Resting Pitch Face EP 1: Pitch, please
Agencies and pitches go hand in hand, but is the process outdated?
In this week’s podcast, we are talking pitching. From our worst experiences to our top of the world surefire wins.
We’re talking about the shift to virtual, and what else needs to change to improve the process.
If you’re agency side, you know the hours that go into preparing and delivering a pitch, but businesses often underestimate the level of commitment required before the job is even in sight. Is it up to agencies to be more honest about this or accept this will never change?
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See below for a full transcription of episode 1.
Dan: Worst pitch you’ve ever been in?
Lee: I’ve been in two that were very bad.
Dan: Only two?
Lee: Well, that spring to mind. I’ve been in hundreds that were medium. First one, huge, huge pitch. I’m gonna estimate 15 people client-side. I think we had a team of five.
Dee: Was the meeting room big enough?
Lee: The boardroom had…I think it was a 30-seat table. It was a big client. I think it was everything, but obviously, I was there to look after the SEO stuff. We were about half an hour in before it got to the SEO section, so I start just getting into my swing. And maybe three slides into my section, I look over to the right because I’m trying to present to everybody because there’s so many people. So, I’m trying to include everybody in the pitch. I looked over to my right and there’s a fellow just flat out, just completely flat out.
Dan: Had you done it to him or the half an hour before?
Lee: I’d like to say the half an hour before.
Lee: They were pretty deep technical SEO. So…
Dan: I was about to ask you, did it start with technicals?
Lee: Yes. It was technical SEO. But I think at that time, the opening slides were positives about what they were doing really, really well. So, I was quite animated and that still didn’t rouse him.
Dan: When did he wake up?
Lee: About seven minutes before the end of the entire pitch.
Dan: What did he say? Or did he not? Did he just wake up and pretend… Did he do that cough as you wake up?
Lee: Pretended to come around and then carry on like nothing had ever happened. Procurement.
Dan: Says it all. I was gonna ask you, was it a success or not? Or it wasn’t at all?
Lee: No, we didn’t get it.
Dan: If you’re asking them…unless it was, maybe they were tired, needed an opportunity to have a snooze.
Lee: Super frustrating.
Dan: That’s bad, though, ain’t it?
Lee: Falling asleep in a pitch, which is supposed to be, like, an animated, nice, engaged environment, no. Not good.
Dan: Do you think if it were more interactive, it would’ve helped?
Dan: They were just knackered.
Lee: I think he were either really tired, or he had maybe something going on that we didn’t know about.
Dan: Well, yeah. Could be. What were the other one?
Lee: The second one was for a High Street footwear…High Street footwear retailer.
Dan: Well played.
Lee: And I got put in again to look after the SEO, but I didn’t prepare any of the material. And I can remember getting to a slide which had, I think, a market share analysis on it in a format that I’d never seen before, with data that I’d never seen before. And it just went really bad. It was one of those where I was just desperately trying to explain what was on the screen having never seen it before and not knowing any of the data that had made it up.
And I think, bless the client, she tried engaging me in conversation about it in a way that made it appear like I knew what was on the screen.
Dan: You did well there, somehow?
Lee: The rest of the pitch went well, but that section in particular, which was prepared by someone that wasn’t me, that hadn’t had the opportunity to run over properly beforehand, that went really bad. But I think we actually won that one.
Dan: I was gonna ask you, did you win it?
Lee: Yeah, we won that one. So moral of the story is prepare your own material.
Dan: Learnings from that are…
Lee: Yeah, that was a bad one.
Dan: …try and keep your audience engaged.
Dan: Wear a cape. Step one. Yeah, those were bad. There’s so many stories.
Dan: On the subject of pitching, obviously, we’ve done a few virtually online over the last 18 months, 2 two years, or whatever. How do you think they went, obviously, not from a, did we win it or not perspective? Just the mechanics of an online pitch. Did you enjoy them?
Lee: I mean, I’m a face-to-face person generally because I like to be able to gather context and respond to how people are taking information. But, obviously, that hasn’t been possible the last two years. I think the ones that we’ve done, we’ve done the best job we can, but it’s always difficult to gauge, isn’t it, when you’re not actually sat in the room with the people.
Dan: Yeah. I tell you what, thinking about it, where I think there was a benefit to them, I think because you were relying on the technology, Wi-Fi, all that sort of stuff, and there was, obviously, multiple people involved from both sides usually. Time’s always tight, isn’t it, when you’re wanting to pitch? And I actually think online allowed us to set the agenda and everyone had to stick to it. So, in other words, before you even crack on, right. We’re pitching, whatever we’re pitching today, “Thanks for the opportunity.” All that sort of stuff. But then we know that time is tight or whatever, however you wanna set the agenda and effectively say, “I’m sure you wanna dive in. We obviously wanna hear your questions, but to be honest, because of the setup, it’s virtual, it’s online, can you please just gather your thoughts and your questions and wait until the end?” I feel like that worked better and was facilitated easier and policed easier, if that’s the right word, online than it is face-to-face.
