It is virtually impossible to win a pitch with the Q&A session, but it is fairly easy to lose the pitch.
Agencies seem to feel that the Q&A session that follows the new business pitch is there to promote the free exchange of ideas. After 90 minutes of a finely crafted presentation, where the agency has scripted every word, every interjection and slide, the question and answer session is more of a test than it is a conversation. The client is using their precious 30 minutes of Q&A to kick the proverbial tires of the agency. Is everyone on the same page? Do they get along? Will the agency be easy to work with? Will the client need to suffer through an agency’s internal squabbles? These are the questions that the client is trying to answer when they ask, “Which concept would you recommend?”
So the question becomes, what is the agency doing that is getting them closer to a win during the Q&A? And what is the agency doing that is potentially losing the business?
When you start to look at Q&A as a conversation versus a test, certain behaviors become either positive or negative. For example, when you look at it as a conversation, team members discussing an issue makes perfect sense. When you look at it as a test, when one team member adds to another team member’s answers, it gives one of two possible impressions. First, that the team members are not on the same page. While this is bad, it is not nearly as bad as the second impression, which is that the person that adds on to the answer does not trust their teammate. This can be deadly. The client wants to know that not only are you all on the same page, but that you all trust each other. Other poor impressions that can result from someone adding on to an answer – the client may feel like the person just has a need to talk. We all know people like this.
There are two things you can do to combat the add-on. Train your staff to answer the question and then ask, “Does that answer your question?” If it does answer the question, most people would consider the case closed and would move on. If it does not answer the question, the answerer is now free to look for some help from your team. Asking for help is much more charming and intelligent than having five team members jump in for the save.
A second thing to consider during Q&A is to keep the answers short. The more you talk, the more likely you are to say something that you don’t want to say. Also, longer answers tend to make the presenter sound defensive. Keep the answers to 60 seconds or less. Closer to 30 seconds would be better. Don’t tell the client how to build a watch when all they asked for was the time. Another reason to keep answers short is that the goal is to get through as many questions as possible. It would be a waste of time to spend five minutes or more answering a question that was asked by someone that does not get a vote.
A third rule of thumb for Q&A is to not let any one person dominate. When one person answers the bulk of the questions it can give a number of non-favorable impressions. The first is that the agency has one smart person and a bunch of less smart staff members. Another impression is that the person answering all of the questions does not trust their team members. Remember, these are the same team members that are about to be assigned 100% to this account. Clients do not necessarily expect that their day to day staff will know all of the answers, but they do expect that staff to have the trust of agency executives. The goal is to get the pitch team involved and not let any one person dominate.
Finally, leave time for Q&A. The fact of the matter is that sometimes presentations run long. The danger is that if the agency leaves no time for Q&A, the agency is not so subtly saying to the client, “Your thoughts and questions are not important to us. It is more important for us to talk than it is for us to listen.” This is not the message that an agency wants to send to a perspective client.
The rules are not complicated, but they do require discipline. As much as I preach the “no add-on” rule, agency staff can find it difficult to hold their tongues on pitch day. As difficult as it may be, stick to the rules, and the pitch will be better for it.