Sorry, but your firm is over-qualified

OverquasssslifiedJust when I thought I’d heard it all, I just heard something new.

After meeting with a prospect and submitting a detailed proposal, our team was greeted by a ‘dear agency’ e-mail that read in part:

“You simply possess too much experience. As a result, we feel both parties would grow frustrated by the lack of expertise on our end.”


So, instead, the prospect selected competitor “whose skill sets better match our own.”


So, I guess they went with a firm that had no experience whatsoever in a rather arcane field and just decided they’d unknowingly step on the minefields in tandem. Now, that’s what I call teamwork! It’s also more than a tad bizarre.

Imagine if other organizations purposely avoided hiring the most talented, qualified individual:

– “Sorry, Tommy, you easily had the strongest, and most, accurate arm in the college combine, but Jets fans will be more comfortable if we select yet another quarterback whose interceptions exceed the number of touchdown passes thrown.”

– “Squadron Leader Smythe-Smith-Smythe, you clearly have flown more hours in more advanced jets and in worse weather conditions than any other candidate. But, at United Airlines, we purposely look for mediocre pilots who will provide the same, poor level of service and quality our passengers have come to expect.”

– “Cardinal Birkhahn, the College of Cardinals has never interviewed a more pious, humble or forward-thinking papal candidate. And your choice in sweaters is unparalleled. But, we need someone who will undo the decisions made by our most recent leader, and keep his mind firmly fixed in the 14th century.”

So, how about you? Do you know of any firm in any industry that lost a sales pitch because it was simply too well-qualified? If so, please share the news. Misery loves company.

16 thoughts on “Sorry, but your firm is over-qualified

  1. As I may have mentioned to you, Matt. This wasn’t a matter of our having more industry knowledge than the prospect. Rather, we possessed more technical knowledge needed to first, conduct the research needed, and second, to launch a new website based upon those findings. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the prospect’s industry expertise, or lack thereof. I think he was simply looking to find the same firm that had built the original ObamaCare website.

  2. Great topic, RepMan. But I beg to differ with you. I actually give this prospective client tremendous credit.

    Leading agencies pride themselves on knowing the business of their client’s business, inside and out. Unfortunately, we have all been in client-service situations where the agency actually knows MORE, sometimes much more, about the client’s industry hot topics than the client…especially if that client is a dyed-in-the-wool corporate PR person (no offense).

    In my (short) agency career, I have had the pleasure of working alongside former journalists, industry analysts and very experienced marketers. There have been times when one of these experts possessed much more knowledge about an industry issue than our day-to-day client contact.

    And, I must admit, often our counsel went right over our client’s head and into the ether. Indeed, both sides were left frustrated. So kudos to this prospect for having the self-awareness to follow Shakespeare’s maxim: To thine own self be true.

  3. Thanks for the additional insight. Sounds like I’ve been dodging a bullet all these years. Either that, or I was that dumbed down competitor in previous shoot outs.

    • Steve, you have been fortunate. About six months after starting my consultancy, I received what I considered to be an unusual response from a potential client I had been courting: I was too strategic and they didn’t need anyone that sophisticated. Besides, they were sure I’d be hired in less than six months by a company, and they didn’t want to have to find someone else all over again.

  4. This clients deserves exactly what they get when they hire an inexperienced agency. Good luck to them. I have never heard of a more LAME excuse for not hiring the BEST, most qualified professionals in all my life. Hire amateurs instead! Insane.

  5. This is déja vu all over again, Steve. We’ve had this happen at least four times in the past five years. The only thing I can figure is that it’s akin to the “it’s not you, it’s me” reply I heard way too often in my high school years…

    Onward and upward, Steven!

  6. Great story, Jon. Reminds me of the time we were in the midst of a positioning project for one of those white hot, but long dead, dotcom web design firms. I asked the. CEO what set his firm apart from competitors. He was livid. “I want the Street to think we’re just like our competitors. And I want to raise just as much money as they did when they went public!” Needless to say, Mr. Me-Too and his company both went belly-up.

  7. Because many people think avoidance is easier than candor. The latter is cathartic, the former, toxic. This prospective client will probably learn that the hard way in a continued agency search.

  8. Very insightful, Michael. So, this whole over-qualified thing might be a ruse, eh? But, why go to such drastic lengths? Why not just say, “Thanks but no thanks?”

  9. A similar anecdote. My key liaison at a former client was laid off, and when I spoke to her supervisor, he said “No one around here has more respect for Kathy than me. But the organization simply wasn’t ready for her vast talents and skill set.” Now, I worked with Kathy for a year, and my observation was she was overpaid, incompetent, had a difficult time creating rapport with fellow employees, and constantly veered from the goals set by her senior management. My point is if a reason for layoffs, or disqualifications, or agency rejection, sounds totally absurd, chances are it is. There may be another (ir)rational reason for different firm being selected, and the key contact felt like avoiding a candid discussion.

  10. Had that happen a few years ago. It was one of those pitches that felt like it couldn’t have gone any better. The prospect team was engaged in the presentation from minute one and violently agreed with our recommendations. By the end it was a total love-fest. A few days later came the message: They knew they would enjoy working with us, but our thinking was just way too sophisticated for their Fortune 50 naiveté and they hoped to be ready to hire us in three to five years. What they really wanted was a firm that would do a really good job with trade media and, they said, “not over-inflate anyone’s expectations.” Had I recognized their eager pursuit of mediocrity I could have happily recommended a competitor and saved us all a night in a bad Motel 6.

  11. actually, yes. was visiting with a large prospect once who was getting violated by a competitor. when we gave our proposal they said “this looks great but the fact i can save 20% by using you makes me wonder that this is too good to be true, so i wont be switching”. my reply was “the fact that you have a job as a purchasing manager and are costing your owner hundreds of thousands per year makes me wonder about how much you are pocketing on the side”. i am pretty certain that he wasn’t too pleased but was also pretty certain i was correct- especially after seeing his BMW 7 series outside in the lot!