Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

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Expert agencies and order-taker agencies could not be more different from each other. Usually, you cannot spot the difference by looking at their work or their premises. You can however spot the difference by listening to the words that come out of the mouths of the firms’ principals and employees. The expert agency mindset about the value the firm brings to its clients and the fees and respect it deserves in return are quite different, often at odds, with that of the order-taker agency. In this issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter we explore the five defining characteristics of expert agencies.

1. Experts Drive

The first step in first aid is also the first step in marketing aid: take control. There are two parties in a medical situation: a patient (the one with the problem) and a practitioner (the one with the solutions). Only the most impertinent of patients ever presumes to tell the doctor, nurse, or other expert attendant how to proceed with his care. Only the most unsure of practitioners allows the patient to direct the care. Remember, the patient has the problem; the professional has the solution.

Order-taker agencies willingly let the prospect dictate the terms of the courtship as they choose a practitioner. These firms are willing to have selection process imposed on them, willing to respond to the RFPs, to fill out the questionnaires, to marshal their personnel into the presentations, and part with their thinking, uncompensated, all because it was asked of them. Order-taker agencies are good soldiers.

Expert agencies let the prospect know early on that they too are making a selection. They apply their own selection criteria and processes. Expert agencies take control of the relationship early on, right here in the buying cycle – usually at the very first interaction – because they see it as an important test of any future relationship. Prospects that do not value the agencies expertise are sent packing before the agency invests too much time into the relationship. Expert agencies are good generals.

2. Experts Are Selective

There is a commonly held assumption that if someone is good at what they do, people will line up to hire them to do it, and pay them well for it. This assumption is built into the tone and manner of every expert agency: we’re busy, we’re rich, we don’t need the work. It is a human condition to be repulsed by neediness and to be attracted by that which is out of reach or retreating from us. Someone who needs the work, we think, can’t really be good at what they do. We equally assume that someone who does not appear to need the work must be good at what they do.

Expert agencies say no almost as often as they say yes. When a prospect reaches out to an agency to begin discussions about the possibility of a working relationship, more often than not one of the parties will make a decision that there is not a good fit between the two, and will decide against entering into an engagement with the other. For order-taker agencies it is almost always the prospect making the decision (rejecting the agency). Expert agencies on the other hand are almost always the party walking away (rejecting the prospect).

3. Experts Employ Expert Processes

Think outside of the agency world for a minute and call to mind an accomplished professional that you know. Now ask yourself, does this professional have a process or set of processes to help him or her do what s/he does? Doctors have diagnostic processes. Surgeons have surgical processes. Accountants have audit processes. Lawyers have discovery processes. In the world of professional services, expertise is always supported by defined, consistent approaches to solving problems or otherwise addressing the situations at hand. Expert agencies employ diagnostic processes, strategic development processes, creative development processes and others to this end.

Expert processes are the reasons why a kid fresh out of business school can walk into a prestigious consulting firm and soon find himself offering six or seven figure guidance to a Fortune 500 company. While he may be among the best and brightest of his peers, it is the defined processes of McKinsey or Bain & Company that his client is really buying, and not his sheer unbridled talent. Expert agencies build the processes, and then hire talented people to run them. Unlike order-taker agencies, their chief assets do not go down the elevator every day at 5:00.

4. Experts Diagnose Before Prescribing

Agencies are hired to solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity. Expert agencies begin most engagements with a diagnosis of the problem or evaluation of the opportunity, and they are paid handsomely for it. I have a handful of stories of doctors, mechanics, and other service providers that accepted my amateur diagnosis of my problem and prescribed solutions for me based on them. In the end their solutions were expensive and ineffective because my diagnosis was incorrect. So who’s liable for my misdiagnosis? They are. As professionals they are obliged to reach conclusions independent of my own before they apply their resources (expertise) and mine (time and money) to my problems.

Expert agencies see it as their professional obligation to diagnose before prescribing, and they never accept a self-diagnosis without having it confirmed by their own expert diagnostic processes. Additionally, they almost always get paid for their diagnosis, and get paid well. Order taker agencies routinely prescribe without diagnosing, or offer haphazard diagnoses for free. The diagnosis is the most important step in the relationship. It establishes the basis for recommendations on solutions, and helps to quantify the resources required. An investment in a sound diagnostic, equivalent to a small percentage of the total budget, is money well spent that offers both parties the opportunity to move forward with confidence.

5. Experts Exude Integrity

Imagine you are a restaurateur and a patron walks in and makes you the following offer: I’m going to order your best meal, have a few bites, then walk down the street and do the same at the next three restaurants. At the end of the night I’ll buy the best meal.

Clients ask agencies to part with their thinking before they are financially engaged for two main reasons: #1. They are afraid of making a mistake and are simply seeking assurances that they are about to select the best firm for the job. #2. There are too many undifferentiated (order-taker) agencies offering too similar services to too few clients. In this environment the buyer has the power, and the ability to make such requests.

Expert agencies know the value of their offerings. They do not undertake actions that undermine the perception of that value. Any self-respecting restaurateur would recoil at the suggestion that he get into a shoot-out with his competitors to secure the sale. First, the food is highly perishable and cannot be resold if it is not selected as the winning dish. Second, and most important, it is an insult to the expertise of the chef to suggest that he stoop to such a demeaning selection process. While the chef might get indignant at the request, the expert agency recognizes the reason for it (see #1 in the preceding paragraph) and deals with it accordingly, applying some of the alternative techniques I listed in last months issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter. (A little measured indignation might be appropriate here too.) Order-taker agencies, being good soldiers, are pleased to comply, feeling fortunate to have been invited into one more pitch.

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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