And I think, yeah, I think that’s been something I’ve seen as a benefit to pitching virtually versus face-to-face. It can get quite conversational, which I’m not saying is necessarily a bad thing when you’re face-to-face with people diving in at any point. But when you’re trying to get through the material that you want to, and you want to get through it all, do the opportunity justice and do ourselves justice. I felt like it worked a little bit better online from that perspective. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of it that way, but recognize the opposite of that maybe?
Lee: Yeah, I can appreciate that. I think it’s always good to have the capability of pushing the flow in the direction that you want it to go. But I miss the 10 minutes of pleasantries. I miss the eye contact where someone might have a question that potentially online, they might not get the opportunity to put across the table. And I think in a pitch situation, the ability to be able to invite someone in, when they look like they’ve got something on the tip of their tongue, is where the pitch is sometimes won or lost. I think whilst it’s an advantage being able to control the direction a little bit better, if they’re seeing multiple agencies, everyone’s in the same boat. I think the nuances of being able to have that context and invite someone in and have the pleasantries, it, A, gives the opportunity to test the chemistry of the relationship and, B, I think it gives you the opportunity to slightly differentiate yourself versus whoever else they might be speaking to where I imagine from a client’s perspective going through a round of purely online presentations, it takes away both of those things.
Dan: Yeah, it does. Yeah, it feels a little bit more personable, doesn’t it? Are there any cracking presentations, pitches that you’ve done, that you’ve been part of that stick out? I loved the slight LED balloon moment when fairly recently we pitched to a, let’s say, an animal or pet company. Let’s just leave it at that. And we wanted to get…that was an online pitch as well, wasn’t it? Wanted to get our personality across as best as we could, so we went from your pitch team kind of slide straight into your furry pitch team slide, which was all of the pets and animals that we all owned that was on the pitch team, and we kind of…we did that thing, didn’t we, where we flicked over to that slide and left the silence to be like, “Oh, yeah.” Wait for the laughs, wait for something, and there was nothing. So, we just moved on.
Lee: That’s one of those situations where it’s like when you come across a birthday card that really makes you laugh, and then you give it to someone, and they just don’t find it funny at all. It was kinda that situation, which was weird because I thought that that slide was ace. I thought it demonstrated our personality as an agency, and it also showed that we’re actually pet lovers, which is what you do for business.
Dan: Yep. Tumbleweed moment.
Lee: Yeah, that was…I forgot about that. That was quite funny, that. The anticipation from our side on that slide was probably higher than it should’ve been.
Dan: Absolute anticlimax. But you’ve gotta try these things and it’s…like we said, it was hardly a detour in a way for most of those people and personalities. So, it felt right. It just felt a little bit of a Brucie Bonus that just did not land.
But yeah, that was a detour for me. Any pitches that you recall from being great, for whatever reason, or anything you’ve tried differently? Differently is hard to define but…
Lee: I think the…it’s weird because I’ve got conflicting views on pitching. I like being in a pitch situation. However, I think the process itself is probably slightly broken. In terms of stuff we’ve done, I think where we are as an agency now, I don’t think we’ve ever been as confident in our proposition, tone of voice, who we are as an agency. And I think across the board, everybody that’s in that pitch scenario from our side knows the same. And I think we’re presenting ourselves very well in terms of the process side of it. As necessary as I think it is for a client to validate who they wanna work with in some way, I do think that agencies do a bad job of being transparent enough to give the client context on just how much work, energy, effort, love goes into that moment and that collateral and the runup to it, which is why I think you get the situation where you don’t hear back. Or you don’t get detailed feedback, or you get brushed off. Or you never hear from them again, and then you bump into them in a pub and it’s awkward.
Dan: Yeah. Meet in the middle. That’s the thing. Meet somewhere in the middle and whether it’s we as agencies need to do more to shout about pounds and pence, this has cost us several thousand pounds to be here today, the least you could do is give us some kind of feedback that helps.
Lee: I think that British people and companies have a difficulty in giving radical candor in situations like that, whereas agencies really, really, really want that feedback even if they didn’t win it. Because not knowing is worse than being told that you didn’t do this well enough, or you were way over the budget that we’ve got, or whatever various reasons there is probably in all honesty. You never get the depth of that.
Dan: No, you don’t. And do you think that will always potentially stick around due to the process being…pitch process being so embedded within…?
Lee: There has to be a way of, like, say, validating who you’re gonna work with. You can’t go in cold and expect to have their confidence to then select an agency that you’re gonna trust with hundreds of thousands of pounds to deliver the work without going through some sort of process with them. But I think the more I think about it, I think the way that it’s gonna improve is if agencies start being more vocal about it, rather than it being, “We’ve won this client.” Perhaps it needs to be, “We’ve lost this client. It took us two weeks to prepare this. These were the reasons.” And then being more aggressive on gathering the feedback as well.
