Episode 108:

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

 

Subscribe to Build A Better Agency!

Itunes Logo          Stitcher button

Ways to contact Steve Boehler:

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 get in the room, so you’re there, you’ve got your presentation and you’ve got your team, whether it’s a big team or a small team, but you’re in the conference room and you’re ready to show your wears, there’s a series of things we recommend that are ways and processes to turn around the presentation and make it really distinctive, make you look different than every other agency. And the first thing we suggest is that you start with introductions, of course, but when you get them, the client to introduce themselves, you go around the room and you ask them to tell you who they are, what their role is on the business, and this last piece is critical, and one thing that they hope to get out of the meeting today.

And what you’ve done right there from the start is you’ve got the client speaking. It’s the first five minutes of this meeting and you’ve got them saying something. The easy part, of course, is who they are and what their job is, but then that one thing that they hope to accomplish in the meeting is really, really super important. It gives them time to maybe give you at least a sentence, maybe a paragraph. Okay. It gives you an opportunity to learn where their head is, which may not be at all what you planned, but it’s far better to know at minute five than at minute 60 when they don’t call you back.

Drew McLellan:

Or they ask you a question and you’re completely caught off guard.

Steve Boehler:

And have no time. And we also, frankly, recommend that you write it down. So find a way that there’s great majesty in taking notes and in honoring someone’s comments. So they say, “Well, I just got out of a meeting with the board, and they’re really worried now about product X, Y and Z.” It may not have been on the topic, it may not have been a topic for the meeting, but you’re writing that down. It honors that the person said it, it also of course, gives you the notes to come back to that. And so-

Drew McLellan:

I know one of the things you recommend is maybe it’s a whiteboard or something. So you’re on a poster board kind of thing. You’re taking the notes so that you can then refer to them as you’re presenting through your hour, right?

Steve Boehler:

That’s exactly right. There’s a little bit of show business here. And the handcrafted nature of getting up and going to a flip chart or a whiteboard, and actually spelling out what that person said is a little bit of drama and it’s a lot of ego. So they’re sitting there, they’re seeing their ideas captured, and they’re seeing you capture their ideas. And it speaks volumes. It says this agency wants to know what’s on my mind. It says that this agency is listening to me-

Drew McLellan:

Accurately.

Steve Boehler:

…accurately. And as we go through this, I’ll suggest that there’s ways then to go back to that list, whatever these people said. We’ll return to that. So now you’ve got that initial list. The next thing we suggest is that you create what we would call a mutual agenda for the meeting. And there’s a couple of ways to do this, but you’ve already done your homework. So you know about the industry, you’ve had some preliminary conversations with them where you’ve gotten them to talk about their business issues. And so we recommend as you go back to that whiteboard or that flip chart, and you pencil up the things you’ve heard. So in our previous conversations, Mr. Prospect, we heard that you’ve got declining sales in your western district, and you have new competitors in the east. And then, of course, you can reference the things you’d already heard in that first question, the one thing they want to take away.

So you recap all that stuff. So you’ve got the notes from before, you have the business issues you’d heard previously, you ask them, is there anything else they would add? Is there anything that we’re missing that’s really important? And by the way, now, this sound a lot of back and forth here.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Feels very different. [crosstalk 00:30:33] a monologue.

Steve Boehler:

That’s right. We’re still only a couple minutes into this conversation. And they may want you to rewrite how you captured an idea, which is fine. In fact, that’s even better, because it shows that it’s getting conversation going. So you’ve got this new list. And we would then recommend a little more drama, we would suggest that somebody actually point to the list and say, “Is there anything else you’d like to add to this agenda for today?” Now, what you’ve done is you’ve identified that the agenda for the meeting is their business issues. And in and of itself, that one thing isn’t going to win you the business. It’s one of those little things that goes a long way to communicating that you’re all about their business. The whole thing you’re talking about here is about their business. So they’ll nod or they’ll suggest, they’ll add something. I think it’s really important to note here that when you’ve got your audience or your aspects helping to define the problem, it’s much easier to get them to buy into your solution.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Interesting.

