Peppercomm’s 20 Biggest New Business Mistakes, Part II

Here’s a continuation of Peppercomm’s 20 biggest new business flubs in our 20 years of conducting business…

six-business-mistakes-we-made-at-our-agency11.) Due diligence. Once upon a time, logistics was a very big deal in the dotcom B2B space. And, thanks to some brick-and-mortar experience we’d previously amassed, we were beautifully positioned to land some big accounts. We hit pay dirt on day one. A dotcom called Right Freight called us up, and offered us the gig on the spot (that’s the way things worked back then). We naturally accepted. Then, literally, 24 hours later, we received a call from RF’s direct competitor offering us double the fee. Being the unscrupulous mercenaries we were at the time, we hopped into bed with the far larger competitor. I still remember my subsequent call with the RF CEO telling him we wouldn’t be working with him. It wasn’t pretty. Anyway, we did a great job for Brand X, and they were soon acquired. Now, fast forward a year or so. The dotcom bubble had yet to burst. A call came in from yet another logistics company. The CMO said he’d heard great things about us and asked for an immediate meeting. We hustled right over to their offices, sat down and, lo and behold, guess who strode in? The former CEO of Right Freight. My partner and I broke the world’s record for the 100-yeard dash as we dashed out of the toxic setting. Outcome: you guess. #CheckTheProspectWebsiteBeforeTheMeeting #CustersLastStand

12.) The front page of The Wall Street Journal: Our team was in the midst of a very positive meeting with a leading university’s representatives. They were candid with us, making a point of saying every other firm with whom they worked in the past had promised them coverage on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. But, they’d never, ever delivered. I assured them we never promised coverage, especially on the front page of the Journal, but we’d do our best. Then, in strode one of our senior players. I was in the process of bringing him up to speed, mentioned the Journal, and he said, “Oh, we can get you on the front page.” Outcome: We lost. #ListeningSkills #BraggadocioKills

13.) Beware the mole: We’ve had some truly disastrous experiences with moles (i.e. people within the prospect organization we were pitching who gave us the inside scoop on exactly what would win over the hearts and minds of the prospect). In one memorable case, we created a proposal that was both reviewed, and edited, by the mole before we presented it. At the conclusion, the decision maker stood up, jingled some loose coins, and said, “That was perhaps the most glib and superficial presentation I’ve ever heard.” On another occasion, I ran into the client-side decision-maker who had sat through one of our mole-guided presentations a year or so earlier. He pulled me aside and said, “You know, your pitch was so far off-base that it was almost laughable.” Outcomes in both cases: We lost. #WereNowAMoleFreeEnvironment #IfSomethingIsTooGoodToBeTrueItUsuallyIs

14.) Industry-experience not required: We were once invited to pitch a well-known beverage company whose CMO said he was desperately looking for fresh ideas from an industry outsider. He said he’d had enough of doing the same-old, same-old with the same old, same old PR firms that specialized in beverages. We were pumped. This was a big brand and winning it would put us in an entirely new category. Once we began our pitch, however, the prospect team started hammering us on our lack of beverage industry experience. The CMO was multitasking on his mobile device the entire time and conveniently averted any direct eye contact with me. We were ushered out of the room after about 90 minutes and told we’d hear from them shortly. We did. They said we lacked industry experience. Outcome: We lost. #ProspectsWillSayOneThingAndMeanAnother #FocusOnUrCoreCompetancies

15.) Pop some Dramamine: Long ago and far away, we were wrapping up a very successful new business pitch. At the conclusion, the lead prospect said he’d like to ask each team member what he, or she, liked most and least about working at Peppercomm. One by one, the team members nailed the answers (BTW, working with me was the universal answer to the one thing they liked least about working at Peppercomm). At long last, it was time for the most junior staffer to weigh-in. She said she loved the vibe at Peppercomm but, frankly, hated the daily, two-hour bus commute to-and-from work. She said she was prone to car sickness, and vomited each-and-every time. Outcome: We lost. #Upchucking #WhatAwayToLoseaPitch #WonderIfSheStillVomitsTwiceAday

16.) Don’t believe what you’re told: A global executive search firm invited us to pitch their U.S. business. The lead marketing executive assured us that a global presence was totally irrelevant to this particular assignment. We killed in the first meeting and were immediately invited back. The second meeting featured a few additional players. About midway through the presentation, one of them stopped us and said, in a thick German accent, “Ya. Ya. Ya. This is all good, but how do you help us in Stuttgart, Lisbon, Brussels and other key markets?” I responded by saying we were told this was strictly a U.S.-only assignment. The original contact said nothing. “No. No. No,” said the German, “We need boots on the ground. Period.” Outcome: We lost. #OneSometimesNeedsACrystalBall #ScaryHearingAgermanSayBootsOnTheGround

17.) You’re too smart: A major, Japanese-based oil company invited us to pitch their global employee communications work. We did our homework, walked across town to meet with their U.S.-based marketing chief and shared our plan. At the end, he sighed and said, “This is exactly what we need. But, frankly, it’s far too sophisticated for today. Maybe we could do it in 10 years but not now. Unfortunately, you’re too smart for us.” Outcome: We lost. #StartDumbingDownOurPresos #WhatsTheWorldComingTo

18.) The five-year itch: We had done an award-winning, kick-ass job for a large insurance company when, after five years, our lead contact called and said the new CEO wanted to test the waters and see what other firms had to offer. Fair enough. That said, our client assured us he had our back, and was not about to let any change take place. Fast-forward to the day of the pitch. Our lead client was sitting alongside the new CEO and began the meeting by saying, “Well, every relationship, whether it’s personal or professional, starts to get old and tired after five years. We love what you’ve done for us, but it’s time for a change.” Outcome: We lost. #Backstabbing #LotsOfDrinkingAfterwards

19.) A three-hour cruise: We had just met with a leading organization in the wonderful world of maritime insurance. The lead marketing executive loved us and, at the end of the meeting, told us we’d been hired. Just three hours later, he called and said, “Look, I’m sorry about this, but I didn’t check with our CFO to see I had a marketing budget. Turns out I don’t. So, unfortunately, you’re fired.” #DaveyJonesLocker #YaGottaBeKiddingMe

20.) Mind the initials. We were pitching an uber important new piece of business. When we arrived at the scene, both sides exchanged introductions. As it turned out, a key client decision maker went by the initials J.B. One of our crack team members, responded by saying, “Pleasure to meet you, B.J.” And, despite prods, written notes slid over to our clueless colleague and looks that would kill from our entire team, this guy kept on calling the prospect B.J. instead of J.B. Outcome: We won the business. #TalkAboutDodgingAbullet #TheresAwakwardAndThenTheresInjectingOralSexSlangIntoApitch

So, that’s it. I could have easily listed 50 more flubs, and probably will do so in the year 2045. So, stay tuned.

Do any of you agency types have your own war stories to share? I’d love to hear… but don’t expect me to ever respond.

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