Episode 108

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Steve Boehler is a founding partner at Mercer Island Group – a strategic management and marketing consultancy. The company has three key practice areas: strategic business consulting, organization effectiveness, and client-agency relationships. They help companies and executives succeed. One of the ways they do that is by helping them better position themselves and sell more effectively by better bonding with prospects around the prospects’ needs. They work with agencies of all sizes and types as well as consult to major clients in the US and across the globe like Microsoft, Ulta Beauty, PetSmart, Starbucks and many other fine firms.

Steve started his career at Procter & Gamble – in his decade there he was the second youngest brand manager in that venerable company’s history, turned around the Pringle’s business, led Jif Peanut Butter to market leadership, and turned around the Tide business.

 

 

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Why clients likely don’t know about your agency and why you have to make yourself findable
  • The importance of consistency with content creation
  • Making your pitch unique so that it stands out from other agencies (and why agencies struggle with this so much)
  • Selling and pitching: why it’s all about the prospect and their business and not about you
  • The importance of doing your homework and actually bringing that homework into your presentation
  • What to ask every client person in a pitch meeting to get them all involved
  • Why you need to get prospects to agree to an agenda for a pitch meeting
  • How getting prospects to define a problem helps to get them to buy into your solution
  • Why you need to limit how you introduce your agency in a pitch to five slides (and what should be on those slides)
  • What to leave with a prospect after the pitch
  • Why you have to pitch to win

The Golden Nugget:

“Only pitch if you're pitching to win.” – @MIG_Steve Click To Tweet

 

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Resources:

We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

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 presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. We are going to talk about one of your favorite topics today. We are going to talk about business development and landing new clients. And have the perfect guest to have a conversation around that topic. So let me tell you little bit about him and then we’re going to just jump right in. So Steve Boehler is a founding partner at Mercer Island Group.  If you are a regular podcast listener, you heard me interview his business partner and wife, Robin, probably a couple months ago.

But anyway, Mercer Island Group is a strategic management and marketing consultancy. The company has three practice areas. One, they do strategic business consulting. Two, they work on organizational effectiveness and client relationships. They help companies and executives succeed. So one of the ways they do that and where we really spend a lot when we’re working with Mercer Island Group is they often get hired by a brand to find the right agency fit. They also work with agencies to improve the way they present themselves in business presentations. So they often work with brands and agencies of all sizes and types and consult major clients in the US and across the globe like Microsoft, Ulta Beauty, PetSmart, Starbucks and many other fine firms.

Steve actually started his career on the client side at Procter & Gamble. And he was the second youngest brand manager in that company’s history, turned around the Pringles business and led JIF Peanut Butter to market leadership. Also, turned around the Tide business. We’ll have to talk about pods. Anyway, Steve is here today to talk about how agencies show up in new business pitches, how we can show up different, better, what clients are looking for. And so we’re going to dive deep into that. So Steve, welcome to the show.

Steve Boehler:

Thank you, Drew. I am just absolutely delighted to be here. I love the topic, I love agencies, especially small agencies. We’re a small service business and I know how hard it is to run your own show and to go out and hunt and find the business and serve the business. So I love helping.

Drew McLellan:

That’s awesome. So one of the ways I think you guys are so helpful when you work with agencies is that you can give them a sneak peek into where the client is coming from and what they’re thinking and the process from their point of view. Can you help us understand what happens behind the scenes when a client is looking for a new agency? What’s going on in their head and what do we need to know to position ourselves to catch their attention?

Steve Boehler:

Sure, I think that’s a great question. It’s a fabulous place to start. So one of the things to keep in mind, and we’ll come back to this multiple times and it’s really important, is that clients aren’t generally sitting around thinking about their agencies, they have business problems they have to solve on a day in day out basis, whether it’s their market share, they need more revenue, they have a new product to introduce and it’s got to be successful, whatever that is. So that’s what they’re worrying about. And we’ll return to this theme throughout, because it’s what we have to worry about on their behalf. It’s what agencies need to be thinking about.

So let’s say they’ve got one of these, some business issue and they think we don’t have the right agency resources, we need a new partner, whatever they’re thinking. So let’s go behind the scenes. And I think some people might be surprised at what’s going on behind the scenes. So here’s an example. We often at the beginning… In fact, always at the beginning of a search, we’ll sit down with the most senior agent client side person. And we’ll ask them, in addition to finding out what’s on their mind, what their business issue is, where things are working and not working. We’ll ask them about agencies they’re interested in. And for the most part, regardless of how big the company is that they’re working for, they might be able to list an agency or two. They can tell you who they’ve worked with recently or are working with right now. They could probably tell you about some agency they worked with in the past. And that’s mostly it. So unless they’re one of those CMOs of a billion dollar advertiser or an AT&T or a Procter & Gamble.

