The uncomfortable reality of re-pitching for an existing account

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Agency life

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]We recently re-pitched to retain an account – not an enjoyable experience, but extremely valuable nonetheless.

It’s bad enough entering a pitch when ‘the favoured incumbent’ is partaking in the process, but it’s far worse when you are the incumbent! Trust me.

I can imagine it’s not a frequently discussed / blogged topic – why would it be. Re-pitching for an existing account doesn’t exactly smack of ‘Oh my God, you guys are so good with your clients’!!!

Before I go onto some of the lessons learnt, the most important thing I suppose, is don’t let things get to that point. Whilst being there doesn’t have to be due to the client being unhappy (business priorities can change, procurement battleaxes get in the way, a new <insert fancy job title here> joins the company etc) it is, I believe, entirely avoidable.

So, don’t kid yourself for a second … you’re there because you took your eye off the ball and whether you like it or not, alignment with your client was lost somewhere along the line. The sooner you can be honest about why you’re there, the quicker you can figure out how to win them back.

First and foremost decide if the client is one that’s worth retaining (are they profitable? are they the right fit? do they add shine to your client list?). If you decide they are, then make sure you leave no room for question. Strong account management, efficient delivery and proactive engagement are all part of the retention game, but not what this blog post is all about (though for what it’s worth – collaborative road-mapping has to be one of the key tools for client retention in my opinion).

So, what to do when you do find yourself in the situation of re-pitching for an existing account!? From my humble recent experience, here are some pointers…

  1. Don’t take anything for granted. You might have the best relationship with your client, but don’t assume their organisation/colleagues feel the same way. Make sure you focus less on what you’ve done and more on what you can do.
  2. Approach the process as you would any valuable new pitch opportunity. Pitches are often a show of an agency’s finest skills – don’t get complacent or lazy because you think the history affords you the right to. Use it as an opportunity to shine.
  3. Leverage your successes, but keep it brief. Being the incumbent is an advantage – so don’t be shy to recap on the successes … there may be people present who were not around for the whole account history. But don’t gloat – you need to win based on your vision, not you (perceived) past successes.
  4. Be honest about you failures and propose solutions. It’s a bit harsh and I’m not suggesting you go in and commit Hari-kiri! But make them believe that you can put right any of the issues that have been encountered over the years.
  5. Be bold. Don’t be shy to create an entire new vision – a complete team shake up, a new working/charging model, a new marketing plan – whatever! Figure out why you’re there, address those issues head on and don’t be scared to jump well outside of your comfort zone.
  6. Most importantly … tell them something new, surprise them! All too often (particulalry with longer standing accounts) clients will have an (outdated) opinion about you and your agency. Use the pitch as a chance to surprise them – create a ‘heck I had no idea you did that’ moment. Make it relevant and impactful.

When all else fails, a brown bag stuffed with cash might be the last resort (luckily, we haven’t had it come to that yet!).

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Comments
  1. Jonny says:

    Great read Jason…..so true!

    • Jason Ross says:

      Lol – thought you might like the brown bag approach Jon 😉 How’s life back home?

      • Jonathan says:

        Hi Jason…..Great to herar from you! The rentention debate is so relevant right now….i’m having similar difficult situations with my clients! Things are good here…..my 40th next week! I’m now working in the International team as an account director – i handle Google, Microsoft and a few other tech clients globally. I will be over to Sydney in January for holiday with Allison so hopefully we can catch up? Jonathan

    • Jason Ross says:

      You betcha Jon! Give me a shout when you’re here. Would be awesome to catch up after all this time.

  2. mikeboogaard says:

    Some great lessons here. In my opinion the most important 2 tips in your post are (a) understanding why the client is considering others (b) whether the client is worth retaining. In other words, whether there is (still) a good fit and more importantly whether the account was profitable in the first place. It is so easy for agencies to become lazy and stop working hard for their clients. But equally it is also so easy for the client to pressure the agency into unprofitably by playing the ‘we need better prices otherwise we would have to go for pitch’.

    Definitely taking on board the ‘wow factor’ too for next pitch! How often do we make the mistake of presenting only what the client asked for, not exceeding their expectations? Too often, very often because we are in too much of a hurry. We have other pitches and proposals to work on. Well, I have learned the painful lesson that it is better to do one thing well than things half-hearted.

    Very helpful post to refocus the mind!

    • Jason Ross says:

      Yup the good old (and profit munching) ‘we need better pricezzzz zzzz zzzz’ conversation. If you need better prices, go to Aldi 😉 Thank for the re-tweet Mike.

  3. Kel Langeliers says:

    We went through this with our web developers 2 years ago. I wish they’d read this first, because we really enjoyed working with them, they just hadn’t really engaged with us to push us forward over time. Instead, we were playing catch up with our online media and only realising initiatives that we ourselves proposed (which obviously meant we were behind the times).

    If I could add one point it would be this: if you have a strong personal relationship with someone on your client’s team, ask them why it is that they are putting the work out to tender. Ask them if there is something you could be doing better.

    If someone had asked me, I would have told them.

  4. […] the relationship In an interesting blog post by Jason Ross on how to re-pitch for an existing account, he raised the importance of evaluating the relationship. No one likes to admit when a marriage […]

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