Winning Enterprise Business

What? Takeaways from Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association (AIMA) 2/11 February Keynote at Atlanta Tech Village on agency sourcing and procurement.

Who? Panelists + Doug Norwood moderating (President of Swarm Agency)

Chris Butler, VP Marketing at Equifax
Barb Bradford, Strategic Sourcing, Marketing at Cox Communications
Irma Shrivastava, VP Marketing at American Cancer Society

It’s 2016, everything’s digital, and all your favorite brands have upped the ante. With that comes a need for specialized project teams, and outside resources and partners to get the job done. Well, navigating the sourcing and procurement departments can be difficult–I know that–luckily AIMA engaged some of Atlanta’s top brands’ executives in a “tell-all” to move our community forward as a whole. The rising tide lifts all boats, right?

Fellow business development people, let’s get it.

Q1: What do you look at when considering an agency?


Barb: Security and insurance protocol. Small agencies are a risk, but it also depends project-to-project.

Chris: The infrastructure – from data, security, all the way to number of people to ensure the account is properly handled/maintained.

Irma: Distinctly different & unique attributes and service offerings. If your agency helps the brand dabble in what’s new, or trending, that’s a nice value proposition to sell if you can point to a big impact.

Irma and Barb, from their time at Coca Cola, mentioned the “agency procurement list.” At Coke, being included on this List is can be your golden ticket, and only means of entry.

Q2: Is “the list” sacred? Is there any wiggle room?


Barb: The list is not sacred. It’s no longer embedded in the culture and processes as deeply as it once was. Your best bets for entry are through #1 Marketing, #2 Sourcing.

Chris: Fractional attribution. In other words, being on “the list” certainly helps, but there are a number of other variables to take into account. Also – “Intelligent relevance,” meaning that there’s homework involved, and you have to understand the prospect’s business and direction. Chris mentioned working with seven agencies now, and their solutions must match the direction he’s headed, or they’re out. Also – Equifax agencies typically screen and vet the Equifax partners, so take note and play nice in your space.

Q3: If a vendor asked you, “Let’s get together so I can learn more.” Deal breaker?


Barb: Yes. You should already know more than the brand marketers about their brands, and come to them with ideas. Bring Barb a value proposition she can’t turn down, or point out a problem she didn’t know she had. However, all in all it’s relationship driven.

Q4: In your agency procurement process, what’s the balance between protecting intellectual property and getting the “big idea?”


Irma: Big ideas aren’t in the courting process. There’s simply not enough information, yet. You should, however, bring examples of similar client work and capabilities (even if pro bono) to show STAR formatted case studies of similar scenarios.

Chris: Come in understanding the category and areas to attack. Visualize the Equifax vision, and where you can best drive value. The in-house creative team will not steal the agency’s ideas, and frankly, the outside partners are the arms and legs for the ideas!

Q5: Directed to Irma – ACS has an amazing story, but it’s hard to tell. What’s the importance of agencies having category experience in the Non-Profit sector, or do you look at overall capabilities?


Irma: Don’t look solely at NP agencies, but those that have the insights to drive consumer conversation. Marketing and fundraising, for American Cancer Society, run hand-in-hand, so understanding these conversations and conversion points is most important. Previous success and case studies do help, but category experience is not required.

Barb: Recently issued a digital RFP (request for proposal), won by an agency without any telecommunications experience. Must be able to develop creative, understand where the marketplace is, and hit your targets. “Can teach them the industry [later on].” Simple as that.

Irma: Barb is also deeply embedded in marketing, without “really” being in it. She knows the key drivers marketing is looking for, and can make recommendations based off her understanding.

Chris: The procurement and marketing relationship is changing. In partner meetings, Chris now brings the procurement people, as it’s great to get them thinking and pre-qualifying partners to leverage moving forward.

Q6: Does geography and proximity matter?


Chris: It depends what type of work. Be considerate to the end consumer and area where they are relevant.

Barb: Offshore is a security risk. Travel time adds a level of disconnect and is taken into account. What’s the demographic? Will the agency know this consumer base? Takeaway: the sourcing team may have a different perspective on geography/proximity from that of the marketing team.

Irma: ACS started a new digital approach when she was brought on, a 100 year shift from traditional PR. To her, proximity is very important as the agency is treated like an extended part of the team. However, in her experience, it was not this way whatsoever at Coke.

Q7: The processes have changed. How do you recommend getting in on an RFP?


