How to make more money from losing than winning

Agencies I have led have made more money from new business pitches we lost than from pitches we won. Sounds illogical, but it’s true. Here’s how to win when you lose.

It begins with a story of love almost lost. I was very keen on a certain young woman. I showered her with huge attention, was captivated by her every murmuring, did everything I could to shine. You know the plot. One day she put her hand on my shoulder: “Chris. I appreciate the attention but you need to know, I have a boyfriend.”

And it was the way I responded to that critical moment of truth that encapsulates the secret to making more money out of losing than winning.

Now- when that girl said she had a boyfriend, I could have reacted by storming off and ignoring her thereafter except for sulking looks across the bar. Frankly, I felt like doing just that. If I had, though, she would have known I had been after just one thing. Instead, I replied: “Of course you’d have a boyfriend! How could a great girl like you not! That’s no problem! I am really interested in you as a person. You’re fun, know so much stuff, I like you very much, and am keen to have you in my world, if that’s ok.” It was OK of course, and that’s what I did. I kept close. Attentive.  Respectfully so. Six months later the boyfriend screwed up, got the boot, and I was in!


The Lesson For Business?

That’s how my agencies made more money out of lost pitches that pitches won.

A pitch is an opportunity to build a great new relationship– irrespective of the outcome.

When you get a ‘no’ from a prospect, don’t storm off in a huff. Instead, make it a concerted, persistent mission to build relationships and add value to the key client executives you met during the pitch process.

Prospects never forget it. They are always surprised, impressed and flattered by the attention- particularly given they have effectively just rejected you. Often the decision to select another agency wasn’t theirs, or you lost for some minor reason. As with that girl 15 years ago, when the prospect says ‘no’, ensure they know you were not just interested in ‘the prize’, but were and are genuinely interested in them, and their personal success.

By doing so you make life long friends: and as a side benefit, you get work.

The agency who won will stuff up eventually and you’re in, or often that client executive moves to another company and hires you. The most valuable client relationships of my career include several with executives who chose someone else when we first pitched.  We did not storm off and sulk. We stuck with it, and made building a deep relationship a mission. They stuck with us (for more than 25 years in some cases), and through many of their and my various corporate lives. All are very close friends.

Oh- and that girl I was telling you about- well, I married her!

(P.S. We’ve had many long and great relationships from ‘won’ business pitches of course, but that’s not the story here today…)

> View a video of Chris retelling this post

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21 Responses to How to make more money from losing than winning

  1. Rich Carr June 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Nice Post Chris. My analogy would be that every pitch is like a battle – pitting you against your competitors on a bloody battle field. Sometimes, your battle plan/tactics don’t pay off on the day and you lose the battle. However, as you say, use this as an opportunity to play the long game, take the strategic approach to negate the battle by winning the war.

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      Richard- thanks. Indeed a battle where victory is made up by many parts. Chris

  2. Kelly June 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    Finally, you have given the world an interesting, well written and intelligent blog that I look forward to receiving each week. Thank you.
    And congratulations for getting the girl! If only more men stayed the course instead of storming off.

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

      Kelly- thanks so much for your comments. Deeply appreciated. Chris

  3. Simon Lendrum June 22, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    A highly relevant post chris. Here at JWT NZ we are celebrating having been reappointed by a client that we lost in a consolidation pitch only 4 months ago. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

      Thanks Simon. Great example and well done! Chris

  4. Sam June 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Great post Chris, agree wtih you completely, in the communications game (or any sector for that matter) attention to detail and maintaining relationships regardless of whether you work with someone is paramount. Strong relationships will pay dividends long term whether it be through direct work, referrals, or simply reputation.

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

      Thanks Sam. And relationships in business is where all the fun and meaning comes from. Business would be very soulless without them!

  5. Wendy McWilliams June 22, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    It is easy to write off the pitch and say, let’s learn from that, and move on to the next job or the next pitch. But you are right. Since you have invested so much in pitching for them, why not continue with building the knowledge of their business and their industry and keep the relationship going (so easy with social media) and keep in touch. Even if it isn’t one year, perhaps it is in the second year you get results, but I’m sure it does pay off in the long run.

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      Thanks Wendy. Much appreciate your thoughts and sentiment. You’re right on the timing too. Chris

  6. Stuart Harvey June 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Great post Greg,

    Sometimes its not all about getting the order on your first attempt, it can take time and patience but if you can build that trust in a relationship it will come back to you.

    It’s not mine but I saw this quote a while back and copied it out, I think is probably quite apt for this post.

    “A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.” – Bo Bennett

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

      Thanks Stuart. I love that quote. Perfectly suited to the message. Thanks again, Chris.

  7. Carl Millington June 22, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    Chris – a great story – left me with a smile on my face and refreshed view of the whole pitching process. As already stated, it’s too easy to walk away from rejection, start a whole new approach and write off the investment you have already made in the potential relationship.

    We often spend so much time getting over “the credibility hump” and then, when unsuccessful with the pitch, choose to go back to the beginning with a fresh prospect. Oh well – we live and learn.

    Great work – thanks.

    • Chris Savage June 22, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

      Thanks Carl. You’re right. That credibility hum is too valuable to walk away from once built. Chris

  8. Tessa Court June 23, 2011 at 1:00 am #

    Chris – this is such a great article -which has gone to our sales team here in Australia, and in NYC. Although IntelligenceBank is an online knowledge management platform for marketers (vs. an agency pitching for business) – we face similar issues, as we have a long, relationship-driven sales process. Your post is relevant across industries!

    • Chris Savage June 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

      Thanks Tessa. I am so delighted you liked it and are sharing it. You’re right- many of these stories are applicable across many industries. So long as there are clients and providers who need to sell stuff to them! Thanks again, Chris.

  9. Justin Di Lollo June 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    This is such good advice!

    I long ago learned the lesson that “no” means “maybe” when pitching for professional services work.

    I ask my team to “treat the prospect like they were a client” for a while – reach out to them semi-regularly, send them information you find (with an “I thought of you when I saw this” note), invite them to your functions, “show ’em a bit of muscle”, etc. The prospect will soon see that your quality and commitment speaks for itself – and if they’re current provider isn’t doing the same, you’ve got a good chance.

    If they do come on this way, they’re more likely to be forgiving of future problems because they made the decision to come to you, not vice versa. This might actually make it worth the wait.

    Thanks Chris!

    • Chris Savage June 24, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

      Thanks Justin. You have such a great record in winning clients through building relationships and credibility. We have much to learn from you so please do keep sharing your stories. Chris

  10. Rob Irving June 27, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    Hit the spot for me, Chris. It’s all about relationship with a good dollop of persistence. And pitching is wooing as well as wowing.

    And btw when I met Maria, she was engaged – to another guy!

  11. Adam July 14, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    loving these posts Chris, very inspiring…thanks

    • Chris Savage July 18, 2011 at 10:01 am #

      Thanks Adam. Appreciate it. Chris

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