And those folks know agencies. They’ve got huge agency rosters. And they’re getting paid to know this. But virtually everybody else knows nothing. As a result, and by the way, they’re not sitting around reading small agency blog.

Drew McLellan:

Just tracking. Tracking, they don’t have time for that.

Steve Boehler:

Right. So they just don’t know. So what do they do? They also don’t have time to run the search. The whoever the decision maker is, whether it’s a small business owner or if it’s an executive at a midsize company or even a large. So they typically delegate. So they’ll find somebody, some mid-level manager or a junior person, and they’ll say, “Listen, we need a new agency, go do some research.” And what that person does, whether they’re a big company or a small company, is that they ask around, they do a Google search, they might find a list somewhere, and that becomes the sum of their knowledge.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, there’s the criteria set, who I found.

Steve Boehler:

And it’s pretty slim, because again, these folks also don’t know who the agencies are. So what does this mean? This means that it’s really, really important since the clients aren’t sitting around thinking about agencies and they have very low knowledge, very limited knowledge base of who the agencies are. It’s really important for the agency to be findable. You need a content program, you need to be on the right lists, you need a prospect friendly website that really, if somebody gets there, they can quickly figure out if you should be on their list or not. And so there’s a lot of little techniques that are important, but this is all the stuff that happens behind the scenes that you have no control over, because they’re doing their search without knowing about.

If you go to any of the business to business conferences, you’ll undoubtedly have heard that most business to business decisions, when somebody’s making a business to business decision, they’re trying to hire somebody, find a new service provider, most of that effort happens before the service providers even know that the person’s looking. So you got to be fine, you have to be top of mind in some way.

Drew McLellan:

So that also suggests to me though, that an agency who actually does a good job of targeting a small list of companies and staying pretty consistently in front of them by providing something of value, not trying to sell them, but provide, would be on a pretty short list, because they only know a handful. So they would go, oh, and those guys that keep sending me the book or the shoe or whatever, right?

Steve Boehler:

Absolutely. And I couldn’t agree more. It’s a repetitive thing and it’s a marathon. The way I think about it is it’s like all advertising, frankly. To some extent, most advertising is a bit of a marathon. And repetition is really important. Frequency is really important. And we’re in a long sales cycle, this agency.

Drew McLellan:

When somebody asks me, “Well, how long does a new business program take to get going?” What I say is a day or a decade. That’s [crosstalk 00:08:37] and there’s no way to know if it’s going to be a day or a decade. So you’ve got to be in for the long haul, you’ve got to be willing to be absolutely ferocious with your consistency and you just keep keeping on.

Steve Boehler:

Right. What I tell agencies is to go copy what Drew does.

Drew McLellan:

I love that.

Steve Boehler:

No, I’m serious.

Drew McLellan:

Now I have to send you $20.

Steve Boehler:

I think 40. But the thing is that you’ve got a great content program. You are generous with your time. You love to help and you’re consistent. And I think that those are really important attributes in a new business program. So anyway, so they’ve got to be findable and they have to do all that legwork. And there’s a zillion books on how service providers should go to market. And I like the Alan Weiss consulting book, Million Dollar Consulting, and it’s an old book and it’s about consulting. But I got to tell you every recommendation that he makes about how to market a consulting service is pretty much the same thing Drew would suggest about how to market an agency. And it all works if you put in the time and have it work. And the specifics, whether it’s speaking engagements or it’s blogs or whatever those things are, those will vary by agency owner, because different people have different skill sets. Some people-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. And it probably varies by your audience too, right?

Steve Boehler:

Exactly, right. But the trick is to get out and do that, whatever that stuff is and to find out the stuff that works for you.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And by the way, everybody who’s listening, we’re not talking about that monthly newsletter that you send out three or four times a year, we’re talking about regular consistent they can count on the fact that they are going to get something from you on Wednesdays or whatever it is. If you go back, there’s an old podcast where we talk about the different layers of sales, and we’ll stick the link in the show notes, but it’s a good primer to what Steve and I are talking about. So what else is going on at the client at that point? Okay. So I’ve got a list of agencies, I probably don’t know any of them from Adam, where is their head at this point?

Steve Boehler:

Well, they start to reach out. They start to engage. And this is where I think it’s really important to note that we think there’s a huge opportunity for almost all agencies, agencies of all sizes and types to pitch and sell better, because eventually the client’s going to find them or they’re going to find the client. Unfortunately, well, agencies should be great at pitching. Agencies have this wealth of talent and capabilities. Agency folks are usually articulate, they’re smart, they’re strategic, they have access to creative, they’re hard workers. And there’s so much, there’s so many positives that small agencies or agencies of all size have.

