Over the last 12 months, as you would expect, we’ve been involved in a number of pitches and as part of our annual planning process I tend to sit down and review them all – Why did we win? Why did we lose? Which ones do we wish we had won? Which ones do we wish we’d lost? What did we learn from each? Which ones were a pleasant experience? How could we have done better? This year I’ve noticed a worrying trend which I believe is damaging to the already fragile pitch process – the consultant. I’m not talking about the agency selection services as they tend not to operate in the B2B sphere, I’m talking about a independent consultant who is usually a friend of a friend.
Using a consultant to lead the agency selection process may seem like a good idea. It means you can get on with running your business whilst someone else spends the time researching possible partners, interviewing them, carrying out the chemistry meetings, briefing them on the pitch brief and then ultimately having the greatest say in the final decision. They do all the work and you end up with the perfect partner.
It just doesn’t work that way. Yes they do all the work, but, in our experience the selection process gets highjacked by an individual’s personal objectives, prioirties and agendas. And because you’re paying them, you’re reluctant to disagree with them or to distrust them.
The most recent one involved a consultant who had developed the marketing strategy but had written in the brief that they wanted the agency to present their own strategy. Foolishly we did. Unfortunately it was different to the consultants (and better, obviously) and we could sense the tension in the room change as the clients looked at each other nervously and the consultant went pale. Needless to say we didn’t win the pitch but we weren’t the only losers – the client also lost the opportunity to benefit from the strategic value, we or indeed any of the other competing agencies may have been able to bring to their business because of the “self interest” of the consultant.
There has been one occassion this year where a consultant did manage the process effectively and objectively. They involved the client at all critical stages, for example the chemistry meetings, the brief interrogation and the final pitches. They took the burden away from the client, but also left them with the responsibility for choosing the right partner. Before you ask, we lost that pitch too. This really isn’t sour grapes. It is a genuine belief that to find the right partner you have to invest time. You have look beyond the beauty parade and deep into the skills, experiences and personalities of the people you might be working with to see where they might compliment those you have in house. No one else, especially someone who might personally benefit from a sub-optimal choice, can do that for you.