Digital agency; process and profits

Situation:
An 8-member Yorkshire agency sought assistance from me to enhance their business, focusing on pitching, profitability, and business development. They identified two primary issues:

  1. Inconsistent and low conversion rates for job pitches.
  2. Projects frequently expanded in terms of time and deliverables without a corresponding increase in profits.

Discovery:
I initiated a comprehensive review of the agency’s recent projects and past pitch endeavors, including both successful and unsuccessful examples. This examination revealed several common issues, some of which were familiar to the agency owner while others were new discoveries.

Project Pitching:
During the discovery phase, the following shortcomings in project pitching were identified:

  • Insufficient in-depth questioning of client briefs to fully understand the issues to be addressed.
  • Failure to verify client-provided data, leading to discrepancies between stated issues and actual situations.
  • Lack of a dedicated pitch champion, relying on a team approach with limited input from developers.
  • Excessive preparation time relative to the project’s scale and potential profit.
  • Ad hoc scheduling of pitch preparation, resulting in inefficiencies.
  • Inclusion of unnecessary “standard” pages and slides in final submissions, creating bloated documents.
  • Neglect of updates for the 16 “standard pages” over a prolonged period.
  • Overly lengthy PowerPoint presentations, sometimes exceeding 40-70 slides for £8k projects.
  • Lengthy client presentations, often exceeding 2 hours.
  • Lack of pricing discussions with teams, with design/build teams being assigned tasks based on timeframes.
  • Omissions of scope documents in proposals for smaller projects.

Project Management:
Regarding project management, the following issues were identified:

  • Absence of comprehensive scoping documents or client sign-offs, allowing the development team to implement their preferred solutions, not necessarily aligned with the client’s requests.
  • Handover of projects from sales/marketing to design/development teams without adequate knowledge transfer or client liaison.
  • Unstructured project management relying on simplified spreadsheets, lacking updates, alerts, and dependencies.
  • Absence of internal timetables or resource cost mapping against project budgets.
  • Inadequate client management, resulting in challenges in controlling deliverables, expectations, content, and approvals.

Solutions:
The analysis led to a series of recommendations encompassing both project management and pitching:

Project Management:

  • Revision of critical documentation and processes.
  • Establishment of clear project structures for both internal teams and clients.
  • Streamlining of systems with defined purposes.
  • Recommendations for new platforms to enhance core management processes.
  • Conducting a skills audit to identify internal training needs and areas for new skill development or recruitment.

Pitching:

  • Adoption of a new template approach for pitch development.
  • Creation of a structured project framework.
  • Review of available resources.
  • Development of a post-project secondary sales methodology.

Results:
The agency’s efforts yielded significant improvements:

  • The agency refined its pitch selection process, targeting higher-value projects and broadening its scope.
  • Implementation of new systems and a team restructure emphasized project management, leading to increased profitability (see graph).
  • The agency achieved a 40% increase in pitch conversion rates over the subsequent 12 months.
  • Sales from existing clients, including long-term contracts, accounted for over 50% of turnover.
  • The agency received a purchase offer from a larger agency based on its improved profitability and long-term client relationships.