For decades advertising agencies and communications firms have competed for new business in a high stakes race to show prospective clients how they can help them improve their business. The process usually involves review of credentials as well as demonstration of initial business ideas and thinking. Sounds exciting? Not really.
So, how does an ad agency get up to speed on a prospective client's business enough to show them smart and relevant thinking?
Well, the internet has had a huge hand in helping agency management find information on a specific company as well as their industry - and often their key competitors. And many, if not all advertising agencies are using that approach in varying degrees. But that still leaves the burning question: "what are the decision makers and influencers experiencing throughout the sales process AND how can we control that in our favor?"
Traditionally, that is where agency quantitative (statistically sound surveying through the mail, phone or internet) as well as qualitative (more intimate, one-to-one communications usually through methods like focus groups) research is used to provide the foundation for strategic recommendations that will hopefully knock the socks off of their prospect and win the account.
Innovative advertising agencies are finding alternative ways to access this important insight which they previously obtained from those costly, time-consuming research approaches. These innovative ad agencies are developing their ideas and recommendations for the "review" or "pitch" by using an old mainstay from the restaurant industry - Mystery Shopping.
Mystery Shopping: An Innovative Business Development Tool
Mystery shopping has been used extensively in the hospitality sector to manage and improve customer service performance - as a way of more effectively managing the customer engagement from the first call to the check. This helps companies identify areas needing sales process improvement. Used in a slightly different context, it becomes a cost and time-effective goldmine of insight to perfect a business development pitch.
Mystery Shopping Process:
- Mystery shoppers, who represent the targeted customer profile, visit a specific site, experience all aspects of the sales process and fill out a customized online survey which is compiled with other shopper's data from the company's geography.
- The mystery shoppers are also trained to obtain any collateral or relevant materials, as well as take photos, and mail it back to the ad agency, giving the agency the ability to see, touch and feel tangible aspects of the experience and potentially use this information in their pitch.
- Using this approach has other advantages, too. Mystery shopping firms have large pools of trained researchers who can rapidly deliver on fast turn-around projects over broad geographic areas, including global reach.
- These surveys are tracked and trended against each location, for regional differences, and even against national averages. The data can then be used to direct recommendations, or support new ideas.
- In some cases mystery shoppers are only shopping competitive locations to provide information that will translate to opportunities for improvement and differentiation.
Instead of leaving behind somewhat dry research, advertising agencies are now immediately able to add interest and dimension to their pitch that sticks. Eliminating the problems inherent in focus group research such as one individual dominating a group's input. What are some of the additional nuggets of information that ad agencies glean from their mystery shopping results?
1. Identifying Strategic Opportunities
2. Testing Brand Positioning
3. Discovering Triggers for Promotional Planning
4. Uncovering Valuable Competitive Intelligence
Savvy advertising agencies are even using mystery shopping as a form of insurance for promotional program executions. Mystery shopping is put in place when a promotion is rolled out to monitor and manage the operational aspects; ensuring that from signage placement to sales conversations everything is supporting the promotional message.
Mystery shopping is also helping both advertising agencies and their clients manage the multiple "Touchpoints" necessary to ensure a successful sales process improvement and customer relationship building. For the business it translates to sales and profit - reducing the expense to both acquire a new customer and to keep a customer engaged and loyal.
For ad agencies it provides the critical data on a prospective client that they need to show them relevant recommendations, sell themselves to, build a relationship and create loyalty. And, it provides it in a way that lends color and interest to the pitch - it excites, it is valued, and it sticks. The opportunity for strong, relevant insight exists in this simple, tried and true research process: mystery shopping. No wonder more ad agencies are using it!