For years, I worked on the vendor side of the vendor/agency equation, and I was continually frustrated with my inability to crack the code and get business going with the big league ad agencies
I had great pitches, I had great products, and often times I even had great direct contacts. But I never got anywhere. Ever.
And it wasn’t until I switched teams and became “an agency guy”, that I truly understood why I had failed so hard, for so long, at getting one of those elusive ad agency deals.
As it turns out, the reasons for my failure (and likely the reasons for yours) were really fucking simple. So what I’m about to say here is pretty obvious. But having had experiences on both sides of the fence, I can confidently tell you that this is where 99% of vendors go wrong when approaching ad agencies for business.
- You’re trying to sell me what you have, not what I need.
This is, without qualification, the single biggest failure of vendors that try to pitch ad agencies. I, like many of my colleagues, literally get 10-15 cold-calls, and nearly twice as many emails per day, pitching me software, services, conferences, apps, and other wares that are ostensibly designed to help my clients and I.
And almost all of these pitches are in the form of a mass email or generic overview deck. Rarely (if ever) does a vendor reach out with any specificity or attempt to solve for a potential need that we may have.
Our client listing is right on our website. Our work for these clients is out in the open on the web, tv, Facebook and Twitter. On my LinkedIn profile, I even list the clients that I personally work on. You can find out a lot about my clients, my potential needs, and me before you even pick up the phone.
But you usually don’t. You just dump a generic Powerpoint on me, followed by a request for a meeting. We’ll get to that second part in a moment.
If you want to break through the clutter (and man, is there a lot of clutter), the best way to get someone’s attention, is to be specific and offer to solve a problem.
I know that you don't know precisely what my needs are. But take an educated guess. Because even if you’re wrong, this little attempt at understanding my needs, does two things. First, it sets you apart from your copy/paste brethren, and second, it tells me that you’d likely be a good partner. One that takes the time to understand the issues, and works to solve them.
- You’re not clearly articulating what makes you the best/different.
“Best in class”, “revolutionary”, “ROI”, “multi-channel”, “measurable”, etc etc etc.
Skip the buzzwords and sales speak, and tell me why you’re different. Again, most of us get bombarded with pitches every day. I guarantee that not only are you the fifth social media ads vendor of the day, but you’re also the fifth one to use what appears the be the exact same argument (down to the word) for why we should use you.
Give me something specific that sets you apart. Tell me what you have (specifically) that your competitors don’t. Give me a feature, an access point, a relationship or a data set that no one has but you. Know your advantage over the unwashed masses, and focus in on that.
- You’re not mindful of timing.
Back in my startup days, someone once said to me, that when you call on someone at an agency, they are only interested in your pitch if you are solving a specific need that they have in that very moment.
I now understand what he meant. Which is that a call placed to a mid-level media planner, pitching a media platform for instance, is only going to be fruitful if you happen to time it to perfectly coincide with that media planner’s schedule of planning for a buy.
The way to get around this (obviously), is to better understand the timing of your target. In this example, the media planner.
You need to get in the know, and figure out when budgets are being set, when they are final, when planning happens, and when buys happen. If you understand the cadence of the process you’re trying to insert yourself into, you’ll be far more likely to land that call at the perfect time.
As it happens, the best way to figure out this schedule, is simply to ask. If and when you do get someone on the phone, ask them when these critical times are. Then make note of them, and call back (again, with a solve for a need) when the time is right.
- You’re carpet-bombing my entire team.
HUGE pet peeve of almost everyone in the world, not just ad agencies. DO NOT go on LinkedIn, find everyone at an organization, figure out the email structure, and send us all the same sales email in a short burst.
Chances are that we all sit close to one another, and we’re all getting your email at the same time. We’re also all asking one another if we got your email, and when we realize we did, we are all deleting it in unison.
Pick one person that you think makes the decisions, focus on them, and do the above. Don’t be a spammer. And yes, sending the same email, to 20 people at once, is spam. Even if you are sending it from Outlook.
- You’re asking me to meet in person.
Don’t cold-email me asking to set up an in person meeting as a first step.
I’m not trying to be a precious prima Donna here, but my most protected resource is my time. Trying to schedule an in-person meeting is a giant pain in the ass. I need to coordinate schedules (usually with multiple people), find a meeting room, ensure we have the proper A/V setup, clear you with building security, and then try to rustle up co-workers to join the conversation. Usually, all so you can come read aloud to us, the generic pitch deck you probably just sent me.
This is especially obnoxious to anyone in the creative or strategy space, as we HATE having our workflows interrupted by 30-minute blocks of unproductive time. Read Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule, and you’ll get why.
Start with an email (and again, make that email count), and I promise you, if we like what you’ve got, and have a need, we’ll ask you for the meeting. Trust me.
If there are other agency (or in-house brand for that matter) friends that have other tips to add, I’d love to hear them. Follow the above though, and I promise you, you’ll have better luck breaking through.