Whilst working in agencies for many years, we often discussed how the pitch process felt broken.
Weeks of effort would be devoted to work that would rarely be used – creative responses without relevant knowledge or constraints, and estimates of effort based on assumptions and unknowns. Clients would get back a range of different responses and corresponding costs, rarely comparable. For both sides, a lot of time and effort went into what generally ended up a decision on who had the best slides, or which finger-in-the-air costs most closely matched the budget.
One of the reasons I wanted to work as an independent was to work with clients, enabling them to adopt a different process that was more effective for both parties. I recently had the chance to do this with a great client – smart, open minded, and willing to do things differently. We spent time clarifying the objectives and audiences for the project, and their relative importance. We set clear constraints, and high level user stories that needed to be covered, but steered clear of unnecessary assumptions about the solution. We wrote this up as a brief to provide an efficient handover of knowledge, rather than as a definition of what we wanted someone to build.
Instead of a pitch, we invited 3 agencies that felt a good match for the project to run solution design days with us. We spent valuable time with their strategists, designers, and developers, discussing options, and getting a real feel for each teams’ strengths and weaknesses. We openly discussed the pros and cons of various approaches, and from each session we gained valuable insights. We paid the teams for their time, and the client left with more clarity, and a far greater understanding of how digital solutions are developed. When it came to choosing a partner, the client had a feeling for what each team would be like to work with than is possible from listening to a one hour pitch, or from reading a document.
We made a number of decisions following the solution design days, and clarified some important assumptions. We asked each provider to give an estimate for the remaining discovery work, and for the delivery phase we asked for a team size and cost per sprint. This allowed the client to compare costs on a like for like basis, and weigh this up against the relevant strengths of each team. (As is often the case at this stage, there are still significant unknowns, decisions to be made, and priorities to be set, so asking for a ‘2 week sprint cost’ rather than a ‘final cost’ is more realistic and useful.)
When the decision was made, we had already done the introductions and discussed next steps, we knew how we were going to work together, and what gaps need to be researched and defined. In essence, the client chose a partner they trust to develop a viable solution for the objectives and audiences, and both parties felt ready to get started.
Processes can always be improved, and we have gathered good, honest feedback that will be useful for the next project. Those involved felt that this was a more effective and satisfying way of developing a solution and finding a partner, than crafting an impressive pitch based largely on guesswork. It was also a lot more enjoyable, and we all learned a lot on the way.
We all know the traditional agency pitch process is broken, so let’s not waste any more time and talent on great work that the world will probably never see!
I’d love to know how other people approach finding creative and technical partners to work with, or if you think this might work for you, I’d be happy to discuss and answer any questions.