The French have a phrase for it: “Les mots d’escalier.” They are the words you should have spoken while still in the room, but only recall as you slink down the stairs. Of course, it is too late then. In the ever more intensely competitive world of business pitching and beauty parades, you have to plan your strategy meticulously and rehearse your execution too. And you need the right tactics and pitch structure for each client or prospect. One approach or strategy will not fit all.
Business-to-business pitches usually have four distinct zones that you need to manage and plan for to maximise your chances of success. Selecting the right team for each pitch is the starting point before you enter the four zones. The closer the match between your people and the team you are pitching to, the greater your chance of success. More pitches are lost not because your business case was not the best, but because your team was not. Rule number one must be to check out the values and business perspectives of your targets and build your team around them. Tokenism will be exposed, so do not bother to fake it – and there is also little point in mimicking values you do not hold.
Zone one is about first impressions. Introduce your team proudly. Use a gentle, persuasive and confident tone. Every gesture you use is being carefully, consciously and unconsciously scrutinised and evaluated. Once you begin pitching you have around 90 seconds to establish your credibility, competence and desire for a piece of their action.
Now into the heart of the pitch zone itself: the selling zone. Timing, structure and creativity are winning prerequisites. It may appear that the tender agenda and timing is set and controlled by your prospect. Experience shows this is not true. Yes, you normally get a framework and a timetable, but do not discard your creativity and chance to innovate and impress. They are vital pitch ingredients. They mean doing new things now and being different today before the others do. You cannot risk being the same as the rest.
For example: what if you use only half your allotted pitch time to pitch your case, with the remainder being used to get a vibrant discussion going? Now you are two moves ahead of your competitors. By making an exciting, creative and brief business case, you create plenty of time for them to probe, prod and even try to unpick it.
So many pitches become bullet point-driven dreary monologues. Go for a maximum of six words a slide with great pictures or quality graphics. Get professional support for this key part of your pitch, unless of course you have a graphics degree or have worked professionally in image manipulation.
Just two zones left to safely negotiate now. Let’s take questions first. You will have roleplayed likely questions beforehand and used a devil’s advocate test on your business case. Each question you ask will reveal your thinking and show how motivated you are to win the business. Punch hard here and throw in sharp, savvy questions that focus on their key drivers, their concerns and why you want the work.
Finally, the clincher zone. You have three or four minutes at the end to deal with any mixed messages or issues you spotted during the pitch and to summarise why they should pick your firm. State positively what makes you the logical choice. Identify issues you know will have to be dealt with. Make direct and continual connections with your business case and their needs. Highlight your people, their abilities and make evident your motivation and burning desire to win this work. Keep it short – less is more.
Finish with one stunning example of a previous or current project that is really successful or relevant to them. Explain why. Then leave them wanting more. Leave them wanting to see you again to sign you up.
Peter Rush is director of communications at PR consultancy UK Spiral