Archive for the ‘Outsourced Marketing Services’ Category
Most people hate the idea of “selling” themselves, whether a job seeker vying for a new corporate role or an independent consultant looking to develop business for his or her services. It’s not comfortable. Doesn’t seem natural. Most of us aren’t good at it (if we were, we’d be highly compensated professional sales people instead of managers, marketers, PR practitioners, designers, writers, or whatever). We’re much more comfortable doing than selling.
Unfortunately, to be kept profitably busy, some selling is necessary. Fortunately, it’s a skill that can be learned, and one great resource to help get started (or improve) in that area is The New Rules of Selling Consulting Services in 2011, a free report from RainToday.com. It’s written for independent consultants, though much of the guidance applies to those “selling” their talents and ideas within an organization as well. As the authors of the report note:
In the old days…
- • Repeat business and referrals were the rule of the day. For many consulting firms, it was plenty enough to drive the growth they desired.
- • LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, webinars, podcasts, blogs…didn’t even exist.
- • Providing great service and results led to more business and new business.
- • Buyers came to consultants with needs. Consultants followed a traditional consultative selling approach (after all, they are consultants). Consultants asked questions, prospects shared needs, consultants proposed a solution, and off they went together to new engagement honeymoon bliss.
- • ‘Sales’ was a dirty word. Consultants didn’t need to do much selling to win clients. Indeed, consultants didn’t think selling was a part of their job. Or they didn’t admit it.
- • Practices were packed with business. It wasn’t uncommon for a buyer to have to wait a while for a consultant to free up resources to work with them, or for the buyer to check with several firms and get the “we’re not accepting new clients right now” message.
Then things changed. The recession dampened demand, while at the same time the emergence of social networking and changes in the buying and hiring processes forever altered the playing field. Many talented people were laid off. Competition for a dwindling number of new corporate positions was intense. Limited corporate opportunities swelled the ranks of consultants, increasing competition among independent service providers. Changes in demand and technology rendered the old “rules” of selling consulting services obsolete.
The report then outlines eight “new rules” for selling services. My favorite is new rule #7, Embrace your sales role:
Much of what makes a good consultant makes a good sales person. Think about how you deliver your services to your clients. You ask questions, extend expert opinions, are accessible when the client needs you, bring forth creative solutions to tough problems, and deliver what you say you’re going to. This is exactly what you need to do to become successful in sales. It’s not about persuading someone to buy something they don’t need. It’s about helping them find solutions when they realize they don’t have the expertise, experience, or team to get something done that they need to get done. Your prospects and clients actually want you to sell to them.
In other words, don’t think about “selling,” but rather about “helping.” You’re probably much more comfortable helping than selling, and your prospects are certainly much more open to being helped than they are to being sold to.
There’s much more, so check out The New Rules of Selling Consulting Services in 2011.
Required FTC disclosure: I’m very selective with endorsements, but do occasionally participate in affiliate programs with RainToday.com due to longstanding relationships with the principals and confidence in the integrity of this organization.
Selecting an advertising agency (aka a marketing agency or creative agency)—or, more to the point, the right agency—is a crucial decision for any company. Choosing wisely will lead to visible, positive results for your company. The wrong agency fit, conversely, will not only be a waste of money but also make your marketing life miserable. Too many companies take a haphazard approach to this critical decision; they may get lucky, or they may not. Based on years of experience on both the client and agency sides, here is a structured approach that should lead to the best decision.
Step 1: Develop a long list of agencies to evaluate. The best source in compiling this list is referrals from colleagues. Additional sources are the local Yellow Pages or Internet resources such as agencyfinder.com or All Advertising Agencies. Start with at least six agencies to investigate further, but no more than 12.
Step 2: Conduct your initial research. Use the internet to check out the agencies on your initial list and eliminate any obvious poor fits. Some agencies focus on specific industry niches, while others have a broader focus but are clearly more business-to-business (b2b) or business-to-consumer (b2c) oriented. Most agencies won’t work with two or more clients who are direct competitors, so if you see one of your closest competitors on an agency’s client/reference list, drop them from consideration. Make sure each agency includes the services you need among their core competencies. The goal in this step is reduce your initial list down to five to ten agencies for further consideration.
