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10 Ways to Win Your Next Pitch (you MUST read number 1!)

Last week 3 London Web Agencies pitched for our business – involving a complete redesign with our core values at the heart.

We LOVE being pitched to because moments like this are rare.  We often help clients to pitch for business, but we are very rarely on the receiving end.  So, I invited the whole team for them to help us decide on the agency, and also just for the experience of being “pitched to”.

What we found was at times startling, at times heart-warming, and always interesting.  There were so many great lessons.  Here are 10 of them (if you only have a minute, read tip number 1 – twice!)

1.  COMMIT!  Once you to decide to win, throw your heart and soul into it.

When you pitch for business, from contact to contract, I would like you to imagine you have a virtual sign over your head called Commitment.  It’s easy to decide your level of commitment – you simply put together a scorecard and if the client meets the minimum criteria, then you throw your heart, soul and every resource at it.  Your score card might look something like this:

OUR IDEAL CLIENT WHO DESERVES A 120% COMMITTED PITCH

  • A growing Company
  • A strong brand
  • Young, energetic, slightly irreverent Management
  • They think and act a bit like us
  • They have identified that they are interested in the types of strengths we have (e.g. if we’re after a primarily creative led agency, and we are creative, then that is perfect).
  • They have a first year budget of at least £20, 000 and they don’t price challenge
  • They get back to our emails and phone calls promptly
  • They have a lifetime potential (5 years) of £75,000
  • They are located within 30 minutes travel time
  • They are open and honest in their communication
  • We can get them to where they want to be – i.e. it’s easy to see where we can make gains
  • They have a reputable credit history and financial record
  • There is no negative stuff written about them.

Scoring say a minimum of 80% on a scorecard like the above gives you a more assured position.  So, what happened with the agencies pitching to us?

Some agencies were very committed – their ‘Virtual Commitment Sign’ was big, neon coloured and flashing with energy and desire.

With others, the sign was only half lit.  For example the words were definitely there – agencies were saying they wanted our business – but there was a lack of fierce intent.  It really showed between agencies.  Some really wanted our business, our money.  Some weren’t too fussed, and went through the paces.

Our best advice for you if you are aren’t too fussed about winning the business, if it wouldn’t really mean anything to you, if they don’t score well on your scorecard, is to not enter the race at all.  Why spend all that time and energy coming third?  You have to throw everything in to it, and win win win!  Unless you have a clear win strategy, then it’s a waste of time entering the race.  Sport is a great analogy:  once you crouch down and wait for the starter’s gun to begin the race, you have to KNOW that you are going to win.

If you lack true commitment to winning a pitch, it stands out like you wouldn’t believe.  Customers can see your half-hearted approach, almost with every interaction.  In case you are wondering how, here are a just a few of the “desire indicators” that customers pick up very clearly:

  1. In the lead up to the pitch you miss a deadline or two, or when you do come back your information isn’t perfectly presented (or it is clearly cut and paste).
  2. On the pitch day your team appears disorganised, with no clear role definition or evidence of practice.  For example, two of the three agencies pitching to us had a dominant leader or company owner, and he prevented the others from talking, or interrupted them when they did.  This was a shame, because we really wanted to hear from others.
  3. The information you provide is generic, not specific.  You talk generally about your solution without specifically thinking about the client.  Maybe there was an opportunity to look at the client’s business that you didn’t take, or a creative solution that you didn’t put together, or a bit of market research that “wasn’t worth the time”.   One of the agencies didn’t mention Natural Training much at all – we felt that their pitch might have been for any client.
  4. You choose not to involve all of the people working on the account.  Maybe they are too busy, or you can’t convince them that this is worth their time.  One of the agencies sent in two people, another one four people.  We specifically asked for the people working on the account, and sometimes we got that, and sometimes we did not.
  5. You don’t follow up in a considered, timely manner.  We received thank-you notes from 2 of the 3 agencies the same day they pitched, and we appreciated them even more if they had a PDF of the pitch deck attached, plus any follow-ups.  One of the agencies mentioned a newspaper article in the pitch, so was kind enough to provide the link.  That was a great touch.  Clients notice these things!
  6. It wouldn’t really bother you much if you lost.  Here’s a simple test:  before you embark on a pitch, imagine yourself telling your business/agency that you didn’t win.  How would you feel about that?  Would it be remembered by you/others in weeks or months, or very quickly forgotten about?
  7. If you find yourself saying things like “It’s only small”, or “We could knock out a solution in a few weeks”.  These are signs that you already don’t value this client much, and you probably shouldn’t pitch.  Regardless of spend, you have to give clients a wonderful experience.  And as you know, it’s usually the ones with the least amount of spend that demand the most attention!

