June 30, 2009

The Secret New Business Formula

Filed under: New Business — Joe Grant @ 8:21 pm
Tags: ,


Can’t tell you how many times agency people have asked, “We’ve got to get another account in here, fast – what’s the secret to new business?”

Well, I could write a book on that one (and maybe someday will). Of course there’s no one silver bullet answer. But after doing scores of interviews on behalf of agencies whose new business pitches netted a second place finish, I can state with impunity that in the end it boils down to just one word.


Yup, prospects who pick someone else will tell us after some probing that the “fit” was simply better with the winning agency. “We felt better with the other guys. They were more our kind of people. There was a connection.”

OK, so it’s a little like love, huh. There’s either a spark. . . or there isn’t. We all understand that; you can’t force chemistry in personal relationships. And that after all is what agency/client connections are like, at least in the pitching phase: a romance.

Yet well-meaning agencies trying to craft a compelling story about themselves will assault prospects with dry data, case histories, and boring PowerPoints jammed with unreadable charts and tables – often delivered by uninspiring noodleheads. Where’s the romance, where’s the zing?

I don’t care what the RFP guidelines say, you MUST make personal connections with as many decision makers or influencers on the client selection team as possible, long before the final presentation. Know who has a stake in the agency choice, who’ll be at the presentation(s). . . and start to “work ‘em” immediately and often.

Call and ask to visit to get their personal take on what they want their new agency to do, why the previous one failed, what their biggest point of pain is so you can make sure to specifically address it. Learn about their careers, their interests, their kids. Find out where the pressure’s coming from, what’s standing in the way of their departmental and personal success. In short, get to know them as people – become their friend.

Why? Because it’s easier to do business with a friend, that’s why. When you walk into that presentation room on the Big Day you want to look around the table at people you know, people you already have a solid relationship with. You want to address them as individuals – as human beings with their own unique issues and vulnerabilities. Which of course you will subtly address and solve with warmth and humor in such a way that they will want to work with you, their buddies, more than anyone else.

A couple of years ago I addressed a large group of designers and advertising-types meeting in Phoenix where there was another speaker who suggested that clients were no different than ailing patients going to a medical specialist – the doctor’s job was to fix the problem (prescribe meds, replace a knee, whatever) and not waste his/her time building a “relationship.” Just fix it. Like going to Midas to get a new muffler slapped on, I guess.

I couldn’t disagree more. No matter what turn-down reason the lost prospect gives you for choosing someone else, it comes down to chemistry, romance, and maybe even pheromones. You know there’s always a lot unspoken when the lady says, “Gee, can’t go out tonight – got to wash my hair.”

Chemistry is what makes the sale in our business. So here’s a question:

How romantic was the last big pitch you lost?

By the way (if you’ll permit a little pitch of our own here) we’d be happy to interview your “lost prospects” if you haven’t had many new business wins lately. Just send an email to and I’ll fill you in on how it works.


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