Pitch Perfect: How to Ace Your Client Pitches

June 23, 2017


The pitch process can be nerve-wracking. Preparation, poise and pitching in-person are just some keys for success.

Kimberly Carroll still gets nervous on pitch day, even after designing websites and marketing programs for high-profile names like Art.com, Time Inc. and Oprah during her 22-year digital marketing career.

The pitch process can be nerve-wracking, especially when going up against a super-established agency, says Carroll, one of the co-founders of Websavant, a small New York City digital marketing agency.

Nowadays, companies scouting for marketing services want “more thinking, someone who can bring something of value to the equation,” says Carroll. Staff at small digital agencies like Websavant need to be SEO expert, webmaster and marketer, all rolled into one. When big marketing firms delegate those tasks, billable hours mount quickly. That’s why Websavant portrays being small as one of its strongest selling points.

Let your prospective client see that they can work directly with one of the founders. Show how a smaller, creative team allows that business to be a true partner.

“There’s power in being small, says Websavant co-founder Kelsey Wiltrout. Once Websavant stopped apologizing for not being a huge agency and instead “leaned into being small,” they won more business, Wiltrout says.

So, how can your small-to-medium-sized marketing agency stand out against the big guys when it’s time to make your pitch? FreshBooks reached out to small agencies and sole proprietors for some advice on how to create a killer pitch and win the client. Here are their top 8 suggestions.

1. Stand Tall If You’re Small

Websavant’s pitches showcase the small agency’s huge advantage: Its founders are cross-trained, key players who manage entire campaigns, including SEO, marketing and website design and development, from start to finish. “There’s no drop-off in communication or shifting between business units. We know exactly where a project is every minute of every day,” says Wiltrout.

How to Make This Work for You

Let your prospective client see that unlike working with a mammoth agency, the client can work directly with one of the founders. Show how a smaller, creative team allows that business to be a true partner in the marketing process.

2. Know the Brand

Don’t go into your pitch session without having performed due diligence on the company you’re pitching. Websavant utilizes online platforms and software that analyze things like social media advertising, content strategy, SEO, paid search keyword bids and paid search ad content. This allows Websavant to compare a prospective client to its competitive set.

How to Make This Work for You

Use knowledge gleaned from research to portray your potential client’s current competitive landscape. Then show in your pitch how your agency’s ideas and strategies can improve their standing.

3. Create a Narrative

Presenting a “high-level story arc” is key, says Aaron Cauble, a marketing consultant at Thrive Agency, a digital marketing agency in Arlington, TX.

Cauble’s team takes its cues from messaging and positioning strategist Andy Raskin’s blog post “The Greatest Sales Deck I’ve Ever Seen“, in which he suggests beginning your pitch by naming an “undeniable shift in the world” that creates high stakes and urgency for your prospective client.

From there, create a narrative that flows like a literary short story. For example, Cauble might introduce a pitch with the fact that most people rely on multiple mobile devices to search for information, to which anyone can relate. From there, he’ll point out potential complications if the potential client isn’t digitally up-to-speed. For resolution, Cauble presents customized solutions tailored to the client’s needs.

How to Make This Work for You

Tie the client’s individual and unique needs into the bigger picture of a changing world. That way, you’re showing the prospective client that you know how to keep them relevant and boost their growth.



4. Go for the In-Person Pitch

Don’t just send your pitch via e-mail, says Mark Cook, director of marketing for ApplinSkinner, a digital agency in Norwich, England. You need that face-to-face exchange.

For example, during an initial meeting with one potential client, Cook realized that no one at that company had a full grasp of the digital marketing side of the business. Armed with that in-person intel, ApplinSkinner customized its proposal to meet the client’s specific needs.

The face-to-face pitch session allowed ApplinSkinner to communicate which parts of the proposal were flexible and how the agency could adapt the approach for a better fit. “You could feel the chemistry in the room,” says Cook.

How to Make This Work for You

Set up an in-person pitch session so you can sell your agency’s people and personalities while the client gains confidence from getting their questions answered on the spot.

5. Present a Plan of Action

“Listen first” is the motto at Mooring Advisory Group (MAG), a boutique consulting firm in Hingham, MA, says Nina Pfister, the agency’s principal and founder.

Pfister arranges an introductory video conference to get acquainted and uncover the prospective client’s most pressing problem. Then her team team develops a customized one-to-two-page “plan of action” in a simple Word document, which they present at an in-person pitch meeting when geographically possible.

Small business owners, Mooring’s target audience, typically prefer a straightforward approach over a long-winded presentation, Pfister says.

How to Make This Work for You

Deliver a clear, precise and straightforward value proposition that the prospective client can easily digest and discuss internally. Show the client that you’re ready to get started on setting the plan in action.

Deliver a clear, precise and straightforward value proposition that the prospective client can easily digest and discuss internally. Show the client that you’re ready to get started on setting the plan in action.

6. Show Them Results

Potential clients want evidence of your agency’s effectiveness, says Matt Brooks, marketing director and co-founder of SEOteric, a digital marketing agency in Watkinsville, GA. SEOteric built an “internal client health dashboard” that predicts satisfaction of SEOteric’s clients based on key performance measures such as traffic increases and conversion rate and total leads increases.

“This helps us identify accounts that need more attention, and makes sure that no one falls through the cracks,” says Brooks.

How to Make This Work for You

When you pair demonstrable results with your agency’s expertise and portfolio, you’ll make a strong case, even when going up against larger agencies, for what your agency can do for the client.

7. Pitch a Small Project First

A good way to glean information about a client’s existing online performance and create a targeted, strategic plan is to present a “roadmapping” session for a seemingly one-time project, says Lauren Pawell, owner of Bixa Media, a website design and online marketing agency in Newport Beach, CA.

“This allows us to work together on a smaller project and get a feel for the way both parties work, without committing to a significantly larger project,” says Pawell, who finds that most clients lack any strategic direction.

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How to Make This Work for You

When possible, steer your small-project session into a larger proposal. Once the strategic direction is set and the action items are determined, there’s a good chance the client may hire you to execute the campaign.

8. Show Love and Passion for the Brand

When NYC-based agency Mungo Creative Group pitches to potential clients, team members take brand-specific steps to demonstrate the agency’s love, passion and understanding of the prospective client’s product, says Creative Director Kelly Groglio.

At a pitch presentation to a sausage brand, Mungo handed out its creation, a package of realistic paper sausages that contained a thumb drive with an interactive storybook outlining what the agency could do for the business. In pitches to a paper company, Mungo made its case by presenting a handwritten proposal in a notebook, and on a later pitch, an interactive pop-up book.

How to Make This Work for You

Customize your creative efforts to show that you thoroughly understand and are passionate about your prospective client’s brand. That’s the way to stand out from your competitors.
While big agencies with well-oiled pitch processes and massive staffs may seem to have a leg up in the pitch process, a small agency that performs its due diligence and makes a good case for itself still has a good shot at winning the prospective client.

“I’ve stolen projects from large agencies by completely charming the client with insights,” says Carroll. “Think of the pitch session as an amazing first date, filled with sparks, great insights and a shared wish that the conversation didn’t have to end.”


about the author

Freelance WriterDeb Hipp is a freelance writer based in Kansas City, MO, who covers small business, personal finance and legal issues. You can visit her website at www.debhipp.com.