Registrants Learned What Works and Doesn’t Work When It Comes to Winning New Business Pursuits in Today’s Changing Environment
The Artemis Partnership recently hosted a CMO roundtable with client- and agency-side professionals to discuss selection considerations and more in today’s changed and changing world. Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, the Americas, moderated.
The pandemic has changed things. But not everything. Some things, panelists noted, have been flipped on their head, and others are “business as usual.”
Culture Still Matters – A Lot
Bob Kantor, CEO of Dawn noted that it’s the culture that has changed significantly. He stated it is “very difficult for individuals on Zoom to bring the culture of an organization and their personalities forward.” He referenced a recent pitch with health care professionals where, because of their business, participants had to wear masks during the presentation. “Talk about a difficulty in reading expressions and reactions,” he said.
He believes the significance/importance of culture in the selection process won’t change and pointed out that agencies that can express culture and personalities well in web presentations are doing better.
According to Mark Heavey, director of marketing & advertising for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), the pandemic accelerated work to make MTA’s procurement processes more streamlined, transparent, and as quick as possible for a government agency, “which tend to be somewhat bureaucratic,” he admitted. Among the changes, a program to train small businesses how to approach and respond to RFPs for opportunities available to women-owned firms, minority-owned firms, and, more recently, businesses owned by veterans disabled during their years of service.
Some panelists, like John Morris, vice president of advertising & media, marketing and communications at Travelers Insurance, said it’s been more difficult to connect in the COVID-19 world. “We’ve sort of been in lockdown mode,” he explained. “It's harder to take meetings. We’ve had fewer conversations over the last 12 months than we had pre-COVID.
Video meetings need to be done better
Hasan Ramusevic, chief executive officer at Hasan+Shumaker, believes some pandemic-driven changes will linger, “and for good reason, because they'll strengthen the process.” For example, geographic restrictions are less important and will continue to be.
“The (video) meetings we're having right now are here to stay,” he said. “That's not to say that milestone meetings will be done this way. I truly believe you have to visit an agency, kick the tires of the environment, see what you're buying.” But interim meetings, briefings that used to be done via conference call, will take place via web video calls.
Heavey agrees. “People are getting used to the value of seeing reactions,” he said. “You don't get the facial expressions through a phone call or a conference call. People are seeing that value and it's here to stay.”
Wiesner stressed the importance of using video calls as effectively as possible “to replicate or transmit the energy, passion, commitment, connection and chemistry that was so important before we entered this two-dimensional world.”
Be fully present
Cyndie O'Brien, chief sales, marketing and retention officer for Aspire Health Plan, encouraged agencies to be present on such video calls. Fully present. “When people don't have their Zoom cameras on, it just feels so impersonal. If you want your client to feel like you're in it, that you're ready to work on their business, keep that camera on and spend the time like you were sitting across from them at a conference table; give them that attention. It's a small but important thing when you're trying to develop a relationship.”
Kantor stressed the importance of paying attention to body language when the camera is on. “It's easy to lose focus,” he said. “I hear feedback from clients that they didn't think presenters were enthusiastic. My advice is, record your presentations and go back and look at them. You will be really surprised by how you actually look.”
Artemis helps clients learn to optimize such pitches so they can win more new business pursuits. After all, winning is better. One piece of advice from Wiesner: Along with tactics around lighting, cameras, energy, body language, and eye contact, try to make interactions over Zoom much more conversational, much more interactive.
“It’s normal to check email while someone else is talking—we can multitask because the situation allows it—but a more conversational, interactive approach draws people in, holds their attention, lets them feel valued,” he said. “We all like to be listened to, we all want to be heard.”
Insights are difference-makers
Michelle Bottomley, CEO at Modern Growth Exchange, shared what she sees as a key differentiator. She said she has been in a number of pitches over the last few years that had a lot of technology and data behind them, “but what really stood out was the ability to bring insights to the table about the business, as in ‘I couldn't sleep last night because I was thinking about your purpose. Here are some questions and here's an angle we were thinking about.’
She also encourages and values a shift from activities to true collaboration. “I have found agencies that would say, ‘Hey, we have these insights. Do you mind if we have a work session, get some sandwiches—or now I guess it would be over Zoom—and just go over some of these ideas?’ Our teams were always willing to do that, because we wanted to think together, we wanted to know how these guys think, are they asking the kind of questions we're trying to get our head around, and do they provide a unique way of thinking about things that’s different from us?”
