How to secure a paid-for credentials pitch

The DBA’s John Scarrott talks to a consultancy owner to turned around a free-pitch proposal.


Source: Images of Money

How pleased would you be to see the following email in your Inbox?

Email from client to consultancy

‘Many thanks for your email and your explanation of credential pitches as the most suitable approach for all parties to submitting proposals. We fully understand your comments, and as such would like to invite you to submit a credentials pitch based on the format outlined in the Design Business Association article you shared with us (the 5 Cs”).

How soon do you think your team could submit a credentials pitch for our project? It would be great to see your initial thinking on the Credentials, Capability, Creative, Chemistry and Cost aspects highlighted in the weblink.  

After receiving initial pitches, we would like to invite shortlisted candidates to visit our office and discuss the project in greater detail with our team in order to put together a comprehensive proposal.

We will then select the most appropriate candidate with which to work over the coming months to roll out our project. Should your organisation not be selected, we are of course happy to reimburse time allocated to this meeting – please could you indicate a fee for this meeting within the ‘Cost’ section of the credentials pitch.

Please feel free to me ask any further questions.’

The above text is a real client response that a DBA member shared with me after they decided to stop pitching for work using free creative. This was the first time they’d responded in this way. Here are the critical moves they made to get to this point and what they learned from the process. 

1.  Find out how many other consultancies are in the pitch. Then create a written response to the free pitch request. Make it useful to the client, explaining your suggestions in ways that will benefit them and you. Here’s an example:

Email from consultancy to client

Thanks for the information. We have now had the opportunity to review the briefing information which you sent to us and we would be very keen to work with you and the other members of the group on such an exciting project.

But before we do, I’ve attached a letter on why we don’t do free pitches and the reasons why it’s not beneficial to either company for the long term.

Here is a good article from a client explaining their process of finding a design partner.

Some of the main points pulled out from this client perspective are:

“The creative will be naïve and hastily pulled together. It will be based on a very narrow understanding of you, your market and the true nature of what is required. Creative like this is dangerous to share within a business as it can lead to commercial decisions being made on the basis of taste rather than commercial sense.

“It isn’t free creative: the cost of producing this work will be recovered through the subsequent work you do; the agency will likely resent giving their work away for free and this dysfunction will undermine and ultimately destroy your commercial partnership. A failure in such a vital strategic relationship may lead to your own commercial failure.

“The quality of any creative produced will only reflect the amount of time the agency has spent on the pitch. In any successful agency this will not be a great amount of time, unless the agency is struggling to win work. This will lead to poor decision making as it is likely that you will appoint a poor agency with lots of time to spend on your pitch rather than the strongest agency which was busy with fee paying work in the lead up to the pitch.

“I’d be happy to chat with you to discuss finding the best design partner to work with you – as it all helps our industry and improve your business in the long term!

I very much look forward to hearing from you.’

2.  Put together a document that clearly lays out your approach and use the 5 Cs as your headings. This gets you into the room and a response as follows.

Email from client to consultancy

Many thanks for submitting your credentials pitch for our project. After reviewing your pitch document, our team is pleased to invite you to a half-day pitch workshop later this month to take discussions further.
Full details of the workshop included in the attached agenda. Following the workshop we will expect an invoice for your reimbursables and time at the daily rate quoted in your pitch document.

Please let me know your availability to attend, and don’t hesitate to ask any further questions.’

3.  Prepare for the meeting. Take the 5 Cs and expand on them. Ask for a deeper brief. Use your previous experience to prove what you can do in the future.

The consultancy put together a more detailed case study presentation of a recent, similar project from the credentials document and explained how they work alongside clients etc.

The consultancy asked the client for a more detailed project description and went back and forth between their online case study, picking out elements that related to their project requirements. Finally they came up with some rough ideas of wireframes, next steps and timings.

I asked the consultancy, what was better about using the above approach compared to how they were doing things? Here’s what they said:

‘From what we started with – a free pitch proposal – to where we ended up – a paid workshop credentials pitch – gave us a huge amount of confidence and and positioned us as professional consultants enabling us to focus on solving their problem.

‘What I found was the consultants we dealt with were open-minded (or had no experience of dealing with designers) and took in our advice on free pitching.

‘The project is (on first sight) a fairly complicated web-based design project, with different variables and I think they were looking for some design guidance and suggestions.

‘So this process helped both of us to open up the communications process and gave the client a format to guide them through the process.

‘I think we are in a strong position to win the project – but I’ll let you know…’

John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. His DBA blog, Conversations With, is here.

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  • John Scarrott November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Following on from the above email, Andy Fuller of Designbull who is the company in the article shares his tips on creating a credentials pitch here:

  • Andy Fuller November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    …just to update you from John’s DBA post, we didn’t win but we were a ‘close second’ over another company with more international experience with their client.

    But I think they came away from our workshop with a better understanding and a clear roadmap – and I believe the DBA pitch process documents I provided helped them choose the right partner.

    Here was their response:

    “The workshop was certainly useful. Your ideas for the interface and some of the technology supporting it really did get us thinking.

    It was interesting to learn a bit about how the design industry standardises the proposal process, thanks again for the information.

    Will certainly be in touch if we can identify other things to work on together, there will be potential opportunities in the pipeline on this project and others.”

    From this experience I have written an article “8 tips to creating a design credentials pitch for a client” which breaks down my credentials pitch I presented. I hope it is useful:

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