Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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Case studies are among the most effective yet most misunderstood and misapplied business development tools available to marketing communication agencies. When presented properly, their power in helping to land the account is almost unrivaled. However, they are often applied incorrectly, and almost always used too early. Case studies are closing tools best used right at the end of the buying cycle. They should not be mailed out to prospects, and they should never be posted to your website.

Let me explain that by case studies I mean detailed examples of how you applied your thinking, via your defined processes, to solve a specific challenge for a specific client, complete with disclosure of the results achieved.

The case study is effective for two reasons. First, the example presented is proof that you've done this sort of thing before. Second, the method you employed to do that work (your defined process) is your assurance that you will achieve similar results on future work. The more consistency you can demonstrate in your methods, the more consistency will be assumed in future outcomes. Showing great work that yielded great results is nowhere near as effective if you neglect to show how you did the great work.

The Importance of Process

I almost always find myself coming back to the positioning of the agency when writing or speaking on business development. This article is no exception. Once an agency is sufficiently positioned, the next step is to identify the capabilities and processes that are required for the agency to support that positioning. Expert positionings are supported by expert processes. Experts are expected to have defined methods for doing what they do.

A creative services firm should have defined processes for how they diagnose problems (diagnostics), how they arrive at prescriptions for solutions (planning or strategic development), and how they translate those solutions into creative (creative development). Case studies that are framed by such processes are powerful assurances of the consistency of the agency's approach that are comforting to nervous prospects. Most people considering making a substantial financial investment are willing to pay a premium for that comfort, often a substantial premium. These defined processes are not only the basis for such price premiums; often they are the deciding factor in helping to land the account. Most agencies can show a body of good or even great work, and prospects know it. Those few agencies that are adept at providing assurances that the work to come will be as good as the work just seen are a rung or two above their competitors on the business development ladder.

What Goes on The Website?

I mentioned at the top of this article that case studies do not belong on your website. Detailed descriptions of your processes do not either. Prospects first visit your website fairly early in the buying cycle; usually before they have formed an intent to act. They are in the tire-kicking stage: gathering information, looking for inspiration to help them form the intent to address their problem. The job of your website is to inspire. Case studies are not tools of inspiration; they are tools of reassurance best used to remove the buyers remorse (doubt) that begins to set in late in the buying cycle. Examples of great work are perfectly appropriate here on your website or in the other business development tools used early in the buying cycle. But make them short, inspiring, and emotionally arousing. Process-framed case studies come off as boring this early in the buying cycle, but more importantly, the real problem with using detailed case studies on your website is that they represent the ace in your hand. To play them too early is to make them unavailable when you really need them.

Using Case Studies to Circumvent the Pitch

Think for a moment of the pitch; the agency selection process in which the firm is asked to part with its highest value product–its thinking–for free. Clients frequently ask agencies to begin working on their business before they commit to them simply because they are looking for assurances that the agency is the best choice for the job. While the request in itself is not ludicrous (we often begin negotiations by asking for far more than we expect to receive), to agree to do it, in my opinion, is absolutely ludicrous! When dealing with these requests it's important to look at what drives them: doubt and the need for reassurance. Process-framed case studies–examples of great results previously achieved and implied promises of similar results to come–are an excellent way to deliver that reassurance in a manner that lets all parties retain their professional dignity, and lets you demonstrate sound business acumen.

Couple this tool with references and a maybe even a money-back guarantee and you have powerful alternatives to giving away your thinking in the buying cycle. In summary, your assurances that yours is the right firm for the job are:

  • Your narrow claim of expertise that serves as the basis for your positioning, and
  • Your case studies of the great work previously done and the great results achieved,
  • Framed by consistent processes that imply consistent outcomes,
  • Supported by the encouraging words of those who have previously hired you and are pleased to endorse you,
  • Further supported by your guarantee that the client's investment will be borne out to be a wise one or they will get their money back.

If your firm is indeed properly matched to the assignment, then this combination of assurances should be enough to remove the doubt for most senior level prospects, and allow you to secure the engagement.

Look back on the above list of assurances you can offer in place of speculative work and notice that each builds on the previous. Further note that it all begins with positioning. Positioning, Process-Framed Case Studies, References, and Guarantees: a powerful combination to help you Win Without Pitching.

When properly built and employed, process-framed case studies can be effective catalysts for taking your closing ratios, your fees, and your agency to the next level. Development of these processes and case studies should be priorities once the firm is solidly positioned.

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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