Morris added that when his firm made the decision to switch agencies, they really wanted to understand two things: “Obviously, yes, we've talked about chemistry being critically important, but the other thing was, ‘How do they think and how did they come at the problem? What were they grappling with? What were they struggling with?’
“If you can,” he added, “somehow demonstrate and engage us in a fun way around how you think about problems. In that process you see chemistry and how the team works together.”
Bring something of value
Sometimes it’s tough to get face time with potential clients for the first time. Showing up on someone’s radar is, according to Morris, “really, really hard.” How to overcome the challenge? “The obvious one first: Is there a connection someplace in the organization?” Morris said. Another idea: Break through on “something you know about me, my company, my team, something we're struggling with” and suggest solutions.
Heavey concurs. “What's most impressed me about firms we ended up hiring is them doing their homework,” he said. “Pre-pandemic, we moved nearly 6 million people a day on subways, buses and trains. Speak to them. If you have a hypothesis about something that would improve the customer experience, speak to customers. If you bring us a problem we didn't know about or an enhancement or solution worth exploring further, that's gold to me.”
Sometimes a simple compliment works. Morris explained: “We’ve done a really powerful campaign around distracted driving and an agency called and said, ‘Hey, we love that campaign; you guys have done some amazing work with that.’” Another firm took an opposing approach on a different campaign. “They said, ‘We've seen what you're doing; we like this, but we don't understand why you did it that way. That's not how we would have thought about that solution.’ I thought that was a really interesting tack.”
It's about them not you
Sharing ideas also can pay dividends. “One of the most impressive things to me in the last few years involves content—having agencies send me content that’s relative to my business,” O’Brien noted. “I'm always thirsty for new information. One thing that elevated an agency we recently hired was their content development and regular emails.”
Sometimes chances are blown. According to Bottomley, one of the biggest mistakes agencies make in responding to RFPs involves focus, and where it’s directed. “When an agency is talking about ‘me’ and ‘I’ more than about the client, it's really hard to listen as a client.” But it’s actually bigger than that. “When it's ‘I’ and not “we,” … that looks like a solo artist or a group of individuals and not a team. Even if the ideas are brilliant, it's a really hard to overcome that issue.”
It’s no secret that winning is better, but not every try takes top prize. What can an agency do to improve its chances of winning the next project that comes up? Kantor primed his answer with a dose of reality: “Somewhere close to 40% of new client-agency relationships don't last more than 18 months, so the client may be looking to make a decision before long. And more often than not, they go to the agency that came in second.
How to win next time
“By the way,” he added, “you probably know why you didn't win. What you really need to listen for is what to do differently to improve going forward. Too many agencies ask why they didn't win and what they really should be listening for is ‘What do we need to do differently going forward to improve?’”
Ramusevic concurred. “Sit down with the prospect afterwards and ask ‘Where did we miss the ball? What could we have done better in this case? Was it the team? Sometimes you need to prompt them, because we don't always know why we choose someone. Also, ask, ‘Why did whoever won win?”
“Keep in touch with that prospect, because things may change,” O’Brien said. “Or there may come a time where they need a one-off project where they’ll use you. Keep gathering relationships and don't lose touch with the individuals.”
Note: Some quotes have been edited minimally for clarity, brevity, and style.
About The Artemis Partnership:
The Artemis Partnership’s key objective is to help clients win more new business. Revenue growth in highly competitive categories has never been more challenging and clients turn to Artemis to improve success rates for their most important pursuits. Artemis has a unique understanding of how buyers make decisions in tightly competitive categories. From this foundation, Artemis’ consulting services guide its clientele to understand and emphasize those factors, which extend well beyond the technical and pricing elements of their proposals. Clients create real differentiation by focusing on the relevant, even emotional, elements that truly matter to decision makers. This approach results in a consistent 30 to 40 percentage point improvement in conversion rates, and on specific pursuits, clients win 80 percent of the time.
The Artemis Partnership, formed in 2019 by highly-experienced business development consultants Bob Wiesner, Ian Forbes, and Graham Kean, operates in the United States, Asia Pacific and Europe, and services clients across a variety of verticals including marketing, advertising, architecture, construction, engineering, infrastructure, auditing, management consulting, IT solutions, aerospace/defense, and professional/financial services. https://www.artemispartnership.com/