Win the RFP: Nail Your Next Client Pitch With Audience Research

Why do in-house teams hire agencies or consultants? It’s almost always for two types of expertise:

  • Tactical: Mastery of a specific tactic in a domain (e.g. handle all the Meta ads for your online shop)
  • Domain: Deep knowledge of a given industry (e.g. PR strategy in the healthcare space)

Clients expect these tasks to be done more efficiently and effectively than they could with internal talent alone. SEO primarily for DTC brands. PR outreach for the IT space. Social media ads for clothing and beauty brands. Blog writing for B2B software companies. You get it.

It’s possible to have both types of expertise, but you’re probably stronger in one than the other. In that case, audience research can help close the gap. If you’re a tactical expert, use audience research to better understand your would-be client’s audience. If you’re a domain expert, audience research will help inform your work for that would-be client.

But closing that gap needs to happen fast. When you join the request for proposal (RFP) process, you don’t get the in-house luxury of spending 90 days onboarding into the role. You can’t punt on understanding the client’s audience later. You’re supposed to understand it now, or you’ll lose the bid.

Most RFP processes have three key stages: making a good first impression, dazzling them with a solid pitch, and making the case for why you’re the best long-term partner, often through follow-up answers to questions and requests.

How to make a good first impression on your introductory call

Maybe you got an email from the in-house marketing team. Or you got connected via an intro and now you’re setting up a call with the brand to discuss their needs. In this initial contact you need to highlight your ability to reach their audience. Start strong with data that makes an impression.

If it’s a B2B client, there’s a good chance their target persona has a particular set of job titles or descriptions (the kind you’d find in a LinkedIn profile’s description). Let’s say the client makes food-logging software. A key buyer persona is nutritionists who will both use the app themselves and evangelize it to their own clients.

Let’s walk through how to shine in front of your software client:

Step 1: Analyze the key target buyer with a SparkToro search.

Run the SparkToro query: Uses these words in their bio: nutritionist. (I made that query free for you!) Take a peek at the Hidden Gems. The top high-affinity sites tend to be obvious ones. Nutritionists often visit, marketing directors visit, software engineers visit None of those will be surprising to the people who sell to folks in those roles.

Amy Gorin’s website, Avocadu, and are two “Hidden Gem” websites for nutritionists. These websites may be lesser-known, but they have high affinity-to-traffic ratio among nutritionists! By name dropping these websites as potential sources of influence/outreach targets, you’ll show the client you know their field.

(And since I brought them up, some Hidden Gem websites for marketing directors are and, and for software engineers, and hit the spot.)

Another query type to try? “Searches for the keyword: <pain point>.” This could work well for just about any industry. When someone needs a solution, they’re searching Google for the pain point. Insomniacs might search for “anxiety sleep,” the age-conscious for “anti-aging cream,” and savvy marketers for “customer retention.” (Yup, that last suggestion is another free query!)

Step 2: Get a sense of which platforms the target audience uses.

Next, scroll down the Overview page to see which social networks nutritionists use more and less frequently than the average web user. Apparently, nutritionists have a predilection for Quora, followed by LinkedIn, Instagram, and Reddit. They use Twitter/X less frequently than the average web user.

Follow that up with Apps & Networks > Productivity Apps to see which tools nutritionists use in their day-to-day work. WordPress, Grammarly, StackExchange, Microsoft Office, and even OpenAI (the host domain for ChatGPT) are popular tools for nutritionists. Content creation, nutrition research, presentations/graphics, and the creation of client plans all fit into these tool needs.

You can also check out popular apps/networks in Entertainment, Lifestyle, Finance, Sports, and E-commerce for additional insight.

Step 3: Discover the influential content to this audience.

I’d go to Websites > Press & Media to see if there are any major surprises here. Yahoo is the top media site. It might be worth going to the Yahoo Nutrition section right before your exploratory call to see if anything in diet & nutrition news is an opportunity worth surfacing on the call.

Then I’d go to the YouTube Channels and look at what’s popular: MyFitnessPal, NutritionJobs, ASPEN. Check those channels to see which videos have the most views and what’s trending lately. Insider knowledge of your client’s audience will, undoubtedly, make you look like a great consulting fit.

I’d also check out the popular Subreddits—/r/nutrition, /r/loseit, and /r/rcats (fun!) — and I’d look for the popular podcasts—Nutrition Facts with Dr. Greger, Mayo Clinic, and Health Discovered. All of these are worth a peek before that exploratory call.

