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Perfect pitch: Courtship

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J P Morgan, the famous American Industrialist, said: “People do things for two reasons… the right reason and the real reason”. Understanding the real reason can be the ultimate point of differentiation when pitching for business.

Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to proceed with a pitch. How do you get to know the client well enough to really understand what will be important to them in making their decision? We see many pitch teams who try to woo a client based purely on rational requirements such as excellent service, experience, quality, price and so on. These may be the ‘right reasons’ for choosing one supplier over another, but are they the factors that will drive a decision in your favour?

Research shows that 70 percent plus of all business buying decisions are based on emotional factors rather than rational reasons. In other words, rather than thinking about your 20 years of experience and being impressed by your company’s vision and mission statement, the client is more likely to be asking themselves questions like: Do I like them? Do I trust them? Will they have the courage to make the hard decisions and stand up to our CEO when they disagree?

So what is the real reason and what do we have to do to be in a position to find out what it is? The answer?… C to the power of 4!

C1. CHEMISTRY

It’s much easier when they like you!

During the courting stage we must access as much quality information as possible. However, the simple fact is that the more the client likes us – or at least feels comfortable with us – the more likely they are to provide quality answers to our questions.

So connecting quickly and meaningfully with the client and developing a strong rapport is crucial. Use every interaction as an opportunity to assess the style of people you are dealing with. Are they fast paced or slow and considered? Are they loud and flamboyant or quiet and conservative? Do they want to have a laugh or get down to business? The more closely you can match up your team to their’s the better. The bottom line is making sure your client feels that you are the type of people they will enjoy working with.

C2. COMPREHENSION

Clients want to know that you get it!

Good empathic questioning and listening are key to continuing to build relationships, trust and rapport. Your client should be doing as much as 80 percent of the talking during the courtship stage. If you are talking for a third or half of the time you are not asking the right sort of questions.

During the courtship phase the focus in every client interaction is to learn as much about the client as possible. Some of the objectives of your questioning should be to understand what is most important to the client, how they currently perceive your company, how the decision will be made and – most importantly – what you will need to do to convince them that you should be their partner of choice.

Finally, don’t worry too much about pestering the client during this phase. Be guilty of showing too much interest rather than not enough!

C3. CAPABILITY

Make sure the facts overcome the fear.

A key element of courting the client is removing their doubts and fears about making the wrong decision. A strong track record and reputation must be backed by compelling evidence. Use case studies, testimonials and live examples of how you’ve previously solved the problems faced by this client to demonstrate your expertise.

One problem many pitch teams face is a fear of the “price discussion”. Our advice? Focusing on cost merely commoditises your offer. Focus on demonstrating why your skills, expertise and experience are worth the fees you charge. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking cheapest is best. Many clients actually dismiss the cheapest option as a low quality alternative.

Remember, no client wants to make a poor decision, so give them every reason why choosing you is a smart one!

C4. CONFIDENCE

Chemistry + comprehension + capability.

Get the first three right and you’ll give your client the confidence to keep you in the race and not dismiss you at the first hurdle. Executed well, your courtship efforts will build the client’s trust in your integrity while giving you a much deeper insight into how they tick.

Paul Laurendet & Geoff Mulray are the founding partners of Technique Group, a business development consultancy that works with blue chip Australian organisations to enhance sales strategy, systems, structure and skills. Find out more at www.techniquegroup.com

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