The call comes in. In just a few weeks there will be a new brand positioning, a campaign launch and a listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
It’s always different, and yet always the same: A company’s plans set into motion a highly coordinated effort between client and agency that, at its best, operates with the efficiency of a Swiss watch and, at its worst, plays out like a highlight reel of Fyre Fest. The role of the CMO is to sit at the crossroads and steer everyone into the best possible outcome.
It’s not unusual for companies, especially B2B marketers, to have to move quickly over complex and often unanticipated hurdles. After two and a half years of working through a pandemic, there are announcements to be made, deals to be done, business strategies to revisit and stakeholders to engage.
And oh, yeah, greater than ever pressure to show ROI and growth.
Agencies bringing a hustle mentality to the new business pitch process have always had a big advantage. It’s no longer enough. Now they need something else, too: Empathy.
While empathy has long been considered a major part of Marketing 101 and the bedrock of long-term relationships, it hasn’t often been considered a requirement for securing new business. Today it’s essential — for our prospects, our existing clients and for our teams.
How can we inject empathy into the hustle for new business?
Talk less — listen more. A practical new business strategy is to obtain as much information as possible and ask a lot of questions. But “a lot” can quickly become too many. You don’t want to put marketers on the spot if they don’t have ready answers.
A better way: Listen closely to the information they offer. When they’re guarded, are they saying, “I actually don’t own this decision and I need help selling it in?” That’s the time to lean into your experience and have a point of view — you’ll likely articulate something they don’t yet fully realize.
Welcome others in. More people than ever have a say in a company’s marketing plans: Zoom made it possible for CEOs, CTOs, CROs — not to mention children roaming around the house — to join conversations. Suddenly, lots of people have taken seats at the table. It complicates matters, but it’s also an opportunity. Welcome them to the conversation — and not just for pitch meetings. Welcome them after you’ve won the business. Clients need support to move work along and having the right stakeholders in the room helps.
Be kind to your team. Very often, agency employees wear many hats, and pitching in on new business is one more extra task. If they bring excitement to the process, that’s great. (But they might also bring anxiety. They’ll say – and we’ve heard it often: “This timeline doesn’t make sense!”) It’s a mistake to dismiss that anxiety. Everyone is a bit overwhelmed: Microsoft reports that the weekly meeting time for the average Teams user is up 252% compared to February 2020, and after-hours work is up by 28%.
“Quiet quitting” is a news story because so many people feel burned out. Aside from time off for long days, we may not always be able to lighten the load of employees, but being respectful of the personal and professional load and setting expectations up front, goes a long way in building a committed and empowered team.
Pursue the right partners. A hustle mentality will always be part of the new business pitch process: There are targets to hit and pipelines to fill. But it’s okay to bow out of pitches if the fit doesn’t feel right — passing on a prospect that isn’t right for your team makes room for one that is. The best clients are respectful, committed to doing good work and provide clarity on budgets and objectives — and one that’s a good fit is much more likely to be a partner for the long haul.
Let’s be clear: There are no half-measures when it comes to forging new relationships with clients. The best way to build better partnerships now is to incorporate what we’ve learned over the past two years into how you go about your new business pitch. It’s time to add empathy, understanding and maybe even a bit of humility to the market hustle we’ve always had.
That’s the best way forward for everyone — agencies, clients and stakeholders — to win the new business game.
Kelly Higgins is the chief marketing officer of Doremus+Co, a business-to-business advertising agency that’s part of Omnicom Group. As the youngest CMO in the agency’s 120-year history and an integral part of the leadership team, Kelly leads agency reputation and new business development. She pitches and runs accounts for Fortune 500 companies, sits on industry boards and has helped jumpstart the agency’s marketing efforts.
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