Blog: How to make a good first impression

Shaun Varga, chairman and creative director at consultancy Ingenuity, discusses the importance of making a good first impression.

Varga points out that you can make a bad impression with a potential client without even knowing it
Varga points out that you can make a bad impression with a potential client without even knowing it

It’s statistically likely that your agency has been excluded from a pitch process or short list, without realising you were on it in the first place. This is how it happens.

I phoned an agency recently with a question that, answered correctly, would secure their place on a pitch shortlist. A simple question, a formality really, but a quick response was needed. I called the switchboard, and asked to talk to the person who dealt with new business.

Her: "They’re both out."

Me: "It’s quite urgent I’m afraid, is there anyone around?"

Her: "You could email Bob, he’s working from home. He’s quite good at answering emails."

So we do that, and via email Bob and I agree to talk the following morning. When I call the receptionist explains that Bob is in a meeting. 

Me: "He’s expecting my call… it’s important."

Her: "You could email him. He’s quite good at answering emails."

At this point the agency was excluded from the shortlist. The client I was acting for wouldn’t put up with this standard of service for a moment. I’ve still not heard back from Bob (not his real name) so they’ll never even know that they missed out.

It never ceases to amaze me that agencies can invest so much time and money in chasing down opportunities, but put zero effort into making it easy and efficient for clients to give them their business.

It’s about thinking through the ‘customer journey’ (an overworked phrase in the agency world), and making sure that there is no way an inbound caller can put down the phone without being spoken to by someone who will properly own the enquiry, and follow it up.

It’s not hard to create a list of people familiar with the agency elevator pitch, who can field an inbound call and not have to take a message. 

But of course anybody can pick up a phone. The agencies that do well in new business tend to be the ones that have a strong ‘new business culture’. That means that it’s really clear that new business is everyone’s responsibility, and an opportunity for anyone to make a contribution. Have you ever spoken to your staff about what to do if an inbound new business call comes in? Do they know what to do, what to say?

Do you have a procedure to pick up on inbound new business email enquiries quickly and respond quickly? I personally hate anonymous email addresses like "info@"; much better to give a real person the responsibility. Nobody wants to email a machine, or an anonymous group.

One of the other agencies I contacted had also been unable to field a real person to talk to, and I’d had to leave a message. The difference was that their MD phoned me back within the hour, from home, with a couple of screaming kids in the background. Hurrah - an agency that cares. It was an easy ‘yes’ from me.

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