Pitching to Win

Sunday, April 12th, 2009 0 comments

pitching-to-winPitching to Win : The Art of Winning New Business by David Kean – Review by m62

‘If you keep on doing your pitches in the same old way, getting the same dire results, how hard and debilitating is that? How much simpler to copy the proven techniques that deliver victory’.

David Kean’s short guide to winning new business pitches is written primarily for those in advertising and marketing, but is relevant to all. Kean sets out a clear and straightforward step-by-step approach designed to deliver results.

As Kean points out – coming second in a pitch ought not be be any consolation. Yet for many, ‘we agree who is going to say what, and make last-minute amendments to the presentation on our journey to the client’s offices … Doing everything at the last minute is our disease. It is the work of the amateur’.  Indeed, ‘pitching for business is the last bastion of amateurism in an otherwise wholly professionalised business economy’. Yet new business is what keeps most businesses going.

m62 offer an extremely popular and demonstrably effective STAT service to help companies win with a great pitch presentation. The service works – with client win rates at 85%+ in 2008. The service covers value proposition workshop, through presentation design, coaching of presenters, Q&A workshops, all the way through detailed exercises that most pitch teams wouldn’t even dream of doing for themselves. For those who can’t afford m62 STAT and the services of a presentation agency – David Kean’s book is a good place to start with DIY efforts.

Because it is the most interesting and stimulating part of a pitch, Kean argues that many businesses focus on coming up with the creative solution to a prospect’s brief. In advertising, that might mean desiging a campaign to run; in construction, it might mean designing a building. Yet, as important as this part of the pitch is, this is only one component of what prospects are looking for. Kean turns the question around – ‘If you are looking for a business partner, what do you want?’ Strong creative solutions are one part of the answer, but Kean suggests that we are also looking for:

  • A strong team of people,
  • Who will be interesting and stimulating to work with,
  • Who share one’s own goals and ambition,
  • Who have understood one’s business,
  • And who can deliver value for money.

‘Solving the problem doesn’t win pitches’ – instead, we need to offer prospects all of what they are looking for – much of which is about how we come across, not just what we present. Companies that are technically excellent in their own field can lose pitches, Kean argues, ‘because … competitors compensate for their skill gap with stunningly good pitch craft’. Clearly, pitching well is important for those who want to win new business.

Pitching to Win is divided into eight main sections, corresponding to the ‘ingredients of a successful pitch’, which Kean suggests are:

  1. Being organised
  2. Knowing your audience
  3. Solving the problem
  4. Pricing properly
  5. Practice
  6. Delivering great presentations (and who are we to argue)
  7. Unstoppable momentum (i.e. follow-up)
  8. Feedback

Being organised doesn’t sound like particularly insightful advice – but we’ve all seen pitches suffer for a simple lack of preparation. Pitch teams should be put together early, time to meet set aside, team members briefed, top talent input sought, and senior management buy-in confirmed. As much as possible should be found out about the prospect at this stage – via networks and supporters.

Understanding the audience means being absolutely clear about who is being pitched to. Many make the mistake of thinking that the audience for a pitch is the end-user – ‘the housewife, the shareholder, the investor’ or whatever. Of course, a strong solution to the prospect’s problem will necessarily ‘work’ for the end-user (e.g. a well designed hospital will ‘work’ for doctors and patients), but the end user doesn’t award the contract – the prospect does.

Because the prospect decides who wins, Kean points out that getting to know them is essential. Really understanding what the decision maker is looking for, their style, their way of thinking, is the key to winning a pitch. Tailoring a pitch to the decision maker’s needs and wants makes a lot of sense. Finding reasons to meet them makes even more. Making sure that other influencers – for example in procurement – are also convinced means providing additional materials, in a style and form that suits their particular needs.

The main content of the pitch – solving the prospect’s problem – needs to be done well, but not perfectly. If the pitch team try to come up with the perfect advertisement, design, or architecture, too much time will be spent on trying to come up with the solution – and not enough on the other important elements of the pitch. Planning backwards to find out how much thinking time is available, involving the real experts in this thinking time, and using creative-thinking techniques should create a strong solution within the right time-frame. Kean argues that this solution should then be tested as a hypothesis with the prospect. m62 does something similar after running a value proposition workshop as part of pitch projects – as after all, success is not about being right, but about the prospect thinking you are right. It pays to check.

