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Five steps to winning the pitch every time

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Does this sound familiar? Your team worked hard on a pitch, everyone is feeling sure that you will win the new business, there has even been talks regarding the celebration party – only to hear the business has gone to a competitor.

Working on a new business pitch, although exhilarating, can often be a complex, costly and time-consuming exercise. Even with all the passion in the world and the necessary expertise, complications and uncertainty can sometimes distort the outcome.

In the current economic climate as competition heats up, pitching will remain at the forefront of attaining new business for your company. With this in mind, what can businesses do to increase their chance of success in winning new business?

Here are five things that you can do to make sure you get the best results when pitching for new business.

Research, research, research

One of the most important things to do is to get to know the client. This means spending a lot of time researching the client, the project and their firm’s approach to pitch presentations.

From phone calls and meetings with the prospect, internet searches, focus groups, reading old case studies and other research, you need to find out everything you can about clients and their needs. If they have a specific project in mind, try to find out as much as you can about it so you can tailor your presentation to their specific mindset.

Another good tip is to research the client’s corporate structure. This will give you insight on the client’s design-development process, pricing, project management and protocol. Remember, forewarned is forearmed.

The decision-makers

Although your main contact will most likely be in marketing, the official selection panel could consist of individuals from the IT department, finance, production or sometimes even HR.

It’s important to understanding the needs and goals of each department. This will ensure you focus on issues relevant to each. Another important tip is to know who it is that makes the decisions and focus on them.

When it comes to identifying key decision-makers, time is of the essence. Identifying the key decision-makers early in the pitching cycle improves your probability of success as you can then gear your pitch towards the person who will make the final decision.

Matching the right target person with the right message and approach will ultimately bring you success and save you time in the process.

Know who you are pitching to

The fact is, you can find out almost anything you want to know if you approach the prospect correctly. Go ahead and request some face time with them – you have nothing to lose. You could even invite them to the agency for a work session.

Allow your potential client to join you at a research/brainstorming session. Invite their CEO (or their senior-most committee member) to join your CEO for dinner. Hold conference calls. Discuss your findings with them. Bounce ideas off of them.

The more contact you have with the prospect:

  • the more feedback and guidance you’ll get on your presentation.
  • the more you will learn about what makes them “tick”.
  • the less nervous/more confident you’ll be.
  • the more opportunity the prospect will have to learn about your agency and what it would be like to work with you.
  • the more opportunity you’ll have to pre-sell your agency.
  • the better the chances of winning.

Think about the pitches you’ve won. Think about the ones that felt really good. Chances are, those were pitches in which you had frequent contact with the prospect. They were pitches that you technically won before the final presentation.

Sometimes, this state of “pitch bliss” occurs organically because either the prospect is accessible and open to communication or because it’s an opportunity that you are very excited about.

Other times, however, you may have to work very hard at achieving this ideal pitch scenario, either because the client is inaccessible or because you’re not very excited about the opportunity and, therefore, make little effort.

Under-promise and over-deliver

A common tendency during pitching is to over-promise (the answer to every “can you do this?” is “yes”) because ultimately you do want to win the contract. But for a long-term, sustainable engagement, you have to have something in the back pocket to wow your client.

This is easier said than done, but over-committing in the sales process only to under-perform on the execution leads to disappointment and an erosion of trust. Know your own strengths and your company’s strengths. Leverage these, not what you think the prospect wants. An open, honest approach upfront is not only courageous, but sets the right foundation for successful execution. Sincerity is appreciated and goes a long way in building a level of comfort with the prospect.

Remember clients don’t buy software/services, they buy relationships

Knowing how to present you company and distinguish it from competitors is key, but in the end, your success in the boardroom depends on how well you connect personally with prospective clients.

The most important part of your presentation is not what qualifications you give or how well you have put together your proposal, but the connection you make with them. You have to build trust during that hour because, ultimately, if they don’t like you, they won’t hire you.

The ultimate strategy is to establish a personal connection to your client so they like and trust you more than your competitor.

Lastly, ask your team what they think. Their opinions and feedback may just be the difference between winning the pitch, or not. By combining these five pitch tips you will conquer the art of pitching and be able to use it at will to win over new clients.

James Ward is CEO of Freestyle Media, an online marketing agency that specialises in driving traffic to corporate websites and converting traffic into purchasers of products and services. Services include online marketing strategy, website development, email marketing, banner advertising, search engine marketing and media buying and planning.

Photo: Bogdan Suditu (Flickr)

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