Steve Boehler:

And that’s what we’re doing here is we’re getting them to overtly define the problem. And let me take a quick pause here, because this is where sometimes there’s a surprise. Often the person who set up the meeting isn’t necessarily the decision maker. Companies of all sizes. It’s a local auto dealership. So the head marketing person or the head of sales has been talking to you all along and they bring you in and now the owner’s there. Okay. Well, the owner may have something a little different or may have new news on their mind. The owner may know that for whatever reasons the economics aren’t right or they need to push a much bigger push on sales or whatever that is. And by asking these questions, what you’re doing is you’re finding out if everybody’s on the same page at the prospect. And importantly, you have an opportunity right up front, again, from that new person in the room to hear what’s on their mind if it’s not the same as everything you’ve heard so far. And once again, the earlier you know this stuff, the better.

Drew McLellan:

Right. And as I’m listening to you talk, one of the things that I’m thinking about is agencies, even people who are really great at presenting are anxious about the formal presentation. But what this turns into is the conversations we have with clients every day. So you immediately come off more comfortable, more conversational, you’re leaning into the topics that they care about. So all of a sudden you’re mimicking what it would be like to work with you as opposed to you standing in front of a room or sitting at a conference table or whatever it is, presenting. Because really we don’t do that very often in our day to day work with clients.

Steve Boehler:

No, I think you’re spot on. This is human. This is right. And it’s work. It’s how work happens.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So people are listening to you and going, “That’s all dandy, but I already have a deck prepared.” Oh, crap. What if every thing on the post-it note or half of it isn’t what’s in my deck? Now, what do I do?

Steve Boehler:

That is a really good question. And so I think there are multiple ways to deal with this. In a perfect world, you would be able to be fast enough on your feet to cover the new area and to turn it into a conversation using the whiteboard recalling cases and examples of how you’ve solved this for other people. Turning it around and using some time in that meeting to ask them additional questions about that new area, so that you continue to get smarter. In fact, I think that would be one of the first things I would suggest you do is start probing, digging a little more, not probing. Nobody likes to be probed. Digging a little more into that new area to make sure that you understand, but also again, to continue the conversation

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think one of the things we forget about and the model that most agencies follow when they present again formally or informally is we look smartest when we ask great questions, it’s not when we’re talking.

Steve Boehler:

You’re right.

Drew McLellan:

It’s really when we demonstrate that we ask more thoughtful, more interesting, more insightful questions that they go… I think one of the biggest compliments you can get in a new business cycle is when the prospect says to you, “Nobody has ever asked me that before.” That’s like a huge win in my world.

Steve Boehler:

Yes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Steve Boehler:

I think that’s right. An agency that you work with recently told us a story where they were pitching a piece of business for a school system, university system. And the system had facilities all over the Northwest. And they were asked for a recruitment campaign for a specific region. They get into the meeting, they’re there for a minute, and they actually went around the room and asked the question that we tell them to ask, what’s one thing you’d like to get out? And one of the key decision makers said, “Well, I’d really like to understand how to bolster recruitment in a different geography.”

Drew McLellan:

Right. There’s the surprise, right?

Steve Boehler:

That was the surprise. And the way to handle that thing is… There’s a couple ways. But one is certainly to say, “Listen, we’re prepared. Thank you. That’s new information. Glad I know that, that’s a really important thing on your mind, why don’t we show you how we prepared to talk about it in this other region and highlight how that model or that approach could work in any geography?” And so there was a way around dealing with that. Another way, frankly, is to say… If you’re just not prepared, you just don’t have the confidence to pull it off, once you’ve had the additional conversation about that new area and you better understand it, then it’s very fair to say, “Listen, we didn’t come prepared with a presentation that really addresses that one topic, but we’d be delighted to come back and share our thoughts on that.” And most people are understanding about this.

Perfect world though, is that you are able to engage on the spot, you’re able to the conversation as appropriate to that new topic, ask them some questions, understand it a little better, and then give them a framework for how you would begin approaching that.

Drew McLellan:

I have to think that for most people, that somewhere in the presentation, there is something that tangentially relates to that. So you could say, “Wow, you know what? Later, we’re going to talk about some ideas we have to boost your online sales. And that would be a great time to talk about this issue as well. So we’ll circle back to that when we get there,” right?

