Working on a campaign-to-campaign basis can give a business owner grey hairs – unless you master how to keep your sales pipeline full. Here's how founder of Stretch Experiential Marketing, Mike Silver did it.
Most service organisations fall into one of two sales categories: A retainer basis, whereby clients pay a monthly fee for a fixed amount of work, or a deal-by-deal (or campaign-by-campaign) model.
Naturally, most companies would prefer a retainer model – it’s predictable, has fixed terms and generally lasts for at least a year, often longer.
Stretch Experiential Marketing falls into the second category. As an experiential marketing company, Stretch pitches and runs campaigns – and it does them well.
When the business launched in late 2009, it took a year to break even. One year after that, its turnover grew by 700%, 140% in 2012, and doubled again in 2013.
Adidas, Standard Bank, Chevron, Samsung, Lipton and Pernod Ricard are just some of the clients who have made this growth possible.
But as a company grows, so does its staff complement, both in numbers and experience, making a pipeline of work an essential component to overall sustainability.
The early days
When Stretch first launched, its founder, Mike Silver, did everything on risk. He pitched ideas to brands already participating in festivals, promising he’d find ways to give them maximum exposure to a captivated audience.
He and his team put a lot of time and effort into their pitches, hoping they’d secure the deal, but always running the risk that their investment would be for nothing.
“We’d put a lot of time into conceptualising great ideas and then pitching them to brands. If they loved the idea they’d find budget for it, and if they didn’t it was our loss,” he says.
“I hired interns and juniors looking for their first jobs. They didn’t have bills and responsibilities, so I could literally ask them what the lowest offer they could accept was, and in exchange promise them ‘glamour tax’, because they’d be doing something cool, at amazing events, for awesome brands. I also offered them profit share on every job.”
This profit share model kept the team motivated. “If the idea was embraced, everyone was a winner. We were all in it together.”
Of course, it wasn’t just about the idea though. Follow through was even more important.
“Our whole model was (and is) based on eating into each client’s budget. An idea is only as good as its execution. What we really needed was for them to ask us to do their next media event, then client event, promotion and so on. We don’t work on a retainer basis, which means we really are only as good as our last campaign.”
Geared for growth
So, how do you keep enough work in the pipeline when you work on a campaign-to-campaign basis? “It’s tricky,” admits Silver, “especially as we began employing more experienced (and therefore more expensive) team members.
You can’t expect highly motivated, creative people to sit around doing nothing while they wait for the next campaign.
From a bottom line perspective it’s also a huge waste of valuable resources, so pipeline becomes essential, and luckily it’s one of my strong suits.
“I pay attention to everything that’s happening with our clients, and the top brands in every industry. It’s a simple mantra: You need to make your own work. Step one is always delivering what you promised.
"That’s the cornerstone of our company culture, but it’s also really important to keep in touch with clients. Build relationships and find out what’s in their pipelines. What is their strategy for the next week, month and year? And then remember what they’ve told you – even if it’s just in passing. Write everything down.
“Once you know where they’re going, you can ask them for updates, offer advice and even pitch an idea. Not everything should have a price attached to it; what’s important is maintaining the relationship so that you become a trusted partner.
"I don’t believe a client should be asking you what you can do for them – you should be showing them what you can do for them. There’ll always be another campaign – particularly if you delivered well on the last job, and you know exactly when to pitch the next one.”