Here’s a MasterCard Ad I’d like to hear.
“Cost of putting together a detailed response to a complex Request for Proposals: $30,000.
“Cost of flying a team to the prospect’s headquarters to deliver the pitch: $15,000.
Watching the boss’s face when he learns that this team has lost another one: priceless.
The true cost of a losing new business pitch can be sobering indeed. And yet you can increase your chance of a positive return on your investment if you obey a few fundamentals of great new business pitches. Focus on the prospect’s business problem. Speak with passion. And rehearse.
Fundamental # 1: Address your audience’s true interests and needs.
Great new business pitches focus like a laser on the prospect’s key business issues.
Recently I watched firms compete for the chance to build a new county courthouse in south Georgia. There were three key issues facing the county that was hosting the competition: removing muddy “muck” from the site, meeting a tight budget, and addressing the leakage issues that have plagued other government buildings in the area.
Unfortunately, none of the presentations really addressed the key issues in any depth. All four teams wasted most of their 25 minutes on reviewing their extensive qualifications. You don’t make the short list of a presentation if you’re not qualified. As a result, none of the teams really separated themselves from the competition.
By contrast, we worked with an architecture firm that was pitching for a chance to build a corporate headquarters. They had plenty of qualifications, having built more than a dozen corporate campuses. But their presentation focused on the prospect’s key issue: making sure that the headquarters offices were designed with enough flexibility to meet the changing needs of a very dynamic business. They won the pitch going away.
Fundamental # 2: Speak with Passion
Decision-makers want to hire someone that is passionate about their project. That passion has to come across in the voice. In a close competition, it is very hard for a decision-maker to tell who is really the “best” firm for the job. All of the firms on the short list are highly qualified. So in the end, the prospect will often choose who they like the most.
I once interviewed a Vice President for Construction for a Fortune 50 company. He told me that one of the major things they looked for in a builder was “who we liked the most. That often comes down to who smiles, makes eye contact, and just seems like they’re excited about the project.”
Speak to your audience with the same enthusiasm that you would bring to an animated dinner conversation. Do that and your audience will sense your passion.
Fundamental # 3: Rehearse your Presentation.
When I speak with decision-makers, one of the things that they tell me over and over again is that when one team is well-rehearsed, it’s obvious. “We always can tell who really worked hard to get ready,” one consultant told me.
And yet most teams don’t spend much time really rehearsing. Instead, they put all of their time into creating slides and materials. While they will have gorgeous visuals, they come across as amateurish and disorganized.
I helped a construction firm prepare for a new business pitch. We worked all day, rehearsing a 30 minute pitch over and over again. When it was their turn to deliver, they nailed it. An hour later, they had retired to a restaurant to have lunch. One of the presenters got a call on his mobile-phone from one of the key decision-makers. They had won easily. “No one touched you guys,” they were told.
Pitching for business can be very expensive. But you can increase your win-rate if you follow a few fundamentals: focus only on your prospect’s business problem, speak with passion, and rehearse.
Joey Asher is President of Speechworks, a selling and communication skills coaching company in Atlanta. He has worked with hundreds of lawyers and with dozens of firms helping them grow their business and connect with clients. He is the author of “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.” He can be reached at 404-266-0888 or [email protected]. His website is www.speechworks.net.