New search marketing business strategists live for the thrill of the pitch. And with a slew of services that can confuse even the savviest client, they have their work cut out for them. They must simultaneously educate and evangelize to clients the merits of SEO, paid inclusion, Web analytics, and paid search. Maybe throw in social media for good measure as well.
Often, the pitching process is a knock-down, drag-out brawl between competing agencies. But new business professionals thrive in this environment. Putting on the gloves and going a toe-to-toe with all comers is the reason they joined an agency.
Stress and pressure go hand-in-hand with the development of that perfect message that will "wow" the client. Each pitch comes with a unique challenge and needs its own strategy. It takes a shrewd intellect and steady hand to deliver the knockout pitch that makes the client wonder how they ever got along without your firm.
Though conveniently (and thankfully) similar to a traditional agency's process, here's how we make the pitch in the world of search.
Round One: The RFI
In any marketing pitch, the qualifying stage must come first. A request for information (RFI) document is usually sent by the client in order to obtain statistical information about your agency and its search disciplines.
If the client does their homework upfront, this step can often be skipped. Plenty of information exists in the public domain about most of the big search agencies, and the best test may be word-of-mouth from trusted colleagues.
Questions often center around how many people an agency has servicing its clients, yearly billings, how many projects an account team services at simultaneously, and other numerical issues. Perhaps, a better way for a client to confront the selection process would be to conduct interview with prospective agencies -- not a presentation, mind you, but a sit-down, job-style interview. Often, a face-to-face discussion can tell you more about the integrity and character of an agency than their yearly billings ever could.
Round Two: The RFP
So you've qualified, huh? Brace yourself for the request for proposal (RFP).
RFPs can range from a simple half-page of bullet-pointed questions to a 30-page document filled with hundreds of questions. Both usually have the same turnaround time.
One thing that's consistent with either format: the agency team will have questions. A smart client will provide time for all account competitors to ask questions about the RFP; no matter how clearly the client thinks they've written the request, clarification is always needed.
The RFP stage is also where the brainstorming and strategy for the client need to be developed. It's a golden opportunity to impress the client with your knowledge of the search business as well as their own. A well-answered RFP will put you in good standing for the next step in the process.
Round Three: The Pitch
This is the big show. The pitch is where agencies bring out their big guns to demonstrate the importance of their business to the client. The room is often full of individuals who will never actually work on the account but have impressive titles.
Once in a while, the client requests the team that's going to work on the business to attend the meeting, which often makes upper management a bit nervous for some reason. This is the best way to represent the agency and demonstrate commitment to the business. After all, these may soon be the client's day-to-day contacts, so they should start developing a rapport as early as possible.
And the team may be the ones best qualified to answer any left-field, off-the-wall questions the client may have, which is common in search marketing. At any rate, it's a great way to show the power behind your pitch.
Back to Your Corners
Tom Petty said it best. The waiting is the hardest part of the new business process. More often than not, the client says they want to make a decision quickly, which in client speak can mean anywhere from two weeks to a month.
During this time, try to keep the team that pitched the business available, but be aware that new business pitches don't come one at a time.
This is the big payoff that new business strategists have scrapped and clawed for. You win the business and best the competition. Good news: now it's time to get started with the master service agreement (MSA) and the project statement of work -- all the fun paperwork that comes when a new client comes onboard.
It's also a good time to solicit feedback from the client on why they chose your firm over the others. This will help your positioning in pitches moving forward.
On the other hand, what if you lost the business? It may be bad news, but a loss is a good opportunity to learn and grow from the pitch. Again, this is a great time to solicit feedback from the client to determine where your agency is falling short and focus on your own developmental needs.
While the pitching process may knock you around and generally sting like a jab to the breadbasket, at worst it's a reason to keep your team and agency on the cutting edge of industry trends. If you don't keep your ideas fresh and forward-thinking, a competing agency can step in and quick deliver a killing blow.
Know the pitch process, incorporate progressive strategy, and always stay a step ahead of the other guys. In an industry where the rules can change at any time, not spotting new developments that can affect the client can mark the difference between prizefighter and a purveyor of electric grills.