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News & Views from Alchemis

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Call us for a chat on +44 (0)20 7836 3678 or email Amanda Francis


Sell the idea, not the service and who gives a #@*! about sector experience?

I met with one of our long-standing clients this week. They’re what would be described as an integrated agency and have recently won a significant client in the property/construction industry. Two elements jumped out when discussing the forthcoming work:

  1. Sector experience and a plethora of property/construction clients had not been a prerequisite in the decision making process and in fact were perceived to be a negative as it was new, fresh ideas that they wanted.
  2. There was no brief. A business problem was explained and it was the idea(s) behind solving that problem that made the difference.

Is this a potential trend? On the back of one example, you would have to say no, but actually, it should be. A huge frustration for us and our clients has always been the double-edged sword of sector experience. Sometimes it is necessary, but if a prospect is so hung up on whether an agency has worked with their competitors, they are probably only interested in taking a safe option and lack the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and desire to break away from the norm and deliver something different.

From a cold-calling perspective, an insistence on sector experience might be an alarm bell. It could mean there is someone higher up the food chain that this prospect is fearful of upsetting. I am not saying that this is always the case, and it could well be that the powers that be (inclusive of procurement departments) dictate sector experience, but really, in this day and age, is that the be all and end all? Yes, it is comforting to know that your agency understands your market and audiences, but being able to bring in ideas and approaches from other areas should be a plus.

More importantly, taking that view means potentially missing out on the best agency/solution. Those agencies with innovative technologies, products, services or purely great ideas may miss out if they can’t demonstrate like for like clients.

It is this word “entrepreneurial” that has been used so frequently through the recession, highlighting that it is the entrepreneurs that will help drive the economy into brighter times, but this needs to be reflected in the way people buy and sell. By their nature, our clients tend to be very entrepreneurial, and I hope marketing decision makers will allow that to flourish to their benefit in 2014. Don’t dictate what is required through a structured, drawn out brief. Yes, give guidance, but explain the real knotty issue/problem and allow your agencies to deliver the best solution.

At Alchemis we advise our clients to sell this way in new business meetings. Don’t reel off a list of services, clients and case studies in the relevant sector. Question, probe and interrogate (nicely) and then deliver innovative ideas to solve the problem.

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