Nothing causes more anxiety than a new business pitch. Typically, a group of people from your firm make a pitch to a group of people from the prospective client’s firm. For those on your team, this event causes great anxiety because they are not only pitching a potentially important and lucrative piece of new business; they don’t want to be the one who says the dumb thing that scuttles the pitch.
Over the years I have been in hundreds of pitches and learned valuable lessons the hard way:
-If you aren’t going to speak, don’t go. Everyone who goes to a pitch should have a role and something to say. Don’t bring people just to make a big showing. Keep your side to 3 to 5 people.
-Make sure to answer each question when it is asked. Don’t put it off until later. If, for example, a prospect asks you a question in the middle of your presentation, answer it. Don’t say that you’ll get to it later, or that someone else will cover that in her section. Answer it, or have the appropriate person on your team answer it. A prospect’s question always trumps anything you have to do or say.
-Answer the person who asked the question but look at others as you answer, as well. Don’t make the fatal mistake of answering a question posed by a lesser important client by directing your answer to just the boss.
-If this is the initial pitch where your goal is to gather information, make sure you allow the client to talk. I am a fan of the book “Spin Selling“by Neil Rackham. The author describes the kinds of questions to ask, and the order to ask them in. It is a proven method based on extensive research. Rackham studied 35,000 business pitches and diagnosed what works and why it works.
-Think about where your team will sit at the conference table. Make sure that the most important people sit closest to the prospect. Typically, the client wants to meet and really understand the team that will be assigned to them. If that’s the case, those people sit closest to the prospect.
-The strongest place at the conference table is usually the center seats, not the end seats.
-When the client explains what he/she is looking for in a firm, don’t interrupt to say that that is exactly what you do. In fact, you will accomplish more by asking good questions than you will by bragging about your company’s attributes.
-While it is traditional, and appropriate for the highest ranking person on your side to start the pitch, that person needs to hand off to others and allow everyone to shine. One of the classic mistakes in a business pitch is that the senior person does all of the talking. Most clients understand they are not getting the senior person on their day-to-day team. They want to hear from the people who will be working on their account. Likewise the senior person has to be careful about constantly adding to and correcting what others on his team just said. Essentially the role of the senior person is to open and close the presentation, and assure the prospect that he, the senior player, is always there if anything goes wrong.
-Don’t interrupt your fellow presenters. Don’t try to be helpful by adding additional information, or saying the same thing in a different way. It confuses the prospect and throws off the presenter.
-When it is Q&A time, don’t pile on. There is a tendency for everyone on the pitching team to chime in with an answer, or a portion of the answer. It makes for a very long and fruitless Q&A session. Allow one person to answer and, unless something glaring was said or missing, shut up.
-As with any presentation, the opening is vitally important. Establish the takeaway. Be very clear what it is and why it is a benefit to the prospect. Insist that all of the presenters on your team mold their comments to fit the takeaway.
-Remember that the prospect is most interested in anything you say that will help his business. The faster you get to that information, the better. Start your presentation by addressing the prospect’s business and how your takeaway will be instrumental in advancing that business. Once established, then you can introduce your team and the agenda. Never start your pitch by describing the virtues of your firm. No one cares.
-At the close of the presentation, there must be a call to action. It should be specific. For example, “You raised some questions that require some research. Can we get together next Tuesday to discuss?” or, “we understand that you will be meeting with 3 other firms after us over the next few weeks. Can we have an opportunity to have a brief meeting at the end of that process to refresh you about our proposal?” or, “we wanted to demonstrate today how we approach complicated issues within your company. We hope we have done so and that you’ll reward us with the account.”
-One of the practices that will assure a successful pitch is to rehearse the presentation a few times with the whole team present. People hate to rehearse but it is vitally important they do so, and that they rehearse as a team including how they will each handover the presentation to the next speaker.
You’ll become more successful at business pitches if you apply the thoughts above diligently and consistently. It would also be enormously helpful to interview the prospects of those pitches you don’t win to understand exactly why you lost and what the other guys did to win. Winning is not just about the team that had the best idea or lowest priced bid. Sometimes that great idea is not communicated well. And, anyone can lower their prices to cost. There’s a reason clients want to meet you and get to know your team. Look strong and confident, along with your good ideas and you’ll have a winning combination.