8 ways to win the pitch


iMedia Connection

By Charisse Tabak

Just because your agency is the most qualified doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get the bid. Follow these simple pointers to increase your odds of success.

I’m sure it has happened to you or someone you know; you’re feeling sure about winning a new business pitch, have planned the celebration party, only to hear the business has gone to a competitor.

Working on a new business pitch can be a complex, costly and time-consuming exercise. Even with passion and the necessary expertise, complications and uncertainty sometimes color the outcome. As competition intensifies and marketers seek more accountability from their vendors, pitching will remain a reality of doing business. With this in mind, what can agencies and service firms do to increase the chance of success in winning new business?

Here are a few simple pointers:

1. First and foremost, pick your battles wisely.
Only pitch for business you have a chance of winning. It’s a fine line, but the key to successful pitching is knowing when to accept and when to decline. The final outcome is not only dictated by the prospect, but also influenced by the vendor’s ability to pull the best resources together and devote the necessary time. There is little point in pitching if you are the incumbent and already know the business is going elsewhere.

2. Establish and stay focused on the prospect’s objectives.
Don’t waste time guessing and assuming. Instead, spend sufficient time upfront listening and probing to make sure you understand the objectives. The proposal should then focus on the key messages, solutions and services that deliver on these objectives.

3. Find out the key influencers and decision makers in the pitch process.
While your main contact may be in marketing, the selection team may be made up of individuals from IT, Finance, Production and sometimes even HR. Understanding the needs / goals of each discipline will ensure you focus on issues pertinent to each. In this way, there is a better chance of buy-in from all business units in the organization.

4. Understand the pitch process.
This will differ for each prospect, but be clear on the steps involved in the process, the associated timelines for delivery, the touch points at each stage and the rules of engagement leading up to the final presentation or proposal. Management of the process is as important as the final outcome, sometimes even more so.

5. Select the best team for the job.
While it seems like a good idea to pull in the team with maxima cum laude to lead the charge, replacing it with a junior team shortly after the business is won is risky. It could impact the relationship in the early stages of the partnership. Ideally, the team should be made up of a spread of resources best suited to the account and remain consistent in both the dating and the relationship stages.

6. Less is more.
Resist the temptation to pad the proposal with unnecessary information. Much of the detail can be left out or placed in an appendix section, leaving the proposal to focus on what’s relevant to the prospect’s need. The final deliverable should be clear, personal, simple to understand and devoid of jargon. 

7. Under promise and over deliver.
This is easier said than done, but over committing in the sales process only to under-perform on the execution leads to disappointment and an erosion of trust. Know your own and your company’s strengths; leverage these, not what you think the prospect wants. An open, honest approach upfront is not only courageous, but sets the right foundation for successful execution. Sincerity is appreciated and goes a long way in building a level of comfort with the prospect.

8. Lastly, don’t assume anything.
No matter how well the process and final presentation went, it is not over until the fat lady sings.

Voltaire said, “It’s not enough to conquer, one must learn how to seduce.” And seduction in this context is more than smooth sales speak. It’s having an understanding of the dynamics and complexities underlying the pitch process and knowing how and when to leverage what is within one’s control. What the competition is up to, for example, is not within the realm of one’s control and should be left alone, allowing one to concentrate on the guidelines suggested above.


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