharing your expertise. I know agencies are always hungry to hear more from everybody at Mercer Island Group, so I’m grateful that you made the time to do this today.

Steve Boehler:

Our pleasure. Thank you so much, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet.

Lindsay O’Neil:

Yes. Thank you for having us.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys. This wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. I will be back next week with more guests to help you shape the agency that you want for the year coming and the future. In the meantime, if you’re looking for information about what’s going on at AMI you can head out to the website agencymanagementinstitute.com and find out all kinds of things that we have going on, and also that’s the best way for you to reach me as well, is shoot me an email at [email protected] I will be back next week with another guest. In the meantime, shoot me an email if I can be helpful. As always, ratings and reviews for the podcast are greatly appreciated, and I will talk to you next week. Thanks.

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency podcast. Be share to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t forget to subscribe today so you don’t miss an episode.