Business Development Series Posted by David McDermott

It’s all very well having a competitive edge, but are your prospective clients aware? A key question when you are pitching for business is how do you show your audience how you compare to your competitors? This often creates a dilemma for pitching teams, should you just tell your audience how good you are and let them do the rest, should you draw direct comparisons with your anonymous competitors or should you name them directly? Perhaps you should let your audience draw their own conclusions?

Our research shows quite clearly that your audience want to know how you stack up against the competition but naming them directly is rarely (if ever) perceived as positive.

This means that you need to be clever and subtle about how you do this. If you are, the benefits are great. Firstly, you can plant questions in the audience’s mind. These are questions that the audience will ask your competitors and ultimately make you look the best choice. Secondly, you will be doing this by showing the audience that you understand their needs and that you are best placed to meet them. Thirdly, it can help you win more pitches.

Here is a process that can help you do this:

  • Do a competitor analysis of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Understand your USP’s (unique selling points)
  • Use rhetorical questions for positioning

Here is an example of how this worked for a client who was pitching for a corporate finance mandate. This particular client was initially concerned that the audience would choose one of the larger, better known corporate finance teams. Having noted their initial concerns we explored what their strengths were, what they had to offer and where they could add value etc.

Our initial discussion disclosed that the reason this small team had been invited to pitch was that they were a niche player, operating only in the client’s market. This was excellent news as they were obviously experts in this particular sector. When we explored this further they told us they had the best analysts in the sector and that they could prove this. Believe it or not, there are published league tables of the best analysts.

We explored why this was important and advised that this was their ace card.

We advised that if it was at all possible to get the first presentation slot. They did just that and we were ready to go. Part of their presentation that went like this,

“You are at a critical stage of your personal and business life just now. You are about to take your company to market and you only get one chance to get this right, meaning that you get the best price for your business. Like it or not, to do this you are dependant on the credibility and credentials of the analysts as it is the analysts who will sell your story to the investment community and that is where we add value”

They then proceeded to show the prospective client the evidence with their analysts right at the top and followed it with this question,

“So, given the credibility of our analysts who else is in a better position to sell your story to investors than us?”

If you were a member of that audience wouldn’t you ask the following presenters where their analysts were in the league table?

You are probably thinking right now that this is only relevant when you can grab that pole position. This is not the case.

On another occasion I helped a client position themselves as a large sole provider of services who could carry out a unique combination of services in a cost effective way. We prepared a few rhetorical questions in this pitch. For example, “How many times have external providers failed to communicate with each other and played the blame game?”, “Who else can provide experts in each and every area necessary?”, “Just think, one provider, one contract, the buck stops here, who else can say that?”

I was about to board a flight at the airport when I received a call from this client, “David, we had no choice on the running order and we have just found out we are on last, what should we do differently?” “Nothing”, I replied. “Business as usual, Just as we rehearsed”.

When I next visited this client they were pleased to announce that they won the pitch. In their own words they told me, “We think we planted so many doubts and concerns in the audience’s mind that we became a very safe bet. After all it was too late to ask the others”

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