Blair Enns in conversation


This is ben's fat at the ip. Today we had our commercial conference at the british library. We have number of speakers of talking around. The theme of how agencies can take more control control pricing control of pitching and one of the speakers. is a guy that we've heard from before blair ends who has written a book how to win without pitching He gave a very Entertaining and always electrifying speech. About how agencies should try and take control of the pitching process and i grabbed him for a ten minute chat just after he had spoken one of the things that i think a lot of agency. People believe that they should be relationship. Builders not challenges to relationships and it seems to me that what you have catering and i get the logic of it might get in the way of that in some people's minds. How would you answer that. Yeah there's a misconception around the role of relationship in not just new business development but all bb to be sales. And i think neil rackham the founder of spin selling said it best and he said it in the introduction to the fantastic book called the challenger sale which talked about at length last year. He said the relationship is the reward for delivering value and too often people who have kind of high affiliation needs who who often. We see that in in client services roles people who are driven to connect with people. That's not a bad thing. But if that's a personal motivation for you to to build relationships with people then your natural which is to build a relationship and hope that an engagement will follow and really you want view the relationship as the reward for get delivered value. I secure the engagement and then the relationship will come out of it the idea that. You're going to befriend somebody into hiring us. Just just patently false in the agency world so but it's it is a common. It's a common viewpoint. Yeah absolutely i mean. And i've spent my life in agencies and agencies a full of charismatic likeable people. And i think they do have a temptation to believe that once they let loose on a klein their xiuchong. We'll get them where they want to get. But really what you're saying is that doesn't happen. Yeah and i don't mean to diminish the importance of real relationships where you have a client that you've worked with previously. They know you they know your work. Maybe they've like you personally that all of that's really valuable but the idea that you're going to kind of build the rollet personal relationship and lean on personal report and an engagement will fall from that. That's just that's just not. It's not an appropriate way to operate. I wanna talk. Show little bit about the decision making process both in the agency and at the client end because you know we fall into the habit of saying the client and the agency but there are a lot of people involved on both sides And one of the things that i can see might be a problem. Is that quite often. Those people that start negotiation for the agency or the responsibly armed appeal whatever. It might be you know. They're not at the top of the tree. And they won't necessarily be emboldened to be a little bit. Disruptive will take controllers you would have it and on the other hand some of the clients that they're dealing with our also people down the line who are working to a formula or process have been told to work to and therefore we're going to be less receptive to anybody cutting raffle being difficult for good reason. Yeah so can you talk a bit about that. Because in the real world you know are always people involved in these in these decisions. These are great points in the same principles apply to the subject of value pricing. Where which tim williams is talking about today and you know we can all kind of buy into the theory of value pricing. But if you want to sell an engagement based on value you need to have a on the agency side of the table. Somebody who's capable of having that conversation and be you need somebody on the client side of the table who's actually charged with future value. And as you point out here sometimes. There are people at the table. Who's they're not charged with creating future value for the client organization. They're charged with bringing in cost lowest possible or they're charged charged with managing the process. It's very difficult in those situations to be able to push back where you have to do. Is you have to if if you wanna get this high up in the client side of the organization as you can and that so when the relationship begins kind of the middle management level or to lower. That's the first place you need to push back and say listen you know. I'm sorry but we're not going to follow this kind of procurement process as laid out and before we even decide on whether or not it makes sense to take the next step. We need to have a conversation with certain key individuals on on your team. And if we can't have that conversation then we'd just as a matter of policy we can't move forward so i even decide whether or not this makes sense to take the next step. We need to have a conversation with. I'll use the term key decision-makers that's not a term you would use an actual conversation you would identify. You would name the individuals now you've been Advising a number of agencies over over time. You've seen this storm. Well you've seen people take take your recipe for success and apply it. Yeah can you give us some Because i think a win one of his stories if the real world these things do come alive. Yeah i'll concede that the larger the agency the larger the client the closer to new york city or in this case london. I'm in almost all lennon here. And the more of a pure advertising play the account is the more difficult it is because the bad practices are ingrained equally on the client side and on the agency side so the firms that do best at this approach pushing back in gaining concessions are the firms where first of all they're a little bit smaller tend to be a little bit smaller a little more specialized number one and number two the individual. Who's pushing back has more authority. So if you're if you're running if you're a group account director in a network aimed owned agency and you are pushing back and essentially risking The fact that this opportunity might go away and then you have to answer the people above you and people above them and people above them. That gets a little bit more difficult to do. So it's a combination of the firm needs to be positioned. Well you need to be seen as meaningfully different the individual on the agency sightings having these conversations needs to really buy into this approach and it helps if it's aligned with their own model makeup and then there needs to be the more risk that they are comfortable taking in that situation the better. They are the they're likely to perform. That makes absolute sense to me. And i know from one's person expense outside of agency client relationships if you'll if you're hiring someone to do some building work on your house or something you're after much more impressed by the people you talk to who say no no no. Yeah yeah people want to do it. I that you do this then. The person that just takes dictation your can do that. I can do that if you're if you're looking for examples. I just at coffee. after mytalk. somebody came up to me and said i heard you speak a few years ago. And and he said i just had a situation. We were asked to pitch an ice. I looked at the requirements. And i said no. We're not going to pitch. And then three days later the the cmo called and said hey. I hear not in the pitch and he said yeah well. Here's the here the things i don't like about