Step 4: Learn what else the audience is searching for.

Finally, go to the Keywords > Search Keywords tab. You’ll find the search terms that nutritionists are searching for. Looks like they’re often searching for information regarding RD and ACSM certifications, as well as the Nutrition Focused Physical Exam (suggesting there’s many aspiring nutritionists looking to get into the field—another potential opportunity for your client).

Now pop over to Trending Keywords. These are the popular search terms over the past quarter—you can learn, quite literally, what has recently been top of mind for them. Lots of food types! At the time of publication, nutritionists have been searching for white nectarine nutrition (perhaps in preparation for stone fruit season?), the food ingredients that act as emulsifiers or that bind liquids together like in a salad dressing, and chicken recipes for the slow cooker.

Step 5: Prepare your notes for that introductory call.

You now have a superb, holistic picture of the client’s target audience: behaviors, demographics, and sources of influence. You know what they’re thinking about and where they’re hanging out online. In <15 minutes, you already have a solid sense of the audience they serve (and that you can help them reach).

You might want to ask your would-be client: “Where have you focused recent marketing efforts?

If they focus on paid/performance marketing, you can think about the channels, platforms and creators you learned about in your SparkToro research and suggest any of those as potentially fruitful retargeting, advertising, or sponsorship opportunities. If they lean into organic search, social, or content marketing, you might suggest trending keywords, topics from subreddits and YouTube, or particular social influencers as potential investments/opportunities.

To make sure you come up with truly great ideas for the next stage of the RFP process, make sure to ask:

  • Who are their key buyers?
  • Which marketing channels/functions are working best for them right now?
  • How many people are on the marketing team and what are their job functions?

You’ll want to know these answers because:

  1. They might inform your next SparkToro queries.
  2. You’ll learn the structure of their team and which marketing functions have had the greatest investment and ROI thus far.
  3. They’ll help you understand how your agency’s work can make the greatest impact. (e.g. You’re a PR agency who learns the client has a robust content program. Ground some of your pitch ideas in a partnership with the content marketing team, e.g. original research that’s amplified via press coverage.)

Dazzle them with an audience-research-backed pitch.

At this point, you know the scope of work. You know the client’s biggest pain points, and you might have a general sense of their budget. Now it’s time to showcase relevant case studies and bring fresh, specific ideas to their campaigns.

I can’t tell you exactly how to build your pitch deck, but I’ll share my point of view as an in-house marketer who’s been on the receiving end. The best pitches include:

Recent, relevant case studies. You don’t need many. In fact, readiness to go into detail about even just two case studies is great. Recency is good because it shows likelihood that I (the client) will work with this particular team who worked on the campaign (vs. seeing a years-old case study that likely came from employees who have since moved on). And relevance is good because I want to see case studies of businesses/brands similar to mine or audiences similar to mine.

Representation from the actual day-to-day team. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a pitch meeting with only senior executives from the agency. I know I won’t work with those executives every day. I know that when I fire off an email, it’ll be the account representative who responds—and that’s perfectly fine. But a pitch meeting isn’t the place to have your fanciest people show off the whole team’s great ideas. It’s where you show off what it’s like to work with you and how excellent it is (in large part due to those great ideas). So make sure that account rep gets a seat at the table. I want to meet the people who will run the strategy and the day-to-day of my campaigns, and I’m not the only would-be client who feels this way.

At least one genuinely good, usable idea. A good, usable idea shows some creativity, has a strategy for how it’ll get executed, and offers guidance on how success will be tracked. I’ve sat in on a bunch of PR pitch meetings where the campaign itself was creative and impressive. Ambitious, really. But when I asked about execution, it became clear that the account executives would be relying on my network for contact information, or that the scope of work only includes PR creative—and outreach would be a separate cost.

(And look, if you’re a PR agency who charges separately for outreach, it’s not my place to tell you how to bill your clients. But you would be wise to be upfront about this or else you’ll risk souring the relationship with the client.)

How do you source intel to generate that first, fantastic, usable idea? Audience research, my friend. Look deeply into the client’s audience to better understand what you’d be working with, then use that intel (and the stats data that can prove audience affinity) to hone your idea.

Here are a couple suggestions for what to do next…

Run a quick competitor analysis.

Head over to and type in the client’s website to get a sense of who their competition would be. Similarweb will show similar websites and potential competitors. While this might not yield a list of the true competition, it gives you a sense of the other websites/brands that the client’s audience also visits. If they’re not direct competitors, it’s likely that they share an audience. And if it’s the same audience, it’s a good source of intel.

