Jonathan Lewis is an account supervisor at McKee Wallwork Cleveland, a marketing strategy firm. Follow him @JonathanLewis11.
My wife and I recently began a highly subjective search for a real estate agent. Because the search was so unscientific, it’s safe to say it accurately reflects most new business pitch situations. Through the process of vetting the area’s top real estate agents, I learned that once the initial research was complete and I was sitting in the interview, the importance of the accolades quickly faded away as each agent began sounding like the last.
In a similar way, clients want to know that prospective agencies pass muster. Creative awards, white papers and a fancy office space are important, but they only get us so far. Too often, we become excessively focused on ourselves. The truth is, once we pay the price of entry, all of the accomplishments start blending together. If you want to win, you have to go beyond “check the box” prospecting.
After the interview, each agent offered some kind of follow-up action item. Some promised to send an online portal to help us search for homes. Others offered to simply check in by a certain date. One thing that struck me about these seemingly insignificant follow-up items was the importance I placed on them when choosing an agent. Since I was working off of so little information, every little bit counted.
One agent aggressively tried to nail me down in the interview, then didn’t follow through on his promised follow up. The lesson was simple: If you offer some sort of follow up in the meeting, do exactly what you say you will do — as fast as possible. Everything the client knows about you, he or she found on your website, in your largely unread RFP and in the pitch. That means every handshake, every email and every action item counts.
As many husbands can attest to, when searching for a home, there’s one person that makes the final decision — and it’s not you. As I interviewed real estate agents, I felt that I could probably make it work with any candidate. They were all qualified, successful professionals. However, my wife had a gut feeling about one. With little else to go on, this played a major factor in our decision.
In a client pitch, your main contact may not be the final decision maker. In my situation, I wanted to make sure my wife was happy with the chosen agent. This could be an important question for a pitch situation. Who is the main client contact beholden to? Is the potential client trying to please a superior who might barely be a part of the process? Does he value the opinion of his assistant more than you know? Because there are so many variables in the agency selection process, treat every person in the room as if he or she were making the final decision.
In the end, after reviewing accolades, researching websites and conducting interviews, I discovered that the criteria I thought I would use to select an agent quickly went out the window when the decision was before me. In reality, the decision came down to a feeling.
My wife and I just felt better about our chosen real estate agent. In some unquantifiable way, our personalities fit a little better. The agent paid the price of entry to get an interview, didn’t make any seemingly insignificant mistakes and conveyed an attitude that appealed to us.
The next time you prepare for a new business pitch, perhaps you should approach it like marketers approach client work every day. Lead with emotion and then let the client justify the decision based on your references, accolades, experience and fancy office space.