Research into how companies buy services from other firms reveals that the perceived 'risk' for the buyer increases during the sales cycle, culminating at the end of the process right before the agency is selected. This makes logical sense if you think about it. In the beginning of the review, the prospect is determining the capabilities he needs to solve his problem and roughly how much it will cost. In later stages he is evaluating a variety of agencies against each other to see who has the combination of capabilities and skills to solve his problems. But at the end of the process comes the big gut check. Could I lose my job for hiring this agency? This is the point in the process where the more established, ‘trusted’ provider gets another look, even if the favorite agency is the scrappy newcomer.  For example, I worked with a digital agency recently that wanted to get into the pharma vertical. They had no pharma experience or case studies, but their leadership had personal experience at other agencies. They lamented that they always got invited to pitch and would often make it to the finals before losing to a healthcare specialist. The simple reason was that the client couldn't be fired for hiring a pharma agency. This is also the predicament for new agencies who are competing with more established competitors. A good way to combat this scenario is to develop vertical-specific solutions that address the common problems of the vertical, so you look ‘tailor-made’ for them. Focus on the common pains this vertical experiences and how your agency combines its services and capabilities into solutions that specifically address these pains, using analogous examples from other verticals. Detail the various processes you will take them through to solve their problems (which reduces perceived risk since they know ‘what they’re getting into’ if they hire you), and develop vertical-specific collateral to use in your outreach.  And most importantly, of course, is to get there first! Develop a relationship and sell something small (low risk) before the big RFP is ever written.

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