Business Development Series Posted by David McDermott

The Issue

In an economic downturn new business opportunities are even more critical to convert and difficult to come by. For most organisations the number of opportunities to pitch for large mandates are now significantly reduced. In addition, buyers’ behaviours are more conservative as cost cutting is the order of the day. When it comes to spending money, more people tend to get involved in the process, resulting in tighter specs and more non-discretionary purchases.

So when you have the chance, it is critical that you make the most of it, delivering a perfect pitch that wins your audience over quickly and confidently. When your competitors are waiting to beat you to it and snap up the business, there is no room for error and never any second chances.

Don’t guess, get the facts…

If you want to increase your chance of winning the business, you must adopt the key skills of the most successful presenters and lose the behaviours associated with the worst. That’s where research into winning pitches is an invaluable help. Having asked audiences in-depth questions for over 10 years to find out why they select the winners and reject the losers, our research overwhelmingly points to a key fact: audiences unconsciously look for reasons to eliminate rather than a reason to appoint you. This means the team making the fewest mistakes wins the business.

How to win more business…

There are several reasons why your buyer will de-select you. Here are our top three:

1. Talking at length about your business and not theirs.
Perhaps you hold the mistaken but ingrained belief that your company credentials and background should be spelt out in detail. If so, join the vast majority of presenters who unwittingly put their audiences to sleep. Of course, the intention is always good, e.g. to show track record and capability. However, in most competitive pitches, your credentials are not in question. In fact, you would not be there if they were. If you want to deliver a winning pitch, carefully select the elements of your track record that are going to be directly relevant to that particular client. The fact that your company was formed in 1985 and you now have 350 employees usually leaves your audience thinking “so what?” Keep it relevant and meaningful or leave it out.

2. Unfocused or lengthy answers to questions.
Did you know that most pitches are lost in the question and answer session? Cast your mind back to previous pitches you have made and challenging questions you have been asked by the audience. Perhaps you recall covering every angle that came into your mind in a nervous attempt to answer the question really well? Unfortunately, it is an approach that leaves you wide open to disastrous consequences. In trying to cover every eventuality, a long-winded answer can trigger a whole series of additional questions that your audience would not have thought of, had your answer been focused.

It is not just yourself who needs to stay focused during question and answer sessions. This of course also applies to every member of the pitching team. At best some team members feel they are adding value when building on someone else’s answers, at worst they often contradict their colleagues. Either way, this only makes the team look badly planned and ill coordinated. Rarely do presenters anticipate audience questions and prepare their answers. It is absolutely critical you do.

3. Too much detail.
In making a persuasive case many presenters feel they have to give as many reasons as possible for getting “buy-in”. Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to fall into this trap. All you stand to achieve by adapting this risky strategy is dilution of your strongest selling points. At a recent pitch for an investment opportunity in alternative energy stocks, a fund manger spoke for 25 minutes alone on the legislation driving the demand. This could have been covered in two. The entire pitch went on for 40 minutes in total (20 minutes too long). The audience noted that the presenter knew his subject inside out but as a result of the vast amount of arguments presented, they now had many doubts about their investment strategy. All the evidence of successful presentations unequivocally shows that you must make your pitch credible, relevant and engaging whilst keeping the detail to a minimum.

And there’s more…

In an economic downturn you have to be acutely aware of how this is affecting your potential client. For example, if you were pitching to a firm of lawyers with a large property team and a small litigation team, the chances are that they will be thinking about re-structuring and be considerably more concerned than a firm with a focus on litigation and a small property team. You have to demonstrate this understanding explicitly throughout your presentation along with your proposed solution. Pitching teams who have ideas and solutions to reduce costs and have a greater impact in a recession are viewed more positively. Your audience also want to know how you stack up against the competition and what is your “value add” proposition.

Existing clients….

In a recession you should be closer than ever to your existing customers to find out how their business is being affected and how you can adapt to their changing circumstances. Now more than ever, you are vulnerable to your existing clients seeking out your competitors to look for a better deal.

When your relationships with your existing clients are good, the feedback you get is excellent and consistent and they have told you that you are still their preferred, supplier, the last thing you must be is complacent.

Remember that in a market downturn, the focus is on cost reduction and it is often someone else in the company who suddenly comes along and decides where significant savings can be made. That means your great relationship may suddenly account for very little.

So where is the proof?

David McDermott is a Managing Partner of edoMidas Ltd and is an advisor and international speaker on competitive pitching. His success is founded on thoroughly researched pitching strategies, drawing from experiences of the most successful business pitches globally. Recognised for his world class expertise his success stories include helping a major investment house double their assets under management in just under three years, helping a leading law firm win seven out of seven pitches and a consulting engineer to win a large mandate they thought “was in the bag” for their competitor.

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