And yet at the end of the day, we’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of pitches and most aren’t very well done. And whether it’s an informal selling situation where you are having a sales meeting over coffee, and you’re trying to get somebody’s business or whether it’s a really formal, I’ve come into the conference room, I’ve got my team with me, I’m presenting to the decision maker and a couple other clients. I have to tell you, unfortunately, all these presentations look the same. They really do. They look the same for a lot of reasons.

In fact, we tell our clients when we’re organizing a day of presentations and we may have four agencies pitching, Robin or I, almost always at the beginning of the day, when we’re briefing the client to get them ready, tell them to make sure they take detailed notes. And that’s because by the time the third or fourth agency presents, they won’t remember who said what? And at the end of the day, inevitably, somebody on the client side will say, “Well, I liked that agency with the guy with the British accent. I wish could have been any of the four, of course.” And so it’s really important to recognize that what we’re doing now just doesn’t work very well. It’s the reason most agencies in a competitive situation might win one out of four, because that’s just the numbers. There’s probably four finalists.

And when we unpack this, what we see is just incredible similarities. So in a 60 minute meeting, the agency folks have very few interactions with the actual audience, if you will. It becomes an audience because it’s a speech, it’s not a discussion. They have their PowerPoint, it’s a PowerPoint Fest. The slides aren’t very good, they’re too dense.

Drew McLellan:

All the stuff we know, we know better than this.

Steve Boehler:

Yes, because agents-

Drew McLellan:

This is what kills me. We tell our clients this stuff every single day, and we criticize other agencies who do exactly what we do. And yet we walk into that opportunity just like you just described.

Steve Boehler:

That’s exactly right. So now the client has engaged a bunch of agencies, and this is what they’re seeing. And what’s happening is that the agencies aren’t making it easy for them to choose them, for the client to choose them. I think it’s also really important for the audience of this podcast, which is going to be mostly small and midsize agencies, I think, to recognize that little can beat big. And in fact, little beats big every day. We see it all the time. One of the things that happens in the big side is that the big folks, the big agencies, they send their folks to the Mirren conferences, they trade business development executives around like they’re changing their underwear. So they have a very short…

The only people with shorter tenures than CMOs are new business development executives at agencies. So it’s like two years, some success, they’ll get fired, they’ll move to the next agency. At the end of the day, they are all doing it the same way and it all looks the same. And really in selling, one of the core critical elements is how do you differentiate yourself? How do you-

Drew McLellan:

Again, something we preach to clients every single day.

Steve Boehler:

Every single day.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Steve Boehler:

And so we really think there is a better way to do this. There’s a way to stand out. It starts with the understanding those business issues that we talked about right at the top of the podcast. And then there’s some techniques that you can use when you’re managing that interaction, it’ll really help you look different from every other service provider that the prospect or the client might see. And we know this works by the way.

Drew McLellan:

Well, it’s interesting that I know where you’re headed with this, and I’m going to let you tell everybody what those techniques are in a minute. But for those of you listening that aren’t familiar, Steve and Robin and I did a work last January. And I have had several agencies tell me that they… And what Steve’s about to walk you through is part of what they taught at the workshop. And I’ve had several agencies that attended the workshop that said that they went home and they completely revamped the way they built their presentation. Again, whether it was informal or formal to follow this model that Steve’s about to tell you about. And without exception, what they’re telling me is that they are hitting a 85 to 90% success rate, which is not what they were getting before they made the flip.

So if you are on a treadmill or walk in your dog or in a car, listen now, but know you’re going to want to rewind to this part and jot this down. I will also say, and we’ll talk about it more at the bottom of the podcast, but Steve and Robin and I are doing another workshop together. So new content, same topic, winning more new business, January 2018. So if you are listening to this in real time, so you’re hearing this in early November, then you know it’s coming up in January and there’s still opportunity for you to register. If you are listening to this two years from now, and it’s 2018, sorry, that one I can’t help with. But if you’re listening real time, if you’re a regular listener and you have interest in that, obviously you go to AMI website.

But anyway, Steve, so now talk to us about the technique that you taught at the workshop that my agency owners Google over, because it is driving success in a way that they had not had before. So, look, no pressure now, right?

Steve Boehler:

That was a very, very gracious introduction to this section. So there’s three areas I want to cover. One is that there’s a mindset that’s going to be really important. We need to do a quarter turn adjustment to our brains to be able to sell better. And that relates to those business issues we talked about. But I want to talk a little more detail about that. And once we’ve adjusted our mindset to selling, the net next is still before we ever get in the room with the prospect is the homework that has to be done. Most of a successful pitch happens before the pitch. It’s just the hard work of getting it right. And then finally, we’ll talk about how do you structure a presentation, get in the room and actually therefore, connect with the prospect on his or her terms.

