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Agencies: So you made a bad client impression, is it too late for a second chance?

“Some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue” – Unknown.

That quote perfectly exemplifies the ups and downs of creative life. Sometimes, despite our best, most intricate and detailed planning efforts (even the use of a kickass project management software to make sure we’ve accounted for everything!) the great first impression we were hoping to nail doesn’t exactly go to plan.

We spend a month or more working up to a pitch, do all the research, have an awesome and slick presentation ready to go – but at the last minute, technology fails, a critical team member falls sick, or we find the client has already halfway made up their mind about another agency. The job falls through…

...and life goes on…

But a few weeks later, something miraculous happens. The client calls back.

It’s hard to get a second chance in such a competitive, cutthroat industry, but when it happens, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. We place so much importance into the first impression and assume that's all that counts. The truth is, a second impression can be just as important as the first.

So, what should you do?

1 – Re-examine your pitch

Did it take too long to get to the “wow” moment of your pitch?

You might be too close to the project to get an objective opinion, so it’s worthwhile pitching the presentation as is to other part of your business or team and let them critically analyse and provide constructive feedback. Some questions you may want to consider:

  • Did it take too long to get to the “wow” moment of your pitch? Are you providing too many distracting details or information upfront that detracts from the impact you want to create? Remember, less is more!
  • Is the pitch too much about your credentials and not enough about solving the client’s problem? Here’s a handy guide to owning the creative pitch every time.
  • Are you taking the client on a logical journey to your proposed solution? Your head has been immersed in your research and the proposed solution for much longer than the client’s, so what’s obvious to you may not be as obvious to them! Landing at the outcome without getting the “buy-in” from the client is often where a lot of pitches can go wrong. Take the client on a journey, weave a story and ultimately create an experience that will make them want to come back for more.

Further reading and resources:

2 – Re-assess the team

Ouch, I know. You’ve already hand-picked your best/most promising superstars the first time round, but when push comes to shove, it’s time to re-evaluate whether this team is the right for the job. Working on a project and being client facing does require a certain match. For example, the client may have revealed that they’re particularly into red wine and a colleague of yours just happens to be an amazing account manager and experienced sommelier. Um, better get them up to speed on the account quickly!

  • In my experience, transparency is always the best policy. So rather than changing the project lead and providing no explanation (regardless of whether the client only met them once previously), try to make introductions for each team member, explain their area of expertise and why they are perfect for the project. This will “humanise” it for everyone involved, creating confidence that the client’s best interests are with “real people”.
  • Have leave behinds where appropriate, e.g. business cards or even a slide in your presentation with key points of contact and their roles. Get creative with them! For example, each cards lists two work related skills and one superhero power, or even their favourite spare-time hobby, which serves two purposes: creates a picture of an all-rounded person and has potential to spark conversation and hence rapport.

3 – Put on a spread (morning tea)

Okay okay, we’re not saying bribe them with your grandmother’s baking – but everyone likes food! And great coffee is a bonus too. Whether you have an in-house coffee machine or get the meeting catered for especially, putting a little bit of extra effort in never does any harm. For the more adventurous, you could try wafting delicious baking smells through the agency and penetrate their subconscious with good vibes. They’ll be sure to want to be around these awesome smelling and hospitable people.

4 – Re-evaluate the environment

Does your agency look like a happy environment? Xero, for example, is known for its culture – and we’ve even heard from people coming in for an interview that they’ve bumped into employees (you can tell because of the lanyards around our necks!) chatting animatedly or smiling, which goes a long way in creating the perception of a “happy vibe”. Is your front of house welcoming and well-lit? Is there enough seating? Little things add up!

Maybe leaving the agency altogether might be beneficial for this particular client. Why not take them out for lunch or coffee, somewhere more casual, which removes the pressure of a “pitch” environment. You’ll be able to open up over lunch, and actually talk through your idea rather than having the barrier of a formal presentation.

5 – Don’t be afraid to show your point of view

Always remember that the client has given you a second chance because their Plan A wasn’t working. Something about you tickled their interest and they want to learn more. If you want the relationship to work for the long haul, don’t be afraid to ask hard questions and show or stand by your opinion. Authenticity is refreshing.

6 – Shift the focus to trust

“The way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible—and largely automatic” – A Second Chance to Make the Right Impression, Harvard Business Review

Instead of focusing on landing the pitch, focus on gaining their trust. They won’t like you if they don’t trust you. And getting the client to view you through the “trust lens” is the holy grail of the interaction. Go in projecting warmth and confidence. Spend time getting to know them. Dig deep, ask personal questions and try to relate to them. Every question leads to the next. Ask yourself at every step of the way: have you earned the right to move forward?

7 – Be someone they can grow with

All the conversation should subtly point to the long-term. You want to reinforce the idea that you’re in this for the long haul, that success isn’t one small project for you. Paint a picture of what the future could be like. Try to treat every client as having the potential to bring in more business down the line (whether through their own business or referrals). When you sign on for the project, you’re both working towards the same goals. Present the information in a way that highlights the value to them, the savings they will make, the ROI they can expect to achieve. And end on a positive note, with clearly defined next steps. This will show that you’re in control, ready to take this journey forward.

Every impression is just as important – what do you want to leave your clients with?