Chris Doggart, Head of Client Success EMEA at George P. Johnson, knows that after a successful pitch, there’s often a bit of a crash on both sides. Here are his tips for making sure you hit the ground running and keep up momentum.
There’s nothing quite like the euphoria that comes with getting good news following a competitive pitch. Having gone back and forth for weeks, if not months, exchanging insights and sharing ideas, the excitement builds, but once the paperwork is signed the real work begins.
If you’re being honest with yourself, a lot of the time, after that initial rush reality bites – for both agency and client. This is the infamous post-pitch dip, when everyone bumps back to earth and the practical conversations begin.
Clearly feverish, manic, pitch frenzy is unsustainable for the duration of a project, but this specific stage – post-pitch but pre-delivery – needs to be managed carefully in order to build a long-lasting, happy relationship. On the agency side, it’s our job to keep the client engaged and excited, so we can guide them through this journey and help manage expectations.
Highs and Lows
The pitch process is always an emotional rollercoaster. The point when a decision is made and congratulations are given brings with it a very high high for both parties. But it’s inevitably followed by a period of anticipation, particularly client-side.
Occasionally, we forget clients are consumers. As consumers, when we make a purchase there is a certain level of hope and expectation involved. When it comes to physical products, it’s possible to try before you buy. This limits the likelihood of buyer’s remorse. Experiences, of course, are different. How closely your dreams align with the reality is sometimes entirely outside your control.
It’s hard to recreate that try-before-you-buy level of expectation management when it comes to live experience. What we’re creating is a one-off. It’s something that’s happening in the future; you can’t peer review it. The anxiety this can induce is one part of the post-pitch challenge.
However, the imagination gap – between what you were pitching and what they imagined the result might be – is shrinking all the time, and advances in VR and AR mean that in the-not-too-distant future this will become even less of a problem.
Starting Things Right
Post-pitch, an emotional hangover is inevitable, but there are things you can do to keep energy levels up, ensuring the excitement of the pitch phase is carried through every element of the project delivery.
Everyone has their own methods. At George P. Johnson, there are a few things we always make sure we do with this particular challenge in mind.
Firstly, the pitch team are the project team. The people a client meets during a pitch are the people that’ll actually do the work, not ones they’ll never see again. Secondly, we always run the project team and the onboarding team in parallel, so that the project doesn’t take priority over the onboarding process. This ensures the onboarding process runs smoothly – and that the client comes away with an understanding of us and we with an understanding of them. It’s all crucial to getting things off on the right footing.
Onboarding is too important to be treated as secondary to the job itself. Resourcing it this way, with a dedicated team, aids both relationship development and project delivery.
The exciting stuff is the delivery of the creative idea, but if the basic day-to-day admin isn’t working, the relationship will quickly become tense and frustrating. Get the processes right quickly and it won’t distract from the great work.
There is also a trust aspect of the post-pitch dip. Trust needs to be earned over time – it can’t be demanded or given blindly at the very start of relationship. Open and honest conversations, transparency and not selling undeliverable dreams are all vital to ensure you get new client relationships off to the right start.
Misaligned expectations are a danger that must be avoided at all costs. At this point, anything that doesn’t match up to the expectations created during a pitch will lead to a crisis of trust. That brings with it fear – and that’s hard to come back from. With new clients this can be a serious issue – so ultimate transparency is the only way to address it.
Of course, the establishment of trust needs to go both ways. Mature conversations, managed expectations, avoiding the oversell, and having experience of (and confidence in) what you’re going to deliver, are the best ways to combat this particular post-pitch challenge.
The Winning Team
Clients, like any consumer, are at risk of experiencing mourning after the night before. Most products have a returns policy, so we’re all used to having the opportunity to backtrack if we feel we’ve made the wrong decision. Client emotions post-pitch are no different, and questioning the decision they’ve made is only human.
For the winning agency, it’s easy to think it’s all done and we’re off to the races post-pitch, but there is no such thing as a 100% perfect pitch. There will always be room for improvement. Kick things off in the right way and you’ll remind them why they picked you as the winning team in the first place.
The post-pitch dip won’t ever be entirely avoidable, or completely solvable, but positive relationships and advancing technology mean we’re able to minimise its impact like never before.
So here it is – in the spirit of transparency and openness, I want to admit the post-pitch dip does exist. Hopefully, it’ll be a first step to achieving better client relations.
By Chris Doggart, Head of Client Success EMEA at George P. Johnson and as featured in Prolific London.