Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

The One Question I Would Ask Your People

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This post is in two sections: The Challenge and The Assessment. My advice is to read and complete The Challenge before you read The Assessment.

The Challenge

Take this simple test and consider putting it to your team members. It’s one question to which the answers reveal so much about the firm and the individual respondents. I love putting this question to people who do not have day-to-day business development responsibilities – people like creative directors, partners, CFOs and pretty much anybody else in the firm.

Okay, here’s the million dollar question…

You’re the business development person for a day. You only get one phone call. Through my magic powers I can promise you that the person you want to call will answer the phone. (That’s all I can promise.) Knowing this, Who do you call and what do you say?

Think about your answer and write it down. I’m looking for:

  1. The exact person that you would call (by title and company)
  2. How you would introduce your firm
  3. What you would give as your reason for calling (your ask)

Now go ahead and put this question to your team members and get their answers, too. Once you have everybody’s responses, go ahead to The Assessment below.

The Assessment

Okay, now that you have your responses and those of your team members, let’s see what you might learn from them.

1. Who Would You Call?

You’ve got one phone call so you should be calling someone in the intersection of your discipline and market expertise. Discipline expertise being that thing that you do best and market expertise being those that you know best. This should be your easiest win. If you’re struggling with the positioning of your firm a good answer here should help bring some clarity.

If you or your people chose a person, organization or brand that was not at this intersection then the obvious question is why? Is there no such obvious intersection? Are you being unrealistic about where you could not only deliver the most value but to whom you could communicate that value in one phone call?

I’ve posed this question in person many times and I’ve often heard people at run-of-the-mill generalist firms say ridiculous things like, “I would call Nike.”

Remember, you’re in charge of new business and you’ve only got one phone call. If you were in jail you wouldn’t use that call on a Hail Mary to your unrequited high school crush, would you?

2. How Do You Introduce The Firm?

Okay, mister generalist, how would you introduce your firm to the VP of Nike once you got him on the phone?

This is where your true positioning or lack thereof would be outed. Can you articulate a claim of expertise in one or two sentences that will cause your client prospect to give you just a couple more minutes on the phone, or do you put a laundry list of “full service” offerings in front of him, hoping he might have a need in one? You want to paint a picture of a firm with narrow and deep expertise in addressing the very specific challenges that companies like his face. Are you spearfishing like a specialist or trawling like a generalist?

When role playing this my pat answer to most introductions is an abrupt, “I get calls like this from companies like yours every week. Click.” Whatever you say has to cut through the clutter of the hundreds of other firms playing this game at the same time.

3. What’s Your Reason for Calling (the Ask)?

A reason I’ve heard given in many role-play situations is, “I’m calling because we’re really passionate about your brand.”


They’re Nike! Or Burton! Or (insert big or hot brand here!) Everyone who calls is passionate about their brand!

After your compelling introduction, your reason for calling is singular. There is one reason and it never changes: “I’m calling to see if there might be a fit between your needs and our expertise.”

You’re not calling to get a meeting or a project or on the RFP list or a foot in the door, although some of those might be desirable outcomes of the call. You’re calling to see if there might be a fit between what you do and what the client needs – a fit suitable enough to take a next step.

The ask is to simply have the exploratory conversation. If the conversation goes well then the follow-up ask is the appropriate next step, which might be a meeting or the forwarding of information or an introduction to other decisionmakers, etc. But the primary ask is to explore whether or not it makes sense to continue the discussion about whether we might do business together.


There are nuggets of gold in the responses you will get from team members. I’ve interviewed many agency personnel who were frustrated with the business development person’s lack of results only to be aghast at their unrealistic ideas of who their salesperson should be calling and what they thought he should be saying.

It’s tough being on the new business development front lines. It’s even tougher when you’re not armed with powerful things to say. This test will go a long way to help you see how well armed for success your own new business development person is.

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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