Step 3: Develop your request for proposal (RFP). This step in actually somewhat controversial, as there are “experts” out there who will tell you not to use an RFP, but rather to utilize a request for information (RFI), which is largely more a semantical difference than a substantive one; the goal is to collect some specific information from each of the agencies on your list, whatever you want to call this. Other sources will tell you that agencies hate RFPs, when what they really mean is that agencies hate poorly-crafted RFPs; following the outline How to Write an Ad Agency RFP will help avoid this outcome.
In developing your RFP, remember that you are seeking to establish a business relationship with a marketing agency, so 1) respect their time, and 2) don’t just ask questions, but also give the agency enough information about your industry, your company, and your specific needs to determine if there is a fit from their perspective.
Have all of the individuals on your internal selection team sign off on the RFP before sending it out; there is nothing more frustrating, for you or the agencies involved, than to go through the entire RFP process only to have to do it over – because a key individual on your end wasn’t consulted, you didn’t ask the right questions, you didn’t have the objective(s) identified properly, or due to some other avoidable circumstance.
Step 4. Call each agency on your list. Introduce yourself and your company, and tell them you’d like to include them in your RFP process. This step serves three purposes: first, it allows any agency which doesn’t want to respond to your RFP, for any reason, to opt out of the process right away. Second, it enables you to speak directly to an appropriate individual at the agency and begin establishing a rapport. Third, it assures that you will be sending your RFP to the right person at the agency. You should tell this person how many agencies will be receiving the RFP. You don’t have to volunteer the specific names of the other agencies you’ll be contacting, but should provide this information if asked.
Step 5: Send out the RFPs to the agencies who have agreed to participate. Make yourself available to answer their (inevitable) questions, and let them know that you are available for this. If you have included any out-of-town agencies on your list, be aware that they may expect at least partial reimbursement for their travel expenses if you invite them to give a presentation; get agreement from your internal selection team (specifically those with expense approval authority) beforehand as to how you will handle this.
Step 6: Evaluate the RFP responses, eliminating those agencies which are less than an excellent fit for your needs, in order to get down to your short list of finalists (at least two, but certainly no more than five). In evaluating the responses, ask questions such as: are you comfortable with their experience, size and resources? With their approach to your challenge(s) and objective(s)? Are you confident that your account will be large enough to be important to them? Are you impressed by the quality and tone of their creative work?
And of course, call their references. Specifically, ask about their satisfaction with their agency relationship. Does the agency consistently meet specified timelines? Do they adhere to their quoted prices? Are they easy/pleasant to work with? What results have been achieved?
Step 7. Arrange for presentations from each of your finalist agencies. Ideally, unless you are able to eliminate an agency from consideration after the first presentation, you should schedule two presentations with each agency: one at your facility (to give their personnel some impression of your offices, people and work environment) and a second at their agency, including a tour.
At this step you and your evaluation team will have the opportunity to share with the agency representatives more information about your industry, your company, and your unique strengths, challenges and goals. Each agency has the opportunity to tell you more about their capabilities, approach and practices. While the facts are certainly important, the most critical criterion at this point is chemistry: are you comfortable with the agency’s team, and are they people you look forward to working with and entrusting with your company’s promotional activities?
Step 8. Finally, after reviewing the RFP responses and meeting with your finalist agencies, it’s time to make your final selection. Regardless of the titles involved, your internal selection team should agree to discuss the merits of the competing agencies as peers in a freewheeling discussion. In a perfect world, you would all agree on which agency was the clear winner; in the real world, compromise will likely be necessary on someone’s part, and the final decision may not be yours. That’s why the freewheeling discussion component is critical; if one individual (e.g. your CEO or CMO) ultimately makes the final decision, at least all of the facts and opinions of the team have been aired.
As the last step, you need to inform each of the finalist agencies of your decision. Because the rejections are tougher, I recommend getting these out of the way first. Call each agency and let them know of your decision and, in a positive manner, the reasoning behind it. Follow up with an email thanking them for their participation in your process, praising their strengths, and again briefly stating your rationale for the final selection. Then, call the winning agency and give them the good news.
Best of luck with your agency selection process!
