5 Things to Avoid When Pitching to a Marketing Leader

In various marketing leadership roles over the years I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a broad range of service providers, from market research firms, public relations and advertising agencies, to reimbursement and regulatory specialists (and everything in-between).  Many of the initial meetings that I and team members had with these prospective service providers were awkward attempts to sell their services to our business.

Here are some of the most problematic issues to avoid when pitching your services to a VP of Marketing or CMO:

  1. The firm didn’t do their homework on our business.  While they may have spent enough time on our public website to understand what our products and services were, they hadn’t dug deep enough to understand what challenges our business might be facing and how their services might help us deal with those challenges.
  2. The agency had a standard pitch and they stuck with it.  Okay, so you have our logo in your pitch and maybe you’ve even included some industry specific examples that are relevant but the whole time your presenting I’m listening for how is this going to help my business.  Ideally, prior to the in-person you’ve had a conversation with someone in the organization to understand what keeps us up at night, how we are defining success, what kinds of help we’re looking for…why we said yes to meeting with you.  If that kind of pre-meeting discussion isn’t possible, and it often isn’t, start the meeting by getting the VP of Marketing or CMO to talk about his or her business and what’s working well or what’s not working well enough.  Then tailor what you speak to, the examples you use, the points you emphasize according to what you’ve heard (This may require a bit of forethought on how to structure a pitch that allows for this kind of real-time customization.  But it’s better to jump around in a deck than to have a perfect polished off-pitch presentation.).  The worst possible thing to do is ask for the input in a perfunctory way and then give the same pitch you were going to give anyway (active not-listening is a killer).
  3. It wasn’t clear what kind of engagement the agency had in mind or how they would execute it.  Sometimes the agency offering is vague or too complex for me to have a  clear sense of what an initial engagement would look like.  Do I have a clear sense of what an initial engagement would look like, from kick-off to project recap?  And if the VP of Marketing/CMOs initial thinking centers around are you addressing my compelling needs, the next phase focuses on credibility and confidence:  Can you and your agency reliably execute the program your pitching?  If I don’t have a crystal clear sense of the ways in which your firm works, that your thinking is logical and uncluttered and that your processes are effective and streamlined, it’s a killer.
  4. The agency didn’t convey compelling competitive differentiation.  A VP of Marketing or CMO worth his or her salt has a clear sense of why their customers buy from them vs. the competition.  Differentiation is fundamental to how the company and it’s products and services are positioned.  By constitution and training they are listening for compelling value propositions as you speak.  They are trying to answer the question, “I don’t have a track record with your agency.  Why should I take a chance with you?”.  Your crisp articulation of why your agency is uniquely qualified to deliver value to your potential client is the counter-weight to the uncertainty of working with a new agency.  I have had the odd experience of bringing in an agency that I have worked with in the past to a new company or client and listened to their pitch and thought to myself, that’s not why these guys are worth working with…they don’t know their own strategic value.  I’ve have had to chime in to anchor the agency’s value proposition in terms that are relevant to the audience.  That the agency then cheerfully stated that I sold them better than they did is cold comfort.
  5. I was looking for a strategic partner and they wanted to be told what to do.  I believe that a really good agency becomes an extension of the marketing staff, by understanding the company’s strategy, goals and stresses.  If they are grounded in that understanding, bring their expertise to the table, and can offer insight and advice, even if it challenges convention, that is immeasurably valuable.  I’m not talking about getting free consulting;  I’m talking about having a strategic underpinning to the services you offer.  Whether it’s PR or media mix decisions, if the agency is solely soliciting input and then feeding back an aligned programmatic response, then the agency is dwelling at a certain level of value.  If on the other hand, the agency has an understanding of the company’s strategy, strengths and challenges, and provides not what was asked for but what is needed, with clear thinking on why the program will deliver on the CMOs objectives, then your agency value will rise to a new, higher standing.  Your value will be measure not simply on program execution but your contribution to evolution of the marketing organization and its ability to advance the company’s strategy.
I recommend circling back with customers you win and customers your don’t win to get a sense of what’s resonating and what’s falling flat.  Your clients are doing that all the time with their customers (Net Promoter Score (NPS) has gained traction, though I’m not a huge fan of this technique).  Nothing pleases a marketing leader more than being treated with the same care they are showing to their own customers.