Each month, Artemis Partnership’s ‘5 Thoughts from the Field’ will feature executives from a variety of fields to hear their insight on business development, pursuits, secrets to success and more.
About Trish Wheaton:
Trish is a senior marketing executive with a record of helping companies leverage their data assets and digital communications to drive profitable growth. Her background in senior global positions at two of WPP’s largest agencies, Wunderman and Y&R Advertising, has provided a holistic perspective of marketing’s integral role in business transformation and of global consumer trends.
Currently, Trish is principal and founder of LEANING OUT, an executive consultancy that prepares and inspires senior professional women for post-career success and purpose. She also serves as a senior consultant for the Artemis Partnership, a business development consultancy with a key objective to help clients win more new business.
1. What was the secret, or secrets, to the business development successes that your agencies achieved?
There are always a few success factors in business development but the ‘thread of steel’ that defined our approach was empathy.
When going into a competitive pursuit, we always kept in mind that the competition was fully capable of developing an outstanding solution as well. But I believe empathy was the tipping point to winning pursuits and it informed each stage, from RFP to final presentation.
⦁ First, we went beyond understanding the prospect’s stated business challenges to truly get insight into their unstated pain points and developed our response accordingly. How do you uncover those pain points? They are often hidden in plain sight. Even something as simple as an analysis of RFP questions, the overall themes, the frequency, etc. can provide a lot of insight.
⦁ Second, empathy also meant understanding—beyond the stated corporate goals--the key decision makers’ respective measures for personal success. To borrow an analogy from golf, a pursuit ‘swing thought’ I used with my teams was: ‘Think about how each prospect in the room gets promoted (and/or bonused) and what can we do to make them successful?’’
⦁ Finally, without shape shifting into something inauthentic, we tried to communicate in ways that resonated with their culture, not just our culture, and with their personal communication styles. Understanding their ‘corporate language’ and the individual communication styles of the key decision makers (Were they analytical? Emotive? Proof based?) - then communicating accordingly.
And when I took those victory calls we all live for in new business, I often heard, “You really ‘got’ us.”
2. What are your thoughts about how agencies now approach business development?
Too many agencies still wait for the RFP to begin the pursuit and still focus almost entirely on developing the best solution to win the business.
The time-honored agency model is to make sure you get on ‘the list’, whether the search is headed by consultants or is client directed. Then, conduct the client deep dive and put the wheels in motion to develop a solution . . . a really killer solution. Solution development is where most of the time is spent and sometimes (often) is finessed through the wee hours the night before the pitch (sound familiar agency peeps?).
And while this approach can lead to new business success, which in the agency business averages around a 35%-win rate, it isn’t maximizing the opportunities that are out there. You are still losing 65% of the time which is a huge drain on resources and morale. And those solutions you spent so much time on? 65% of them now lie on the pitch room floor.
But the COVID crisis has forced both clients and agencies to be more adaptive so maybe it’s a good time to for agencies to reconsider their business development approach. Be more proactive. Get ahead of the RFP by identifying best prospects and developing plans for attracting them. Those plans can take a variety of forms but have a plan for strategic growth and act upon it.
Agencies that do this will see their win rates increase significantly, win more revenue, have less drain on resources, and create solutions that actually get bought.
3. What advice do you have for corporate CMO’s on how to go about an agency selection process?
Two things are imperative:
⦁ One, be as transparent as you can be about your business requirements. Have a dialog with the agencies and not enforce a cone of silence. You want the winning agency to be a true partner, not just a transactional one. So, start the potential relationship with as much transparency and opportunity for exchange as possible.
⦁ Secondly, reweight the importance of the pitch presentation in making the final decision. I’ve been in some amazing pitches over the years, where for two hours it is absolute showtime. And in my, albeit subjective, opinion no one comes close to agencies at presenting and creating conference room theater. But it’s a flawed system for finding a creative partner not to mention a business partner. I’m not saying get rid of pitch presentations but find additional opportunities.
4. Many agencies are now looking at new sources of revenue.
They’re adding services, trying to break into new markets, perhaps trying to punch above their weight. What advice would you have for them?
Go for it! Your clients won’t grow, and you won’t grow by standing still. Clients’ business needs are constantly evolving, and they look to agencies to meet those needs by leading not just fast following.
HOWEVER, do not just put out a shingle and think you now offer that service (which as farfetched as it seems, I have seen happen). Service offerings aren’t the product of magical thinking. Add new capabilities, not just by hiring a solo expert, but make sure you are aware in advance of the resource investment you’ve taken on and fund accordingly. And importantly, invest in the talent and roles that may not be on your current org chart for a client’s account - such as a Chief Operating Officer. Dedicated account COO’s can ensure all the moving parts, both client and agency, are connected and the services amplify each other rather than create a centrifugal force that spins out of control.
5. Besides your role with Artemis as a senior consultant, what’s keeping you busy nowadays?
I’m fortunate to have what I call a ‘portfolio career’. That is, involvement with businesses and boards where I can converge my professional experience with my passions. Artemis being one of them.
Three years ago, I founded a consultancy called LEANING OUT™ with the mission to prepare late-career professional women for post-career success. I founded it because there were no resources to support the transition from a full throttle career to what should be ones ‘Primetime’. It has been extremely gratifying working with so many outstanding women as they stand on the shoulders of their professional selves to envision their personal ‘what’s next?’
Yet, even with all my professional involvements, I enjoy having more time to work on my golf game (the LPGA isn’t going to call anytime soon) and play with my grandchildren. This is truly my Primetime.