One of the most challenging but enjoyable and rewarding aspects of my work is helping partners in professional services firms and directors in corporates to win big beauty parade pitches. So I thought I’d share some reflections on how the best pitch teams get ready to give a star performance to maximise their chances of winning.
But first I need to get something off my chest.
I had a frustrating conversation last year with a partner in a large professional services firm at the end of a really good session, helping them craft a great pitch presentation. But it was stunningly obvious that, although they now had something potentially good coming together, it was still in need of a lot of refinement and they hadn’t actually had even a single run through.
This was a pitch for some work that initially was worth several hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees and that would then almost certainly lead on to millions of pounds worth of follow-on work off the back of the initial project.
And yet the partner told his colleagues that he was pretty busy and “might” be able to spare one hour the following week for a quick chat through the pitch. Eh?
- You’ve spent hundreds of non-chargeable hours over a long period wooing this potential client.
- You’ve had more coffees and lunches with them than is good for you.
- You’ve invested loads more non-chargeable hours in helping put together a tender submission that, with the help of your brilliant BD team was good enough to get you short-listed to pitch.
- You’ve paid for me to come in and help you pull together a brilliant twenty minute pitch presentation.
And yet you’re prepared to blow it all by simply not investing the required last vital bit of time actually working out what you’re going to say in the room on the day and how you’re going to say it in a really compelling, memorable way.
Do you recognise this conversation as one you’ve witnessed in your business? Insane?
So here are a few top tips to winning.
1. Set time aside.
This is a no-brainer and yet so often I’ve seen a mad scramble to try to squeeze time into senior people’s super busy diaries for a way too short prep session. If you’re really serious about winning the pitch then the people involved are going to have to get together. More than once.
2. Pick the right people for the pitch.
I’ve frequently encountered the situation where the Business Development Manager involved in the pitch pulls me aside for a quiet word and tells me that very senior person, X, isn’t brilliant at pitching but they’ll be leading the pitch because they’re the most senior person. This is nuts! Either train and coach them and help them to hone the skills required to nail the pitch or don’t put them in the pitch team.
3. Revisit the “analysis” phase.
Your preparation should start with a thorough analysis – of everything. As well as all the practical stuff (where, when, how long for etc) you need to find out as much as you can about the organisation and the individual people you’re pitching to. So get on their website, get on Google and get on the ‘phone to anyone who might be able to give you some insight. What’s their future strategy. What’s happening in their industry/sector. Where is their pain. You can never do too much analysis. You’re trying to get a real understanding of what the pitch panel is looking for and what makes each member on it tick. That’s about so much more than skim reading that tender submission document your BD Manager pulled together several months ago.
And always keep going back to your analysis and make sure you’re on track to deliver a pitch that’s really going to address the issues the panel wants to hear about rather than just the ones you happen to fancy talking about.
Oh and don’t forget to spend some time thinking about the ten most horrible questions they could ask you. The ones that could show up your weak spots. The ones you were planning on just keeping your fingers crossed they wouldn’t ask. And come up with your best possible answers to those questions.
4. Stop worrying only about that A3 tablemat thingie
Don’t create enough PowerPoint slides to fill your hard drive. Stop spending all your available time tinkering with that clever A3 tablemat thingie that you’re desperate to put on the table as the centrepiece of your pitch. The one with loads of incomprehensible diagrams, tombstones of your previous fab deals for other clients, and so many words that it would take five minutes for the pitch panel members to read it all. During which time they’re not going to be listening to you! It’s not going to be what wins you the pitch. It really isn’t.
5. Worry about making an emotional connection.
Run yourself a hot bath; pour yourself a glass of Sancerre; light some scented candles and call up some relaxing Einaudi minimalist piano music on Spotify. It’s a creative thinking process not a number crunching exercise.
Look at it this way: it’s 4pm on a Friday; you’re the tenth pitch team the panel has seen that day; they don’t want to look at one more slide showing the number of offices and partners and directors you have. Why ever would they? They want to go home to their kids or down the pub with their mates – where they might well be deciding who gets the job.
You need to concentrate on being human and authentic and likeable and on making an emotional connection. That’s about finding powerful, compelling stories and analogies and metaphors and quotations and other things that have nothing whatsoever to do with that zoomy A3 tablemat leave- behind.
6. Dig out the video camera.
There really is no substitute for actually running through your pitch presentation. Loads of times. Together. In front of a camera. And then reviewing it. You’re not trying to learn a script. The best pitch presentations are delivered with energy, spontaneity and that vital dash of creativity. Getting that to come across when the stakes are high and you’ve only got twenty minutes takes skill and practice. It really doesn’t happen by accident.
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about the author
Michael Fleming is our Head of KWC Legal and is an expert on pitching. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.