Lost a new business pitch? 5 reasons clients will never tell you.

Here’s the candid feedback they may not say out loud.

Why you lost the pitch

Rachel Huff is president and founder at agency search consultancy Victoire & Co

It’s generally understood in agency reviews that, when all is said and done, clients will disclose why agencies won or lost the business — it’s part of the unspoken contract when participating in these reviews.

As an agency search consultant, I even include a stipulation in my contracts that clients must provide feedback to every participating agency. In the spirit of transparency and trust – qualities that all clients want in an agency partner – and out of respect for the amount of time that agencies invest in pitching, it’s only fair that if they don’t win the business, they receive feedback to learn and improve for next time.

But the reality is, even among those clients who take this important step of sharing timely and candid feedback, some have a tough time sharing the real reason an agency didn’t win their business. In some cases, it’s because they aren’t even willing to admit it to themselves.



So, agencies, next time you lose a pitch, consider that it might have been one these lesser-known (or at least less frequently cited) reasons:

You turned on the sales engine. Please, don’t take the word “pitch” too literally. By being too focused on getting the client to like YOU, you can lose sight of getting to know THEM. Clients want to work with people who they consider a partner, and vice versa. As one recent client said: “We’re looking for our new best friend who will tell us like it is.”

You rested on your laurels. By the time you get to the pitch phase, clients no longer care if you were named Agency of the Year. Nor do they care about your big, splashy campaign for a client with ten times their budget. What they care about is whether you can deliver on their goals within their budget, while easing the burden on their team and hopefully having a little fun together along the way.

You’re too big for them. Nobody wants an agency that’s too small to have the resources or expertise to deliver. But increasingly, clients are also skeptical of agencies where they foresee being a small fish in a big pond. More than one client has expressed concerns to me that, given the prominent logos on an agency’s roster, their account might not receive the enthusiasm they deserve.

It was something you said — or didn’t say. One seemingly small detail can sway a client’s opinion in one direction or the other. For example, maybe you recommended an influencer who recently partnered with their largest competitor. Or maybe you failed to address one of the subtle points raised in their brief. Both big and small details matter.

Their heart was already set on someone else. Hopefully you took the time to evaluate the opportunity and are confident that the client is running a fair search and is seriously considering your firm. Still, during the process, sparks can fly and clients can become infatuated with another agency. And they’re probably not going to admit to you that they just didn’t like you as much as someone else.

There are a lot of reasons clients get turned off by agencies. If you’ve gone through all the obvious ones and still can’t figure out why you weren’t chosen to be their next partner, here’s one last possibility: You aren’t the CMO’s best friend.

Kidding aside, while personal relationships might get agencies a foot in the door, it often becomes clear when there isn’t a genuine fit.


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