I have been involved in over a thousand pitches. In some I was a participant. In others I was a consultant. The ones that are successful all pitch in very similar ways. And the ones that are less successful all share in their own pattern.
Most companies, when they make a pitch, work from the left to the right.
Who → What → How → Why
That is, they start with telling the prospect Who they are: “Let me tell you about our company, this is when we started, this is where are offices are located, this is how many people work for us, this is our founder…”
Then the pitch progresses to the What: “This is what we do and why it is different from our competitors. This is our secret sauce, our unique formula, our USP that makes what we do unlike anyone else’s. (And sometimes they actually believe it!)”
Next moving right is the How. This is where the company making the pitch finally acknowledges there are people on the other side of the conference room table (the prospect) as they discuss how they will approach the assignment at hand, who will work on it, schedules, deliverables, etc.
Finally, the pitch reaches the Why. This area requires a bit more explanation, because the “why” that the pitching group is addressing is not always the “why” that the prospects have in mind.
The pitching group typically uses this section to say “why you should hire us”. The “why” that the prospect is interested in is “why by hiring you will I make my life easier? Why by hiring you will the job get finished faster? Why by hiring you am I more likely to win the case? Why by hiring you will I look better to my investors and superiors? Why by hiring you will I have to worry less?
More often than not when there is a pitch and it gets into the later rounds, the prospect already knows the technical attributes of each group. The prospect probably believes that any of these firms is capable of doing the job. What other benefits can they bring to make that prospect’s choice easier?
Companies who are consistently successful tend to start their pitch on the right by answering the prospect’s Why questions and work left. They start by telling the prospect the benefits the prospect will gain rather than the attributes the pitching firm has.
Who ← What ← How ← Why
Hopefully, from prior conversations, you’ll know what concerns the prospect the most and you can address those as the first thing out of your mouth. Everything you say in the opening (as well as the remainder of the pitch) should be framed as a benefit to the prospect. Even if you must give the history if your firm, present it as a benefit. When you introduce the team, each person should be presented as a benefit towards the overall effort.
Then, after listing the key benefits the pitch moves to how you will deliver on those benefits, what techniques you’ll use, what specialists you will hire, and how many of your key personnel have expertise in this area.
The What becomes another proof point: “This is what we do for many of our top clients including A, B and C, and we’ll do it for you.”
The Who is the final proof point: We’ve been in business for 50 years with offices here and there and we specialize in this kind of work.
This right to left approach accomplishes a whole bunch of things. First, you start the pitch by talking about the one thing the prospects really cares about, themselves. The more you talk about how you will help them, the more attention they will give you.
Secondly, from a pure presentation standpoint, it’s much more exciting to talk about real benefits you can accomplish for someone, rather than talking about when your company was founded. You’re just going to be that much more enthused. That passion will do a lot to help you win the pitch.
Why don’t more companies pitch in this manner? Most pitches are a competitive beauty contest. Companies think that they need to come out of the gate immediately and tell the prospect why they should be hired over the other 5 contenders, so they focus on their company attributes instead of the benefits for the prospect.
It’s all ass-backwards and that’s why most companies have a batting average of about one in 5. You can never go wrong in a pitch when you start by talking about the concerns of the prospect.
*I’m borrowing a concept from Simon Sinek’s outstanding TED Talk on inspirational leadership to discuss business pitches. You should watch Simon’s TED Talk. It’s terrific. http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html