Remember that pitching is relative.  You aren’t competing against yourself, or the client.  You are competing against 2-3 unknown runners in the 100m final.  If you are anything less than 100% committed, there WILL be someone who is more committed than you to winning the race.

 

2.  The lead-up to the pitch is part of the pitch.

Clients say “yes” for a variety of reasons. One of the top 3 is that clients want a sense of what it would be like to work with your business.  So, clients are assessing your every move.

 

To find out what clients value, you really need to ask early on, and then deliver unwaveringly on those values.   Here are a few of the things we value when dealing with web agencies:

  • Timely follow-ups
  • Proactive advice (we shouldn’t always feel like we need to ask.  Sometimes called Random Acts of Kindness).
  • A scientific approach to things like SEO
  • Cheerful and natural demeanour:  while web design is a serious business, as a company we like a bit of a giggle at ourselves and others.
  • Local service
  • Creativity

 

If an agency had found this stuff out (and none of them did beyond a few points that we provided them) then this is a “how to” manual of what to do to win the business.  Don’t forget, if you listen hard enough clients will tell you EXACTLY how to win your business.

Here’s what we found out about working with agencies before the pitch:

  1. One agency delivered everything as promised, on or before the deadline.
  2. One agency missed a deadline by 3 days.  This was some follow up information promised after our initial meeting.  (We didn’t care when we got the follow up information, it was actually their deadline not ours).
  3. One agency got back to us in record time, all in emails rather than properly formatted documents, but this was fine because we got the information we wanted.
  4. No agencies gave us any Random Acts of Kindness in the lead up to the pitch, or since.

 

3.  Forget the ‘rules’ about pitching.

Here is a list of ‘rules’ about pitching, which you can read, and then instantly forget.  Because a pitch is actually about none of this stuff*.

  1. It’s a ‘given’ that we should tell them about…. (insert any of your darling products/features/services).  If a client hasn’t specifically requested that they are interested in something, then don’t put it on the agenda, no matter how interesting it is to you.  Instead, focus on what the client is intensely interested in.  One of the agencies talked about a project management methodology that we didn’t have as part of our criteria.  It sounded okay, but then so does lots of stuff.  Rock my world by talking about me and my interests please!
  2. Most of the talking should be done by… (insert name) e.g. Mr Default.  Two of the three pitches were dominated by people who always do it, the default leader.  We could just tell.  And the people we really wanted to hear from said almost nothing.  Message to pitch or business leaders:  maybe you are the default only because you think you should be, rather than because you are best suited to it.  Share it around, clients will love it.
  3. They need to hear about us.  We don’t.  If you are short-listed, we have researched you already and you tick the logical boxes.  Make mention of stuff like people/office locations if you must, but make it brief, then got onto the emotional stuff that makes our pulse quicken.  One agency took about 15 valuable minutes to talk about themselves, one took 30 seconds.  We much preferred the latter approach.
  4. We always use PowerPoint. Why?  You need to really question that.  Our room at Natural wasn’t really geared up for PowerPoint, yet two of the three agencies beamed it up on the wall anyway.  It was awkward, we lost focus on what counted (your faces) and it detracted from the messages.
  5. We have to do what the client says. For example, just because the client wants us on this particular day, we have to show up on that exact day.  Two of the agencies did that, and compromised the team they were bringing in as a result.  One of the agencies scheduled on another day.  That was fine – we gave a suggestion but it wasn’t written in stone.  In fact, nothing was – we were open to any suggestions at all.  There’s something about normal, sensible, business life and communication being put on hold because “it’s a pitch”.  Our best advice is to keep the communication logical, and two-way.  If you can’t, or don’t want to, act in accordance with client instructions, then push back!  As long as you rationalise it, then you’re golden.

