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The Best Part of Your Pitch is What You Don’t Do

By Chris Ross | August 09, 2017 | 3 Comments

“We continue to expand our portfolio of services here at The Amalgamated, Intergalactic Consulting, and Design Agency. You need creative? We can make an old shoe go viral. Do you need to be data-driven? Our army of data scientists can tell you things you didn’t even know about yourself. Do we have technology chops? Platforms, clouds, AI, APIs, boom!  Need your trees trimmed? Our landscape and botany strategies team is just what you need. Do your dogs need training? Our Canine Experience (CX) team will have Fido fetching slippers in no time. What do you need? We’ve got you covered.”

I’ve written before about how agencies seem to be struggling to manage an ever-increasing breadth of offerings while maintaining clear differentiation (see The Everything Business). Martech vendors struggle with this challenge as well, extending features and functionality while potentially blurring their own value story. A crazy proportion of many agency and vendor pitches I see is consumed just enumerating the laundry list of available features and services. A convoluted, hazy story can hide the value a vendor is capable of providing which means deals don’t get done. So what’s the solution? Tell people what you don’t do.

This happened recently in a pitch from a marketing services firm that started out like so many others; beautiful graphics, clever tagline, images of cool office space and staff, logo slide of past/existing clients and then there it was…A slide featuring a list of things the firm does NOT do. This slide had an amazing crystallizing effect, quickly narrowing the focus and helping me clearly understand their space.

Even a basic knowledge of positioning 101 makes clear you can’t be the luxury brand and the low-cost leader at the same time and any attempt at such a thing would seem doomed to failure. And yet, agencies and tech vendors alike seemed compelled to distend their list of offerings and then wonder why buyers struggle to understand what they are genuinely good at and how they compare to others.

There are plenty of legitimate situations where offering a broad set of functionality or services is required and aligns well with what customers need. Even in these situations, it’s easy for agencies and vendors to get in their own way with muddled stories about their core value proposition and how they are better than competitors.

Buyers don’t want to struggle to understand your story. Customers want to quickly grok what you do, evaluate how you’re better or different than alternatives and then make a decision. Anything you can do to help them better navigate that process will improve your success rate.  Sometimes that may mean proactively tackling the murkiness by saying what you don’t do, so they can focus on what you can do.

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  • Robbie says:

    I am a sales executive and am constantly on the phone. I print magazines. What is the best advice for selling ad space.

    Kind regards

  • Jibreel says:

    Canine Experience team! Ha! I used to work with agencies and this is how many of them came across in their presentations. Now our teams tell customers exactly what we learned not to do and why it’s probably best for them if they don’t try to hire us for those jobs.

  • Wonderful insight and advice. When I was in consulting, a large part of my work was vendor selection (for clients in media and entertainment). One of our trick questions was, “Now that we know what you do, what don’t you do?”

    There of course were the vendors that stumbled with the question, not wanting to admit there were things they didn’t do. Those that responded with great speed and clarity, then told us how they used partners and alliances to fill in the gaps, always won my client over.

    Hence your advice really plays out in the real world. Clients appreciate honesty every time. BTW, we didn’t mean it to be a trick question, just turned out that way.

    We would also ask providers to describe an engagement that didn’t go well. I was always impressed with the provider that would gladly share an engagement that stumbled, followed by lessons learned, or what they did to turn it around. One of my favorite CMOs of all time is Ann Lewnes of Adobe. Ask her that question and she’ll share one instantly, along with what was learned. She doesn’t give lip service to “fail fast, learn faster” She lives it. I think she might have even invented it.