The traditional marketing process of selecting an agency has been around for more than 50 years, and it is completely out-of-date. It is very time consuming and stressful for the clients. For shopper marketing agencies, it is even more frustrating, because the final selection is determined by superficial context. The search process is far too slow for the shopper world that moves at the speed of light, and it is actually quite wasteful for companies and agencies. Yet, we still continue this type of inefficient selection process, and most don’t know how to do it well. In fact, even the biggest and “best” agencies are making critical mistakes. If not in the pitch, then when they actually win the business — which then leads to eventually losing the business, starting the entire cycle over again.
Brands shell out millions of dollars on their shopper marketing agencies because they entrust they will provide top-notch service, meet all their expectations, find the company ways to streamline and save money, and increase profit and ROI. At the end of the day, your agency can talk the big talk, but if they can’t walk the walk post-pitch and contract, then it’ll always be a revolving door. Here are the mistakes your agency could be making during the pitch process.
1. Lacking Business Insight
Shopper agencies need to do their homework first. They must truly understand not only macro and micro trends in shopper marketing, but also the categories that the potential clients serve and their brand position within those categories. Agencies don't always understand or communicate that they understand the end-to-end process for shopper marketing. This is especially pertinent when non-shopper agencies see how valuable and profitable offering shopper marketing services can be and try to pass off that they are “experts” on shopper marketing.
Some things agencies need to consider when it comes to their clients:
- What are their business goals and objectives?
- What are some potential barriers they are facing in the industry?
- Who is their consumer and how do they use the product or service?
- Who is their shopper and why do they buy, when and where?
- Who is their competition and how have they approached their business?
- Who are their key customers today and what are their strategies?
And if this type of information isn’t provided in the brief (shame on the client), go do the work. I can’t emphasize this enough.
3. NOT Understanding The Reality of Retail
Shopper agencies don't always validate an understanding of the world of commerce and the interplay of eCommerce vs. brick and mortar. Agencies should be invested in helping the brand develop an eCommerce strategy, as well as, have an understanding of communication strategy or the importance of the shopping journey home to "shelf" — to be both brick or virtual. At the end of the day, if they do not understand retailer operations and the importance of sticking a balance between merchandising and marketing to operationalize programs through a retailers organization, then that’s a huge red flag. There is no way your client will resign the contract.
Many shopper agencies offer field-based organizations, but it's not articulated why this is important to a CPG company and what benefit a field-based organization will bring to the client. Make sure your agency doesn’t make that mistake.
3. Ignoring The Client Ask
Agencies can be swamped with work but that doesn’t mean they can just skim the RFP. They need to spend time actually reading the RFP. Really read it, then again, and then ask questions if applicable. Some don’t even ask any questions at all if they are given the chance, and yet it is clear in the pitch that they didn’t understand the ask. Once the agency leads have the framework, then they can begin to develop the ideas that deliver on the ask. Sometimes agencies will force and stretch with ten ideas even if the client asks for two. Just bring two amazing ideas. Agencies may focus too much on the creative idea and not enough on the strategy grounded in the shopper behavior they are going to change. I know this sounds basic, but often times the smallest details are overlooked, making room for big mistakes. Quality over quantity, every time.
4. Being Generic
Please don’t be just another name on the door. Differentiating yourself from competition is extremely important. How does your agency truly provide strategic value to clients? Show up unforgettable. Why are you a better agency than your competitors? Is it your process, your people, your breakthrough ideas, your retailer partnerships? Tell me, show me. Leverage the individuals at the agency who actually have the expertise in understanding the client’s retail customers. This is too often overlooked, as many agencies manage this entire process only with leadership and possibly the new business team. Give us the confidence that you have the capability to support our business during and after the pitch process. Every single day.
5. Dropping The Ball After The Pitch
Now that your agency won the business, please hire the right people to fill the roles that you’ve just promised to your new client. This is critical if you want to continue to retain the business and not just to fill an empty roster. There are so many companies today that would say their agency is not supporting them with the right caliber of talent. People they hire often either don’t know shopper marketing or just can't handle the complexity of this type of role. And honestly, it is less about the name on the door, and more about the people that are serving the business and the capabilities they bring to the table.
Continue to focus on developing your account teams and give them praise and recognition for work that is well deserved. Remember, the agency team is meant to be an extension of the client's shopper team. They should be empowered with the right business knowledge to truly be a strategic partner. And by golly, they need to step up and approach the business as if it were their own!
The agency world is quite volatile. And with many organizations looking into the details behind their AOR models, as P&G recently announced here, this topic is quite relevant. It is more critical than ever for companies to continuously evaluate their agency partners, yet it causes major disruption throughout the industry.
The reality is that many agencies today are simply not putting their customer at the center of what they do and who they are, not just during the pitch process, but every single day. Truly acting as trusted business partners. The root of the problem is that many don’t know what that actually means, or why they aren’t winning or retaining the business in the first place. Take a step back now, before leaping forward, and evaluate your strategic positioning and your customer-centric approach to deliver mutual, sustainable growth.