Monday, May 21, 2007

Pitching Advice from Sean X

 iMedia last week had an excellent cautionary post on how interactive agencies can go wrong when they make their pitches. It's all sound advice, and much/all of it is applicable to sales pitches in general.

The article, 6 Ways to Blow a Pitch is by Sean X Cummings. Sean's unholy six are:

  • Talk a lot about your agency history
  • Assume you know more than the client
  • Forget the client's budget constraints
  • Be oblivious to the client's other agencies
  • Ignore the RFP
  • Staff the pitch with who is available

When I read Sean's article I had a flashback to the time when my company was planning our first "real" web site. We had a very minimal on-line presence, home grown, with a very simple design (screaming "home grown"), but not that dissimilar to what a lot of companies were putting out there in the mid-1990's to get "web presence."

I invited 4 web design firms to come in and pitch us. While I didn't have a formal RFP, I provided each of the firms with a point-by-point road map outlining what I wanted them to cover in their pitch, including where possible showing me examples from their portfolio that showed me how they'd addressed specific issues for other clients. If they didn't have examples, I asked them to be prepared to talk a bit about how they'd go about things.

Now we weren't looking for an especially complex or convoluted web site. This was still the era of web site = brochure. But I did want certain things addressed (expressing our company personality, customer support, etc.). In the document I gave the firms, I also outlined things that they didn't have to cover (since I'd already figured it out from their web site, thank you).

My 4 web design firms came in and I have to say that I was shocked that 3 of the 4 completely ignored my "how to pitch me" document.

Sean's words well encapsulate my feelings:

I am often dismayed, if not outright shocked, by the delusions that occur when agencies get involved in pitches.

When I'd try to bring the agencies back to the "pitch document" I'd give them as a point of reference, they looked at me as if I had two heads and plowed right back into the pitch they'd come with.

They insisted in showing me things I didn't want or need to see, talking about how they'd handled problems that we didn't have.(E.g., we were selling high-ticket enterprise software and were never, ever, ever going to be selling it online. So I didn't need to see six examples of secure credit card implementations.)


Guess which company got my business?

And guess what? I just checked, and Saltmine is still in business. We went with them even though we were in Cambridge and they were in Seattle. And they did a great job. The company I worked for is no longer in existence, but I remember Saltmine as fun, creative, and great to work with. Too bad I can't recall the names of the other three companies that pitched Softbridge on this project. I've got a notion that they're no longer around.

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