You have their attention, but not for long. Make the most of it. There are four or five different strategies for an opening which I’ll cover in the next few weeks, and one easy rule: the opening is never about you or the company you represent. The opening is always about the prospect. Everything you say in the opening should be aimed at making the prospect’s life easier, richer, and more successful.
One strategy for an opening is problem-solution. Start by discussing an issue you know is important to the prospect (you know because you’ve asked enough questions previously) and talk about how your solution solves that problem. If you can convey that information by way of an interesting story, even better.
You’re never going to win every pitch, but you should never lose a prospect because of a weak pitch.
In a trial, the jury sometimes decides innocent or guilty in the first five minutes after hearing each lawyer’s opening remarks. The deciding factor for the jury is siding with the lawyer who seems most confident. Two important lessons come from this: juries or prospects or clients make their decisions very early in the process, so put your best stuff into the open. Secondly, learn the techniques that confident speakers use.
These techniques are relatively easy to master: strong eye contact, powerful voice, good posture, animated face, arms and body, the use of storytelling, command of material, speaking slowly. Just learn to be proficient and practice 2 or 3 of them in each rehearsal and you will be a much better presenter.
Recently someone told me that while they understand the importance of rehearsal, there is just never enough time to do it. There’s hardly enough time to prepare the proposal and to think about the prospect’s challenges and solutions.
But, often what wins the pitch is the pitch. All of the prep work you did needs to be choreographed into a seamless story that the client can grasp, appreciate and, recognize that it is coming from a well oiled team. To do it best, everyone on the team needs to rehearse together. Everyone has to make time.
If you don’t want to rehearse, or can’t do it, then don’t waste all of those hours and money. Your chances of winning just dropped.
It seems crazy to put all of that time in schmoozing a prospect and investing in a proposal to waste it all because you couldn’t find time to rehearse.
Often times in a pitch you are presenting some big idea that your team worked diligently on. If the idea is truly a blockbuster there are two dangers you should be aware of:
-You’re so anxious to present this killer idea that you don’t fully communicate the thinking that went into it,
-You fall into the trap of believing that because the idea is so good, the explanation doesn’t need to be. “The idea will speak for itself.”
It is criminal to not sell a great idea because you didn’t package it properly in a solid presentation, and didn’t rehearse thoroughly.
You’re making a competitive pitch and the prospect asks you to hurry along. He or she has a lot of people yet to interview and wants you and your crew to present quickly. When this happens, be afraid. Be very afraid.
You rush through the opening and leave out important information. The way you opened sets the fast pace for the rest of the pitch so now everyone on your team rushes. The big idea that you worked so hard on never gets a fair airing because it was presented at high speed.
There is nothing more important than the opening. Even if your time has been cut in half, do the opening the way you rehearsed. If you constructed the opening properly it will contain the most relevant information the prospect needs to hear.
There are lots of reasons you might not win a pitch — price, chemistry, expertise. But, you should never lose because you presented poorly.
Good posture signals to your audience that you want to convey things to them that you are confident to discuss. Good posture for meetings and presentations is not a military posture, which can look anything but relaxed. It’s a prideful posture. Chest out, shoulders slightly back. Head held high. Big smile.
If you’re seated, sit closer to the edge of the seat, lean in towards the table but don’t slouch.
Now you got them right where you want them.
I used to think that business theatrics was the part in a pitch where you beg, plead and grovel. Turns out, business theatrics is a more accentuated way of presenting. Bigger voice. Broader gestures. Strong posture. Broad smile. Dramatic pauses. Keep your eyes glued on the audience. Business theatrics adds energy and confidence to what you have to say.
A good pitch must always have an element of show business.
When making a presentation seated at a conference room table, take a power position when it is your turn to present. Raise the chair seat as high as it will go. Sit on the edge of your seat and lean forward, arms on the table.
You should move and be animated but never stop leaning in. Hold that position through your presentation and any discussion that follows.
That body language says that you are in command.