I think the animosity that is sometimes in place at the end of a losing pitch, both client-side and agency-side, ruins what could be a process of learning and making a better situation industry-wide.
Dan: Yeah, I think there’s a relationship to be had potentially as well beyond that first, let’s say, lost pitch. You never know. And I think that the relationship almost, part two, kicks in at that point, or can kick in at that point when they’ve obviously gone through the process of telling you. And they’ll expect us to be disappointed, you know, being on the losing side. But for me, managing that process better, both sides…and I think you’re right. Being vocal. We can only be vocal from our side of things as to what it’s taken us, what it’s cost us to get to this point today to, you know, lose this pitch, as weird as that sounds. But decision-making point of view, point of the process, I think there’s more that can be done beyond that stage. And as I say, it starts there, and then you always hear those stories of, “Oh, yeah. Well, originally, we lost out, but they’ve come back around after being with X agency that they chose for six months, a year. It wasn’t working out for them.”
If you’ve got the right relationship there, that should be a shoo-in anyway for, you know, maybe not pitch again. They don’t go through a, you know, formal pitch process when it comes back around. You might be straight in. And that to me can be helped by building that relationship at that stage or continuing to build that relationship instead of it being seen as a real emotional, negative process. But you’re right, I think education and voice. If you stuck something out on LinkedIn that talked about our losses, opportunities that we face, and the cost of those opportunities, that would be some heavy-hitting stuff, I think. I think something like that would fly on the likes of LinkedIn to where…maybe we should.
Lee: Let’s do it.
Dan: All right. I’ll let you do it.
Lee: I’ll do it.
Dan: No, I think it’s valid. And speaking of, yeah, LinkedIn pitching, sales messages. And this is coming from me. You must get absolutely slapped around the face with messages, and obviously, emails, but let’s focus on LinkedIn. Because everyone does this rhetoric at the moment, I think, which is totally valid, which is someone connects with you or attempts to, and either in that attempt, you get a little message from them in the connection request effectively just saying, “Me, me, me, we, we, we, I, I, I, this is what we do.” Selling to you immediately. Or you get through. You get accepted and start a new connection with whoever it is, and they just immediately drop into your inbox, “This is what we do. Let us know if we can help you.” And then follow up, and follow up, and follow up when you ignore them. That’s a different type of pitch to an extent but really, the principle is there.
Do you think that…well, I’ve got my own opinion on this. Do you think that pitching on LinkedIn, like I’ve just described, will ever, ever work?
Lee: Cold in a DM?
Dan: Just flat out, no? And is that you speaking, obviously, from your own experience and for yourself, but are you widening that to everyone?
Lee: Yeah. You can’t go in DM cold to someone you don’t know and expect them to give you something without giving them anything back. When we first set up the agency, every connection that I made, which was curated by me, got a personal message thanking them for even giving me the time to become a connection but also offering help for free, not the other way around. I didn’t say, “Right, we’re a search marketing agency. We can do X, Y, and Z for you.” I said, “Thank you for fucking looking at my invitation and connecting.” And then I offered my help for nothing, and that’s how we got quite a bit of the first sort of few clients that came through the door, and there was consultancy that was offered for free. There was phone calls, there was work, there was audits. All sorts of stuff that was done for free to offer a bit of gratitude, to build a bit of a relationship, which then have turned into relationships that are still clients today.
I really don’t think you can, realistically, if you take a step back, think, “I’m gonna cold pitch this guy in a DM.”
Dan: Well, if you translate that into real life, what’s the equivalent of that? Like, a networking event. Just eyeballing someone and making a B line for them straight up. “I’ll tell you my name. I’ll tell you what I do. You interested?”
Lee: If you imagine a football stadium full of people, it’s like literally going around and just asking each person in that stadium if they want to buy something off you.
Dan: I might try that.
Lee: Well, they can’t get away.
Dan: No, they can’t. Yeah.
Lee: I think it’s overdone. I think LinkedIn is phenomenal if you’re willing to put the time in. I think anything that takes minimal effort will not yield results.
Dan: No. Completely agree with that. It’s a great place to build a brand.
Lee: It’s a great place to build a network if it’s genuine. If the reason behind it is genuine, and you’re not just on the take.
Dan: There’s just plenty of it going on, though, isn’t there? Absolutely loads. And as I said, you must get 5, 10 times the amount I see. And then some.
Lee: Yeah, it’s a lot. It’s a lot, but the negative about that is that it sometimes makes you miss the important stuff.
Dan: Because you tarnish everyone with that same mindset of…
Lee: You’ve just got that many to go through. You never get to the ones…
Dan: Yeah. And I’d also like to say, can those people stop making my life harder. Because of exactly what you’ve just said. Me trying to strike up a conversation, and that’s all we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to sell because we don’t even know if we can help someone. All we’re trying to do is strike up a conversation with the right people, the right brands. They’re just getting hammered by these dickheads doing shyster sales shit. And it needs to stop. Bold, but it does.
Lee: Yep. I agree.