If the client’s website doesn’t get enough traffic to provide meaningful insights, try entering the website of a better-known competing website or one that shares the same audience.

When you have that list of competing websites, go to those websites and take note. What are these products? How do they position their products? What’s their content strategy? Have they gotten any significant press lately? You can think about what your client can do better than them (with your help, of course!), or even look for opportunities for co-marketing (if they’re a non-competitor with the same audience).

Let’s say the client is an ecommerce business and their competitor is DTC plant company You can run a SparkToro search for the audience that visits the website: (Another free query!)

You can see the other visited websites, the keywords that this audience also searches for (like “bird of paradise indoors” and “island pine tree!”), and their demographics. Of course, you can also see the social networks their audience frequently uses (and uses less frequently), and their favorite YouTube channels, podcasts, Subreddits, and social accounts.

Uncover underrated opportunities, or Hidden Gems.

You could be looking for opportunities for creator/influencer marketing, partnering with a similar, non-competitive brand (or co-marketing), social accounts to improve your ad targeting, or publications and people for media outreach.

With any of your SparkToro queries, head over to Websites > Hidden Gems or Social Accounts > Hidden Gems and find some popular, influential, but likely-not-yet-mainstream results. You might find a bunch of niche or trade publications worth pitching to, or those social accounts might lead you to up-and-coming creators with newsletters that you can sponsor for relatively cheap (e.g. you might find newsletters with, say, 10,000 subscribers which would be cheaper to sponsor than a newsletter with 100,000 subscribers).

One last Hidden Gem-type of opportunity: Trending Keywords. These are the search terms that rose in popularity last quarter among the audience that you’re analyzing.

These topics might be top of mind for this audience, which is worth considering if you’re advising on a content marketing strategy or PR strategy. If the latter, you can incorporate these ideas into your media pitches to help ensure your message resonates with a reporter.

Whether or not you use SparkToro, it’s these kinds of insights that will help you conceptualize and build upon truly great, needle-moving ideas. If you want even more ideas, check out this refreshed blog post on using audience research in all your marketing functions.

Make the case for why you’re the best long-term partner during that final pitch.

Alright, so you’ve made it to the final round. The search is whittled down to three agencies and you’re presenting to the client’s senior leadership team. You prep the team for the final pitch and hope to eke out the competition.

Here’s one thing I consistently see in agency pitches but the agency doesn’t always stick the landing: Showing the need for why the client should hire you on retainer vs. hiring you for a one-off project.

A great agency (you!) will have so many relevant, useful ideas that there’s a clear need for a months-long engagement.

A not-so-great agency will look like they’re just dragging out the work. Example: “In our first month, we’ll learn about you and your audience. In our second month, we’ll get started on our first campaign. In our third month, depending on the scope, we’ll either launch that campaign and track success or we’ll launch our second campaign.”

What’s the long-term value that you bring? Maybe you’re explaining a robust PR campaign that includes original research, a secondary news announcement, and targeted outreach. Or maybe you’re a paid social media agency so you explain the ins and outs of the finicky Meta Ads Manager dashboard, demonstrating why that client doesn’t want to be the one who’s stuck there every day. In either of these scenarios, there’s a clear value add that spans months.

And finally, there’s something else that great agencies do: Give the client a no-strings-attached gift.

Pitches are time intensive for you, no doubt. But it’s also time intensive for the client. They’re sitting in a handful of other pitch meetings, talking on the phone with other agencies, and debriefing with each other. Consider giving them a gift to thank them for their time and consideration.

Now, I’m not suggesting you send a bottle of champagne to their office. I’d suggest the gift of knowledge — and ideally, it’s intel that they can’t or don’t have time to source for themselves. Here are some ideas:

  • A set of Notion templates for a customer journey map, brand book, and ads planner. (Even better if these are templates you use!)
  • A list of low-competition keywords that you found in Moz or Ahrefs.
  • A social listening report of their accounts that you sourced through Brandwatch.
  • A one-pager of adjacent, fast-growing sectors that you found in Exploding Topics.
  • A list of podcasts that are popular among the client’s audience that you discovered in SparkToro. 🙂

The goal is that the gift is useful for them while also being a light lift for you.

At this point, you’ve proven your integrity, skills, and gosh darn it, your likeability as well. You know that you rocked this RFP. Best of luck on your next steps!