Business Development Series Posted by David McDermott

“Reasons to eliminate”

When pitching to win business it is easier for your audience to find a “reason to eliminate” rather than a reason to appoint you.

David McDermott has worked on thousands of pitches over the years in all sectors and market conditions. He has carried out extensive research into what makes a perfect winning pitch. Here he puts a different slant on his research by sharing 10 key reasons why pitches go wrong and the important lessons to learn from these.

1. Talking too much about your organisation

Remember, your credentials are not open to question, otherwise you would not be invited to pitch. A trustee of a large pension fund, who listens to many presentations, once gave this direct feedback to a pitch team, “I know you are good, otherwise I would not have invited you to pitch to me”. Therefore, spend more time addressing your audience’s issues, objectives and concerns. More references to “You” (the audience) are critical here and less references to “We” or “Us. Remember, questions about your company can be easily answered at the end of your pitch.

2. Poor answers to questions

It is fair to say that many companies and individuals are getting better at preparing and rehearsing pitches these days. The question and answer session however is often just left to chance. Presenters often find themselves in the situation where they say, “Thanks very much, that concludes the presentation, any questions?” and then find themselves with their fingers crossed hoping that nothing too difficult is asked. This is not an ideal situation to find yourself in and one that is easily avoidable. When you prepare a presentation an integral part of this should be to ask 3 key questions

  • What questions does my presentation not answer?
  • What questions does my presentation stimulate?
  • What questions/concerns does my audience have?

Having asked these questions it is now vital to prepare and rehearse the answers.


3. Looking disinterested

A fairly obvious one this? You would be surprised how many pitches are lost because presenters come over very indifferent about the mandate. Often a key factor in the decision making process is showing enthusiasm for wanting the business. So, tell your audience you are excited about working with them. Be passionate. Your desire to win and confidence in your proposal needs to come across.

4. Poor team coordination

Often team presentations come across as badly planned and ill coordinated. This is especially the case during the question and answer session where it often turns into a free for all. A CEO of a large Plc was presented to by a law firm for a substantial contract and said that, “They looked as if they had just met each other for the first time, never mind about me”.

Plan in advance. The person delivering a particular topic should be the person answering questions related to it. Avoid adding supplementary information to your colleague’s answers. At best this is done with positive intent e.g. to add value to the answer, at worst presenters contradict their colleagues or devalue them by saying things like, “What John is trying to say is…”

5. Poor structure

When asked to make a pitch for business, presenters often go to their “slide bank” and pull out the slides they feel comfortable with. This often results in a presentation supported by a bunch of disparate visuals or a pitch book with no clear messages, neither of which have a clear structure. A senior civil servant involved in the selection of IT consultants said that presentations often, “Have no clear objective or agenda, lack direction and then fade out with something trivial”.

Your presentation should have a very clear beginning, middle and end. The overview is the beginning and should state the purpose of the presentation, give a clear “hook” (reason for listening) and the content you will cover i.e. your 3 strongest reasons for appointment. The body of the presentation (middle) should have relevant, credible and engaging content. Each topic should be wrapped up with a clear message. The final summary should reiterate each message.

6. The “silver tongued presenter”

Often organisations identify their best presenters or, as one senior manager who was selecting a management consultancy to help with a change programme described, “The silver tongue”. These individuals are sent out to do the pitching.

This can be very dangerous. If an audience suspects that someone is there purely to front the presentation they will give them a really tough time in the question and answer session, knowing that they have the knowledge to give a good, confident, well delivered presentation but not the in-depth expertise to know the specifics of the job inside out. It is therefore important that you send in the delivery team. This is who the audience really want to see.

7. Not knowing your audience

In this day and age there is absolutely no excuse for this. The amount of information at your fingertips is invaluable. It is even better if you have met the prospective client before the pitch. It is a lot easier for presenting teams if they have met their audience beforehand. The earlier you meet a client in the sales process the better, as you can influence their thinking. Going in cold is harder. Asking to speak to your audience beforehand to find out their problems and concerns, their objectives for the future and the finer details of their requirements is a legitimate reason for contacting them. An HR manager looking for a sales training programme for their global sales force said, “We would be delighted to speak to people before a pitch, it shows that they are interested and concerned about getting it right”.

8. The information dump

This is the most common trap that presenters fall into in terms of content. Experts in a particular field e.g. financial analysts often feel the need to demonstrate all of their analytical work, technical expertise and experience in a pitch. This is a huge mistake. You need to be very clear about what you are proposing. This should be clearly stated at the start and followed by relevant and credible content only. This also allows you to anticipate and prepare answers to questions.

9. Being “incredible”

All to often presenters make statements they perceive to be impressive and factual but fail to back them up with evidence. From an audience perspective these statements lack credibility. For example, “We provide innovative solutions”, “We have unrivalled expertise”, “Our process works”, “We avoided making large losses during the last market crash”. If this is the case then back them up with examples, stories, research or personal experiences. Audiences enjoy a good story.

10. Failing the ‘So what?’ test

Presenters also make lots of statements that leave the audience sitting there thinking, “So what?” For example, “We have offices all over the world”, “We have 700 employees”, “and “We have £98 billion worth of assets under management”. If you can’t relate your company credentials to your audience in a meaningful and relevant way i.e. pass the ‘so what?’ test then don’t bother saying them. What is the use of telling your audience you have offices all over the world if they only have offices in the UK and have no interest in business outside this location. On the other hand if your audience are looking to expand their business in South East Asia then your offices in Singapore and China will be invaluable for local knowledge and expertise of that region.

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