Barb: Ariba. Cox posts RFPs on Ariba all the time, but it’s a two channel approach. #1 get to know the marketing folks, #2 get to know the sourcing folks. Believe it or not, the sourcing/procurement managers do keep your information on file, and place you on a list. Sourcing managers have insider information, and know when timelines are expiring, and influence the next wave of change. Basically, Barb is a Gatekeeper!

Chris: There’s a lot of up-front work that goes in to RFPs now. No longer are canned responses acceptable, as Chris and his team have flipped the script. Very focused RFP descriptors make it easy to see who the players are. He’ll look at award winners and build a list of pre-qualified candidates to receive the RFP, as well as the general public.

Irma: People remember the success stories, and pay attention to the connections they have in an industry. Industry publications, campaign results, and personal network are three of the most credible referrers. You never know where the relationships come from!

Barb: Pick and choose your RFPs and play to your strengths, people. Don’t reply to all of them, or you’ll be placed on a DO NOT USE list. Yes, that actually exists, sadly enough.

Chris: Seconds what Barb said. Also, typically big agencies bring in their frontline presentation givers, but will have a different account team on the backend. If that’s the case, the presentation team needs to be transparent, and provide adequate direction for the account team sitting back in their office.

Q8: Agencies sometimes outsource, 1099, contract work, etc. How do you approach this potential security threat?


Barb: We have protocols in place to protect all trademarks, marketing, data and documents. The Cox security team audits potential partners, as security breaches are clearly detrimental to their business.

Chris: Who is your Chief Security Officer? There needs to be at least one person in your organization who can talk the talk, and be at a very high level in understanding security. Equifax launches both digital AND physical audits in vetting potential partners. However, you’re not assumed to be able to check all the boxes immediately; there’s some wiggle room.

Irma: ACS operates heavily in transactions, and there’s a big focus on security. “Can’t leave it solely on the partners, priority has to be there for everyone.”

Q9: What about media companies? Do you deal with them often?


Barb: Yes, increasingly so.

Chris: Yes, and we ask our agencies to find us the “right partner.”

Irma: Also go through agencies to find best media partners, as they’re the experts, but ACS is cognizant of the pricing. There’s a different orientation process around media companies, as it skews more digital now, and they optimize based on attribution.

Q10: Regarding software and technology innovations, new product demos, etc.; how important is it for you and your team to keep up?


Doug: Agencies are hit all day with requests by vendors, how do you guys look at these up-and-coming softwares & trends?

Chris: Personally interested in all of it, and both Chris and his team need to know what’s new. However, agencies are partners in this effort and should share updates related to client business practices. “It’s boring to have only my agencies look at those things.”

Irma: It’s expected of the agency, but she also wants to know. She’ll read up on a new tool that’s of interest and forward it to the agency to vet integrations/implications.

Q11: What does someone in this room have to do to get a seat across from one of you at a table?


“Dark chocolate and maybe flowers” – Barb. 🙂

But in all seriousness, the gift giving does not work.

Chris: Know where we’re headed as a company, i.e. B2C not B2B. Network your way in, know his agencies, go to them and it’s a win-win-win. A lot of legwork upfront, but that’s how you earn your opportunity.

Irma: Be a credible connection, or show off some great work related to an issue/scenario she’s actively dealing with. At that point a coffee meeting is in order. Otherwise, agency emails come in all day, and there’s a very big, sexy looking delete button for all of them.

Audience question takeaways:


Budget disclosure:

Barb: Not disclosed, but will give provide parameters. Advice – be transparent in your quotes and line-item your package in detail.

Chris: Not disclosed, and an interesting exercise in seeing what the agency vs. brand believe this amount of work/business is worth. Typically the best proposals are very close in terms of numbers.

Irma: Not disclosed. Start with your solution at the forefront, and numbers should come second and can be more flexible. The big idea and solution is most important.

Why do you work with your current agencies, and how’d they stand apart:

Irma: Well, the list ideally should not be very long. Always asking, “Can one agency do more of ___?” Direct response expertise is crucial. To stand out you should demonstrate that you’re willing to take the ride with the brand at the same time as being flexible and well equipped.

Chris: There’s a whole list of our agencies, it’s public knowledge. To stand out you should come in understanding that data is at the core of their business, especially from a direct response perspective. Have the skillset, plus a passion to win!

Barb: Focus on being a diverse supplier, even if only Tier 2. Companies like Cox have a target number of diverse suppliers they try to hit, so promote it heavily if you have this — make it a part of your package!

Be sure to check out our “How to Win the RFP Game” deck AIMA created for this event! Includes tips on how to win by giving a rockstar presentation.

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