 

* It’s all about the client.

 

4.  If you’re bringing people, give them an active role.

In many ways this sounds like the most obvious tip of all, yet people don’t do it.  One of the agencies consisted of 3 people, yet the pitch leader probably spoke for 98% of the time.  Say if there were 15,000 words spoken, that means one person said almost everything, while two of the three people spoke no more than about half an A4 page.  In fact, in 2 out of 3 pitches, there was one dominant “alpha male” who was either speaking, or looking slightly uncomfortable while others (usually women) spoke, like the microphone was in the wrong hands.

 

Maybe they need to read this article on why men should be quiet and listen to women!

 

5.   Adapt your plan.

Quite often before a pitch we imagine it unfolding in our mind’s eye.  We imagine it working really well – the room and everything else just fitting in to place.  Yet, when we arrive at the client site, things are different.  The room is small and stuffy, there are lots of people watching, there is no cord from Mac to projector, there is no suitable wall for projecting, etc.  Two main lessons from this:

  1. Find out whatever you can about the environment before the pitch to mitigate the risk.  If you can’t be there prior, you might like to ask the customer to film a quick video with their smart phone.
  2. Be prepared for change.  One of the agencies were going to project on the wall, but made a quick decision not to because the room wasn’t really that suitable.  As it turned out, the pitch was great as he simply referred to his laptop on the table for us all.  Another used the wall, but it really wasn’t that effective.  A third moved between the wall and the table, which was probably the best option.

 

6.  If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up.

During one pitch we asked for a definition of the “bounce rate” statistics as it relates to the visitor’s involvement with the site.   We were told that it was defined as “arriving on the site and never leaving that one page”.  The next agency defined it as something different, which was “leaving the site shortly after you got there, maybe after a few seconds.”  We (of course) checked after the meeting, and the true answer was most like the first one.  However it wasn’t impressive that in the absence of the right information, or qualifying it (“Is that the Google Anayltics definition of bounce rate you are after?”) then someone would simply “have a stab at it.”

 

Another agency suggested that our Adwords campaign led back to a page that it simply doesn’t.  It was a guess, it was wrong, and slightly insulting to the internal person who managed our Adwords account (also one of the Directors of our company).

Two final quick tips on this:

  1. Qualify exactly was the client is asking
  2. Don’t be afraid to say “we will come back to you.”

 

Don’t forget the client is getting educated along the way during this process.  It lacks foresight to assume that they don’t know what they are talking about.  Clients particularly like it when they get a whiff of bullshit, because it gives us the chance to test out knowledge versus assumption, and qualities such as integrity and follow-up.  Wonderful stuff!

 

7.  The quality of your follow up is critical (clients are noticing).

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your pitch finishes when you walk out of the room.  You are still firmly entrenched in the sales process.  At the very least, a prompt thank you note is appropriate.  At the more generous end of the spectrum sit free gifts, such as an eBook or a box of Krispy Kremes.  Any of your follow-ups should be documented, same day, back to client, even if you have to stay until 10pm that night to do it.  Clients notice everything – including the time stamp on the emails that you send, even if they read it later.

 

8.  Bring your art and expertise to the table.

We humans love an artist – someone on top of their game with a real passion for their craft.  During our three pitches, sometimes an expert would give us an insight, an angle, into something that really showed they knew their art.  For example, one of the main presenters showed us the efficacy of changing our top line navigation structure (and subsequently the URL), by highlighting a recent case study from The Guardian.  (He followed up after the pitch by sending us the link –Guardian changing domain

 

Where and how can you demonstrate your craft?  Here are a few tips:

1)       Weave in 1-2 magic moments by incorporating your client’s brand in the moment.  For example, you might show a new website that A-B split tests, or you could show what has been trending for them on Twitter that they might have taken advantage of.

2)       Leave some significant time for Q&A.  Question time is an ideal moment to demonstrate your craft.  You can anticipate client questions, and build in some ‘wow-moment’ insight to your answers. Tip: bring together all the people in your business who usually pitch, and ask them for the types of questions that clients usually ask. Build a question bank, then think of ways to improve your answers.

