Back in my Peter Mayer Advertising days, when I was checking off my ACT! to-dos and methodically following up with my prospects, I was the king of my world—or so I thought.
In reality, I was working my ass off. The sales cycles (and my work days) were long. I was actively working 20 to 40 A-List leads, managing another 100 B-List leads, and trying to at least make contact with another 200 C-List leads—just in case one might throw their account into review and begin searching for a new ad agency partner.
On a good year, we were invited to a dozen pitches in which a prospect offered 10 to 20 ad agencies the right to submit elaborate, long, and detailed responses to an incredibly mundane and arduous Request For Proposal.
If we were lucky, we made the first cut, along with 7 to 10 other agencies. Then we were invited to a conference call or possibly a chemistry meeting with the prospective client. Luckily, the prospective client usually came to us, so at least we didn’t have to pay for three or four agency staffers to travel to the prospect’s offices.
Then if we were really lucky, we made the finals. Oh, joy. Our agency and two to four others had earned the right to create expensive verbal presentations, often complete with multiple speculative advertising campaigns. This easily cost the agency hundreds and sometimes thousands of nonbillable staff hours, not to mention thousands of dollars of travel, mock-ups, and other shock-and-awe tactics.
One was left standing: the winner. And if it was us, we rejoiced.
The timelines were grueling in their shortness. The process I just described often began and ended in as few as six weeks. All the other members of the pitch team had full-time jobs working on actual paying clients’ accounts. That meant a lot of late nights and weekends.
Believe it or not, in the advertising business, I was always told that if you win 25% of the pitches you enter, you’re killing it. Yes, that’s right—win one out of every four pitches you enter, and you’re kicking ass. Now, I’ve never been able to actually confirm that percentage (and, yes, I’ve tried), but after almost 20 years in the ad business, more than half of them spent pitching clients at different agencies, I can say that winning 25% of the pitches was considered a good year.
Looking back now, I can blame my youthful exuberance and workaholic tendencies for my love of that job and all the pitching that followed throughout my career. Only in the last few years have I truly come to realize where I was going wrong.
I was defining my world as my database—my ACT! database. That was the sum total of my activity. I was living inside that database every day and every night, under the belief that, if I just kept putting new leads into the top of my sales funnel and worked those leads methodically over time, enough of them would fall to the bottom and become qualified leads—and eventually invite us to pitch.
Furthermore, the manner in which I was acquiring leads—perusing marketing-oriented media for notices of executives changing jobs, buying lead databases, and attending conferences or other networking events—simply resulted in unqualified prospects. Sure, I had their names and addresses. And I could begin mailing, calling, and emailing them. I could use the Internet to begin researching the company for clues to its pain points and maybe even get lucky enough to schedule a qualification call with a key decision maker. But for the most part, I had a database of companies I wanted to do business with in the future. I had little to no evidence to indicate that any of them wanted to do business with our agency—or any other agency, for that matter.
What I needed was a database of highly qualified leads for which I had detailed knowledge of their pain points or marketing interests. Therefore, I devoted most of my time each year to handling outreach and qualification of prospects instead of actively engaging with qualified leads that I knew both needed and wanted a service we offered.