Monday, 11 June 2018

When New Business Meetings Go Bad

OK - so I’m writing this as we have been on a lovely run of successful client acquisition and basking in the warmth of market affirmation of the services/approach we provide so I feel happy to re-open old wounds. This happened about 4 years ago. And I use this story to make me realise that we’re not always as good as we think we are (and I can be a complete deluded idiot)

This is the story of OME's worst new business meeting and within which I think are some key lessons for us all (mainly me). So here are the bare bones;

1. It was a pretty cold recommendation/referral - they didn't know us, we didn't know them, first warning sign. I think they were seeing about 4 other wildly different agencies in one day too.

2. The brief was kind of on the edge of our capabilities/core skill set - hence we had to bring in outside resource - who probably weren't as committed as us.

3. We had contemplated pulling out due to above factors and we were really, really busy with existing clients. Important to add – we’ve never had a new biz dept here - the people you meet are the people who look after you long term – so we don't have a week to exclusively prep for presentation. But essentially we weren't really mentally committed so problems were palpably imminent.

4. Preparation was not what it should have been….let’s leave it at that.

5. The day arrived - and the crack team (led by yours truly) had argued and bitched about the quality of what we were about to discuss for 24 hours before. This was not helped by another OME Director (yes - Sean i'm talking about you) who had been blissfully uninvolved stepping in late to recommend changing all the content. His advice was 100% correct but useless by this time.

6. Warmly welcomed by the client into the meeting - my approach was of unwarranted optimism and misplaced confidence - and things were going well for about 3 minutes during the intros. But then we had to actually say some things of substance....

7. The client disagreed fundamentally with our first conclusion/recommendation from which the whole presentation was based, with a friendly face but a clear look of "you guys are clearly complete idiots, how stupid are you!"

8. If I'd had a shred of dignity - then I would have packed up our stuff, made our apologies and made our exit. But sadly I do not have any dignity, and went for a different approach.

9. I can best describe the next 40 minutes as most resembling that of a fish on a deck of a boat, thrashing around wildly to no particular purpose and having zero influence on the end result. I was speaking a lot I remember that - but I have no memory of the content of anything I said. I think I was officially trying to "pivot" and bring our content back round to what they wanted. I didn't know what they wanted - but I certainly knew they didn't want us.

10. And yet....when we left the meeting - I was so hyped up and deluded - I said to my colleagues in the lift "I thought that went ok in the end....." they looked at me with wide eyed pity. By the time the lift reached the ground floor (it took about 4 floors or maybe 10 seconds of time) the reality of the car crash I had been part of had hit home.

11. And you know what crazy thing happened? They only went and appointed us!
Maybe - in my dreams they did. Nope - about 10 days later we eventually got some communication that said in polite terms that we were every bit as bad as we thought.

I think the learning points are blatantly obvious so wont labour the point. But qualify the quality of the meeting, if you are going to do it – fully commit, prepare extensively – follow these rules (which we typically do very well) and things will go fine. We have found being crystal clear about we do brilliantly and honest about what services we don't offer really earns the trust of our prospective and current clients too.

But anyway it’s all ok now as its such ancient history that in the last year I probably only ever think back to being in that meeting once or twice......a day.