Celebrating her first year as head of client services at XYZ, Becca Ratcliffe is responsible for all new business and marketing initiatives at the London-based creative experience agency. Prior to the role, she enjoyed a seven-year stint at Jack Morton as SVP – business director in the Hong Kong and London offices and held roles at Wasserman, Frukt and Wieden+Kennedy.
What was the best piece of advice you got early on?
“When one door closes, another opens.” It’s so true as everything changes, nothing is constant so your career could take many paths and you can’t plan it. So go with the flow and don’t sweat about the future. I have worked and lived in NYC, Sydney, Hong Kong and London so you’ve got to grab these opportunities when they come up.
And the worst?
There have been two times in my career when my boss at the time told me to do something that goes against my gut and core beliefs and each time I followed their advice it turned out to be the wrong decision. Sometimes you have to trust your gut as you know the client best and how they will react to a situation.
Can anyone be taught to sell or do new business or do you think it suits a certain kind of personality?
I think it definitely suits a certain type, someone who is entrepreneurial and gets a real buzz from finding a contact and converting them into a client. Someone who enjoys building strong relationships over years. You can’t really teach that to someone – they either have it or don’t!
What are your thoughts about the process of pitching that the industry largely runs on?
The amount of work that goes into pitching is insane and most of the time you deliver full creative costed proposals that don’t see the light of day. It’s hard on the pitch team and if you have several pitches on the go at the same time it can be very draining on resources.
Some of our clients do give us a pitch fee which I think is fair as it shows they understand the amount of work that goes into a pitch and are serious about working with an agency on a project.
I don’t think agencies can afford to refuse to engage in a pitch, I do believe pitching is the right thing to do as it shows the client what the agency can do for them and also the people they will be working with, both of which are key factors when choosing an agency.
New business and sales can often mean hearing ‘no’ a lot and quite a bit of rejection – how do you keep motivated?
I don’t take it personally and by the following hour I have moved onto something else. You’ve got to be juggling lots of balls so when one drops you just catch another. You never know when someone will call you up 12 or 18 months later.
In your view what’s the key to closing a deal?
It’s all about chemistry, people buy people. If you can show clients that you will be a trusted partner who can provide great creative solutions that’s the key. It’s very rare that you will win a pitch if there is no relationship there.
How important is cultural understanding when it comes to selling internationally? (And if you have particular experience on this front, what advice do you have?)
Having worked internationally my whole life, it is super important to understand the cultural nuances in each country. There is no ‘one size fits all’ and when working on global pitches you have to show the cultural insights and how it will work in each market. Something that works in Europe for example will need to be fine-tuned for China in terms of creative and delivery platforms.
You also must understand cultural customs. In Asia people may not speak out in a group situation and you need to direct your pitch to the most senior person in the room, as that person sets the tone for the meeting. Your feedback tends to be on a call 1:1 and there may be a higher level of risk aversion when it comes to big creative ideas. In America, your presentations needs to be energetic and punchy, whereas in the UK being too pushy can come across as disingenuous.
How is technology and new platforms (from platforms like Salesforce and Hubspot to video calls to social media) changing sales and new business?
It allows teams to be organised, we use HubSpot and it’s great to see what the last comms with prospects are and set up targeting lists. Video calls allow you to be more international as a quick 45 mins creds meeting doesn’t cost anyone anything.
What are your top three tips for anyone who’s not necessarily come up as a salesperson and who’s now expected to sell or win new business as part of their role?
1. Be confident and back yourself when chatting to potential clients
2. Keep up comms but get the balance right. It’s a fine balance between pestering someone and sending relevant emails they will actually read
3. Be knowledgeable – keep up to date with what’s going on in the industry from researching the sector to people moves to competitor research