New biz ain’t what it used to be. The old pitch process is dead, replaced by a more dynamic (and demanding) evaluation of agencies that is based on their proactive approaches to problem solving, rather than their core competencies and bona fides.

Why? Because the pace of business has changed. Prospective clients don’t have time to sit through hours-long pitch meetings where you share the intimate details of how you solved someone else’s problems.

In fact, some companies are eliminating RFPs altogether. That puts the onus on agencies to conduct in-depth research, to identify and understand a brand’s needs and to come to the table with fresh thinking.

What are agencies to do? The answer is at your fingertips, so go where the data is: social media. Everything you need to know about a client, its category and competitors—and most importantly, how real consumers feel about all of the above—already exists in the billions of Tweets, posts and conversations happening in the social space. Agencies just need to take the time to listen.

Instead of stuffing pitch decks with buzzy catchphrases and highlight reels, today’s agencies must demonstrate a commitment to understanding a prospective client’s real needs, and where the answers to business problems intersect with actual value for consumers. And if agencies can tell a client something it doesn’t already know about its brand, category or audience (or even define a totally new audience)–even better.

This is a tall order, but it also presents an opportunity for the most nimble, flexible and progressive shops to stand out. Bringing deep audience insights that change the game for a prospective client is the surefire way to bulletproof your pitch, and there’s only one scalable source for that kind of intel: social data.

Show them you mean business

We all know brands want agency partners that understand their key business issues. For far too long, much of this understanding has come from a client-provided brief that’s distributed to every agency in the pitch. But today’s clients have realized that giving every agency the same brief means getting back a lot of similar thinking. Now many brands are moving away from the traditional pitch process and instead of asking agency teams to give them what they want, they’re expecting today’s agencies to tell them what they need.

To do that, agencies need as much information about a client’s industry, competitors and business performance as possible. To do that better than every other agency pitching the business, they need always-on access to customizable, scalable inside information. That’s where social listening comes in.

Agencies can use social listening for industry benchmarking, prospect auditing and competitive intelligence. If there’s a trending topic within an industry, or a competitor is doing something that resonates with their shared audience, your prospective client needs to know about it.

Case in point: When Samsung’s agency saw the positive response to a competitor’s campaign that played up certain product features, it tweaked its social content to highlight those same features in Samsung’s own products. The agency saw what resonated for a competitor and created challenger content to highlight Samsung’s feature parity.

Uncover deeper audience insights

Brands conduct extensive qualitative and quantitative research to better understand their audiences, but these methods have limitations. One, they’re time-consuming and expensive. Two, they often include smaller, more homogenous sample sets. And three, they comprise only the thoughts and opinions that participants feel willing, comfortable or capable to disclose in the given format.

Not to mention that most clients will provide all of the agencies in a given pitch with their proprietary audience intelligence via the pitch brief. Lots of agencies will try to augment the brief with additional external data from reliable, published sources. That’s cool, and you should bring more to the table than what’s provided, but the big issue with published data is that everyone else in the pitch is probably looking at those same insights. There’s no leg-up on the competition.

The wealth of data that’s available through social listening has the potential to solve these problems—and more. My colleagues are probably sick of hearing me say this, but social really is the world’s biggest, most transparent focus group. The immense volume of data flying around the social sphere every day gives you, the agency marketer, access to the unfettered thoughts, feelings and opinions of millions of people around the world—for a fraction of the cost of focus groups. Not to mention that the real-time nature of social gives you more timely, relevant insights than those gathered through traditional research methods.

Agencies that utilize social listening data know what people really think—right now—about any given brand, industry or relevant topic. With data this vast (and robust social listening technology to parse it), there’s an almost infinite number of queries and hypotheses to pursue. That means it’s possible in virtually every situation to unearth insights no one else has. And unique insights make for stronger, more differentiated ideas.

A great example of using social data for the kind of business-level insights that give you a leg up comes from Kraft Heinz. The global food giant partnered with Nielsen to develop a precise social listening framework with the goal of identifying the right audiences to target for a potential entry into the burgers/sliders  market. By analyzing the key indicators of preference available in social data – such as sentiment, competitor mentions, expressed frustrations and frequent motivators – the social researchers were able to identify some common themes in social conversations about sliders. This helped them define the characteristics of the most receptive audiences and to determine positive sentiment triggers across these newly defined audiences. This deep market intelligence informed new product development and positioning.

Prove success beyond measure

The next step is to prove your track record of success by going beyond vanity social metrics and showcasing a broader business impact. I am probably not going to convince you not to share case studies as part of your pitch meeting, but hopefully I can convince you to use social listening to give your sizzle reel some powerful context. So go beyond the views/likes/shares numbers and use social data to demonstrate how your work drove positive changes in brand sentiment, share of voice in the industry and global preference among competitors for your past clients.

Agencies should also try and think outside the typical box of “success = performance.” In the Samsung example mentioned earlier, success looked like identifying new ideas for engaging content.

Social data can also help you solve your clients’ problems before they reach the level of measurable negative business impact. GM’s internal Center of Excellence was able to identify a product problem and get a solution to market sooner than waiting for the infrequent qualitative interview rotation by proactively listening and analyzing conversation on social channels for car buffs. Now that’s a case study worth sharing.

Remember, too, that social listening is used to gauge success at every stage of a campaign—not just at the end. Clients will appreciate seeing how social data has helped you stay agile and iterative on your past projects.

Listen more, learn more, win more

One of the first questions clients asks themselves after an agency pitch is, “Did they do their homework?” But in an age where the pitch process is shorter and faster, yet must be even smarter, it’s no longer enough to just prove you’re up to speed. You have to show the prospective client you’re ahead of the game, that you’re looking (and thinking) wider and deeper than your pitch competition is. Social listening is your agency’s secret weapon to winning new business and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s no one better for the job.