If chemistry is so important, why do so many agencies get it so horribly wrong?

Psychological studies show that people have assessed and evaluated people they meet within minutes. Be that socially or in a work environment. But there are things you can do to ensure a chemistry session with a potential new client goes well.

The best way to demonstrate what to do is to share some of the things that agencies have done that clearly do not work:

1. Match your team to the client team

The most obvious example of this going wrong was where the selection team from the client was composed exclusively of women and yet all but one agency had teams exclusively of men. However, the final agency had one woman who spent the entire time fussing over her male colleagues and made no contribution to the meeting. The lesson is you do not have to match the team like for like, but do not ever reduce a team member to a token position in the team.

2. Don’t do all the talking

Chemistry sessions usually have a time limit. Six agencies were given an hour to address a list of questions during this time. The most successful answered the questions and then asked a few open, well-considered questions of their own leading to a discussion the client didn’t want to stop when the session came to the end. The other agencies were like a bad date, spending the whole time talking about themselves and often not leading any time for questions or discussion. In one case we had to wind-up the agency CEO who was upset as he still had two more questions to address. The chemistry session is all about you, but that does not mean you need to do all the talking. Listening is also an important attribute in a business partner.

3. If you are a team, act like one

The client usually wants to meet the team who will be working on their business. Understandably they want to see who they will be working with. One agency bought in a team but the Managing Director did all of the talking, while his team sat there mutely watching on. Another agency had each team member present, but the agency CEO felt compelled to correct or talk over everyone during their presentations. The fact is that the client is buying a team, so all this behavior did was undermine the team.

4. It is okay to ask questions, but the right questions

Following the dating metaphor, many agencies feel they have to be on their best behavior and this includes not asking any questions. A big mistake.

Before you even get involved in a pitch you should ask a pile of questions to decide if you should participate. And during the process questions are the best way to build the relationship. But there are some questions and some ways of asking them that should never be voiced. Like the agency who having heard from the incumbent that the pitch was a formality challenged the client during the chemistry session and would not believe the answers given. Right question, wrong time, and really wrong reaction to the answer.

The fact is that chemistry matters in determining successful relationships. And there are always things you can do to make sure you do not sabotage your chances during this step in the process.

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