Is it time for recommendations to supersede pitches in the B2B buying process?
I admit it – I don’t like pitches.
Agency pitches are highly common as a way of selecting a new partner, but they often bear little resemblance to what the real working relationship will be like.
Many companies are forced to rely on pitches in lieu of another option. They’re bounced into evaluating options by seeking some reassurance through setting a challenge to evaluate the answer to hope it corresponds to capability. However, short timeframes, a lack of relevant information, restricted access to stakeholders and relatively limited opportunities to interrogate whether the brief is the right answer to the problem in the first place mean that pitches are often nothing more than an exercise in guesswork. It can be fun, but the work is often disregarded.
Stressful for those pitching, and more stressful for those choosing who can be terrified of making the wrong choice, both parties only know if a partnership will be fruitful after working together. And if you place second, it is all for nothing. It is an uncomfortable dance. And for many, at the end of the night, they’re going home alone.
Blair Enns’s famous book “The Win Without Pitching Manifesto” avoids the pitching process by knocking out other options. While Enns has some wise and useful words on how to do this, my goal is different:
Agencies are part of the problem. By being willing to join in the dance, we’re fuelling the method. I admit I’m a hypocrite in that we do sometimes pitch when asked to do so, but only if the company and proposed project pass a ridiculously tight set of criteria. Anything that doesn’t, we will graciously pass. We’re still hitting that dance floor, but only with selected dance partners.
The pitch should be outlawed, and instead, we should ask our contemporaries and colleagues for recommendations.
Why? Because it takes away the uncertainty.
How? Because when it comes to recommending an agency, here is what we know for sure:
- You only recommend companies with people that you respect, with whom you have good chemistry and that you know can do the work
- You only recommend companies who have never let you down and provide exceptional service levels
- You only recommend companies that you know can deliver, have above-board capabilities and hold the appropriate expertise
- You only recommend companies that are consistent and reliable
- You only recommend companies that have a proven pedigree with similar organisations and therefore are geared up to work with you.
Recommendations are the ultimate filter and one that comes with much more certainty than any pitch.
Even better, the time and money spent reviewing or conducting pitches can be spent on test projects to see what you can create together. I prefer test projects instead of a pitch, every time.
For B2B marketers that target a niche audience, your prospects talk amongst themselves, as well as with your potential customers. They move between roles, network at events and attend similar training courses. They talk, and they could be talking about you.
Activating recommendations should be part of your marketing efforts. Many see this as just success stories, but it is much more than that. It is an advocacy strategy. We have done this for both our clients and ourselves.
Beyond direct recommendations, we use The Drum’s research services to ask our clients how we’re doing and publish it for all to see here. Not only does this kind of public feedback keep us honest, but it is also accessible to anyone considering a new agency.
We’re also throwing our weight behind the Pitch Positive Pledge initiative that seeks to reduce wastage in those unique scenarios when a pitch is required.
But, the reality is, pitching is full of uncertainty on every side. Instead, look for recommendations. Let’s put some comfort back into B2B buying again.