Tuesday, February 24, 2009

You lose, you learn

“You live, you learn
You love, you learn
You cry, you learn
You lose, you learn
You bleed, you learn
You scream, you learn.”
From the song “You Learn” by Alannis Morissette

January has been a banner month for us in terms of closing new business (and one of the reasons for my lack of blogging and sleep). In fact, we closed six new pieces of business so far this year, Maverick’s best record yet in our company’s history. But this blog isn’t about gloating about wins (that’s what Adnews is for); it’s about loss and failure ... something I know too well. Because at the end of the day, without failure you can’t have a winning season.

One of the worst calls you can get in this business is from a prospect that starts out by saying, “We just want to say how much we appreciated all your efforts in the pitch. It was a tough decision, but we’re going with company xbc.” Your heart sinks, and you think to yourself, “What? Those bozos? All that other agency can do is fashion shows and surveys!” Yet all you can muster is, “Oh, we are so disappointed. They are a wonderful agency. If things don’t work out, you can always call us.” Yah, nice try, because they never call you back.

What happens to many of us is the fear of asking why they didn’t pick our agency. I can tell you from experience that you must demand an honest and unfiltered explanation. Get as much feedback as you can and force an answer. This is the best opportunity to learn what mistakes were made and how to correct them in the future. It’s hard to hear criticism, but probe the prospect on your team about your research/analysis, creative, measurement, tactics, and other criteria to find out what went wrong. If it’s just a personality fit that didn’t work in the room, that will be tougher to probe, but try to find out.

It all changed for me when we lost the Virgin Mobile pitch a number of years ago. We busted our collective asses off in research and creative for that pitch. I felt really good about the pitch, but we lost. When I received a phone call from the marketing director’s secretary informing us we lost “but thanks for coming out,” I was pretty upset. Oh, not that we lost, but the manner in which we were told and by whom. It was not acceptable, not after all that work. I called Virgin’s head of marketing and demanded to know why we lost. I was expecting a five-minute phone chat to go over specifics, but what I got was better than expected. Nathan Rosenberg, Virgin’s top marketing guy, took me out for an hour-long coffee (c’mon, when does that ever happen?) He was wonderful, gracious and extremely helpful. It was the first time a prospect took that much time to be thorough in their evaluation of a pitch. I couldn’t have asked for more.

What happened after that is the best part. His insights helped to re-shape our pitch process, streamline our focus and change up our internal structure when it came to business development. The next month we won our biggest client that year.

Losing is never fun. It hurts in so many different ways, especially when it’s those pieces of business you are really passionate about. But look at is as a great opportunity to learn. Then take some time to reflect and don't sulk. I guarantee you’ll come out swinging harder and better the next time.


Martin Waxman said...

You're so right, Julie. It's really important to listen, especially when it's a message you may not want to hear. And then, we need to get beyond the self-justification and reflect and learn. Otherwise we become repeating decimals. And who wants to have one of those over to dinner (or to a meeting for that matter)? BTW, congratulations!

Adrienne said...

beautifully put!