Be more like Tom (and Mum)

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Shopping for a wind jacket and delivering a healthcare comms project – two completely different experiences, right?

Wrong!

Let me tell you why I wish more agencies were like shop assistant Tom, and more clients were like my Mum.

Inspired by Tom and eager to buy more 

I recently accompanied my mum to shop for some good quality, long-lasting Winter sportswear. At our chosen chain store, we were greeted by a friendly-faced retail assistant (let’s call him Tom). While halfway through trying on a selection of items, Mum turned to Tom and said, “I also need a wind jacket”. 

Tom’s eyes lit up. “What do you mean by wind jacket?”. 

Mum’s puzzled expression was all Tom needed to understand that a more in-depth conversation was necessary. He suggested she finish trying on what she had, choose what items to purchase, and then discuss wind jackets. 

Well, Mum and I were blown away because Tom:

  • Counselled Mum through a list of requirements with simple questions
  • Proceeded to explain how she might need multiple items to meet her needs
  • Sourced 3–4 items in her size and performed a live demonstration on how the different layers would synergize for optimal results
  • Helped mum identify which of the various layers would be her next best investment (they weren’t cheap!)

Mum left the shop:

  • Happy with her purchase
  • Feeling educated about 21st century Winter sportswear options
  • Eager to come back for more soon
  • With a considerably lighter wallet, but satisfied that she had got the best jacket for her needs

As a healthcare communications professional, I want my team and I to be just like Tom. And I want our clients to leave a pitch or project call feeling like Mum and I did when we left the shop. 

I also wish more clients were like Mum, open to sharing enough intel at the RFP stage to allow us to craft a proposal that truly meets their needs. I wish they were more receptive to receiving preliminary counsel on identifying their needs and optimizing their return on investment (ROI) based on the available budget and resources. Let’s consider an optimal scenario:

An open dialogue unexpectedly leads to a pitch win

A prospective client is looking for an agency to build them a Global brand website, so they send an RFP to numerous agencies. Here is a snippet from a Q&A session led by any one of those agencies:

Question from agency Prospective client answer 
What key objectives will the website help you achieve?  We have identified key objectives X, Y, and Z. We are open to your feedback on these and any additional recommendations you may have. 
What timeline do you expect for results? We hope to see results within the first year but are looking to hear your expert opinion on this. 
What key HCP behavior changes are you currently focusing on?  The key behavior changes we want to drive are A, B, and C. Please do advise if you have identified any others. 
Have you identified key calls to action?  Yes, we would like to include a ‘book a rep call’.  
Do you have a localization plan, and have you already begun scoping website features with key markets?  No, we are planning to launch the website at a Global level only. We have not involved the countries for this reason yet. 
Can you share the ballpark budget you have available for the website over the next 2–3 years?  It’s in the region of $80,000 for the first year. Budgets for subsequent years will be confirmed on a year-on-year basis. 
Can you share your brand plan and current omnichannel strategy with us?  Of course, please sign this NDA and we will share these right away. 

Once the agency has reviewed the answers and considered the prospective client’s needs in-depth, the agency’s resulting pitch to the prospective client goes:

  • We can build you an amazing website
  • It will help you meet objectives X, Y, and Z
  • This is what it will look like (exhibit A: an amazing-looking home page)

The agency also presents the good and bad news:

  • The bad news: to achieve objectives X, Y, and Z via a website, you must be prepared to invest at least $600,000 over the next three years. This figure covers country liaison and co-creation of a localization plan (a Global website will be expensive but useless if you don’t involve the countries and allow for localizations), website content, design, build, maintenance, content refresh, a traffic generation plan, annual campaigns, and ongoing analytics, as well as an exit strategy
  • The good news: you don’t need a website. We have a plan to maximize ROI on the available budget

And outline what they’re going to do:

  • Rally the troops – communicate with regions and key markets to gauge needs and boost collaboration
  • Maximize efforts –identify the top priorities and align on a project/campaign that will help address them
  • Co-create – involve all relevant functions at Global and in-market, including Medical and Compliance, to make the concept-to-delivery journey as smooth and efficient as possible
  • Measure – set up and monitor leading and lagging indicators to keep the team accountable and measure the real impact of the project/campaign
  • Review and revise – what has the project/campaign helped you achieve? Is it worth repeating/refreshing? What would you do differently?

