Helping to gain knowledge rather than pretending to have knowledge

I got an email from Switzerland by a committee who is going to campaign in a referendum in June. Without giving any information on the starting situation, on key players, their goals, strengths and weaknesses, the committee’s budget etc., they asked me. among other questions:
1. What are our chances?
2. What are our strengths and weaknesses?
3. Where would you set priorities?
4. What measures exactly do you propose and when?

After finding out that they had asked others, too, I thought first, they were just another organisation trying to get ideas for free by asking agencies to pitch against each other. I declined the request, by explaining in detail that no serious agency would be able to deliver a serious proposal without a profound understanding of the situation; which costs.

But then a conversation developed that the potential client called very valuable and it turned out that they are just a bit inexperienced. Then, maybe, business campaigning Switzerland is indeed the best agency for them to cooperate with, as our business model is based on fees, not on percentages of the overall costs. As a consulting campaigner and campaign manager I earn by effectively helping them to make the best out of their budget, not by executing a campaign as expensive as possible. I decided, if I get the time while I’m here, I’ll work out a proposal for them that focusses more on the question how to find out what’s best, rather than pretending to know it already. And maybe I even get some time to do some research, so that I will be able to present them with some concrete ideas that could work.

Now why do I write about this? Not to expose anybody or speak about our business model. I am writing about it, because there is a lesson in here. Did you realize what happened? I got a request that would tempt anyone into making a proposal not based on a proper analysis, which means: not strategic, based on pure guessing and depending on good luck, not good strategy. In fact many colleagues complain again and again about how often they are forced to do so, because otherwise the competitors would win the job. I chose another option. I declined the offer and explained in detail, why I did. All of a sudden there was a profound discussion with the potential client that made him really interested. Now he is actually very curious about what I’ll come up with. I am already better positioned than any other competitor. I can tell that from the communication we had (between Switzerland and Australia), but I can’t really tell you why. Because that is confidential. However, the lesson is very simple:

When a client asks you for a proposal without giving you all the necessary information or at least a budget to make a situation analysis, SAY NO! And explain politely, why. If he is worth to work with, he’ll come back and do his homework or at least take responsibility if things fail later. If he doesn’t come back, then it’s better anyway to decline. The more agencies follow this advice, the less such requests we will get from now on.

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