When you’re pitching, make sure you look at and talk to everyone on the prospect’s side of the table. Don’t fall into the trap of just connecting with the CEO. You never know who will make the decision or how other people on the client’s team will influence that decision. Some feedback I get from prospects when pitches go bad is that the pitch team only focused on the one in charge causing others to feel slighted.
Make a good impression with everyone involved with the prospect.
When presenting at a conference room table, don’t sit at the end of the table. Sit close to the middle. You can be heard better and work the room easier.
When it is your turn to present, sit on the edge of the chair, make sure the chair seat is as high as it will go, then lean in with your arms on the table. Don’t sit back until you are finished with your presentation and have answered every question.
Oh, and smile.
Sometimes in a presentation you need to deliver bad news. Perhaps the budget isn’t going to work, or some facet of the plan can’t happen, or a valued partner changed his mind. When is the best time in the presentation to deliver bad news?
In the beginning.
Getting bad news out in some portion of your opening serves a number of purposes: It positions you as an honest person with nothing to hide. It allows the client to evaluate whatever you are presenting in light of this bad news. It gives you a chance to use the news to build your case in the pitch.
Getting the bad news out early is the good news this week.
James Brown had a valuable piece of advice for young artists — Sing Like You’re Hungry. I might suggest similar advice when pitching prospects. This has to be done subtly. The pitch is still about the prospects and how they will benefit, but they need to know it is very important to you and that you’ve put your all into it.
Get up offa that thing.
Often in my workshops someone observes that while he/she has learned valuable techniques, they only get to use them infrequently. “How often do I get into a formal presentation?”
The truth is you probably have a couple opportunities everyday to try out what you have learned: when you meet with colleagues to brief them on a new initiative, when you give instructions to people on your team, when you explain to your kids why they need to do something in a certain way, when you make a request of your boss…all these things require a strong opening, connection with the audience, persuasion, emotion, a close and a request for action.
You’ve got a million chances to WOW them.
Presenting as a Team- A Check list
☐ Rehearse as a team. Everyone has to show up.
☐ Plan what each person says in turning the presentation over to the next person.
☐ There is one theme and everyone speaks to it.
☐ Avoid repetitive comments. Each person doesn’t have to thank the prospect, for example.
☐ If a person doesn’t have a speaking role, don’t take them.
☐ Make sure the people who will work most on the account speak the most.
☐ Don’t speak over a team member’s presentation to add stuff.
☐ Smile no matter how dumb a comment one of your team members makes.
You want the audience to love you and appreciate you and bring you back again and again? Finish your presentation sooner than was planned.
You don’t need to finish a lot sooner. But sooner. Even ending 5 minute early will be seen as a positive. Conversely, going over time is very bad form. I attended a seminar put on by a presentation training company and one of the main themes of the talk was how important it was to end your presentation within the time allotted. The speaker ran over by 10 minutes! We thought that was a) pretty funny, and, b) we’l;l never hire them.
Whether your marketing is B2B or B2C, it doesn’t count until it is F2F. Face 2 Face.
Nothing important happens until you are face to face with your prospect presenting ideas in a strong voice, smile on your face and confident as hell.
How do you look confident? Strong posture, eye contact, smile. Get close to the prospect (respecting a zone of comfort).
When making a new business pitch… listen more, talk less. Research shows that the more you can get the prospect talking, the better your chances of winning the business. You’ll get the prospect talking by asking smart questions, such as those suggested in Spin Selling. Don’t help the prospect answer questions. Allow the prospect to answer.
Some presenters like to tease out the information over the course of the presentation, and then make a big reveal at the end. It’s much better to front load your presentation with the key information people need. Give your audience as much information as soon as possible. Don’t hold them in suspense.
The more they know, and the faster they know it, the more they’ll pay attention.
I have heard these pitch excuses 1,000 times.
The other guys have an in. They don’t like us. I get nervous in front of them. Our work could be better. I wish we had more time to prepare. The PowerPoint is boring. Our big idea is small. We don’t have enough detail. We have too much detail.
