We all have to sing for our supper from time to time – to gain a new contract, a new client, a new investor, or even a new partner. Some pitches are pretty informal, but are some a Big Deal. Here are some pointers to help you succeed when there’s a lot on the line.
1) Before You Even Start
Know who’s going to be at the pitch meeting
Get to know the primary client contact ahead of time. What’s her title, responsibilities, and her point of view that is necessitating the pitch? In addition, who else will be in the room, and what do we know about them? Will the decision maker(s) be in the room? (They should/better be.) Knowing these details upfront helps you better prepare and make a good lasting impression.
If you can, choose Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for your meeting. Avoid Mondays if at all possible. You’re putting out fires on Monday to begin with and your prospect probably is too. Your pitch only adds to the stress. Fridays also pose a problem. On the one hand, you get most of the week to prep. On the other hand, people mentally check out on the last day of the week. And it’s worse if it’s a Friday before a holiday.
The Meeting Room
Where is the meeting taking place? If it isn’t at your office, try to get access to the location ahead of time, and check it out. Or at least get a good description of it from the client contact. Visualize how it can be used effectively. Lastly, where’s the AV located, and how will that work in respect to organizing the space? And this is one more person you need to get to know beforehand – the AV person. Sure, most of the time you’re the most knowledgeable tech person in the room, but if there’s a quirk in their system, you don’t want to be dealing with it in a room full of people you’re trying to impress.
How much time do you have?
What’s the official time limit? Most pitches tend to be 60 to 90 minutes, but always make sure. Also know how strict the time requirements are. Is it OK if things run long? If a procurement or purchasing person is involved, expect to be timed by the second. One rule of thumb: Allow for at least 25% of the total time for a Q&A or open discussion.
What’s the scorecard or evaluation criteria? Always ask if a copy of it can be furnished ahead of time. The chance of winning the client will be better if the pitch is tailored to clearly address the criteria.
2) Bring Your Supporting Players
If at all possible, the people who will actually work on the business should be the ones in the room. Many clients will stipulate something to that effect as a pitch requirement, anyway.
For sake of transparency, include content that calls out the broader team that would be involved on the job, and clearly define those individuals’ roles and relationships to those presenting in the room. You may not want your cable guys at the table, but the job supervisor and those who will have direct client contact should certainly be there.
3) Practice, Practice
Two rehearsals are usually enough. The first rehearsal is a stumble-through, intended for getting an initial feel of the content, flow, and transitions between presenters (if there will be more than just you). It should feel like a horrible, awful train wreck. And it always is. That’s OK. Embrace the horror. Share notes about what worked and what didn’t. The second rehearsal should be timed, incorporating notes from the stumble through. It should feel sharper. Then, if necessary and depending how the team is feeling, conduct a third rehearsal for a final polish.
This may feel like overkill for a small job, but if it’s worth your time to make the pitch, it’s worth the time to make it a good one.
Focus on Smooth Transitions
Know your own content flow. Your final slide voiceover needs to be a natural segue into what you will be discussing. Absolutely nothing can derail energy quicker than an awkward or abrupt transition.
Develop Questions for Your Team and Questions for Your Prospect
Prepare for potential questions that could come from the client during the pitch. Decide who will answer them, and then put them on the spot to practice answering the questions succinctly. Also, discuss what questions you’d like to ask the client team. Preparing questions for the client demonstrates your interest in understanding and solving their business challenges, beyond any ideas you’ve shared during the pitch itself.
Work the Deck
If using Keynote or PowerPoint, always test that it’s working on whatever device you’re going to use for versioning and fonts. Run it in presentation mode to make sure animations and videos work. Have a PDF version handy and a copy of it on a thumb drive. And in case technology completely betrays you, bring at least one printed copy of your deck. Make sure to bring a power supply, clicker, and connector/adaptor cables.
What to wear
Are you pitching to a group of boomer bankers or to a startup full of millennials? Techies have a reputation for casual, and while there’s no mandate to coordinate outfits and colors, you do need to dress appropriately for your audience. You don’t want to find yourself at a disadvantage by wearing khakis and a polo shirt in a room full of suits. Find out what the client’s work dress code is, and determine an approach with your team during rehearsals.
4) Final Prep
Pre-Visualize the Pitch
Find some alone time, and imagine yourself in the presentation space. Envision the people in the room – both those you’re presenting to, and those on your own team. Envision yourself delivering the presentation, and the reactions of the client.
Stay a little loose
You don’t want to sound robotic or become so rigid that any deviation from your script throws you for a loop. During your final prep, give other team presenters the license to jump in and add color while another member is presenting – if the commentary enhances or supports a point in the overall pitch narrative. This doesn’t mean you give everyone free license to cut one another off mid-sentence, but if you can perfect these interactions, it shows that your team is actively listening to one another and works well together. It also shows that you’re listening to the client/prospect and can respond appropriately.
5) The Pitch
Engage During the Pre-Show
There usually is time for presentation set-up, and naturally this lends itself to a little pre-pitch client mingling. Don’t be shy. Say hello to those in the room. Exchange business cards. Engage in small talk. It will help you to feel more comfortable.
Be excited! Stay engaged, and own the time you have. Breathe. Be present, and keep your thinking in the moment. Smile.
Make Eye Contact
Be conscious of who’s in the room, and try to establish eye contact with them as you present. Making eye contact is the most direct way to connect with anyone, under any circumstance. Don’t ignore everyone but the one(s) you think make the decisions. Chances are, everyone will have input so don’t let anyone feel they’re unimportant.
Read the Room
Always, always allow for some spark of improvisation. Ideas can and will arrive in the moment. Pay attention to them because they might be better than whatever meticulous speaker notes you created. It’s more engaging to speak off the cuff with a bit of charisma than to recite notes you’ve memorized.
Show Gratitude and Humility
It’s a “please” and “thank you” kind of world. A little humility and graciousness can go a long way. Thank those in the room for the opportunity to be there in the first place.
Ask About the Next Step
Don’t act like a used car salesperson, but leave the room with a solid idea of what the next step is, what the timeline for the client’s decision looks like, and when you can expect a call.
You and your team will leave feeling both completely exhilarated and exhausted. But you’ll all be eager to talk through how everything went. Plan ahead to meet somewhere to relax – at the office, an airport lounge, hotel lobby, etc. The point is to relax and discuss what went well, what impressions the team members walked away with, and what could have gone better.
Whether you feel it went well or not, you’re going to remember things you should have said and things you wished you hadn’t said. In the end, the pitch is done. Don’t dwell on it. Remind your teammates to look forward as well. Learn from your mistakes.
7) The Follow-Up
Send a Thank-You Note
Send a note to those you met in the pitch in addition to the key contact from the client side. If you know the physical address, a handwritten thank-you note is a nice touch.
Don’t go into another pitch, but take advantage of the opportunity to clarify any point that needs it. It may also an opportunity to recover from the mistake you’ve been beating yourself up over. When you leave the pitch, you should have learned when the client will make a decision. If that date has passed and you haven’t received an update, be sure to check in to ask if the client needs any other information.
Now, go for it and good luck!
This post has been adapted from “Perfect the Pitch Process: A 7-Step Method”, by Jeremy Chase at Hubspot.