As a result, the prospective client:

  • Is a little surprised
  • Realizes they had not thought through localization needs and how to drive traffic 
  • Understands that their budget is inadequate for a brand website launch and maintenance
  • Feels educated and supported by the agency, who have already demonstrated that they are a trustworthy strategic partner
  • Chooses to hire the agency because they had the ability and courage to push back on the original RFP and present a proposal that added real value

…And they all lived happily ever after. 

Not quite, but they built a mutually beneficial business relationship based on trust.

How often does this happen in the day-to-day agency world? Let’s take a look at how this often plays out in real life:

Cloak and dagger leads to a bad purchase and loss of trust

A prospective client is looking for an agency to build them a Global brand website, so they send out an RFP to five agencies.

Here is a snippet of the Q&A:

Agency asks  Prospective Client answers 
What key objectives will the website help you achieve?  We’d like to hear your recommendations. 
What timeline do you expect for results? We want to launch the website in
6 months.
 
What key HCP behavior changes are you currently focusing on?  We’d like to hear your recommendations. 
Have you identified key calls to action?  We’d like to hear your recommendations.  
Do you have a localization plan, and have you already begun scoping website features with key markets?  We are planning to launch the website at a global level only.  
Can you share a ballpark budget you have available for the website over the next 2-3 years?  We are looking to see your best price. 
Can you share your brand plan and current omnichannel strategy with us?  This is not in the scope of the RFP. 

The agency is a little lost as to what exactly the prospective client is trying to achieve with this website. The agency worries that it’s going to be a colossal waste of money for the prospective client, but has been waiting for the opportunity to work with them for ages and wants to win the pitch. The agency proceeds to make a set of guesstimated assumptions that will help them put together a proposal. The resulting pitch goes:

  • We can build you an amazing website
  • It will help you meet objectives X and Y by focusing on behavior changes A and B
  • This is what it will look like (exhibit A: an amazing-looking home page)
  • It will cost you $200,000 to launch a Global-only, 15-page website with a 6-month lead time (note that review rounds will be super tight to meet this deadline). Costs include website content, design, build, maintenance, and ongoing analytics. Excluded but optional services include downloadable materials, country liaison, a localization plan, omnichannel integrations, content refresh, a traffic generation plan and campaign, as well as an exit strategy
  • We have a team in place to kick off immediately and can’t wait to work with you

As a result, the prospective client:

  • Likes the design concept
  • Is a little disappointed that the agency did not identify objective Z and behaviour change C
  • Asks the agency to submit a cheaper estimate, which still comes over budget but they think the website concept is so good that they scramble to source additional funding with great difficulty
  • Approve the second estimate and proceed to raise a PO
  • Join the kick-off call with enthusiasm and look forward to having a shiny new website in 6 months

Fast-forward 12 months…

Client is: 

  • Frustrated that the website launched late and over budget 2 months ago 
  • Disappointed that the coolest features were blocked by Compliance 
  • Annoyed that key markets won’t drive traffic to the website, nor allow Global-funded traffic drivers to target their geography 
  • Pushing the agency to find solutions to make their investment work 

 

Agency is: 

  • Running the project at a loss despite receiving multiple uplifts 
  • Managing a near-burn-out team who has been pulling out all stops to try to launch the website as quickly as possible, yet feels like they aren’t doing a good enough job 
  • Scrambling to come up with solutions to meet the client’s demands 
  • Worrying that not challenging the RFP in the first place has led to a lose-lose business relationship 

 

The client and agency try to patch things up but eventually, within a year of launch, the swanky-looking website is taken down due to poor performance. The client wonders if they chose the right partner, and the agency considers rejecting the next RFP for fear of losing and/or having to manage another lose-lose project. Neither organization fully reflects on its responsibilities in the lead-up to this business failure, preferring to blame the other for it. Some colleagues on both sides see through the conundrum and choose to leave the organization.

Our pledge to be more like Tom

Yes, I over-dramatized for the sake of storytelling. And yes, I know that nowadays clients looking for a Global-only brand website are few and far between. But… I’m confident the general story resonates with many of my clients and agency colleagues. 

So going forwards, we pledge to be more like Tom. We only ask that our clients pledge to be more like Mum.

Are you ready to be challenged?

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