What makes the perfect pitch? Last week, we were in South Florida for Biz Dev Camp, talking it out. Joe Rinaldi, Coach/Owner of That was Clutch, led the discussion. Drawing on the collective experience and know-how of the group, we landed on several takeaways to up the ante on your next pitch. First, a definition. Biz Dev Camp defined a “pitch” as a finalist presentation before the work has been awarded. And away we go…
The Right Time to Pitch
Research, prep time, travel, the presentation, follow-ups…Pitching can set you back $10–$15K+ in expenses and lost productivity. So how do you know when a pitch is worth it, and how do you minimize your risks? A few recommendations:
- Travel for a pitch, not a capabilities presentation.
- Make sure you’re shortlisted, and competing with no more than five other shops.
- Surface deal killers—cost, technology, process—before you make the trip: “I want to make sure you’re ok with…”
- Consider a new business tax in proposals to cover the costs of pitching.
Play Up Your Superpowers & Pitch the Poison
It may sound simple, but do your homework. Find out who’s going to be in the room and who the decision-makers are. A little digging, and you can discover who’s top brass, and what’s important to those people. Strategic plans, thought leadership articles, social media posts (and follows)—they all hold important clues. A few tricks:
- Recon follows. If your key decision-makers start following agencies, chances are those agencies are your competitors.
- Push self-promotion. Got a big pitch coming up? Use your blog or social channels as a platform to speak to your qualifications/expertise in the prospect’s industry/vertical.
- Pitch the poison. Throw shade on your competitors. If they’re remote, and you and your prospect aren’t, raise some questions about distributed teams…and if you're remote and they aren't, talk about working with the best in the world versus the best in the city.
- Play up your superpowers. Be sure to emphasize your strengths by asking your own team internally, “What are our superpowers?” If someone’s really great at speaking on the fly, structure your pitch so it seems like you finish one another’s sentences.
- Separate stakeholders from the herd. Tune in on decision-makers. You may need to resolve marketing and IT interests with separate conversations.
What’s an anti-pitch? A relaxed, exploratory conversation focused on collaboration. There are several ways to go about it. Some Biz Dev Camp shops treat pitches like workshops, and have even had success getting partners to foot the bill.
A Full Spectrum of Spec Work
What’s okay when it comes to spec work? Some say nothing, no way, never. Others have no qualms about it. Personal philosophies aside, it’s a big challenge pitching against traditional agencies that do a lot of spec work. Keep in mind the dangers of fulfilling a prospect’s request for free creative work. Some ideas from Biz Dev campers:
- Ideas are cheap. Throw out a few quick ones.
- Develop a speculative strategy if the prospect posts something like a strategic vision online
The Aggregate Suit
What to wear, what to wear? Plan an outfit that’s a few tasteful degrees below the prospect’s style of dress. You might try the “aggregate suit.” You wear a tie…I wear a button-down shirt…she wears a jacket. Together, it’s a suit.
How to Pitch: A Step-by-Step Guide
Belief + passion + conciseness + confidence sells. Let’s walk through the ideal pitch, play by play, using insights gleaned from Biz Dev Camp:
Structuring The Pitch
- Structure a one-hour pitch with 40 minutes for the presentation and 20 minutes for questions. Be prepared to ask questions throughout.
- Outline three main themes that your team can circle back to when answering questions.
- Design slides with images and short phrases or bullets. No lengthy text. Have talking points so you don’t just read off your slides. Be willing to throw your deck out the window.
- Include works in progress.
- Prep one computer and bring a backup. Put your presentation on a USB.
- Design interruptions. For example, writing on a whiteboard.
A Few Weeks/Days Out
- Try to travel in the day before and invite your prospect out for dinner or drinks. Use that time as last-minute prep for the following day.
- Proof everything—slides, equipment, clothes, everything—and do a dress rehearsal. Look out for one another during the pitch to mitigate any embarrassing human errors.
- Get in early to set up and get settled.
- Use a firm handshake, look people in the eye and say thank you in the beginning for the invitation.
- Have your team come intently to the table. Sit up straight, and stand when presenting.
- Make introductions: ask people for their name, role and what they’re most excited about with the project.
- Start out genuinely trying to teach something.
- Take notes with pen and paper to avoid a table full of open laptops.
- Read the room and react. If someone is on their phone or losing interest, win that person back into the conversation.
- Give oxygen for objections. Answer questions with a “yes” or “no,” and then explain why.
- Own the room. Stay on topic with what you want to talk about, and use subtle ways to turn things back around if they get off track.
- Be courteous and give people time to collect their thoughts before responding: “John, I’d like to hear about x in a moment, but first, let me touch on…”
- Provide a separate takeaway presentation for prospects to pass around internally.
What are your tried-and-true strategies for winning a pitch?
…Special thanks to Joe Rinaldi who moderated the session and gave us a lot of the colorful phrasing.