This post is by Anita Zanesco, a Senior Consultant at TrinityP3. Anita brings a unique blend of insights, creativity and understanding to the communications industry particularly in the areas of talent management, agency process and new business pitch management.
I’ve had a lot of conversations about pitch chemistry sessions lately. Mainly from agencies who haven’t made it through to the next round because let’s face it, why would you question what you were doing if it was working? The questions all follow a common theme: “Are we doing enough?” “What aren’t we doing right?” “What can we do differently?”
My answers, unfortunately, are also boringly similar. If I was wicked I could of course suggest that winning agencies were including interpretative dance or group meditation and while that would provide a great deal of entertainment for me as a pitch consultant, it would not be entirely truthful.
While doing things in a unique way or introducing a proprietary tool for the session may make you stand out, at the end of the day I have to remind everyone that a chemistry session is about exactly what it says on the tin…chemistry!
On that note, perhaps interpretative dance isn’t the best way forward. Here are just 10 handy reminders to help give your agency the best result from a chemistry meeting:
1. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
Do a background check and look for clues and cues to press the right buttons.
Like any first date, it pays to get some background on the person/people you are going to meet. This doesn’t have to involve waiting outside their offices in dark sunglasses eating donuts, binoculars at the ready (although just like interpretive dance that would be quite amusing).
LinkedIn, your own contacts and a pitch consultant, if the client is using one, are all ways of piecing together what this client is like, where they’ve come from (you’d be amazed how many common contacts you both have) and what makes them tick.
Quiz the pitch consultant on what they are looking for, why things aren’t working with their existing agency if they’ve got one, how the team is structured and who the decision makers are. If you don’t ask you won’t find out.
What kinds of relationships do they like, are 4 people at chemistry better than 10 and so on, you get the picture. A little more effort spent preparing for the meeting can make it a whole lot more successful.
2. Breaking the ice – Dating 101
The key to any chemistry session going well is a great start. How you enter the room, introduce yourselves and engage the client(s) is critical to making you seem professional and interesting.
Although I’ve witnessed agencies get off to a poor start then redeem themselves, I’ve seen many more that are successful due to a strong, energised start even if the content has not been as strong as others. It’s a chemistry meeting after all so clients are looking for people they can work with – the fact they’ve got you in the room at all generally means they like what you do and have confidence you can deliver what they need.
Demonstrate your interest in them and their category, engage them in dialogue up front and inject some humour, charm or wit to make you memorable and desirable for a second date.
3. The Date – who will they meet?
Do you bring your mum on a first date, your best friend or everyone you know who can vouch for how brilliant you are? Deciding on the number of agency folk and who to bring to a chemistry session is always a difficult one.
Again, a bit of homework and common sense will help make this decision easier. Find out how many clients will be there and who they are and where possible match skills and backgrounds with your team.
Never bring more people than you need. Having people in the room with no role to play in the meeting always raises unnecessary questions from a client, “why were they there?”…”who was that person?”
Always remember this is a “chemistry” session and what the client is looking for is who they will be working with on a day-to-day basis and whether they think they will get on with those people.
Chemistry can be electric with 2-3 cleverly chosen team members just as it can be electrocuted with 9 people trying to share 45 minutes of glory.
4. Be yourself
How many times have you heard people coming out of relationships say, “But I thought she’d/he’d change!” People don’t change. Agencies don’t change. You are who you are and if that’s not right for this client then you probably shouldn’t be together.
Don’t fake it. Being up front and genuine and letting them see you for who you are will get you a lot further.
5. First date stuff ups – breakdown and cry or get up and fix it
Everyone is nervous on a first date. Keen to impress. Keen to be liked. Nerves can create problems, things go wrong.
IT issues are a horrific way to start a session. The best thing you can do is deal with it like you would any other crisis. Clients notice when an agency stays cool and calm when their whole presentation is stuck on a computer that won’t project on screen.
They appreciate people who can get on with it as it is evidence of how you’ll deal with issues on their business when they arise.
6. Check in throughout the date
Polished and rehearsed, you will be on auto pilot for your chemistry session. But never forget to read the room and watch for client engagement and positive responses or more importantly, client disinterest as they doodle, check emails on their phone or look decidedly unimpressed.
Interestingly, some agency folk with extraordinary IQs have relatively little EQ. My tip – bring someone on the team who has buckets of EQ and make them responsible for noting any points in the presentation where you are losing a client. They will know how to read people and the signs of disinterest and can quietly inform other agency team members to up the energy, move on, change tack etc.
7. Treat all clients as equal – you never know who the real decision makers are
While you may be sure who the head client is by title, many CEOs and CMOs will have an opinion yet leave the decision up to their team who has to work with an agency day-to-day. They will go with the majority unless they truly oppose the decision. Involve and engage all clients equally. They are in the room for a reason.
8. Getting the second date
Generally after the first date you don’t get a second chance to engage the client, so making a positive impact in that first meeting is critical to success. However, a quick follow up via text or email to a pitch consultant or a client who has arranged the meeting shows good manners, enthusiasm and closes the loop.
If using a pitch consultant, if you have a halfway decent one, they will pass your message on or relay the fact you’ve expressed your enthusiasm and gratitude. It may do nothing to aid your chances but then it can’t hurt either. And it shows your Mum brought you up with good manners.
9. Closing the deal
Finally, if any questions have been asked at the chemistry session that weren’t answered in the room, do respond to the pitch consultant, or client if you are working direct, as soon as you can. It shows you’ve listened and are action-oriented.
Equally, if you have answered a question but walk away kicking yourself that you could have provided a better answer, feel free to email through those sentiments and the answer you feel best answers the question. It shows you care. It is also a great excuse to make one more contact before decisions are made.
Whether you get through or not, it’s worth a wash up at the end of a chemistry session either with the client or the pitch consultant. What went well, what could have been done better. It’s all learning for next time.
At the end of the day, if you don’t get through a chemistry session, many times it’s because the chemistry genuinely wasn’t right and you weren’t meant to work together. Or of course, it’s because another agency blew them away with an awesome interpretative dance.