the pitch and he said no problem will change them so they went on to win. The business was a million a million pounds fees and it started with him saying no and walking away. And that's one of the points. I made in the talk today. Is you know. I think a lot of these conversations. A lot of the client comes to us and says here's what we'd like from you hear the conditions and we're just so conditioned to say yes. We just start with no and see what happens after that i am. I must say. I was very taken with thought that you that you put across earlier and that was the pushback early. If you think something isn't right oh you don't like the way the things being set up let that be known early on because it seemed to me that not only is that chime with everything you're saying but in the eyes of the client your already positioning yourself. You already separating yourself from the pack and the clyde is probably thinking Not being unreasonable. These are interesting people. You'd have a point of view rather than perhaps the zoo would just saying. Yeah yeah yeah. We'll do whatever. I've seen so many examples in particular here in the uk where the client has been offended at the agency pushing back but it only ever happens when the client is sort of. The agency is compliant in the beginning. And then they kind of muster up the courage to say no in the middle of the process that the client finds that highly offensive. But if you begin the relationship that way there should be nothing offensive about it. You just you can apologize. Say this you know we're not going to do that for this reason. And whatever the reason is you just say what you're thinking. now. I wanna ask you about another issue. That's very prevalent here in the uk. Which is the role of intermediaries in setting up these pitches. We've got three or four very powerful ones. I think is probably true in new york. Yes now this complicates matters. Doesn't it because they are. They taking the the job the client if you like being paid where around the pitch for you where run a fair process. We'll get the right result but they don't really want you cutting out and difficult. Yeah so. I talk about the four priorities of winning new business. I win without pitching if you can. If you cannot then try to derail the pitch if you cannot derail the pitch try to gain an advantage and then the fourth priority is walkway if you cannot and if you apply that strictly to you know process. That's mediated by search consultant. You're gonna find that you're you end up walking away a lot unless there's a situation like the one i shared with you. There's a situation where the client really really would like to have your firm in the pitch. Then you you. You really just have to push back and say i know some firms that just say. We refuse to participate in a process. Run by an outside consultant. And that's just a decision that they make. But you're not it's not unless there's it. They're the equivalent of dealing with procurement or dealing with perhaps middle managers who were charged with running a process and they're not charged with future value. So unless somebody in the client side declined organization who's charged with creating future value is interested in having you at the table. Then you have no power an in a way. That is a complication. That's powered on top of the other. One we talked about which is im- big of these. These prices are ingrained in. it's more difficult. it's in big agencies. They often faces into problems. Get piled on problems. It gets harder to do the very sensible things that you're recommending not saying as possible so if this works and i take it from you that it does i believe it. Why why did we see more of it. Why is still doing the same old same old. And and being compliant in these pitches. Yeah and why. Why is everybody familiar with the principles of value pricing but very few creative firms or value pricing. And the truth is it's a little bit difficult to pull off. The conversations are not easy even value. Pricing comes down to the failure of firms to value. Price comes down to failure of the value conversation which is conversation between human beings in which one person is guiding the other. And there's a little bit of pushback and it's the same thing in selling so it's just easier in pricing. it's easier to not have those conversations to fall back on cost plus in selling. It's easier to fall back on the process as it's been laid out to you by the client and do you think because it's not easy that there is a personality type or a a a skill set that exists in certain people. The agency should be training apple. There should be identified and using in these conversations. Yeah there's a personality type work or spectrum personality types that are more drawn to this approach and you can test for it depending on. I use an obscure assessment to give me a sense of somebody's motivational makeup. And you can't overweight an objective assessment. But that's a starting point and then you'll just see that some people are kind of naturally gravitate to this approach the lean forward when you talk about it and others will just list all the reasons why can't possibly happen so you can't take somebody who would just readily list all those reasons. Why can't possibly work this way and train them but the people who are interested the people are really fed up with the pitch process and being seen as a vendor than an ex and who want to be seen as the expert practitioner. Those are the people that you want to focus on putting in key positions training. Okay so last question to think that there is any possibility that an organization like the ip a the professional body for the agencies could try and a regulation or regulated approach to pitching that incorporated many of your ideas that the clients and the would adhere to do. You think that's just a pipe dream everywhere around the world. That we're i've i've looked every jurisdiction i've worked in where i've looked at kind of the professional body like the ip a war. Maybe the design business association on the design side where they have tried to advocate or Dictate a kind of buying process for the client has failed and i just don't do not think there will ever. If i were a client i would have. No interest in clients. Have the power because because of oversupply of undifferentiated creative firms. So why if i were a client why would i readily give up that power. The ability to kind of get a better price. It's cetera to push agencies around in the in the selection process. Why would i voluntarily give that up. You make a good point. And i didn't believe it could be done a really what we're what we're saying is and this is music too many agencies years because they inherently competitive beasts. There's a huge opportunity out there. For those agencies that do grasp the nettle the do take the difficult conversations on early because if they can move this concession onto the value. They're giving the price that they're offering. This is for Is a big win. Yeah if he if you had two choices one is. We could eliminate free pitching from the agency landscape so everybody is removed from the burden. Or you could figure out how to win without pitching well. Everybody else pitched their brains out what you select point moment. Okay thanks great. Continue my pleasure paul. Thank you found. Observations interesting and indeed that some of them into practice. He's got lots of examples of how this is worth although america. But i didn't hear anything to i didn't believe could be applied to say. Thanks for listening coupons fan and this has been the podcast.

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