When you are preparing for a pitch and someone is constantly telling everyone why you can’t win, throw him out of the room.
Instead tell me why you will win your pitch.
A strong presentation is 50% logic and 50% creative. The logic is the content which is easy to assemble and can usually be done quickly.
The creative element requires time. Percolate on the presentation for a day and look how to connect dots with interesting metaphors, analogies and stories, especially in the opening.
Can’t win ‘em all
If you lose a pitch have someone* call the prospect to ask specific questions about the pitch. Did the team seem engaged? Were they interesting? Knowledgeable? Did they talk too much? Not enough? What did other firms do better? What one thing should they have done differently?
What you’ll learn will be gold.
*The best person to make this call is someone not associated with the pitch team and who remains neutral throughout the conversation. It’s too late to be defensive.
When pitching a new client, the most important people on your team should sit closest to the prospect. Who are the most important? It varies by pitch, but if the reason for the pitch is for the client to get to know who she will be working with directly, then they are the ones who sit closest, and speak early in the presentation.
At every workshop I am reminded how important it is to smile. Reminded because most presenters don’t. They put their serious business-face on.
But, it’s a smile that tells the audience you are confident. And, it has a remarkable effect on good posture.
Smile. Right now. Smile. Notice that when you do so you sit straighter in your seat.
Nothing causes more anxiety than a new business pitch. The folks on your team want to win the business and not be the one who says the dumb thing that scuttles the effort.
Over the years I have been in hundreds of pitches and learned valuable lessons the hard way. Here’s a baker’s dozen of them:
Most companies, when they open a pitch, work from the left to the right.
Who → What → How → Why
Companies that are consistently successful tend to open with the benefits the prospect will gain. Right to left. They start with the Why.
Here’s a blueprint for making a pitch… Continue reading →
There’s a never-ending debate of how many should go, and who they should be.
Only the people who will have an active role in the pitch should go to the pitch…with one exception.
If the only contact with the prospect is through a BD person, that person should go and start the meeting by making introductions. Then, he is done and sits back for the rest of the meeting and the rest of the relationship.
Most people try to be persuasive by giving a dozen reasons to buy their product.
Often it is the non-verbal things that are the deciding factors for your audience. People tend to buy from folks who appear confident.
The way to look confident is easy; have good posture, make eye contact, smile, speak in a strong voice and don’t be afraid to move your hands and arms.
The more confident you act, the more likely they will buy whatever you are selling.
A friend who shall remain nameless* wrote me the following:
Oh, I’ve been sitting in on presentations from very good agencies this week. The sameness of them numbs me, however.
We put clients first
We have a passion for your business
We have really really good media contacts
We are clever problem solvers
Better to demonstrate these things as solutions to the prospect’s issues rather than say them.
* The fabulous Sally Jackson
The Q and A session at the end of a pitch is an incredibly important part of the overall presentation and should not be left to chance.
Here are a dozen pointers to make your next Q and A a home run: www.jackerossin.com/great-qa-sessions-win-business/
Because I ordered a salad, the waiter asked if I wanted to top it with chicken or steak. As he asked – would you like steak tips with that– he shook his head no. Jamaican jerk chicken? Grilled shrimp? Each time before I could answer he shook his head no.
Be aware of subtle body language signs you might be flashing even as your words indicate something different.
Storytelling is the most persuasive form of communications, yet, business people often shun being storytellers in presentations because they don’t see it as “serious” enough.
Yet, business people can be great storytellers. They have a million stories about product development, sales, manufacturing that can easily be woven into the overall narrative. It’s called Institutional Storytelling and if you haven’t done so yet, write down all of those terrific stories from your senior management that they have been retelling for years.
Start every presentation with a story. It’s more interesting and will relax you.
Your chances of winning a pitch will be much better if the prospect likes you. Here’s how to do that.
-Make eye contact whenever you speak.
-Stay within your allotted time.
-Answer questions when asked. Really answer them. No double-talk.
