Whether you run a solo practice or are part of a multi-person team at a larger agency, inevitably you will find yourself taking part in a new business pitch. The quest for new accounts is required regardless of the size of your business. As an agency principal, feeding the business pipeline is absolutely essential to your company’s survival.
I feel fortunate to have been invited to a variety of pitches over the years. I’ve proudly displayed my wares at many boardroom tables not to mention at a few kitchen islands, a handful of coffee shops, and even one time while riding up on a ski lift. Making sure my prospect is relaxed and open-minded is key so if that means she prefers a less traditional location, I’m ok with that.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome (because not every pitch will result in success) I’m grateful to have earned these opportunities to forge new relationships, expose my professional talents to a larger circle of prospects and to build my business by establishing myself as a reliable marketing partner.
Just like every person is unique, so is every pitch.
Even if you have worked within a particular industry many times before, taking a cookie cutter approach with your presentation will most likely lead to failure. Keep in mind that not all banks, financial advisors, insurance agencies, non-profits, schools or law firms (just to list a few examples) are the same. The individual personalities, likes, dislikes and prior experiences of organization decision-makers may create unexpected hurdles for you. It’s best to prepare as if it’s your first time, every time.
While nothing is fail-safe, I’ve learned a few things about pitching that have served me well over the years:
1. Ask Lots of Questions – Before, During and After. The format of your invitation to pitch will determine how much you may learn in advance. In a perfect world, you’d receive a formal RFP (Request for Proposal) containing details about your prospect’s goals, expected deliverables, past marketing efforts, timing and budget. The arrival of an RFP usually indicates that your prospect is pretty well organized, has given a considerable amount of thought to the upcoming marketing investment he is planning to make and that he has a cursory understanding of the value of your services. Casual emails or phone inquiries are popular alternatives to the RFP, and depending on their context, may or may not assist you in your quest for information. In these cases, especially, try to ask lots of questions. You’ll benefit from learning as much as possible in all stages of your pitch.
2. Do Your Homework. This piece of advice is not just for us Type A’s! Regardless of your personality profile, taking the time to prepare, and prepare some more, will assure that you are ready for almost anything when you sit down at the table.
3. Leave Yourself Time to Get Lost. Murphy’s Law says that on the day of your pitch, there will be a traffic jam, your toast will burn and your printer will jam. Factor these inevitabilities into your routine so that you will have plenty of time to navigate any and all logistical difficulties. Your prospect doesn’t care what held you up, nor does he want to hear your excuses. There’s no substitute for punctuality. An extra bonus is that you’ll feel calmer and your mind will be clearer and ready to deliver your proposal if you don’t begin the visit in a panic.
Which leads me to my final piece of advice:
4. Try to Relax and Have Fun. Your GPS has guided you to the correct address and you even found a parking spot nearby. You’re rocking your lucky red sweater and you managed not to spill your coffee! Now, take a deep breath. It’s time to present your most valuable asset, you. At this point, your prospect is most interested in getting to know who you are as a person, finding out if she can trust you to serve her business needs and whether you understand what she is trying to achieve, advance or acquire for her organization. Be conversational, making a point to engage with your prospect throughout your delivery. Look your audience in the eye, speak slowly and let them sense the enthusiasm you feel for your work. Welcome questions during the pitch. Answer queries to your best ability and be open, honest and forthcoming.
Of course, not every pitch will result in a win. There are always going to be factors out of your control. You may not be aware of your competition, and it’s simply not possible to deliver your best performance every time. Just remember, each experience is an opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself.
So, when the phone rings and you hear those two dreaded words, “No thanks,” pull yourself together and ask your prospect one more question:
“Would you mind giving me a little feedback as to why I wasn’t able to earn your business?”
Her answer may run the gamut from being extremely useful to plain old silly. Perhaps she’ll tell you, “My nephew runs a marketing firm and we decided to go with him.” Or, “We were looking for someone with more experience in our particular industry.” Since you asked, you need to be ready listen to her criticism. Most importantly, try to exit the conversation on a gracious and professional note.
You never know. Today’s lost prospect may become tomorrow’s new client.
Kudos to all of you putting your heart and soul on the line for new business. I’m right there with you, trying to build my client roster and learning as I go.
I'd appreciate hearing some of your hard-earned kernels of wisdom on what has worked best for you in the pitch.