3)       Show, don’t say.  If something can be shown, then it’s much more powerful.  Particularly if you can link what is demonstrated on the screen to a previous client issue or challenge.  This is a great way to showcase your art.

9.  If you don’t hear anything significant post-pitch, it’s probably not a good sign.

I’m sorry if this is the first time you have heard this, but typically clients will delay a response to you if they are in more earnest talks with another agency.  If you are getting “fluff” back from the client, such as “we are busy and meeting in a week to discuss this”, you can reasonably assume that they are talking to another supplier who impressed them more at the pitch.  What can you do about it?  This goes back to point 1, desire.  If you really want it, you can still fight for it by revising your terms, or introduce them to someone new from your business who wasn’t previously available, or isolate their true decision makers and influence just them, or by putting some creative ideas their way, or getting back in front of them in some way.  The client’s response to any of this will also tell you what you need to know.  I

f you feel you are being “long-fingered”, with comments such as “all great ideas but just hold off for the time being”, then that’s valuable information for you too.  You can also ask for feedback and really listen to the answers (none of the agencies who pitched for our business did that).  There is still time to influence, persuade and be liked.  Take that time if you really want to win.  We have LOADS of stories of companies who were coming second, or third, but went on to win because they stayed pressed against the client, becoming an obvious fall back choice when talks broke down between the assumed pitch leader.

10.  The best can be bettered.

We were really, really impressed by one of the earlier pitches we received.  In fact, some people questioned why we would need to see another agency in at all.  Then, the unthinkable happened – the next agency set a new standard of excellence.  Everyone virtually forgot about the last agency!  Here is why we loved them:

  1. The key factor here again relates to point number 1 in this article – desire and commitment.  Right from the start, they went to great lengths to get us everything we needed.
  2. They had a dedicated BDM who was able to properly manage the pre-pitch activities.  He sent information when he said he would, and it was very well formatted.
  3. The winning agency sent in 4 people, each specialist in their field.  They weren’t dominated by one lead figure.  They did bring a Director but he was happy and confident that the people around him could handle it
  4. They used PPT, but didn’t worship at the altar of it.  We looked at them, not the PPT.
  5. They showed us some creative concepts.  They weren’t “right”, but that didn’t matter – it was about the effort.
  6. They were switched on, bright, and intelligent.  They came to win.  They were emotionally sensitive to our needs.
  7. Everyone had a role.
  8. They started with a business case by diving right into our Google Analytics.  We knew the areas they could impact, and we believed them when they said they could.
  9. They were on time (another agency was late).
  10. They printed out handouts for us to look at.

In terms of improvement areas, there were only 3:

  • Definition of a popular industry term:  See “bounce rate” definition above.  If not 100% sure, qualify, but never guess.
  • Intros:  We didn’t get a clear idea of who everyone was, nor did they pay any real interest in the 7 of us.  This was probably because they were conscious of time.  However, a question like this at the start might have relieved the pressure:  “An hour is going to be tight, because we plan to talk about you, a lot.   If we are still feeling happy and productive at the 60 minute mark, is there an extra 20 minutes or so?”
  • Price clarity:  clients don’t care about price as much as you might think.  In a rather popular book The Pitch Doctor by Peter Rogen, price came in at number 7! Click here to read more.However what they do care about is value – which is what you get for the price.  We weren’t very clear at all about what we got for the ongoing marketing or support fee.  Clarity around price is so important – clients have to know exactly what they get, how other clients have benefited, and you have to say it all with confidence and pride, without being the slightest bit apologetic.

 

So, that’s it folks! Our enlightening experience of being pitched to in today’s market and the invaluable lessons we learned. By reading this article, if you are able to learn as much as we did writing it, then we have done a brilliant job! To talk more about any of the above points, contact member of our team (yes, everyone from our company was there) at hello@naturaltraining.com

Our Pitching Skills Training currently produces a 75% win rate for our clients. Speak to one of our Consultants today on 0207 043 1582 about making this a reality for you. We’re so passionate about pitching – delivering and receiving – and will develop an outstanding programme that fits your organisation and what you’re looking to achieve.

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