Steve Boehler:

I think that’s a really good idea. And once we’ve got in this formal presentation, we’ve got them to agree on what the objectives are for the day’s discussion. And they’ve agreed to the agenda. We typically then recommend that you then start to present your analysis and you present in a very clear way and you try to recap what you’ve heard from them, but then you add your own insights and analysis that takes it further than they have.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. You could even put a slide in your deck for new agenda items. So you could anticipate that there would be something and put a slide in there and then say, “Okay, now let’s go back and talk about how you want to use attendance in New Mexico or whatever it was.” Right?

Steve Boehler:

That’s right. And now, we normally would recommend… So, by the way, at this point, we haven’t talked about ourselves. So this could be the time. Usually a little later in the presentation, we would tell you to start talking about yourselves, but when you get to that point where there’s a new topic and you’re maybe a little uncomfortable, you don’t feel like you can pull it off on the fly, a natural evolution would be to jump to that little commercial break about your agency. And what we recommend is before you get to the solution, so you’ve already talked about your analysis, you’ve talked about what their business problems are, you’ve talked about your analysis and what new learning you might have brought to the party, you then take a quick break and indicate to them that at this point, it’s maybe a good quick time to cover why your agency is the right agency. And we recommend that you have five slides, five slides about the agency and only five slides. And it’s a slide about your [crosstalk 00:40:12].

Drew McLellan:

So we’re going to take a break, because I know everyone wants to know what those five slides are. So I know you guys will come back. We’re going to take a quick break and we’ll be right back where Steve will reveal the secret of the five slides.

One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach, I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners or AEs in our AE boot camps. But most of all, I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach. If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency to best management practices of agency owners to new business, to AE boot camps and a plethora of other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com/livetraining. Okay, let’s get back to the show.

Welcome back everybody. Here with Steve Boehler from Mercer Island Group. And we were talking about biz dev. And right before the break, Steve was to tell us about the five slides that we should use when we are basically making the case that we are the right agency. So, okay, Steve. So what are the five slides?

Steve Boehler:

Okay. Let’s quickly recap where we’ve been. We got into the meeting, we got them to tell us one thing that wanted to get out of the meeting, we got them to acknowledge that we had heard them and we understood the right business issues or they added to that business issue list. So now we’re talking about their business. We moved on and we tackled those issues. We shared what we’d heard from them about those business issues and our new analysis. So we’re brilliant and they’re seeing that we understand their business. Now we get to the five slides. We’re taking a little commercial time out and there’s really only five key areas. One is what is our philosophy as an agency. We want them to understand what it is about us that makes us tick and how we approach the business. Think of that as a positioning.

The second is we want to share our strategic process. What is that process our agency goes through to help them solve their problems? The third slide is what we would call an interaction process. And this is how we proclaim how we work with people. What makes us human? What makes us the people that you might want to work with? Fourth, capability slide, not terribly detailed, but at a high level. What are the things that we do? What are the services that we offer? So they have a full view of the agency. And finally, the fifth slide is what we would call a herd theory slide, which is these are the clients we’ve done this for, our current clients, our past clients.

Drew McLellan:

This is our logo slide, right?

Steve Boehler:

It’s the logo slide. And we call it the herd theory because people like to run with a pack. And so they want to know that you are associated with a fabulous herd. Okay. Now, those five slides, frankly, could also be a way to begin to tackle how you would approach a problem that you weren’t ready to talk about, because you could have jumped to the strategic process slide and say, “Okay, we’re not really ready to talk about this new issue that you’ve raised, but let me tell you how we approach issues like this.”

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Here’s how we would start to talk about that.

Steve Boehler:

That’s exactly right. And by the way, we have handled this issue for these kinds of clients and you go to the logo slide. And so there’s a way to riff or make it up on the spot, because you’ve done it. And most agencies have seen almost everything. So now you’ve done that, you’ve taken them through the five slides and you transition back to them. So you say something like, so let’s now talk about how we can make our process at our agency work to address your business challenges. And again, see the emphasis is going to be on their business. And so you present this solution, whatever that solution is, whether it’s creative or media or whatever agency you are.

You’ve of course, explained simply how it works. And then you position the solution as being the best for them, because you understand their business better than, of course, your competitors. And so one of the things we encourage is that when you’re presenting that solution, you use your agency process to walk them through how you got there. Now, what you’re doing is you’re reinforcing that you actually have a way of doing things. That’s repetitive-

Drew McLellan:

Right, and you actually follow it.

