A good client-firm relationship starts with the pitching process

New business - and winning your share of it - is the lifeblood of your operation. And at the heart of the new business process is the introduction of your account team to the client prospect.

New business – and winning your share of it – is the lifeblood of your operation. And at the heart of the new business process is the introduction of your account team to the client prospect. Ideally, the agency has put together the most effective and compelling personnel for the job. The client needs to know that there are senior-level people on the leadership team who can provide the level of sophistication and depth of specialized knowledge required. They also want to know that their account manager, if not the top expert in the firm or field, has cut his or her teeth on accounts of comparable size and type. And they want to know that their day-to-day contact is someone they can trust, someone with whom the chemistry is there.

Unfortunately, many clients feel that agencies are long on promises of fully realized teams and short on delivering personnel who have both the appropriate level of sophistication and time to serve in their prescribed role.

Here are recent examples that underscore the importance of the prospect's experience when meeting the proposed account team.

In one scenario, when asked by the client who would be their day-to-day account manager, the agency CEO replied that he would. This straight-faced assertion came from the head of a top 10 firm with a global office net-work. The client, who was planning a moderate PR budget, had a hard time accepting that he'd have a sufficient amount of the CEO's time, and even though the agency's presentation was great, the client ultimately chose another firm with a more believable staffing scenario.

In another search involving a multimillion-dollar budget, the most senior agency representative in the room answered the same question by pointing to the most junior person in the room, someone in the agency business just two years. It was the wrong answer as far as the client was concerned. Her response, “How could I possibly bring such a junior-level person in to present to our board of directors? There's no way!”

As problematic as these responses were, the one that takes the cake was from another senior agency executive who answered the question with, “We don't know yet. We thought we'd meet with you first and figure it out later.” Since the RFP had explicitly asked to meet “the team who will work on our business,” this firm, originally deemed a top contender, didn't make the final round.

Because of experiences like these, clients want more specifics than ever about the makeup of their proposed account team, the number of staffing hour FTEs (full time equivalencies), and so on.

You know the old saying about clients wanting to “feel the love.” This sentiment starts in the pitch process and will color the nature of the relationship for weeks, hopefully years to come. There are many reasons why a client might choose to ax even the most qualified firms from their agency consideration list. Don't let presenting the wrong team be the one that takes you out of the mix.

Dan Orsborn is a senior partner at SelectResources International where he heads the PR agency search practice. He can be reached at dan@selectr.com.

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