Oct 11

Prospecting 101

There are right ways and wrong ways to develop new business. Alaska-state-library-photograph-pca-44-3-15-sourdough-in-stream-panning-for-gold-skinner

The right way is to first conduct deep research on a prospect organization, arrive at some sort of possible 'white space' opportunity and then 'ask' the prospect's permission to discuss the findings.

The wrong way is to spam the prospect. One of our clients, who leads communications for a global brand, says she is literally being deluged by spam pitches from myriad public relations firms. They're arriving in ever-increasing numbers, are 'inside out' in their approach (i.e. “We're a great agency and you'd be smart to hire us.”) and are actually counter-productive since they damage the firm's image and reputation.

I have the great fortune to serve on several boards populated by some of the best and brightest corporate communications chiefs in the world. I would never, ever allow my firm to blindly spam these individuals. To do so would violate a business relationship and, even more importantly to me, a personal friendship. That said, I've been able to win new business with some of my board peers but only after a long period of building mutual trust.

So, here's a heads-up to all the new business people at all the PR firms in the world. Stop spamming prospects. Step back and be more thoughtful in your approach and suggest solutions instead of pitching your incredible capabilities. My client will tell you those unsolicited mailers are going straight in her trash can, as is any chance of being considered for future assignments.

May 19


I'm dedicating Aretha Franklin's 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T" to 
some ADD-ravaged marketing folks at a leading distilled spirits maker. They’d recently invited us to pitch their business despite the fact we possessed little, if any, 'liquor' experience. Naturally, once we were in the midst of the presentation, the lead marketer asked about our creds and, after listening to two or three brief case studies, sighed and asked: 'That's all?'


But, disrespecting our lack of industry experience didn't prompt today's blog. It was something far more pernicious. The entire team used their BlackBerries throughout our presentation. 


I kid you not when I say that each, and every, member of the seven-person team consistently sent and received e-mails on their PDAs as we walked through our pitch. It was unbelievably rude.


But, according to research conducted by Christine Pearson, a professor of international business at The Thunderbird School of Global Management, this sort of boorish boardroom behavior has become par for the course.


Pearson says increased incivility in business is a direct result of the PDA craze. Why? Because we believe simultaneously attending a meeting and multitasking on a Blackberry increases our efficiency. Neuroscientists say it produces the exact opposite effect: dividing our attention between competing stimuli instead of handling tasks one at a time actually makes us less productive.


The folks from this leading spirits company are by no means alone in their multitasking boorishness. Peppercom has two senior executives who are notorious for their use of BBs during our weekly management meetings. I've even tried to hide one of the offender's PDA in the hope that he'd cease and desist. Alas, no such luck.


Prospective clients are more insensitive than ever to an agency's time and resources. It's one thing to demand a proposal overnight, select the best ideas and then never announce a winning agency. But, it's even worse to publicly humiliate a firm by paying more attention to a BlackBerry than to a presenter. So, note to this particular marketing team: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me.

May 20

Comedy as a competitive advantage

I once worked for a guy who liked to say, 'Business is just like war and every day is a new battle.' A little depressing to say the least, but not altogether untrue.

May 20 - jerry I often think of his quote as we, like every other business entity, struggle to figure out new and strategic revenue streams. Happily, and I do mean happily, we've stumbled across a real beaut of a new service offering.

We've added stand-up comedy training workshops to our existing Peppercom State management development offerings (and are about to offer a packaged version for clients and prospects). We work with Clayton Fletcher, my personal comedy coach, and typically hold 90 minute to three hour sessions. We've done them for every level of the organization. And, each session has been better than its predecessor.

We talk about the four different types of comedy, the importance of laughter to business and explain how comedy can be leveraged as a distinct competitive advantage (i.e. When all things are equal, prospective clients will choose the firm they liked the most). Each and every one of our employees 'performs' for three or four minutes (except for one employee, who ended up doing her own one-hour special).

Each and every session produces a 'star.' We always find someone who, unexpectedly, totally rocks the audience. That, in turn, helps management decide who might work well as part of an upcoming pitch team. The sessions are amazing bonding exercises. Everyone pulls for one another and laughs at one another's jokes. And, certain performances become instant agency lore (i.e. One person's fear of birds, another's kayaking adventures and a third's issues with restroom design).

Comedy is now a strategic weapon at Peppercom. Ad Age thought enough of it to assign a reporter to participate in one of our sessions and tell her tale. And, now we're about to offer a workshop for clients that will be led by Clayton and include all of the learnings and refinements we've added along the way (each presentation is videotaped, for example, and individual critiques provided after the fact).

As a performing comedian myself, I know how much comedy has helped me in business. At a time when every organization is looking to improve internal morale while sealing more external deals, comedy can play a decisive role in winning tomorrow's battle. It isn't right for every organization (especially those that manage by fear or take themselves too seriously). But, if the stars are properly aligned, comedy will make a major impact on your company's success.

May 14

Living is easy with eyes closed

May 14 - RFP I've been racking what's left of my brain to find a suitable topic to match one of my favorite John Lennon lyrics: 'Living is easy with eyes closed.' Then, it struck me. The words are a perfect description of serial prospects.

Serial prospects are like serial killers. They stalk agencies, tempt them with some sort of offer (i.e. new business) and then leave them in tatters.

