First, lets set a little context here. I’ve worked for both large enterprise brands and small ones. Regardless of the brand size, there are a few fundamental truths that my colleagues and I typically look for when we’re selecting a top marketing agency partner, and it’s not necessarily what you’d think.

To level the playing field a bit, let us make a few assumptions. First assume that you’ve been shortlisted during the request for proposal process based on creative prowess, strategic ability and general aptitude to execute on the campaign. Lets even assume that all reference checks have been done, and they came back glowing. Next, let’s assume that your competitors are in the same boat. So to net it out, you’re probably similar in agency type, staff ability, historic portfolio and industry focus.

But why level the playing field out of the gate like this? The answer is pretty easy. You’ve already been shortlisted based on those items. In the world of agency selection, you’ve gotten in the door with those qualifications. Now you have to convince the enterprise brand that you’re the only agency for them.

So wipe those items off the board, and let’s look at the softer metrics that we corporate marketers tend to take into account during the agency selection process.

  • Customize Your Pitch With Creative: Sadly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a pitch from an agency that didn’t take the time to learn all that much about my business. Sure, they came with examples of work they’d done for others, but they failed to illustrate what that could (or would) look like for my brand. Want to really stand out? Take the time to build example creative. It can be copy, graphics, ideas, whatever. This doesn’t have to be perfect. Nobody expects it to be. It should be directional. Illustrating ideas that have already started to germinate in your mind goes a long way in showing commitment and creative prowess. Agencies who are afraid that the brand will take their ideas are not looking at the big picture. If the brand doesn’t pick you after you share this creative, they don’t want it. The effort here will make a big difference (unless your sample creative sucks – so be careful to find the balance).
  • You’ve Got to Be Cool: What do I mean by this? Let’s face it, a brand and agency relationship isn’t different than any other relationship in the world. Brands are looking to work with people they like. Consumers buy on emotion. While you’re selling B2B, remember that the person you’re selling to is a consumer too. Show them that you know a lot but aren’t pompous. Find a connection on a personal level (think ice-breaker level via Linkedin or Facebook), but don’t go overboard stalker on them. The buyer needs to believe that they can spend countless hours in person or on the phone with you. Ultimately, you’ve got to make sure that the buyer thinks you’re cool.
  • Don’t Be A Negative Nancy: Yet another pet peeve of mine is when an agency comes into my office, sits down with my team, and proceeds to tell me how much we suck (to our faces). This approach is a huge turn-off. For one moment, let’s assume that the reason we’re having the discussion in the first place is that we already realize we need help. Trust me when I say you don’t have to pour salt on the wound. As a quick anecdote, I was looking for a digital agency to help with our website a few years back. We knew the current site sucked, which is why we were initiating a plan to replace it. That didn’t seem to matter to one of the vendors we had come in. To his benefit, he did take the time to review the site thoroughly, and I think he was attempting to illustrate just that. But his delivery was borderline combative and ultimately negative. Here is a little hint for those that use this approach. Instead of telling corporate marketers everything that is wrong with what they are doing, use what you’ve gathered during that research phase to know where to aim the discussion about all the ways you can help someone. Ohh, and try to illustrate it with creative examples (as mentioned in the first point).

Well there you go, a little behind the scenes on the thought processes used when selecting a marketing agency at the bottom stage of the funnel. If you walk away from this blog with just a few things in mind, remember, connect on a personal level (be cool), and show them that you’re willing to go the extra mile in the pitch process. Those are a few sure-fire ways to get you a step above the competition.