Agencies, media & digital companies: Your sales pitch sucks

I believe passionately in the power of professional networking. Almost every day I receive an approach from an advertising/marketing agency, media owner, technology provider (particularly around mobile apps right now) or people looking to work for or with me (job opportunities).

When done right, it opens you to wonderful opportunities, better media, marketing and of course, great new partners. The problem is that very often, it is done so poorly or with such little consideration, it often comes across as rude or ignorant. That’s why your calls or emails are not returned.

For those of you who have approached me, or a marketing leader, here are 4 things you need to understand:

  1. I genuinely want to hear from you if you can add value to my role or to my company.
  2. I am time-poor. Yes, everyone is busy, but if I can’t return my wife’s phone call, chances are that I won’t be able to return yours either.
  3. I have a defined scope of work. I might look after marketing, e-commerce or IT/tech decisions but I am not the CEO, taking care of everything. It’s critical to understand what exactly I take care of.
  4. I need your help in communicating your idea to me, then to my other stakeholders. Unless you can put your pitch into the right language for my other internal stakeholders the conversation will not proceed further.

So, what are you doing wrong in communicating to me? With the 4 points above in mind, here’s what goes wrong and here’s my advice on fixing it:

  • Don’t be rude and show a little respect. I recently changed jobs (I was at Dell, now I’m at Samsung) and I had many emails, Tweets and calls of congratulations. It was amazing to feel that so many people cared, and I was humbled by the positive response. Amongst the great congratulatory emails, I also noticed a trend of people using this news to try to sell their services to me.
Agencies, media & digital companies: Your sales pitch sucks
There was no “Hi”, “Hello”, “Dear” or other friendly greeting. There was no introductory paragraph explaining the context or how we might work together. There was no benefit for me or my new employer. And worst of all (for me), there was just no “please”, “thank you” or other demonstration of respect or politeness there. Just a one or two line message asking whether I magically want to start using this particular provider. While sales might be a numbers game, I just interpreted this kind of thing as completely without respect and downright lazy.
  • Understand who I am and what I do. Some of this is quite easy – don’t approach me about working doing digital marketing for me in India if I don’t manage that market. For example, I was recently approached to sponsor a Speed Dating and Networking Night in Atlanta, USA. For me it was a real WTF!? moment – I don’t manage sponsorships, I live and work in Asia (Singapore) and work for a tech company (Samsung). There’s no clear link at all between the opportunity presented and what I do. It left me scratching my head in amazement. A true partnership will require a greater understanding of what I do. What countries do I manage? What products do I focus on? What is my remit – do I manage a sales target, or have more traditional marketing targets, like needing to build a brand? From an agency perspective, which agencies do I already use? Is there an agency-of-record? Chances are, you might have great people, but the ability for me to change agencies is limited because we already have a global contract in place.
  • Do your homework. So how do you understand who I am and what I do? The easiest way is to ask me – but this will have a low response until we’ve established a strong rapport (remember that I’m time-poor?). Start by doing your homework. It can be as simple as searching Google or Bing, maybe following me on Twitter, connecting on LinkedIn or reading my blog. Read magazines or blogs like,,,, or AFTER you have done this, please reach out and ask me questions. If you show you’ve done your homework, I’ll be much more inclined to fill in the blanks for you.
  • Package your communication correctly. My personal preference is to have a coffee or meet you to understand what you do and how we can work together. However, you’re going to have to send through information via email so I can vet whether I am the right person for you to speak with, or whether this fits within our current strategy, budget or timeline. Please be flexible in putting together emails, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets and other information I need to get you on board. The more work you can do for me, the easier it will be for me to convince other internal stakeholders that we should work with you.
  • What’s in it for me? This is so fundamental. Almost all of the communication I’ve received really focuses on how awesome a particular agency is, or how wonderful a new piece of technology is. But why should I care? The incumbent agency has gone through hell and back with me. We’ve probably got a good working relationship. Any new piece of technology requires me to fight so many battles internally at all levels (country, region, global HQ, with my boss, with his boss, etc.) that often it’s just not worth it. I see a lot of great ideas that are never presented in a way that is easily operationalized, so never get implemented. For example, in my previous role I managed over $1 billion in online sales (sales, not marketing). I honestly don’t have time, nor care about doing a banner campaign that might help sell a few hundred products. I need something that will make me look like a superstar and drive $10 million+ in incremental revenue. Understanding this is critical. If you can fully realise this, present how to operationalize this, and make my life easy, I’ll sign the contract immediately.
  • Can I say “yes” or do I only have the power to say “no”? Everyone who works at a brand, from the Receptionist to the CEO, has the power to say no to your proposal. Few people within an organisation have the power to say yes. These are your key decision makers and the people you have to win over. It’s incredibly rude to ask this question to me directly and if you do it will quickly close the conversation and possibility of partnership if asked the wrong way. Having said that, it’s extremely important to find out what I can help you with and what I can’t. Be subtle and find how exactly the scope and responsibilities of the person you’re talking to and who else you need to get involved to finally get the project go-ahead. Just keep in mind that overtly going above someone’s head to their boss will immediately make that person lose face, and create a situation where they are likely to undermine your efforts in the future – clearly not a good outcome.

None of the above advice is a “silver bullet” to establishing a new relationship or selling services to big brands, but I hope a few of the points are a call to action for agencies and media/tech providers to lift their game. Be nice, polite, and respectful. Take time to understand your prospect and you’ll be much more successful.


Subscribe to Firebrand’s blog, “like” our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter, or join our LinkedIn group for more marketing, digital, business and career-related brain-food.



Subscribe To Firebrand Ideas Ignition Blog

Sign up to receive our new blog posts via email. You'll get all the latest articles on digital, marketing, social media, communications, personal branding — and lots of career advice

Search Website