So let’s start with the mindset. The most important thing about the mindset I would suggest is that this is not about you. You’re the agency person, you’ve got to totally revamp your view that when you’re selling or pitching, this is all about the prospect and their business. We see time and time again pitches where the agency gets up and they talk about themselves. They love to talk about themselves. They’ve got all these case studies, they have all these capabilities, they have all these smart people.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think in their mind, what they’re thinking is they’re deciding between four agencies. So they have to know about us to decide. And the point is they do have to know about you, but they have to know about you in context of how you’re going to solve their business problems, not just how many awards you’ve won or what you’ve done for somebody else, right?

Steve Boehler:

That’s right. That’s exactly right. So in fact, a few years ago, in 2013, I was a lucky dad sitting in the audience at the University of Southern California commencement ceremony, proud dad. The commencement speaker was Jimmy Iovine. He was the former music producer, one of the co-founders of Beats, the headphones, a billionaire now. And I encourage your audience to go and listen to the podcast of his commencement speech, because he tells a story about how as a young sound engineer he worked for Bruce Springsteen. He worked for Jon Landau, the music producer, and Bruce Springsteen was one of their clients. And Bruce gave him this assignment to find the right drum beat for some song he was working on for Darkness on the Edge of Town.

And he went off and he worked on it for six weeks and he kept bringing it back to Bruce. And Bruce kept saying, “No, that’s not it.” And finally, after six weeks, Bruce said, “We’re going to bring in somebody else to help you.” And Jimmy was out of his mind peod. He was embarrassed and he was insulted. And so he went to Jon Landau and Bruce’s manager and said, “I quit. I can’t do this.” And Bruce’s manager looked at him and said, “One thing you must understand if you’re going to succeed is that this is not about you.” He then hung in there. He never got the drum beat. But he hung in there with Springsteen and six weeks later, Springsteen tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Listen, Patti Smith is going to record one of my songs, I’d like you to be the producer of that song.”

So he produces the song. It goes on to be a huge hit. And it was his first producer note, a credit. It’s a huge hit and it sets him on the path towards becoming a billionaire and former owner of Beats. But the message is that he had to re-engineer his brain to understand that this wasn’t about him and what he did, this was about what his customer needed and what they needed. So this brings us full circle. So we really need our agencies to reset their expectations to know that this is all about the other person’s business, this is all about those business issues, which leads us to the second piece, which is you’ve got to do your homework.

Okay. Of course, you’ll have a chance in a selling cycle or a pitch to get some information from the client. And you’re going to want to ask about their business issues first and foremost. They don’t want to buy marketing services, they’ve got a revenue problem or they got a market share problem or they got a new problem to launch, and you want to really get under the hood on those kinds of things and understand it. But you also want to separately go and do some homework on the industry. So you know what their competitors are doing and you know how people have solved problems in the past. You want to do as much as you can so that you can be as helpful as you can and as articulate as you can, when you get the chance to talk with them about their business.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m guessing that a lot of people are listening and they’re saying, “Well, we do that, we do all the homework and we do the research,” but it sounds like it’s not showing up in their presentation. So maybe they are doing the research, but they don’t get to it. Why isn’t it showing up? Why doesn’t it show up?

Steve Boehler:

Well, I think you’re absolutely right. And again, it doesn’t show up, because agencies, when they come in and present, spend an inordinate amount of time talking about themselves.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So by the time they get to share what they learned, it’s the sliver in the presentation.

Steve Boehler:

It’s this. That’s right. And most agencies talk about themselves first in a presentation. And we think this is just a gigantic error. If you listen to Robin’s podcast with Drew, episode 98.

Drew McLellan:

Look at you, you’re such a good husband.

Steve Boehler:

And she’s far more articulate than I am. So I encourage everybody, listen, she goes into great detail talking about business issues and how to talk about them and how important this is. She also talks about the fact that… She’ll give an example where agencies typically will get up and they’ll spend the first 20 minutes or 25 minutes of an hour meeting talking about themselves. And then they’ll say, “Okay, enough about us, let’s talk about you.”

Drew McLellan:

Five minutes, enough about you, right?

Steve Boehler:

Yeah. And they’ve already checked out. They’re busy. It’s a bad date. She uses the example that if you go on a date and the person you’re dating only talks about themselves, there’s probably not going to be a second date.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and the other point I make agencies too, is if you are sitting and having coffee, unless they’ve never heard of you before, or you’re in a presentation, they’ve already decided that you could do the work, you’ve already made the criteria cut of these people are capable. So that’s not where you should be spending your time proving your worth in the presentation.

Steve Boehler:

That is so right. You bond with a prospect over their problem, not your solution. The more time you can spend working with them on that problem, the more you can get them talking about that problem and interacting on that problem, the more they’re going to think you know what you’re doing and you can help them. Even if they don’t like the solution you had in mind, they don’t like the creative, whatever this thing is that you might be presenting, if they think you understand them and you understand their problem, they’re going to feel better about the interaction, they’re going to feel better about the possible partnership.

So one of the things we recommend is when you