The many reasons why agencies should not pitch and how to build relationships in B2B – interview with Kevin Jackson, Founder of The Experience is The Marketing

Pitching has been a hot topic in the events industry since I can remember. It can be a costly process, and therefore must be approached wisely. The beginning of the year is when we aim to acquire new clients and grow our businesses. Therefore, we have decided to host the next Event Planners Talk x Future in 15 event on 21 February at Allianz Park in London. The event concerns pitching, more specifically, ‘Pitching for success: pitfalls and opportunities’. As you will soon read in this interview article, for a reputable agency, the cost of pitching is between 15,000–20,000 GBP, but the good news is, if you can recognise a toxic pitch, you will be in a position to say more often ‘no’ to pitching then ‘yes’, and that approach will improve your success rates. 

Let me introduce you to Kevin Jackson. He is a pitching veteran and the founder of The Experience is The Marketing. Kevin will give a Q & A keynote at the event. His agency specialises in growth, and thanks to his impressive resume of clients across various industries and disciplines around the world, he brings a fresh and forward-looking perspective that helps customers stay ahead of the game and win new business. 

I interviewed Kevin on Instagram Live ahead of his keynote and here share with you the takeaway points from our discussion. 

Do you think that agencies should charge for pitching?

‘Talking about charging for pitching is missing the point. I am a veteran of 700 pitches and had a win percentage of about 62–65% (and that was working for an amazing global agency), which was higher than most of the industry. There are so many reasons why you shouldn’t pitch, and it is easier for agencies not to pitch than to pitch’.

So how do we win a new business if we don’t pitch? Kevin developed the nine principles of the toxic pitch. The key to winning any business is relationships. The following are several of the nine principles: You are NOT going to win the pitch if you don’t have any relationship with the client; there is a strong incumbent who already has a relationship with the client; you don’t have any availability to meet the client and have a discussion; there is no margin to be made; too many agencies are invited to pitch. In every pitch, at least one of these toxic markers exists. 

It costs a reasonable agency between approximately 15,000–20,000 GBP to perform a pitch. If this agency wins 1 in 4 pitches, they spend 80,000 GBP, which is most likely their margin on one job. As a result, they can write off their margin because they spend all the money to win a job.

Kevin’s principle is to follow other industries and do what they do. An example: If you’re selling hardwood polish flooring and the market is the hotel industry, you take your samples, go and knock on the door of your potential customers and say, ‘here are my samples, I’m the best hard wood floor man around, test my samples, let’s build a relationship.’ In B2B, 85% of business is sold between the 5th and 12th contact. That means that you’ve got to have a relationship.

If an email comes in and asks to pitch, what should an agency do?

Hire a professional sales person who is going to build a relationship with your key clients. We are on the wrong end of targeting. If an email comes through from a client who we don’t know, but they have asked us to pitch, we feel good about it. Two things usually happen next, First, we feel flattered that they have asked us, and second, we ask in that scenario who else is pitching. As a result, the agency starts assessing their success rate, and whether they can win. So, instead of working with the client, they are psychologically thinking about how they are going to beat the competition. 

Instead, the right questions to ask are: Do we want to work with this client? Is this client going to get us to the place we need to get to and want to be as an agency? Is it a key client for us? You need to draw a list of people you want to work with, and start building relationships with them, rather than hoping that things drop through the door. 

What are the main challenges with pitches? 

We are an incredible industry – creative, able to deliver under pressure and with an ability to do many amazing things. However, attempting to get these skills across to the client, when they are asking all manner of questions, we first need to be aligned with what we are talking about, which we seldom get to.

Therefore, the key challenge is helping clients understand exactly what you are doing. The client is in fact saying, ‘I’ve got a problem, can you help me solve it?’ The problem is not an event, when someone allocates the budget to marketing, sales, employee relations, shareholder communication; the answer is not an event, the answer is how can we build more sales, how do we get our employees motivated, how to build shareholder loyalty? When it bounces through the building, someone says it is an event and we get an event brief. 

Instead, what we require is a business brief with business metrics that say this is the problem. The event is the media; we must know what the business problem is that we are solving, and then we can create the most appropriate solution. That solution may be digital, blended or it may not be an event at all. However, we often solve a problem in an event brief, the associated challenge of which we are not completely familiar with. We frequently receive a brief stating that we want ‘blue-sky thinking’ or ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, but by giving us an event on a certain day at a certain time, they have already put us in a box—you cannot be outside the box thinking when you already have a box. 

We need to go back and understand what the business challenge is, what we are really solving and whom we are really selling to because often that person is not any of those in the room we present to.

How should a new agency start building relationships with potential clients? 

When you want to build a relationship in B2B, it is important to display general knowledge, category expertise, knowledge of the particular product or the industry that the client is in and you also have to start building a relationship. We all know how to make friends. The situation can be compared to B2B—you can’t talk about yourself all the time, you need to ask questions, show interest, be interested and then the process of building a relationship can begin. 

Clients want help to get to the next thing, whatever that next thing is, and if they find a partner who can do that for them, they will be in a business relationship with them. 

How can small agencies compete with the large agencies?

Start-ups today can look as big as the big players in the field, thanks to the variety of digital tools available. When I was in a small agency, we used to discuss our creativity, swiftness in responding, nimbleness and willingness to do what was required. When I was in a large agency, we talked about the size, purchasing power and ability to deliver anywhere in the world. You find the benefits, no matter where you are and what you are doing.

Caleb Parker and Kevin Jackson discuss the future of pitching: there is no such thing as sales as Citizen Event in London. Caleb will also moderate the discussion on 21 February 2019 in London.

Photos credit: Future in 15 and DB Productions.

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