-Follow up immediately after the meeting with answers to questions you didn’t know.
-Be a good host. Make them comfortable. Have drinks and snacks.
There are 3 things a prospect is looking for: Can you solve my problem? Can you do it in a simple, uncluttered way that is easy for me? Do I like you?
The Do-I-Like you part is crucial, so do all of the things suggested at the top of this blog.
When preparing your next business pitch, try not to immediately write how you will open the presentation, or the bullet points you want to cover. Instead, think of every conceivable question your audience might ask you. That’s your presentation.
The opening will be what you think the audience would answer to the question, “What’s in it for me?” That’s the only thing they care about. And, the only thing you should care about.
Asking questions of the audience while making a presentation is a strong way to keep them invested in what you have to say. There are 3 types of questions that are particularly useful:
–Polling questions. Show of hands. How many of you believe we can move humans through space safely at enormous speeds? Follow the question with a comment about the polling results and implications.
-“What if” questions help the audience envision things that may not exist. What if there could be a way to move people from one coast to the other in 40 minutes, would you be interested? Pause after asking the question and then a reveal the answer.
–Rhetorical questions puts the audience in your corner. Do you know that right before every break-through invention, most people believe it can’t happen?
Even in workshops when practicing how to close a pitch, people have trouble asking the prospect for business. It’s just one of those things people hate to do.
But, if you don’t ask, then the answer is no. Some people start babbling. They ask for the business but then keep chatting. After you ask, stop talking. It obligates the other side to respond.
Find a way to ask that is comfortable for you to say and then rehearse it. For example, an ask can be: We enjoyed putting this demo together. Of course, we’d love to do real work for you. How do we go about doing that? Or, How do we move this conversation forward so that we might have a chance to work for you?
Ask and you shall be rewarded.
In a pitch, don’t waste time telling prospects how smart you are. Focus everything on the prospect’s problems.
They won’t start listening until you tell them how you will solve their problem.
We often want to brag about all of the bells and whistles our company can bring to the prospect. We want to tell the prospect just how excited we are to be pitching the business. None of this is heard very well by the prospect until you rephrase that language as a benefit to them. This includes showing off how smart you are. No one cares. It never plays well.
Boston has lots of panhandlers. Each with his own pitch:
-Can you spare some change?
-Do you have 53 cents, that’s how much I need for the T.
-Please. Help me.
There is one who calls himself The Town Crier. He constantly shouts at the top of his voice the time, weather, sports, major news stories, and lots more. The news is timely and useful.
I’ve noticed that The Town Crier’s cup is always filled with dollar bills. I often put one in. The other panhandlers have cups with a little loose change in them.
Sometimes in a pitch we focus too much on asking for the business and talking about ourselves. Create value by giving your audience information they can use, and even profit from. They will reward you with their business.
I saw Monty Python’s John Cleese live the other night. At a Q&A session someone started by saying what an honor it was to be speaking to one of his all-time comedic heroes, etc. when Cleese interrupted and said in his best high-brow British “Get on with it, please”.
It reminds me of business pitches that start by telling the client how great they are, how smart they are, how excited we are to be here, etc. You can look into the clients’ eyes and see them thinking “Get on with it, please.”
I suppose because we sometimes refer to meetings with prospects sales pitches, we’re selling our company and our differentiation.
Instead, focus on the prospect and their issues and offer ideas to help advance their business. If you have good ideas, they’ll hire you. If the ideas are differentiated, then they’ll understand your competitive advantage.
It’s not uncommon that in a presentation or a pitch, there is some bad news that has to be discussed. Perhaps the price you quoted is not attainable, or the strategy you recommended has serious drawbacks. Perhaps you discovered that the clients’ product or service has issues that will make it less appealing. The best time to address that is in the beginning of the presentation. It positions you as honest and flexible. Burying that information makes you look like you are trying to hide something. Some people say it’s wrong to start a presentation on a sour note. But, raising the issue, then discussing how you will solve that issue is a powerful technique.