Robb High’s half right

I enjoy Marketing Consultant Robb High’s regular missives on business development. Robb’s been in thePresentation
trenches, speaks from experience and draws upon the results of a recent CMO survey to prove his points.

That said, I think Robb’s most recent mailing misses the mark. High believes that most prospective clients have no interest whatsoever in learning about agencies and their capabilities in a first-round pitch. Instead, he says, they want to talk about themselves. Period.

He suggests preparing 30 or more questions and using the allotted time to have the prospect talk solely about themselves and their needs. Robb suggests not spending any time at all on the who, what, when, where or why of the agency. And, counsels High, if the prospect says, ‘…thanks…but you didn’t talk about your agency,’ he recommends the following response: ‘If the last hour of talking together doesn’t make you feel like we should go to the next step of the review, I can’t imagine what we could tell you about our agency that would change that.’

I think Robb’s half right. Countless statistics prove that prospects feel a meeting has gone well if they’ve spoken 50 percent or more of the time. So, having a prepared list of questions in your hip pocket is very smart. But, you don’t want it to be one way.

The key to establishing rapport is:
– uncovering the prospect’s pain
– pouring some salt on the wound (i.e. ‘How will your senior management react if you aren’t able to solve that problem?’)
– easing the pain (‘We’ve handled countless scenarios exactly like the one you’ve just described’)
– suggesting the two of you partner to implement a tailored solution.

By using this four-step process, we ensure the prospect speaks at least
51 percent of the time. But, the approach also enables us to put our
best foot forward and establish credibility, capability and, hopefully,

Despite what Robb and I say, though, all the rapport building and
question asking in the world won’t change a preconceived mindset. We
just lost one piece of business, for example, because the CMO believed
one global agency would provide a more cost efficient and consistent
solution (note: Just wait until he sees the offices of that global
agency fight with one another for his marketing budget). And, we’ve
lost other pitches because a prospect is hell-bent on hiring a firm
with ‘deep sector-specific’ experience (note: experience is great, but
it also tends to foster a ‘one size fits all’ solution by some

Every new business pitch is unique and requires a different approach.
High’s 30-question, ‘let the prospect do all the talking’ strategy may
make sense every now and then, but I’d opt for the 51 percent rule any
day of the week.

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