Steve Boehler:

And you follow it. And frankly, it gives you a framework to tell the story using agency language. As you’re telling it, make sure you make sure you match the benefits of your solution back directly to the business issue. So one of the issues is acquisition. Make sure you’re highlighting how that solution that you’re presenting is directly going to address new customer acquisition, for example. Use stories. So we’re not big proponents of detailed classic case studies. We would prefer and encourage agencies to tell little stories when the time is right. So you’re in the middle of presenting your solution and you’ve got a specific tactic you’re recommending, that’s a good time to say, “And you know what? We’ve done this for A, B and C, and it worked every time. It built business 30% in this case and 15% in this other case.” If they want more detail, they’ll ask.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and odds are, it was in your RFP response or it’s on your website or it’s somewhere already. They’ve either seen it or they can find it if they want all of the detail.

Steve Boehler:

That’s exactly right. And you’re constantly asking confirmation questions to just maintain that dialogue. We’d already established dialogue earlier in this presentation. This is a discussion, it’s not a speech. And so you’re asking things like, does this make sense? Are you with me? To just keep them head nodding. So now you’ve presented the solution and it’s really important then to wrap up by going back to that set of notes that you had on the flip chart and explain how your approach is going to address the issues that you identified at the very front of the meeting. So a little drama, you’re pointing to the list and you’re explaining how solution A will get this item and solution B will get to this other business issue that they talked about. And pretty much you’re ready to wrap. One of the things agencies don’t do is ask for the business.

Drew McLellan:

That’s fascinating. Yeah.

Steve Boehler:

Yeah. They’ve gone through this 60 minutes or whatever this presentation is. They’ve never really asked. And we really think it’s an important thing. We think everybody should ask for the business. And it’s simple and it’s endearing and do it in an authentic way. Just look them in the eye and tell them that you’d be honored to work with them, whatever the right language is for you. And then say something really simple like that’s really what we had planned for the day. The real question is, do you like it? Now, it’s an interesting question and it sounds risky. But the thing is, you want to leave them having said something out loud positive. There’s a little bit of-

Drew McLellan:

Psychology, right?

Steve Boehler:

…psychology. Yeah. Right. They don’t want to contradict themselves. And so they’ll tell you. And in almost all cases, there’s something they liked. They’ll tell. And so then you wrap up, you ask for the order and you suggest some kind of an easy next step, which depends on where you are in the process. It could be offering to bring them over to your agency to show them around, show them how you really work. It could be that asking if it would help if you submitted a written proposal recapping the discussion. Whatever that next step is, I think it’s really important to recognize that selling is a process, it’s a long term process, is a lot of little steps and each step along the way, we’re just trying to get those little wins. We’re trying to get to a next positive step.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So a lot of agencies talk a lot about the leave behind. Does it matter what they leave behind? Should they leave something behind? I have some agencies who have a bound book, I have other agencies that are leaving iPads with their presentation on it. So does it make sense? If so, what makes sense? And what’s too much?

Steve Boehler:

I think an iPad is too much.

Drew McLellan:

It feels like a bribe, right?

Steve Boehler:

Yes, it does. And I think we’re strong believers that the fluff is nearly as important as the meat of showing you that you can solve their business issues. Though if you put most of your energy into understanding their business issue, communicating that you understand their issue and finding a good solution that really works for them, I would make that story the lead behind. Just stick to your script. You understand their business, you know what their business issue is and you can help solve it. That’s why they’re looking for a partner. They’ve got some business issue they want to solve. And so I don’t think it has to be a huge book, I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money on it. It’s nice to have a summary or it’s nice to have the presentation that you gave.

Drew McLellan:

And it shouldn’t look like a high school report. There does need to be some sizzle with the steak, right?

Steve Boehler:

Well, I think as long as the emphasis is on the strategy and the business issues, then the yes, it should be good looking. You’re an agency of some type, if it looks crappy, that’s not a good reflection on the agency.

Drew McLellan:

Right. Absolutely.

Steve Boehler:

Right. But be concise. They’re not going to read 100 pages.

Drew McLellan:

Right. So as we have many a time, but we could talk about this forever, so if we have one last leave behind or take away for agency folks, what’s the biggest mistake you see agencies make, other than talking about themselves, which I think we’ve covered? What’s the other big mistake that agencies make that diminish or completely knock them out of the running, diminish their chances or knock them out of the running of the client, making them the right choice?

