Prospecting Needs To Be Treated Like NFL Footballs

Lisa Colantuono
Lisa Colantuono

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footballAlthough Eli may have watched his brother play the toughest and most disappointing game of his life a couple of weeks ago, there is always next season for both of the quarterback brothers. As their dad, Archie Manning said at the end of the Super Bowl meltdown, “It’s football.” It may be football but there are some vital lessons to be learned for new business. For example, the number one lesson is strategy is everything, execution is king and nothing is simply left to chance.

Let’s take the spotlight off Peyton and put the focus on the other brother here. What do Eli Manning's footballs have in common with the new business process? The football in his hands is familiar as an old friend and he rails against probability. The star quarterback has 12 to 20 footballs for each game that are meticulously groomed and prepped according to his specific needs and this football grooming process is months in the making. The footballs are brushed, scoured, primed, soaked using various apparent and semisecret procedures. The goal is to increase the chances that every pass Eli makes will connect with its intended receiver.

When it comes to new business, the same idea is relevant. Nothing should be left to chance. Being proactive instead of reactive to prospective business with rational reasons behind every outreach effort increases your chances of success. When you pick up the phone for a "cold call" it should be warm. How do you heat them up? Do your due diligence and research the prospective client's consumer needs, behaviors, purchasing journey; know their NPS and KPI figures; figure out where they stand in the category. We call this the three C’s of prospecting: category, consumer and culture.

Category experience is typically considered a benefit but it can also work against you if dialed up too much. For example, when managing a health insurance review, the client was impressed with one of the semi-finalist agencies simply because the agency had deep experience with one of the marketer’s competitors which the client team thought very highly of with regard to their brand positioning. On the other hand, when managing a QSR review, one of the semi-finalist agencies over-highlighted the fact that they had very deep experience with one of the client’s primary competitors. The client team saw it as tunnel vision and eliminated that agency from the mix. When it comes to consumer experience, agencies simply can’t have enough when it comes to prospecting and pitching. The more you know about the client’s consumer, the better. Of course, that doesn’t mean only demographics and psychographics. Behavioral insights, the decision-making process and purchasing journey are all vital to marketers. According to the CEO of the company, “It’s all about experiential communication plans leading to engagement based on behavioral insights.” Most of all know why and how your agency can compliment the marketer’s culture and uniquely help a particular brand which will increase the chances that your outreach will connect with the prospective client.

Of course, like Manning's footballs, this doesn't happen over night. It takes prep time and sometimes weeks of data gathering and interpretation into core human insights. Clients can easily sniff out the "dialing for dollars" game and have no interest in entertaining the call. "I never answer my phone," says a CMO of a fast food chain. "I get nearly 200 cold calls a day and there’s nothing specific to me!" In June 2013, I was invited to participate in the Forbes CMO Network and Wharton Future of Advertising Program CMO excursion, along with a group of 30 industry executives responsible for their corporate brands. I asked a handful of those executives two specific questions: “How many solicitation emails do you get on a monthly basis? Do you respond or even read the emails?” On average, these executives receive close to 1,500 unsolicited emails per month and the common answer to the second question was, “No, unless it is relevant and timely to my needs.”

Timing! That idiom holds true: Being in the right place at the right time. It’s just like the timing of a perfect pass from the New York Giants’ star quarterback. But it is also about knowing what to do and say when you find yourself in that lucky spot. Once you have done your homework you still need to reach out with brand new information tailored to their needs but it must feel like it's been proven so the prospect isn’t the guinea pig. “Don’t just prospect me. Build a relationship by offering new insights about my brand, category or consumer and exemplify the success your agency has had with similar brands by offering your unique capabilities,” says Aliza Perruzzi, Director of Marketing, Century 21 Department Store.

Or as Eli Manning says, “I want a brand new ball that feels like it is ten years old.” The same applies in new business prospecting: offer new insights, tailored to the client’s business with a unique point of view only your agency can offer based on weeks of prep time, have real rationale behind reaching out and leave nothing to chance. Leaving nothing to chance also means learning when to say no. Eli Manning turns down hundreds of footballs simply because they don’t feel comfortable in his hands. The same should apply to agencies’ new business process. Search and selection will always be a vital part of agency growth. But it’s exhausting and costly to be ambulance-chasing instead of building relationships. Especially when you’re missing relationships with marketers for whom you can offer specific benefits to help increase brand equity, market share and ROI. Let’s face it, the number one concern for all marketers is obvious…accountability. According to the legendary John Hayes, CMO at AMEX, “Marketing must be more effective, creative and accountable.”

Although the New York Giants wasn't a Cinderella team this year (and unfortunately, Eli’s brother’s team didn’t prevail), it’s still no wonder why star quarterbacks stand out from the pack. The same applies to luminary agencies with outstanding new business success rates in the industry.

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