Do it your way

Rather than waiting around for pitches to come to you, Adrian Shaughnessy advocates taking ideas straight to the client – but strictly on your own terms

Rather than waiting around for pitches to come to you,  Adrian Shaughnessy advocates taking ideas straight to the client – but strictly on your own terms

In a recent editorial, Lynda Relph-Knight wrote about Blair Enns, the Canadian ‘sales consultant’ (DW 19 October). Enns’s philosophy of selling creative skills ‘on your own terms’ struck a big, echoing chord with me.

It’s an area that has fascinated me ever since I first became a designer. How do you avoid touting your creative skills like a snake-oil salesman in the Wild West? How do you avoid the kill-or-be-killed shoot-out of competitive pitches? Reading Lynda’s editorial, I wondered if Enns had the answer.

On his website – called Win Without Pitching – Enns offers sales consulting to marketing communications agencies. The site is a bit thin on content, but the home page boasts a nice picture of a pensive-looking sheep. Profound.

In a ‘white paper’, entitled The Marketer’s Dilemma: Why Marketer’s [sic] Struggle With Selling, Enns states that marketing and selling are related, but different disciplines. He defines marketing as ‘identifying an opportunity in the marketplace and then matching a product or service to that opportunity’. He defines selling as ‘the facilitation of the buying process’, and says it is ‘much more personal and intimate’ than marketing. In his view, the inability to distinguish between marketing and selling is the cause of many problems encountered by creative groups.

Enns is hot on the damaging effects of pitching. ‘By giving away the agency’s time and, more importantly, its thinking, without the guarantee of appropriate compensation, the agency demonstrates that it does not value its own services. Now that the client knows that the agency is willing to work on speculation, how can the agency chief executive officer look the client in the eye, on future work, and convince him that his services are worth what he is asking?’ he asks. He sees pitching as a natural consequence of consultancies’ inability to sell. ‘Accounts go to pitches,’ he notes, ‘because nobody is helping the client-to-be to buy early in the buying cycle.’

Enns advocates the nurturing of clients as an essential part of the sales process. He gets it dead right here. Nurturing clients – talking to them when they are not necessarily in a commissioning cycle, and paying them attention when there is no immediate reward in sight – is an essential part of selling creativity.

But, if we really want to avoid the blood bath of pitching, I’d add something else to the mix- namely, taking ideas to clients. It’s not an approach I’d previously adopted, but I’ve recently had my eyes opened to its potential.

I’m currently working with two people (both non-designers) who run a creative business and who are increasingly adopting a ‘take ideas to the client’ strategy. And the good news is that it works. In the past couple of weeks, ideas have been successfully presented to the chief executive officer of a major Plc, and to the head of one of the biggest ad agencies.

For designers, it is no longer an option to wait passively for invitations to pitch. Taking ideas to clients (ideas for new strategies, use of new platforms, and so on) involves as much work and research as an unpaid pitch. But that’s where the comparison ends.

Why? Because even if you fail to persuade a client to adopt an idea that you’ve proposed, you own that idea and you can pitch it to someone else – strictly ‘on your own terms’, of course.

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