5 MINUTE READ | October 3, 2019
Finding Success in Marketing Client Relationships
I used to have a boss that said, “Life’s a pitch.” And for her it was, she spent a heck of a lot of time off on new business pitches. Since I’ve spent my whole career in ad agencies, that’s what I think of when I hear the word pitch. It calls up memories of fast-paced strategy sessions, creative brainstorms, late nights, and long rehearsals in strange hotel conference rooms. It’s a whole other beast —and an exciting one— but separate from my day-to-day work life.
Recently, when I’ve heard the word pitch, it’s been in an entirely different context: pitching for venture capital, which is commonly referred to as VC. See, over the last few months, I’ve been on a kick reading books and listening to podcasts that focus almost entirely on business and entrepreneurship. And because of that, I’ve become a low-key fangirl of “How I Built This” and “Girlboss Radio.” In fact, I even attended the Girlboss Rally back in June.
These new ideas have gotten me thinking that my old boss was actually right; life might be a pitch, and there’s a lot we can learn from watching start-ups pitch for capital, which can be applied to life at an advertising agency.
When a start-up gets a meeting with an investor, it’s an opportunity to tell the story of their company. I’m a marketer, and I love some high-quality storytelling, but in the end, that meeting will probably result in complete failure if one simple question is not answered for the investor: “How will this make money?” Plain and simple —and maybe a bit direct— but that’s actually the whole point of the meeting, so the answer should be an integral part of the pitch itself.
And after hearing about these pitching experiences throughout podcast episodes and in business books, it’s made me realize that in marketing, meetings with clients are for answering that very same question. Except, the briefs from clients use a lot more words to get to that point.
As marketers, oftentimes, our job is to identify and pitch new ways to:
Drive new customer acquisition
Retain and engage customers
Increase customer loyalty
Increase store traffic
Ultimately, in the end, the client just wants to be able to answer to the finance team, which need to answer to the board, who then need to answer for shareholders, which is “How will this —whether it be a marketing program or new audience or an entirely new strategy— make us money? Success in marketing is making sure that every single day, and in every single deliverable, we are answering that question for our clients and that our answer is clear.
Seasoned professionals in the high-stakes VC world suggest that an easy way to find moments of success in a meeting is to set yourself for a question you can land and know how to answer. Getting a question is an opportunity to show that you —not the slide and not whoever prepared the talk track— but you, the person standing in front of them, are, in fact, well-informed and the expert they should be speaking to on that particular topic.
Pitching, courtesy of Unsplash
I can vividly remember having managers early in my career drill me with questions before a presentation; encouraging me to pour more and more information into each response so that I answered the client’s questions before they could even ask it. Some VC pitching advice goes a step further and claims that even getting a question you can’t answer is a good thing because it creates the opportunity to follow-up in a meaningful way while keeping the conversation going.
They call it “pitching for VC” and not “asking for money” for a reason. Word choice is powerful. A successful entrepreneur doesn’t go in with an ask; they go in with an offer. In their case, they are offering the VC the opportunity to invest in them and their company.
As it relates to my role in advertising, I ask my clients for money every day. It’s not for me, it’s to make their campaigns, but it’s an ask nonetheless. Somedays that ask is not revolutionary; it’s table-stakes to get the job done. But other days, especially when you’re talking to a new client, or coming to the table with an innovative program that solves a particularly thorny problem your client is facing, that ask is big and often unfamiliar. It’s helpful to reframe those moments as a chance to offer the client an opportunity that can bolster your frame of mind with the confidence and resolve of an entrepreneur —even if you’ve never so much as started a lemonade stand.
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Depending on who you talk to, start-ups and start-up culture is either the future of business or entirely overrated. Either way, if these strategies open the checkbooks of some of the largest investors in the country, taking a page out of their book on the topics of focus, preparedness, and confidence can’t hurt.
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