A pitch presentation should be practiced three times, Kean proposes. Although many pitch teams see themselves as ‘too busy to rehearse once, let alone three times’, these teams are ‘busy fools’.
Rehearsal one is used to ensure the team is happy with the presentation – in terms of content and structure. Presentation two is a proper rehearsal – used to get presenters reasonably comfortable with their own parts. The third rehearsal is used to perfect transitions and exchanges between presenters – to ensure the presentation ‘comes together as one seamless flow of brilliance’.

After the third rehearsal, Kean recommends listing ‘the worst question the client could ask you’, then ‘the second nastiest question clients could ask’, and so on. The group should ‘work out what the answer is and who should answer’. m62 tend to decide who should answer and then let them get on with crafting the answer – if only to save time given the sheer number of questions that need to be prepared for, and to keep a group focused and positive before they pitch. Also, and here Kean is somewhat silent, it is important that giving answers to tough questions is seen as an opportunity to sell. Kean is somewhat silent on the advantages of crafting an overall value proposition – or sales message – and tying answers back to that. m62 believes this is one of the critical elements of successful pitching. Answers to difficult questions should support the main sales messages of a pitch.
Kean points out that although some teams rehearse their presentations, few rehearse their fee discussions, although ‘this is where the real money will be made’. All price discussions should be practiced, with particular care taken to appreciate the difference between value and cost. Where value has been demonstrated, then it makes sense to ‘price with pride’.

Kean also says relatively little about the actual presentation. Like that other pitch expert from the agency world – Jon Steel – Kean talks about the need to control the environment, which if presenting in one’s own offices can even mean having staff stride around purposefully simply to look busy. The comfort and comprehension of the audience should be thought of – with a ‘chief listener’ appointed to ‘watch and listen in order to ensure the clients are understanding everything you are saying and to feel the effect the presentation is creating’. Breaks can then be called for as needed – but in any case at least every hour.

The actual presentation ought to have just a few key points, and a few (no more than five) presenters. This allows the audience to take in and understand what is being said.

Kean is not altogether helpful on presentation structure. Presentations should have a beginning, middle, and an end, he states. The beginning should be ‘exciting’. The middle should contain ‘something dramatic’ that ‘reawakens the audience’. The end should be a ‘climax’ rather than a ‘whimper’. Which is all very well and good – but after being told to make all of a presentation exciting, one doesn’t really know, practically, what to do or what structure to use. m62, for example, has a clear position on how a sales presentation should be structured. Practical advice can help when faced with a high-pressure pitch situation.
Pitching to Win suggests asking the prospect for the last pitch ‘slot’ – so that others can waste time on ‘laborious market analysis and other non-value added guff’ – so that you don’t have to. Kean also feels that going last means ‘their memory of you will be fresher’. While those arguments make some sense, an effective presentation will often re-frame the way a prospect thinks about their own problem. Doing this before others pitch can work powerfully. Mnemonic techniques should allow a strong presentation to stay in the memory.
After the pitch has been delivered, Kean sees two more phases of work. Follow-up involves answering questions in more detail, getting feedback from supporters and acting on it, generating and sharing additional ideas, and generally just not giving up. Feedback should be sought whether one wins or loses – but after a loss, he recommends waiting four weeks. At this stage, the feedback the prospect gives will be more open, and ‘the first cracks in their new relationship may have begun to show’.

Pitching to Win ends with two useful tables, one a sort of nine column summary of parts of the book (and also some material that, oddly, doesn’t feature in the book), and the second a standard timetable for running a successful pitch.

Where Pitching for Win is at its strongest is precisely in offering this sort of practical advice. It points out how essential it is to take pitches seriously, to manage them professionally, and to spend time demonstrating one meets all the prospect’s needs. For this alone, and particularly given – at 136 pages – how short the book is, it is well worth the read. Pitching to Win won’t really tell you what your pitch presentation should look like – or even how to present – but it does provide a clear guide for managing the pitch process. For those who want a great process and a great presentation, there is always m62 STAT.

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The Ultimate Guide to Sales Presentations