Steve Boehler:

Well, I think I’m going to cheat and give you a couple.

Drew McLellan:

Okay.

Steve Boehler:

And I’ll turn it around and make these guardrails. I think a critical guardrail that trips up some agencies is only pitch if you’re pitching to win, only go to sell if you’re selling to win that business. And that means a lot of different things, but that means if the client really expects some spec work as part of the competitive pitch and you’re just not going to do it, just don’t bother.

Drew McLellan:

Don’t show up.

Steve Boehler:

Don’t show up. You don’t have enough time to do a half job pitching. And we have to pitch. I relearn this lesson every couple years. So we’ll just do a half assed job and I’ll know it and it won’t work. You got to go all in. Okay. And the second piece is start strong and finish strong. These are related ideas, but we see often the… If maybe there’s three or four agencies being looked at by a client, that somebody will start really strong and fizzle out towards the end. And somebody else will learn. Will not start all that strong, they’ll be okay, but they’ll really hearing the client and they’re really learning from every experience. And they’re the ones that finish really strong.

We did the Seabourn Cruise Line review a year or two ago, and some nice 50 person agency started in a pretty big hole against some other agencies, but they stuck with it, they did the best analysis, they had the best insights, they finished with the best creative, and they won the business because they finished.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. They kept notching up.

Steve Boehler:

They kept notching up. And by the end it was crystal clear they were the right people when at the very start, yeah, just one of the agencies.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Interesting.

Steve Boehler:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

This has been awesome like I knew it would be. Thank you. One of the things I love about you and Robin and one of the reasons why we continue to work together is you guys are so generous with what you’ve learned and you’re so eager to help agencies put the best foot forward. And so on behalf of all the listeners, thank you so much for your time today and coming ready to teach.

Steve Boehler:

Thank you so much, Drew. I really appreciate that.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. So Steve, if people want to track you guys down and learn more about Mercer Island Group, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Steve Boehler:

[email protected] or migroup.com. Or you can just call the office (206) 236-0447.

Drew McLellan:

So we will put all of that in the show notes. Steve has also made a generous offer. So I would be remiss in not reminding you what I mentioned during the show, which is if you’re listening to this real time and you enjoyed this, this was an hour out of what is 16 hours of teaching and hanging out at dinner and picking their brain. And so if you have any interest at all in growing your agency and learning how to do it better, I highly recommend the workshop that we’re doing in January. And I can brag about it, because honestly, I sit in the back of the room and I’m like the color guy that makes a comment every once in a while. And really Steve and Robin are just bringing their smarts.

So if you’re interested in that, just go to the website, agencymanagementinstitute.com and click on our workshop schedule and you’ll see it. It’s the last Thursday and Friday in January. And I know this is going to make you very sad, but it’s on Disney property. So you have to spend a little time in Florida in January. And for most of us, depending on where you live, that does not suck. Steve has also generously offered that if you have a business issue around your agency and you want to talk to somebody who talks agencies every day and understands new business in a way that very few people can, because they see it from both sides of the curtain, Steve has invited you to call him for free and chat with him about your issue. So again, we’ll put that phone number there, we’ll put his email address so you can email him and take him on that offer. So, Steve, again, thank you. Thank you so much.

Steve Boehler:

Really appreciate it. Thanks, Drew.

Drew McLellan:

You bet. That wraps up another episode of build a better agency. Hopefully, you found it incredibly helpful and inspiring, and that you are ready to go out and do some great things. I also want to talk to you about another tool that we’ve built that I would love to offer you. So as you’ve probably heard me preach, I believe a lot of agencies chase after the wrong new business prospects. And I think we do that because we have not taken the time to clearly define who our sweet spot clients should be. And the way you do that is by looking at your current clients and then developing out who your prospect should be based on your best current clients.

So we’ve put together a sweet spot client filter, say that five times fast, that I would love for you to take advantage of and for you to use inside your shop to figure out exactly who you should be targeting for new business. To get access to that free tool, all you need to do is text AMI for Agency Management Institute as you might imagine, AMI, text that to 38470. Again, text AMI to 38470, and we will get the sweet spot client filter out to you right away. Thanks again for listening. If I can be helpful, you can find me as always at [email protected] Otherwise, I will touch base with you next week with another great episode. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to midsize agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.