Here is an excerpt from a chapter on the importance of interpersonal chemistry in winning new business from my book on pitching, “The Levitan Pitch. Buy This Book Win More Pitches.”
Interpersonal Chemistry Wins Pitches
However, there seems to be one aspect of pitching that keeps coming up over and over and rises to the top of almost everyone’s list (especially within the advertising agency search consultant world). That is the idea that agencies ultimately win or lose based on interpersonal chemistry and corporate culture alignment.
My fear with the chemistry thing is that it can appear to be something that just is vs. something that can be managed and created. There is a school of thought that says that you either gel with the prospect, or you don’t. Sorry Ms. Agency Business Development Director, it’s all about a chemical reaction, and that’s why it is called chemistry.
After weeks preparing preparing a smart, tight presentation, are we ultimately at the mercy and vagaries of some mysterious and unmanageable human thing? Pheromones, anyone?
I refuse to think that we don’t have any control. I don’t like the idea that after the long and expensive journey from an agency’s business development outreach to RFP’s and then on to the final presentation, it all comes down to fate: the client either digs you, or they don’t. It just sounds way too passive.
Can an ad agency manage chemistry?
Let’s start with what not to do. Do not make any of the mistakes discussed in preceding chapters. Think of it this way: if you are twenty something and you are going out to find your mate, you shower and dress accordingly. If you are a surfer, you wear Hurley’s. If you work on Wall Street, you wear Prada or Brooks Bros. Once you’ve defined your target prospect (yes, this is a book about marketing after all) and aligned personas, you know that you need to do the obvious: make eye contact and act interested in the other person’s story. You will try to avoid any conversation-killing words. Even better, you will lean in and listen and make adjustments to your side of the conversation to demonstrate your interest. You won’t bore them with endless stories that are all about you. You will flatter them.
OK, you get it. Avoid the things that you can control. Yes, I believe we can.
But can we manufacture and/or control interpersonal chemistry? Or, is it just up to some form of business pheromones?
New business chemistry gets even more complicated when you introduce the idea that chemistry must be built between two groups in addition to individuals. Sure, some pitches are won because of an agency’s charismatic leader. However, in most cases it is your team that is being evaluated.
In order to develop chemistry between two separate groups (clients and agency presenters), the presenter group, as a whole, needs to demonstrate an understanding of the client group’s challenges, a commonality of purpose, matching emotional commitment (passion), empathy for shared problems, and a common language. Ultimately you will build rapport with the client group if they think that you are all in sync, as in on the same wavelength, especially in understanding their business issues. This is one of the reasons that you always need to remember that the pitch is much more about them, not you.
Two key words to keep on the top of your mind and manage are values, as in having and demonstrating shared values, and trust, as in building confidence in your agency’s integrity and reliability. Building trust is particularly important in service pitches where the client will be committing to a personal relationship. Trust is more easily given between two similar groups; groups that have already established commonalities. You are like me, therefore I understand you better and can trust you more easily.
Cultural alignment is also critical. Assuming that there isn’t a total disconnect between the client’s values and yours (this is something you should have figured out back at the RFP stage), cultural alignment can be managed. To get there, make sure ahead of any meeting that you read up on the client’s Mission and Vision Statements, review their brand values, and understand their corporate goals. If the client is a public company, read their annual report. It provides a comprehensive overview of the company’s business and financial condition and their dreams.
Find commonalties between the client and your agency, and subtly reinforce these in the meeting. As I mentioned earlier, my ex-client Sara Lee’s Mission Statement states that they want: “To simply delight you… every day.” Surely your agency could find a very creative way to mirror the idea of “delight” in your pitch and even (very sparingly) use the word “delight” to reinforce rapport.