As much as advertising / marketing agencies say they hate RFPs, what they really mean is that they hate bad RFPs; they may actually appreciate the well-done ones. A bad RFP is one that takes too long to respond to with a low probability of winning the business. A good one asks only for the information you need to make an effective decision, lets each agency know their odds of winning, and provides enough information about your company and needs for them to respond appropriately. Follow these steps and you should produce an RFP that agencies will be happy to respond to.
1. Start with a clear due date for the RFP response. Give the agency enough time to craft a thoughtful response. Two to three weeks should generally be sufficient.
2. Tell them about your industry and company. Include information about the structure and evolutionary stage of your industry (e.g. early stage, large number of competitors and fragmented vs. mature and consolidating with a few dominant players) as well as the overall size (dollar volume) of the industry and characteristics of buyers. With regard to your company, give details about your size (employees or revenue), position in the industry, years in business, basic information about your product(s) and/or service(s), your uniqueness or key value proposition(s), your sales/distribution channel(s), and your technology platforms (if applicable; for example, if you want them to assist you with Web content, provide details on your content management system and hosting).
3. Make your objective in hiring an agency as clear as possible, that is, what are you trying to accomplish? What are your key challenges? How will you measure success? Are you trying to generate more leads, more site traffic, higher conversion rates, more awareness / mindshare, or some other objective? If you are looking for help with a specific project, provide specifications in as much detail as possible to enable the agency to give you a fairly solid bid in terms of cost, time and approach. If you are hiring an agency for a period of time (generally one year, with, obviously, renewal if the relationship goes well) rather than for a specific project, give them some idea of your marketing budget – at least a range. Some agencies may self-select themselves out of the process if they view your budget as too small, and that’s best to learn upfront.
4. Provide them with details on your decision process: who will be involved within your company in the evaluation process, what are the steps in your decision process, what are the most important criteria (price can be one component of this but should never be the only or even primary selection criterion), and what is the timeline for arriving at your final selection? With regard to timing, it’s better to outline the steps in your process rather then give firm dates, for example, because meetings may have to be delayed or rescheduled in order to get all of the key people together. Also let them know who will be the key contact on your end for the relationship once the agency selection has been made.
5. If possible, provide each agency with a “fill in the blanks” form done in Word or Excel for their responses (obviously, items such as sample work will have to be attached or included separately); this not only makes it easier for the agency personnel to fill out the RFP response, but also makes it easier for you do an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the responses for your evaluation.
6. Don’t forget the legal stuff. Make it clear that all agency responses are confidential. Also make it clear that your company owns all of the artwork, photography and other source materials produced by the agency for your account (this is your protection in case the relationship turns sour and you have to make changes / updates / additions to any of the materials yourself, or have changes made by another agency). Finally, note that a review of the agency’s contract terms and conditions will be part of the final selection process (as you need to be sure there is nothing objectionable in their contract).
7. Okay, with all of that in place, develop your specific list of questions for the agencies on your list. There will likely to questions specific to your situation and project(s) which will help you decide which agencies to retain for the final round, but common questions include:
- agency history and experience (years in business)
- agency size (by number of employees)
- specific experience in your industry and/or in promoting products and services to your prospects (that is, for b2b products and services, to your industry, title, executive level, department, etc.; for consumer products and services, to your demographic)
- biographies of key agency personnel (specifically, the people you will be working with, and most importantly, your potential account executive)
- agency billing policies and terms, and their pricing structure for your account (i.e. will it be on a retainer basis, commission, or time and materials?)
- references (current and relevant to your business, with contact details)
- examples of the agency’s previous work (recent and relevant)
- their “sweet spot” or typical account size range (which indicates how important your account will be to them)
- their approach or methodology for assisting you, given an understanding of your specific situation, challenges and objective(s)
- their internal resources (e.g. writers, graphic artists, technical staff and capabilities)
8. Finally, remembering again that you are seeking to establish a relationship with an agency, respect their time and resources by avoiding the following in your RFP:
- don’t ask an excessive number of questions (i.e. if it’s not important to your decision, leave it out)
- don’t ask intrusive or irrelevant questions (e.g. how much the agency principals earned last year)
- don’t ask for answers that can easily be found on the agency’s Web site
- do let the agency know how many agencies are receiving the RFP, but don’t send it to too many agencies (three at a minimum, but six at a maximum)
By following these guidelines, you should be able to craft an RFP that agencies will be keen to respond to, and one that will assist both you and the agency in making the right decision.