Pitching to a prospective client where you have a light or no brief should be easy, but it seems that in practise it is remarkably difficult. The client wants to understand what it would be like working with your company, and what the quality of the output will be. You want to understand the same, and you also want to make sure your reputation continues to build even if you do not succeed in a competitive pitch.
So if you are going to attend a pitch, then you owe it to yourselves and to the client to do come prepared and to do as good a job as possible.
I present 10 tips for companies pitching to clients:
- Research your audience. Ask for the names of who will be in the room, and what they are each looking for. Do a quick Google and Linked-In search to follow up so you know what their background is and what experience they are bringing to the room. Front up with the right people from your side, mixing client facing with technical and design if required. Wear the right clothes that reflect the environment you are walking in to and their expectations of you. If you are younger or less experienced in business then consider more formal dress, and vice versa.
This is an area where you can cheat, simply by having a chat with the person who contacted you in the first place.
- Do the introduction dance. It may seem old-hat, but the traditional introduction by name, shaking of hands and exchange of professional business cards remains as relevant as ever. Clients and presenters alike will be easily be able to remember the names of everybody in the room, and the exchange itself gets rid of that awkward first 20 seconds. We are all assessing what it would be like to work together, so take the time to ease into the work using an unforced and natural conversation. The default topic in New Zealand is the weather or traffic, but why not mention common acquaintances or backgrounds as you do the introductions? I also like to pause and ask “How’s business”, as the answers will tell you what’s top of mind.
- Listen first. Ask questions about the business and people you are pitching to, answering any unknowns you had before you entered the room. Go ahead also and ask what they are wanting to hear from you, and test progress through the meeting. The entire pitch should be a conversation – and if you find yourself giving a speech then something has gone wrong.
- Have a customised presentation. Build a presentation for the client that reflects your understanding of their needs. The order of the show and depth of information will vary greatly, but make sure you can show that you understand their business and their requirements, and show how you have the experience and ability to help.
- Hit the high points early. Go straight to the client’s expressed concerns, even if it means messing up the order of your planned presentation. You’ll want to cover the other basics, but you can hold that until the end. Keep observing the room, and of some people are switching off then don’t be afraid of asking if you can move on, or what they are looking to see next.
- Use multi-media. No – please don’t make people endure a video or pre-recorded audio, but do think about sharing your thoughts not just with a presentation on a laptop or screen, but also with printed copies so the audience can write notes. You can even email the presentation in advance so that the entire session can move more quickly. It does perplex me that most people don’t do this, but a presentation in advance also gives the client time to give you feedback before the meeting.
Get online also (and make sure you can), and don’t be afraid of using the whiteboard or sketching on bits of paper.
- Avoid buzzword bingo. Clients are often on a learning journey, but they will generally be able to see when you are unsure of what you are talking about. If you find yourselves out of your comfort zone then simply state that you don’t know, but that you will get back to the group later. And do so.
- Get the energy right. As you walk into the room you’ll get a certain vibe. You’ll need to determine just how much energy you need to exude to be engaging, without being dramatic. This varies with every occasion and client, so get good at it. A good sign is when you and the rest of the group are are having fun and moving at a very quick rate.
- Finish on time. These sessions can get derailed, and that’s often a sign of an engaging conversation. But keep an eye on time and make sure you hit all of the important points before you leave. A final slide showing those points can be a good way to help you summarise before you leave.
- Follow up. Send a note of thanks along with anything that you promised in the meeting within the next hour or two. Have an internal meeting (probably on the way back) and decide for yourselves whether or not this is a client that you are still comfortable pursuing. If you are not comfortable with them then do let them know, and do so via a meeting in person over coffee or with a phone call.
Successful or not, do ask for feedback from the prospective client about your pitch, and use it to improve next time.
This is an incomplete list – so what is missing?