Why is it called “winning” a new client when a good client-agency relationship is a partnership?

Paul Crabtree B2B Marketing Agency Selection

The vocab is just wrong. If someone wins, someone else loses. To apply this vocab to starting a new business partnership exemplifies how the pitch process is broken. Most clients talk about appointing a new agency.  Never winning a new agency. Why?

In day-to-day life, you rarely speak this way.  You don’t “win” a new member of your team when you hire someone.  Nor do you walk down the wedding aisle to “win” a new life partner.

It shows how there is a warped mindset when it comes to selecting a new agency.  This is on both sides.

Competitive, unpaid pitches that ask an agency to answer a problem in a short timescale, with not quite enough information, need a tip-top brief. Pitches need senior stakeholders to review responses and watch pitches.  The pressure on the brief to be thorough, complete and understood is too high.  If the brief is wrong, the right agency may turn down the chance to pitch, or those that do may decide to approach it completely wrongly missing the important elements. It makes comparisons difficult and the work in the pitch bears very little resemblance to the final solution.  No wonder it can feel like a “win” when the process has so many challenges built into it.

Agencies are not faultless in this process. Taking on unpaid pitches can be an expensive and time-consuming drain. For many, it is on top of their day jobs, which adds excitement, but also stress. As proud as we can be of pulling a pitch response together, they come at a significant cost.

Yes, I know. The notion of “winning” often comes from the competitive nature of pitching against other agencies, with the “winning” agency being one selected but in the real world, not every pitch is competitive and are still called “wins”.

Rather than a beauty-parade pitch process, we’ve seen encouraging trends in agency selection recently, that we’d like to pass on:

Source your long list by asking colleagues and industry peers 

Use recommendations to build your potential agency long list.  This way, you know that every agency you are considering has delivered in the past.  After all, you do not recommend any industry contact who will not reflect well on you.

Choose specialists only 

Refine the list to only include those who have the experience and capabilities you need to solve your problem.  Do this, and an obvious front-runner might emerge.

Use customer references early 

Recommendations are worth more than any pitch deck.

Work together on a small project  

Test chemistry and evaluate the working relationship with a test task.  The agency delivers immediate benefits and you will see what it is like working with them “in real life”.  This can also mitigate the need to follow any time-consuming procurement processes that demand multiple participants as the initial spend profile may be under those thresholds, which again accelerates the time to success.

Approach it like when you hire someone  

Provide structure and regular review points as part of the relationship so that corrective action can be taken.  Consider it like a probation period where there are formal inflexion points.

It is time to reset the vocab.  Partnerships over “winning”, every time.

Paul Crabtree

Paul Crabtree

Managing Director

An IDM-qualified senior sales and marketing professional who has held board positions in various marketing agencies since 2005. Although he claims not to look old enough, the emerging silver locks tell a different story. As MD, founder and owner of Velo, his role is to lead the agency maintaining our quality standards to be the level that means we continue to be built on recommendation. He has a particular focus on new business, overseeing all our client relationships and leading our strategy function to make sure that our team has the skills and capabilities that our clients need, so we continue always craft great work to be proud of. Find him on LinkedIn here.