In Sun Tzu’s famous series of essays called the Art of War, he recommends that the best way to win at war is to win without a battle.

win before the pitch

Sun Tzu emphasized the importance of positioning in strategy.

In other words, take such bold steps early that a battle isn’t necessary. New business and war have a lot in common. And the good advice from the Chinese general works quite well in new business also.

Winning an account before the pitch is much easier than winning the account in a formal review. It takes less money. It takes less energy. And there’s no competition. With these advantages, why not spend time making sure your agency is set up to win the account before a pitch is called? Few agencies take these steps to win the business before a formal review process starts. And therefore they miss so many opportunities to win business the easy way.

Most agencies focus all their energy on winning in formal presentations, and being good at those is an important way to grow an agency. Work hard to increase your chances of winning in custom pitches generated by search consultants, RFPs, cattle calls, and capabilities presentations – practice, remember stories, and most of all be relevant – show how your firm will help solve the problem!

But winning this way is so expensive, so time consuming and tough on agency resources. It’s the hard way to win. Change all that. Decide now to adjust your new business strategy. Why not put an equal amount of attention into preparing the agency to win accounts with solid, fast-close techniques, usually within 48-hours or 7-days, months before a formal presentation is called? Why not try this easier way?

Fast Closing New Business.

The first step in generating fast-close wins is generating “quiet visits” with prospects before the whole world knows the account is loose. That means the agency must have a steady outreach program underway at all times to build awareness with large numbers of key prospects. Its awareness that says the agency exists and the agency is really interested in the account. It’s a fact that over 35% of all clients who have agencies will invite competitive agencies in for quiet visits every year. That means big opportunities for agencies that know how to handle these quiet-visit opportunities the right way.

The second step in encouraging a steady series of quiet-visit opportunities is to build relationships with key members of the prospect’s management team. These relationships should encourage good prospects to say, “Not only do I know they are interested in my account, but I know somebody there at the agency that really cares about my business.”

The relationships can be built using all the relationship tools (twitter, facebook, phone, email) by the agency new business Spark or senior management, called Torches, who are trained to reach out and maintain contact with prospects important to the agency.

If your agency has a new business program underway that builds awareness and relationships with key prospects, then your agency isn’t so dependent on winning with formal presentations. You have a steady series of quiet visits going on every week at your agency and this means you have a steady stream of opportunities to win business before a review is called. You might have all the new business you can handle.

But if you have a quiet visit with a prospect early and you don’t take the right steps to fast close the account, then one thing is guaranteed: The account will drift into a review and you will be presenting against other agencies before you know it. The advantage you created with the quiet visit is diminished. Your lack of boldness will probably cost you the account. Other agencies will be invited to come in. Perhaps a search consultant will be engaged. And even more agencies will start to swarm the battlefield. You’ve just lost the battle.

Win Before The Pitch.

“The most dangerous thing an agency can do is put an agency representative not trained across the desk from a good prospect.”

Bob Sanders President, Sanders Consulting Group

Winning without formal reviews is more European than American. It puts more emphasis on who you know than who you are. And it’s more about making the agency available to be invited in rather than trying to butt into a review process already under way. Quiet wins are rarely talked about in our industry trade press. The media may notice that Agency A was fired and Agency B was hired and never rates a mention for more than a week. It might get an inch or two in the press. But a formal review makes the news, catches everyone’s attention, and gets analyzed and debated for weeks on the pages of ADWEEK or ADAGE. It’s such a waste. Win before the battle with fast close tactics that either give you the account or give you such advantages you win most of the time a new business battle begins.

Put plans in place at your agency that will generate a steady stream of quiet visits with key prospects at the rate of one or two per week, every week. These quiet visits will translate into opportunities for your agency to win two or three accounts without a review for every account you want to win in a formal review. That’s new business math that really pays.

Remember that the size of the account has nothing to do with winning it without a review. It has everything to do with creating opportunities to win an account before the pitch and then making an effective quiet visit on the account that encourages the account to hire you. That’s winning the account before the battle, something every great general knows how to do. It’s not good strategy – It’s perfect strategy.

All of these skills are taught in a two-day, on-site program called Torch from Sanders Consulting Group. Here the emphasis is on showing everyone who comes into contact with prospects how to win the account right from the first contact. For more information about Torch, call Sanders Consulting Group at 412.897.9329 or send us an email: [email protected]


 the art of war book photo by juliios