The new business pitch

In my time I’ve been involved with many “beauty parades” vs other agencies and I can safely say that they are incredibly time consuming and can tie an agency up in knots as well as drain resources. So, if you’re asked to pitch for some business, the only acceptable outcome is winning. There really is no point in coming “a close second.”

In a pitch situation, I would expect that you’ve gone past the selling a meeting stage with your sales and marketing activity and now you’re most likely one of four or five companies in the running to work with this prospect in some sort of formal and professional way.

In contrast to an initial meeting or a creds presentation, which are usually a fixed format with the content decided by you, the competitive pitch is led by the client. Of course, not all pitches are the same, but the principles of making a successful one remain the same.

Firstly, clarify and maybe even challenge the brief. Ideally, the prospect should’ve written down the brief so that the playing field is level for parties involved. If you see something you disagree with, now is the time to ask for clarification or to question it. The same applies if the timescales or the budget are not realistic.

From experience, always research the attendees, their roles, the environment you are pitching in and the resources available on the day. I say this from experience, as many years ago I took a team to pitch Group 4 (as it was called then) and we arrived with 3 people in our team and were confronted with about 25 people from Group 4 and felt very under-gunned. We also were not given the correct information about what tech was available and ended up having to power up a projector using a kettle lead from the kitchen. We did, however, win the account!

Plan your team and appoint a pitch leader who can draw up a timetable and manage things. Do not add the title of pitch leader to their day job as an account director if they are already incredibly busy. Existing and paying clients should, and most likely will, take priority which will impact on the timetable.

I always used to try and ascertain who we were “up against” so I could make comparisons…in our favour! And finally, don’t get separated from your pitch material. Once a colleague of mine turned up to the pitch having left the presentation in his hotel room. We didn’t win that one.

But……..before you tie up your resources, step back and think very hard as to whether the end justifies the means. Is this prospect likely to just want lots of free ideas or are they serious and “in the market.” At Bath Marketing Consultancy, we charge people for our time if asked to pitch. There are other elements to look at such as how far you are prepared to go both geographically and with any ideas you want to present. In the marketing industry, too many agencies turn up at beauty parades armed with fully designed and rolled out marketing campaigns. This, to me, shrieks of desperation where the old adage of throwing mud in the hope that some sticks works. The prospect could then be forced to make a decision on whether they like the creative and hence, judge you purely on design. A subjective element to say the least.

I could go on and on about the negative side of the beauty parade, but you have to decide whether to speculate to accumulate and if so, how much speculation is required!

Presentations and the art of listening

When I first entered the marketing and advertising industry, my CEO at the time said that presentations need to be dialogues rather than monologues and I’ve never forgotten this piece of valuable advice.

I used to dread making presentations and it is very easy to get yourself into a bit of a state when your presentation is looming. You can lose sleep by worrying about how you will be received, but always remember, you are the expert and that the audience is there to listen to you as what you have to say will be of value. Don’t get into the mind-set that you’ve come to do a presentation and try and avoid the natural instinct to just get it done as soon as possible come what may! The danger is that your presentation will be a monologue with no real human content; just your single-minded gabble!

When you pitch or do a presentation, there is a theory that the “sales” element should be 75% listening and 25% talking. With this in mind, why not open with a question to quickly engage your audience and get their input.

For example, you could start with “Good morning. I have got a considerable amount of interesting material with me to go through, but perhaps I could focus on any specific needs or areas you’d like me to address.” Quite often prospects are only to happy to have an audience for their problems and, as they talk, you could re order your pitch to target them even better.

I also came across some statistics recently about the percentages involved when delivering a presentation.

40% of people hear through their eyes (i.e. what they can see and the impression you make)
20% respond from their ears
40% react from their feelings

To me this indicates that words are simply not enough to win you the business or to make that great impression you want to make. Your appearance and your manner can have a huge effect. You know your market so dress accordingly. Similarly, with regards to your manner, you must be confident and positive, but also be professional. I know of one really good presenter who tends to swear a lot which doesn’t always go down well! If you are using equipment, use it as an aid not a prop.

Finally, don’t be complacent or arrogant. You are the visitor, the guest, the invitee so never forget this. Also, you should know your subject matter inside out and if you don’t you shouldn’t be there in the first place!

To pitch or not to pitch

When I left the advertising “agency” world back in 2009 after long stints in Fleet Street, The Channel Islands and Bristol, one thing I promised myself was NO MORE PITCHING. By that I mean that I decided that I was never going to do any more glamour parades where I was one of 4 or 5 companies being seen and sometimes there was more than 1 round.
Why? Because of the strain on resources each pitch took and in all honesty, I sometimes found the process a bit of a lottery as, on some pitches I have done, it didn’t seem to matter how good the creative I presented was or the marketing strategy I had put together, somebody in Procurement just turned to page x on the document as, that was the costings page, and they then based their decision on this.
Do the pitch!
Two years on and no major pitches done, I have now broken my promise. Yesterday I pitched a large prospect in the leisure/holiday sector as one of 3 companies in line for their account. Was it a drain on resources? Yes. Did it mean I was stressed? Most definitely. But…..did I enjoy it? Well…. masochistically, yes. It was actually great to be in a high pressure situation again, pitting myself and my business against larger, more established organisations and knowing that I had to be at my best.
Although I don’t know the result yet, I think I put together a really good team and the result may well give Bath Marketing Consultancy real feedback as to where my company is in relation to my sector and exactly how far it has come since it opened in 2009. Would I do a pitch again? Probably, although a lot depends on the client, their location, their fit with my marketing company and the possible return on investment.
So, when it comes to doing pitches, my suggestion has now changed to “never say never.” Sometimes the adage of speculate to accumulate is very true and putting yourself and your business in the firing line vs larger competitors can act as a real evaluational tool.
If you want some tips on what to do before a pitch, see my previous post here.

Writing a winning proposal – Part 1

I have recently found myself in a number of pitch situations where the prospective client has wanted to review a number of similar organisations before they make a decision on who to work with on their marketing.
I have written a number of articles about how to prepare and improve the pitch process in this Blog, but not all business can be won face to face; some of the decision process is made when viewing a written proposal or tender so I thought it would be beneficial to share some of my experiences about the written side of winning new business.

What advice can be given about the production of such a document? Well, to me, the same rules still apply. Guarantee that the client problem is identified, the objectives defined and the means selected are consistent. The client wants a specialised solution so the document must take the client through the full consultation process by indicating empathy with their problem while revealing your unique solution to it stressing how you add real benefit to the process.

Your document should encompass 5 roles which should all feature:

  • Consultant
  • Information Provider
  • Problem Solver
  • Professional Partner
  • Negotiator
  • The resulting document should therefore comprise of a number of sections that lead on from the previous section, but always write from a client’s point of view.

Later in the week I will outline and define these sections of the document.