Three serial prospects upended our agency in the first quarter. All three asked for full-blown creative proposals, in-person presentations and meeting the specific account team with whom they'd work. All three have subsequently gone silent. Some claimed that key decision-makers were on vacation (Man, that's my kind of vacation). Others said they were still weighing their decision (How many months does it take to choose an agency?). Then, there was the one who simply didn't respond to our follow-up inquiries. Nice.

Living is easy with eyes closed, especially when one is in the power position. These are heady times for serial prospects. They can dangle RFPs, pick at many brains as they like, select the best ideas and then go away on an extended vacation.

Another Lennon lyric from 'Strawberry Fields' comes to mind when thinking of serial prospects: 'It's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out.' We agency types move on and, somehow, it does all work out. But, how do serial prospects live with themselves?

I hope for their sakes they hang onto their jobs. Because, if I happen to see one of their resumes float across my desk, I just may play the role of serial prospect employer. And, that would be a hard day's night for some unsuspecting serial prospect.

Apr 24

You guys do know that’s our competitor’s product, right?

April 24 - Doh I tend to rail about the boorish behavior and mean-spirited treatment we’ve experienced at the hands of some prospective clients over the years. Typically, they involve prospects who demand a proposal within a very tight timeframe and then hang you out to dry. Or, others who pick your brain and then never respond to your inquiries about next steps. Then there are the clients who put the account up for review, tell you not to worry because the incumbent always has the advantage and then fire you.

that said, we can be just as dysfunctional as any prospect. We once so badly
mangled a new business opportunity that it’s actually become part of agency

prospect was based in the Midwest so we decided to have our New York and San Francisco offices 'co-own' the pitch. That was mistake number one. No one truly owned it
at all. Then, we had a few key people take vacations while the presentation was
being put together. That was mistake number two. Finally, we didn’t decide upon
the actual pitch team until the night before and never actually rehearsed. That
was the nail in the coffin.

the prospect was at least three connecting flights away from any major airport,
we opted to present by phone. Naturally, the technology froze. When we finally
got started, our ideas were met with stone-cold silence. The silence became
deafening. At one point, we asked, ‘So, what do you think of that idea?’ ‘We
tried it and it failed,’ they responded. Oh.

we presented a program theme based upon a classic rock song. We hadn’t done our
homework in order to find out another company was already using the same tune.

coup de grâce came when we presented an ‘out-of-the-box’
idea that involved having the product ‘show up’ at unexpected places (i.e. rock
concerts, sports stadiums, etc.). Again, silence. Finally, the prospect said,
‘You guys know that’s our competitor’s product on the screen, right?’ Game.
Set. Match.

meeting went so poorly that we had to laugh afterwards. Then, we buckled down
and got serious. We installed a number of new processes to make sure we never
again took a lead so lightly. In these times, leads can be like gold
(especially if they’re serious leads). So, I think I can safely say we’re done
showing a competitor’s product in any future new business presentations.

Jun 03

If it was easy, we’d win all the time

New business pitches can be just like dating. Sometimes, it’s love at first sight and other times, its hellEasy_2
on earth.

But, as Marketing Consultant Robb High correctly points out, a romance is more likely to flower if you avoid some obvious mistakes.

We’ve committed some of these gaffes, and many others as well.

Recently, we did everything right and won a competitive pitch against large agencies. Then, we turned right around, violated every rule in the book, and handed a ‘sure’ thing to a competitor.

We were prepared for the first meeting. We’d rehearsed three times, relied on a few visual supports (but, no powerpoint) and made sure we could hit our proposal’s high points in 20 minutes or less. The end result was magic. We knew we’d nailed it as soon as the meeting concluded.

We were unprepared for the second opportunity. We didn’t rehearse, relied on an endless powerpoint presentation, brought the wrong ‘team’ to the pitch and allowed the conversation to meander.

Our crack Strategy Consultant Darryl Salerno listened to these two tales and advised us to be more judicious in the future. He suggested that when we do commit to pitching a piece of new business, we should go all out: that means rehearsing, assigning a team leader, staying away from dull powerpoints and choosing the appropriate account team.

Darryl’s advice, like High’s, may sound academic. But, the best and the brightest agencies often fumble when it comes to new business fundamentals.

Hey, if it was easy, we’d win all the time. But, what fun would that be?

Oct 24

New business is about them, not us

Four of us are sitting in the reception area of a new business prospect’s headquarters. We’re one of fourBored_2
agencies to be invited to present today and, as you might expect, we’re filled with nervous excitement.

Deb’s rehearsing her lines. Marya is wondering what questions we’ll be asked and Caryn’s re-reading background information.

While we’re all focused on what we want to say and how, we’re also mindful of what really makes the difference in new business. Despite this being a combination credentials/creative ideas pitch, the prospect really doesn’t want to hear that much about us.

As Millie Olson of Amazon Advertising says, ‘Forget about credentials presentations.’ Prospects really don’t want to know arcane facts and figures about your firm or its work.

Instead, prospects want to tell you about their pain. They want you to know what’s keeping them up at night. They want to know how you’ve solved similar challenges and, critically, how you’d partner with them to solve their issues.

The more prospects talk, the more likely you’ll be hired. It sounds simple. But, many of us forget to ask questions and listen to the answers. Instead, we rush pell-mell through our slides. And lose the opportunity as a result.

How will today go? It’s hard to say. But, we’ll be sure to stop and ask questions as we go. Because it’s about them, not us.