Tag Archives: business pitch

Presenting at a Conference Table

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Making a pitch while seated at a conference room table has a body language all its own. One of my clients listened intently as we went through each one. He practiced at the table as I went through them.  A few months later he called me to say that his last few new business pitches have all been successful and he credited the conference table body language techniques as the cause.

How to Say Hello

When you enter a conference room to greet the prospect, try to avoid shaking hands over the table. Instead walk around the table to the other side and shake hands.  Do the same at the end of the meeting.

Where/How to Sit

The preferred place to sit at the table is a center seat, not an end seat.  However, you should always sit across and close to your client.  The one exception is if the client sits at the end, you should sit on the side, but close to the client.

Assuming you are with a team of people, the most important people involved in the pitch should sit closest to the prospect.  That often means that if you are the most senior person at the table, but you won’t be actively involved in the account, you should sit further away.

When it is your turn to present there are a few things to think about.  If the chair you are on goes up and down, set it as high as possible.  Lean in slightly. Hands above the table.  Don’t sit straight up, and never lean back. Feel free to move your hands as you talk, but not as exaggerated as when you are standing.  Stay in that position for the entire time of your presentation, including Q&A.  The only time to sit back is when you hand off the presentation to your team mate.

Look Interested

When your team mate is presenting it is very important that you look interested. This may be difficult because you may have heard the pitch a million times, and you’re now relaxing after your turn. But, all of the prospects on the other side are watching and you have to look interested. Avoid pushing too far back from the table; avoid crossing your arms as you sit and listen.

If you are presenting exhibits or drawings for the prospect to look at, it’s fine to stand up at your chair and put them out, leaning in as you discuss each one.

Make Eye Contact with Everyone

Make sure that when you are presenting, or answering questions, that you make contact with everyone on the other side of the table, not just the CEO.  The other people may not be able to hire you, but they can sure see to it that you are not hired.  You can bet that after the meeting the CEO will call her team together and say “OK, what do we all think?” You need all of those people on your side. Do that with eye contact and smiles.

Ask for the Business

Someone on your team should be charged with summarizing the presentation at the close then asking the prospect for the business.  Whoever that is needs to look them all in the eye, ask for the business, then, everyone on your side must remain silent until the prospect responds.

Congratulations. You just won a nice account.

 

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Most Pitches Are Ass-Backwards

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Here’s how most teams pitch business.  After the initial greetings and the mandatory “We’re excited to be here” they start from the left of the diagram and work towards the right.

WHO → HOW → WHY/WHAT

“Let me tell you about my company (tells company story). Let me tell you about the people I brought with me today (introduces everyone with bios). Let me tell you how we work (describes process). What our mission statement is (reads statement). What drives us (gets teary eyed). What makes our clients so successful (drops names). Here is the agenda for this meeting (reviews every detail).  OK. Let’s get started.”

The problem is that the pitch team used the most valuable real estate of the pitch, the opening, to talk about themselves and hardly anything about the prospect. Always remember this in a pitch:

The prospect could care less about your company, your team and your mission statement. The prospect only cares about the prospect.

Then, to make matters worse, the pitch team wants to discuss the WHY—WHY the prospect should hire them.

The prospect, assuming she is still awake, is much more interested in the WHAT of the pitch: WHAT are you going to do to fix my problems? WHAT will you do to make me look better in my boss’s eyes? WHAT strategy will you use against my hated competitors? WHAT will you do to make me more successful?

Here’s a better plan

WHAT → HOW → WHO

The first thing out of the pitch leader’s mouth after Good Morning should be WHAT the team will do for the prospect. This may include saying things like:

“We think the biggest challenge you have to succeed is X.  We say that based on this research. WHAT we aim to do is focus ruthlessly on X. Here is HOW we will overcome X.  We’ll do these three things. Here is WHO we brought with us today because they are experts at combating X. Our company has a long track record in this area, as well. OK. Let’s get started.”

This opening is totally tailored to the prospect and her needs. Nothing else. It’s all about the benefits you are bringing to the party.  And, you will own the client’s attention.

I can hear the cries now. “We didn’t get to tell them why they should hire us.” If you did a good job it will be apparent, but the time to do that is in the close.  Give a summary of the pitch and tell them why you are best suited for handling the business. Then ask for the account.”

Send me a basket of fruit as a thank you when you win.

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How to Make Your Business Pitch Powerful

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.

 

 

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