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Peculiar pitch – is it time for B2B clients and agencies to find a better way?

Pitching is expensive, time consuming, distracting, frustrating and offers little guarantee of a resulting in a profitable and satisfactory client relationship. So why on earth do B2B agencies still do it?! This was one of the central points of discussion at our recent roundtable to mark the launch of our Dialogue project on how to run a successful B2B agency, writes Joel Harrison

The often tenuous and sometimes turbulent nature of client relationships was one of the central themes of the roundtable that we ran this week including 12 prominent B2B agencies. It followed the launch of the

Dialogue report

on trends for agency success, which we created in association with our friends at The Magnus Club, and is available to download now.

So client relationships can be tricky – what’s new?!… you might be forgiven for asking. Well, the answer is quite a lot – in particular, the current vogue for insourcing, and the increasingly prevalent role of procurement in the agency selection and management process. Both of these things are having significant impacts on agencies and the relationships with clients, the type of work they do, and the opportunities they have.

The roundtable was designed to focus on a number of the core areas covered by the report, and explore some of the core findings. It was a lively discussion, conducted in good humour, which was often closer to collective counselling than serious business discussion. There were 12 agencies in attendance, with teams of between 20 and 160 people.

The persistent and perncious problem of pitching

We certainly didn’t intend to spend a significant amount of this two hour session talking about the trials and tribulations of pitching… but that’s exactly what happened. The willingness of agency principles attending, or perhaps more specifically, their need to offload frustrations, confirmed that this aspect of agency life is no less contentious or potentially frustrating than it was a decade ago.

Indeed, given the near complete extinction of retainers, agencies arguably have less to gain than ever by participating – and yet, as our research showed, most pitch at least once a month. This underlined the huge commitment that this represents from these agencies, and the relative lottery that it offers in terms of success. The growing role of procurement in this process, often combined with the inexperience of clients in conducting a pitch, only served to exacerbate dissatisfaction. And yet despite this, they all still do it – sometimes contradicting their own internal guidelines in order to do so.

Time to find a better way?

Consequently, there was general acknowledgement of the need for a better way of running pitches, and clarity over rules of engagement for both sides. This is a discussion which B2B Marketing and the Magnus Club are going to continue and develop, with participation from those attending the meeting – we’re looking to form some kind of consensus around best practice (for the benefit of both clients and agencies) and adds real value to the industry.

The conversation did eventually move on from pitching, and was wide-ranging in scope, with lots of interesting observations about different aspects of agency management, including:

  • The addition of new services – almost everyone was adding new services, typically in a reactive fashion to client needs, less often with a strategy in mind
  • Process development and management – was patchy at best, with clear gaps in areas such as forecasting, where less than 30% said they could do this with confidence.
  • There was widespread interest in and enthusiasm for an effective onboarding process for clients (not just staff) as a means of managing expectations, and optimising the relationships going forward.

All those agencies attending admitted to having their challenges, but all were continuing to grow in sometimes challenging environments. As ever, the key to running a successful B2B agency is being entrepreneurial and adaptive in equal measure – the moment you stop being able to respond to whatever requests you get from clients, however strange they or ill-thought-out they may appear, is the moment when an agency’s days might be numbered.

The Dialogue Report is available to download.

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