Imagine the scenario: a sizeable prospective client makes contact with you, interested in your services. Winning them would be a real step up for your business, not to mention a healthy boost to your profits. The only problem is they want you to attend a pitch meeting to explain your approach.
Unlike some of the other agencies you will be pitching against, you are no professional sales person. How then do you ensure you give the best pitch possible and maximize your chances of winning the work?
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Preparing the perfect pitch
When people think of preparing for a pitch, they naturally think of creating a presentation. But that is just one part of the preparation process. Before you even consider that, you should first pick up the phone and talk to the prospective client.
Pick up the phone
Notice that I suggest picking up the phone rather than sending an email. Although not always possible, this should be your preferred method of communication. Speaking to a prospective client directly by the phone or video chat allows you to build rapport that is not possible via email.
When you speak to the prospective client, ask them about their expectations for the pitch meeting. For example, do they even want a formal presentation or are they more interested in an open discussion? If they do want a presentation how long do they wish you to speak and how much time will remain for questions?
It is also worth asking them whether there is anything in particular they wish you to cover, or if there were any concerns relating to the proposal you probably submitted.
Know your audience
Finally, try and get an idea of who is going to be in the room for the meeting. Not only will this help you mentally prepare, but it will also allow you to customize the presentation around the audience. For example, if the most senior person in the room is the finance director, then it makes sense to focus on prospective cost savings or return on investment.
Aim to be as relaxed as possible
There is so much more that could be said about preparing for your pitch, but the last piece of advice I would like to give you is to leave ample time for traveling. Nothing is worse than arriving late or flustered. You want to turn up relaxed and in control.
On the subject of feeling relaxed, it is worth pausing a moment to talk about what you should wear. Many will advise you to dress to impress, but I believe this is a mistake. Instead, you should dress as smartly as you can while still feeling at ease. If you are not comfortable wearing a suit and tie, then do not do so. It will damage your self-confidence, which your prospective client may sense.
But what about the presentation itself? How can you make that as good as possible?
Giving the best presentation possible
I'm going to presume that you know how to create an attractive slide deck or at the very least download a pre-designed one. I'm also going to assume you know not to create a presentation packed with bullet points that you just read back to the audience.
Neither do I want to dictate how you should go about presenting. We are all different, and there is no single right presentation style. Instead, be yourself. If you are an enthusiastic and outgoing person, let that shine through in the way you present. But if you are quiet, it is perfectly acceptable to talk in this way too.
It is more important that you feel relaxed than it is to present in a particular style. If you are confident, then your audience will be reassured that you can deliver.
Instead, let's take a moment to consider what should be in your presentation. The chances are you have already submitted a proposal outlining how you would approach the project.
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Don’t just repeat your proposal
Although you cannot presume that your audience has read the entirety of your proposal, it is not enough to only repeat everything that you wrote in this document.
Start your presentation by briefly recapping the critical points of the proposal before going on to address concerns that your prospective client expressed in your earlier telephone call, or failing that try and pre-empt questions that the client might have.
Introduce something new
Next, I recommend introducing an idea that you did not include in the proposal. Maybe even consider challenging the premise of the brief you received. Clients tend to warm to this kind of innovative thinking, and at the very least it will help you stand out from the other companies pitching.
Also, use this idea as an opportunity to encourage interaction. Try and keep your presentation informal and promote discussion throughout. That creates a rapport with the client while also projecting confidence in your abilities.
Focus on the client’s needs
Talking about your abilities, do not spend too long in your presentation promoting your achievements. By all means, cover previous projects, but only in the context of the client's work. The client is interested in hearing about how you will solve their business problems, not how great you are.
The one other thing you should never do when presenting is overrun. Not only do prospective clients hate having their time wasted, but allowing time for questions is vital. The discussion time is when the client typically makes up their mind about you.
Dealing with discussion
Many find the question and answer part of the pitch meeting the hardest. Preparing for this part of the pitch is difficult but it is, without a doubt, the most crucial point in the meeting.
Be willing to say when you do not know
The most reassuring realization you can have about these discussions is that you do not have to have all of the answers. It is entirely acceptable and even advisable to say that you do not know when asked a question that you cannot answer.
The majority of clients respect somebody who is willing to say that they do not know, as it reflects self-confidence. The important thing is to say you will find the answers and report back.
Establish yourself as a peer
As well as being free to say that you do not know, you should also feel free to challenge the client or suggest alternative approaches. Clients are receptive to new ideas and different ways of working if you present them sensitively.
The aim of these discussions should be to create a rapport between yourself and the client. It should be about establishing yourself as a peer providing expertise in a collaborative working relationship.
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Do not make decisions in the room
Occasionally you encounter a client who will attempt to put you on the back foot to negotiate a better price or faster delivery. Avoid getting drawn into commitments in the discussion. Instead, say that you need time to consider and that you will come back to them as soon as possible.
However, this confrontational approach is much rarer than you would think. Most of the time clients are merely trying to find a supplier that they feel they can work with and are confident will deliver. With that in mind, your aim should be to empathize with them and address any concerns they may have.
Ask whether they have concerns
In fact, it is often worth asking the client specifically whether they have any concerns about your proposal. It is better to flush these out into the open where you can address them rather than leave them unresolved.
Finally, make it clear that your proposal is a starting point for discussion. Encourage the client to come back to you following the meeting if they have any changes or concerns.
Practice makes perfect
Hopefully, the advice in this post will give you some confidence the next time you go to pitch. But the most important thing to remember is that you will not win every project. Often there are factors entirely beyond your control that lead to you losing work.
When you make a mistake and lose a piece of work, do not get demoralized. Every lousy pitch meeting is an opportunity to learn and improve your presentation for the next time. As Winston Churchill famously said, "success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."