Most agencies look and act pretty much the same to most prospects – perhaps doing something differently can help you stand out and win.

Being John Malkovitch

How many agencies are all trying to do the same thing?

Let me share a short story to explain this. I had been brought in to train a mid-sized advertising agency in a new business strategy built around avoiding RFPs and organized pitches. This strategy uses a more consulting-type approach called First Visits. The agency uses this opportunity to build trust and then probe for needs in a process we teach called Discovery (see agency baseball for more information).

She avoided the formal review process.

Three weeks after this training session, the agency president sent me an email on her appreciation of the situation in her new business wars:

“We’ve been using the First Visit format, and so far it has resulted in positive feedback and hopefully, shortly, some new business. Let me explain what’s happened. We now meet the prospects without any deck, leave behind, or anything. And this is a big change for us. Let me tell you about our most recent First Visit – after ensuring we have trust, we encouraged the potential client to tell us about her challenges, which she did for 1 ½ hours. When you said these First Meetings would take about between an hour and two, I didn’t believe it. Now I see how true that is.

“On another call, we used the Fast Close for the first time. I can honestly say I’ve never seen our team present as well as when they went in with process sheets and not a deck. At the end of the presentation, one of the prospects stood up and said, ‘Wow, that was really refreshing! Do you know how many boring PowerPoints we sit through?’ My team is very motivated by this new approach. And I know I will have some big results to show for this new way of working.”

I believe new business is a rough and tumble sport.

There is one winner and often many losers. You’re fighting for the account against other agencies that are trying to hold onto the account or trying to win it from you; you’re fighting the inertia of clients just doing nothing; you’re fighting all the slow old ways of thinking. So why use the same, old, tired strategies everyone else is using?

marine at war

Bob Sanders during the first Gulf War.

I was lucky enough to have served as a US Marine in the 1980s and early 1990s, under the gifted commandant, General A.M. Gray. This was a strange time to be in the military, as we were still looking at the huge might of the Soviet Union. Marines were out-gunned, outnumbered, and facing serious losses in any battle.

To survive any fight with the Soviet Union, the US Marines adopted a form of maneuver warfare as its doctrine of combat. While I will not attempt to fully explain the concept (thousands of books have been written on the subject), it revolves around the targeting of critical vulnerabilities, using boldness and surprise in combat, and adopting decentralized decision-making, speed, and combined arms to achieve victory. Planning, flexibility, and taking advantage of opportunities while maintaining the initiative are keys to success. The war fighting philosophy of the US Marine Corps is just as valid for meetings, presentations or any critical new business opportunities.

General Gray produced the USMC Warfighting Manual to explain maneuver warfare to the grunts on the ground. And I remember the first time I sat down and truly studied the old “FMFM-1 Warfighting” manual as we were heading off to the first Gulf War. (Here is the book the Marines produced but you can pick up the old manual online as a pdf just about anywhere.)

It’s one of the best books out there on strategy and is directly applicable to the business world (there is a good book that outlines the principles for the business world called The Marine Corps Way).

Stop Following the Formal Pitch Process!

My point is this: perhaps it’s time to try something different in your attempt to win new business:

  • Focus your new business efforts on getting first meetings with qualified prospects.
  • Turn good leads into invitations for first meetings, the key to growth.
  • Don’t waste time going to see prospects who aren’t interested.
  • Never “show” your capabilities – describe them to build trust.
  • Do discovery and find a source of pain and build on that.
  • Use speed to win, forcing a quick decision.

If you are tired of seeing the hard work you invested on a good prospect go down the drain with no results, drift into a formal review, or just decide to do nothing, then understanding how to Fast Close (what we call Torch) is for you. If you watched a good prospect drift away because you weren’t sure how to close, then get a Torch Training session organized at your agency.

Learn a new way of winning by understanding how to set up the First Visit and doing Discovery. You’ll see how you need to close the account quickly, often within 48 hours. Every firm in the marketing communications industry needs to know these fast-close techniques that win accounts. Equally important, we’ll show you why capabilities presentations are for losers. See why you lose more when you show more samples to prospects. And why written proposals and spec creative are costly expenses you can avoid.

NOTE: Day before yesterday an agency president call me to ask for some advice. She had been through the training, but was stuck with a complex pitch review, a misunderstanding, and no time. We discussed a few options and decided the best course of action was to go ahead with the Fast Close tactics, just with an added twist. Yesterday was the meeting. Today she emailed me this:

The client’s exact words were “I love these boards, I’m so sick of looking at decks.”  he took a picture of the wall to show his boss – (btw, the boards were folded up, I made sure of that.) Thank you for your brilliant brilliant help– you really pulled my patootie out of the fire.

No problem! We love helping you win!


Schedule Torch training at your firm. The training takes about two days and the savings in costly competitive presentations you by pass easily covers your investment. And the techniques you learn will last your firm a lifetime. And Semper Fi!