One thing to definitely avoid when pitching!

There’s a dilemma everyone faces, I suppose, when pitching for a new business, or doing new business development… i.e. whether or not to rewrite the rules while recommending solutions for client’s marketing / advertising situation.

Conventional wisdom goes somewhat like this… Client has been doing his business – particularly marketing communications – in a way he felt the best possible, based on his knowledge, expertise and resources. Of late, client has been feeling some need to ask for some external help, or a different perspective from the current partners. That’s why he is looking for a new consultant / partner / agency. Therefore it becomes imperative for you – the new agency, consultant or specialist – to look back, analyze and see what has been the problem. And then recommend solutions that could redefine the existing marketing approaches, right?

I can recall at least 2 stories (among many others) which proved this approach should be taken with a pinch of salt!

The Airlines Case

There was a time while I was in the MiddleEast, when we were pitching for an airlines business. The opportunity came in through one of our senior colleagues, who through his excellent networking skills, had come closer to one of the top decision makers on the board – the CMO – who was kind enough to give a very detailed list of requirements from the agencies on pitch. One of these was “demonstrate abilities to understand the business environment, and draw strategies suited to the region”.

We analyzed the problems rightly, and found that many of these cropped up over many years due to faulty marketing practices. So we developed 2 approaches to address the issues and propose a new positioning.

The next challenge was – how to present these approaches – especially since these were founded upon ongoing faulty practice. Many of us opined that we should develop the pitch building upon their successes from ongoing practices, and recommend our solutions as a way to take them to higher levels.

However, being closer to knowing the CMO, our senior colleague chose to be bold, and started the pitch by challenging the ongoing practices. It opened up the hornet’s nest! Too many questions, e.g. on what basis the approaches were thought to be wrong, who’s the analyst, what kind of airlines experience we had, how many years the team has put in doing its job, etc. etc.

Though the questions were politely tackled, must we ask how the pitch went further? Fault finding at every stage! We were waiting to finish the pitch and return!

The Cement Brand Case

This happened very recently when I met an outgoing CMO of a Cement Co. He was looking for retainer based consultants to provide marketing services to support the growth of the brand – esp. in light of a new plant on the horizon. After the usual niceties about our category and services knowledge and expertise, came in the question of how we see the Cement brands communicating in the market.

Any industry professional would know that in the Cement industry, the buyer is most often not the end consumer – masons using the cement are! And there’s a vast difference in the demographics and psychographics between the two of them! Therefore in communication terms, it poses a challenge to create visual communication that talks to the buyer, while develops stronger assurances to the end-user.

Nevertheless, we rightly analyzed the competition, identifying the ones which stood out, developed common connections and gave assurances to both sets of customers. And then we were also blatant about our prospect’s brand not being able to connect much to the buyer.

Needless to say the CMO didn’t like this very much. We did not go past the screening round! The feedback gained later indicated that the CMO had internally expressed shock! How could anyone – who is not into the day-to-day operations of his million dollar business – could ever know what the customers want and how to talk to them! Or how could he even be more knowledgeable than his sales team!

Lessons Learnt

There’s one big lesson we learn from the 2 stories:

Never challenge client’s wisdom or his practices – regardless of whether they are doing bad for the company or the brands. You don’t wish to start off your journey with an ego issue!

Rather sugar-coat, honey-coat, cream-coat their past actions / fallacies while presenting your own ideas.

However, it also poses one big question! As a professional, mustn’t you aim for bettering client’s marketing efforts, generously infusing fresh blood & vigour, while proposing to safeguard and expand his market share?

Yes, you should, but with extreme caution, as it could challenge one’s core attitude of Complacency – whether it’s a Co. or an individual running the show! Curing Complacency is not easy, when one sticks to traditional ways of thinking. It needs a shift towards more innovative ways of thinking.


About shantanu.sengupta
I'm a passionate Strategic Marketing professional who deeply understands the interplay of Technology, Collaboration and Design that drives brand innovation and growth in a post-recession world today. I believe that marketing solutions cannot be found by referring to historical case studies, esp. since no two marketing problems are the same. As a result, instead of adhering to a jargonised approach to marketing, I follow Design Thinking principles, challenge existing norms and processes, and search for innovative ways to solve marketing problems. I specialize in developing and implementing marketing and communication strategies across B2C and B2B channels, with a clear focus on brand development and customer engagement that increases future brand value.

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