Phew. It was a busy end of the year for me. We finished a big home renovation project and consolidated two households, all in time to host family for the holidays. But that meant my self-imposed editorial calendar went right out the window. Not something I advocate, but hey, sometimes it happens.

To start the year right, I’ve contributed a new piece to the
Agency Post blog. This one on the mindset necessary to win that big client this year. You can link to the post here  but I’ve also included it below.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to set positive intentions, such as gearing yourself up to reel in a big, game-changing client. It’s a daunting challenge for any agency, but it is particularly challenging if you’re a small- to mid-sized shop. You have to work that much harder to differentiate yourself and get the attention of the
"big guys".

In the same way that the rich and famous tend to stick with other rich and famous people, big companies with big marketing budgets tend to move in the same circles as big agencies that know how to spend those big budgets.

Sure, there are exceptions to the rules, such as up-and-coming creative hot shops that are winning lots of awards and getting lots of attention. However, in general, big marketers simply don’t have the time or bandwidth to be familiar with all their choices for potential agency partners. It’s no wonder then that CMOs rely on what they know.

This is not to say that the underdogs never win -- I’ve run lots of pitches where we've successfully punched above our weight level -- but you have to make the right moves and have the right mindset.
 

Here are some steps that any agency can take to increase the chances of hooking a big client this year:

Prequalify the client.

Find out early if the client is either too fixated on working with big agencies or too uncomfortable straying from his safety zone. To use a dating analogy, some guys just want to be with a beautiful woman, so why spend a lot of time trying to convince them they’d be so much happier with a woman with your brains? It’s simply a decision they’ll never make, so know when to move on.

Have a clear point of view.

Larger companies face the same challenges every business does -- theirs is just on a different scale. Be very clear that you are an expert at solving those challenges. In fact, be very good at solving just one of those challenges. The more differentiated you are, the easier it will be to get noticed. I know I’m not the first new biz expert to say this, but it bears repeating: Trying to be all things to all people will only dilute your message and confuse your prospects.

Let the big ones find you.

If you’ve decided to pursue a few big prospects based on one of your agency’s key strengths, your marketing should be aligned to support that effort. Sounds obvious, right? But sometimes, in our rush to catch the big fish, we neglect to think strategically. Take a look at your pitch messaging. Is it reflected on your website, in social media, in your interviews with the press, and in the events you speak at? 

Prove you can handle it.

Be prepared to show the client you can handle the workload -- creatively, strategically, and operationally. Don’t try to fake it. Bridge the gaps in your services by proposing partnerships. Present a hiring strategy to recruit the talent you’ll need, or even show how you can use technology to perform at the same level as the big guys. In other words, give the brand solid reasons why your size shouldn’t matter.

Chemistry counts.

Whenever I analyze why a pitch was successful, I consistently find two reasons. One of them is great chemistry between the agency and client. Remember, no matter how big the company, it’s run by other human beings just like you. And we human beings tend to make emotional, not rational, decisions (though we’re pretty good at rationalizing). The folks you’re pitching want to hire other people that they like and trust, so while you still need to be buttoned up about how you’ll service their business, it’s important to connect on a personal level by letting your humanity shine through.

Want it. Want it bad.

The second most consistent reason why an agency wins a pitch is sheer force of will -- wanting the business so bad they can taste it. But wanting it isn’t enough. The trick here is to make this fever contagious so the entire agency gets excited and inspired to work hard toward a common goal. The opposite is also true, by the way. Losing a pitch can often be pegged to divided leadership and ambivalence -- or even worse, rancor -- among the team members.

So go forth! Pitch big! Set yourself a big, hairy, audacious goal for 2015, and prepare well and wisely so that mega-marketers see you as a real contender, not an underdog.