While 96% of businesses believe a good presentation can positively influence a client’s decision, it’s important to focus on every crucial ingredient to deliver a winning pitch. Here’s what you need to consider.
’Humans have an attention span of around eight seconds’- Microsoft, 2015. While the tech giant’s study is by no means conclusive, it does successfully highlight just how fierce the fight to be noticed really is, especially in business.
For all businesses, including agencies, start-ups and entrepreneurs, attention from investors, partners and potential clients can mean the difference between success and failure. For those lucky enough to make it to pitching stage, it’s crucial to be credible, attention-worthy and trustworthy.
Successfully Leverage a Pitch Opportunity
A report by marketing and sales skills training company Corporate Visions reveals that while many businesses understand the importance of a pitch, many don’t leverage the golden opportunity as well as they could.
• 42% of businesses believe that starting a pitch by introducing an ‘unconsidered need’ is the best way to go but surprisingly, less than 14% actually pitch this way
• That means 86% of businesses create pitches that are different to what the largest percentage believe are most effective
Give Clients What They Want
When it comes to agencies and brands the disconnect is similar, a survey on pitches by Kiwi Gray reveals what agencies think brands want versus what they actually want.
• 96% of agencies believe a good presentation influences a brands decision
For brands, it’s not that simple:
• 29% of brands are looking for content
• 29% want to see an understanding of the questions posed in the brief
• 25% want to see the commercial numbers
• 11% care about the delivery of the presentation
What the Experts Say
John Williams Head of Marketing at Instant Group: “There has been one consistent element to every winning pitch that I have taken part in – present a big idea and bring it alive. It sounds simple but it always works. Experience, process, even fees are all part of the mix, but a successful pitch always hinges on that one concept, the key moment of creativity that shows a client that you get it. You understand their challenge. And you can solve it. This is obviously re-enforced by the medium of presentation. Anything you can do to really bring that idea to life, from web design to print, will highlight your winning moment of strategic clarity. I have moved from agency to client side and during that transition from pitcher to recipient, I can safely say that the one thing the client always talks about is that flash of creativity that renders every other facet of the pitch redundant.”
Ginny Bown from Amplify, a UK-based pitch and presentation coaching company says: “When it comes to pitching, it is all about defining, rather than defending, what you do. A zebra doesn't need to convince somebody that he isn't a horse, we can see from his stripes that he is what he says he is. Likewise, when you pitch, it is all about explaining adequately who you are, what you do and most importantly, why someone should care."
Louis Venter, CEO of award-winning UK digital agency MediaVision: “I feel authenticity is the best quality in a pitch. Speak openly and honestly about what you feel the opportunities are and how to unlock them, rather than come across as too rehearsed. Invite them to interrupt whenever they want to ask questions. This proves you know your subject and are willing to discuss whatever comes up rather than having to stick to a script”.
Ginny Bown also says: "One of the most powerful tools you can use when you are pitching is story-telling; stories help you do everything you need to do as a communicator. A recent study from Stanford University Press concluded that 'stories are 22 times more powerful than a fact' because it allows you to draw the audience into your world. Yes, you need both facts and stories, but you cannot neglect that really at our core we are all human and want to be connected with; stories allow you to do exactly that."
9 Ingredients for a Successful Pitch
The space between what clients want to see and what businesses deliver can sometimes be vast, and to pull off a successful pitch it’s crucial to close that gap. Here’s how:
1. Understand the Needs of Your Audience
A sure way to lose the attention of your audience is to pitch ideas they don’t want or need. To illustrate that you understand the brief, start the pitch with a quick summary of their needs, then use the meeting to explain how you plan to meet them. Providing insights into needs the audience may not have considered is a great way to gain a competitive advantage.
In this context, it’s crucial to understand your audience and their company, because if you’ve been shortlisted to make it to pitching phase, you can be sure they already know you and what you can deliver. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, company websites and any other collateral you can get your hands on to prepare. Review competitors, read brand guides, analyse data, and really get to grips with the brand. Communicate. If you’re unsure what they care about, ask them.
2. Go Above and Beyond to Add Value
Clients want to work with partners who bring extra value to the table. Can you offer new services or technologies as they come to the market? Does your company culture differentiate you from the competition? If so, mention it. Be specific about your purpose and be confident about what you can offer, with a focus on extra services and unique selling points. Ask yourself what you can deliver that goes above and beyond the brief, and define it clearly and simply.
3. Differentiate Yourself with Credible Evidence
Clients believe that 53% of those pitching over-promise most of the time. Your audience needs to know that what you say during your pitch is credible, so be prepared to talk through the reasons why your claims are credible and how they can be backed up with evidence. Reassure them in the form of case studies, results, testimonials or award wins.
While you should never criticise another business during a pitch, it helps to be aware of your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses so you can highlight your strengths more effectively. Instead of focusing on their weaknesses, focus on what makes you different, stronger, and better, which will help you build a more solid case.
4. Build a Personal Relationship
Remember that people buy from people. So, while it’s important to engage with your audience in an authoritative and knowledgeable way, it’s even more important to be natural, relaxed, and warm. In an informal pitch, a discussion on similar interests outside work may help cultivate a relaxed atmosphere. During the pitch, it’s important to invite questions and conversation, and remember that you can all learn and benefit from one another.
5. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Some of the greatest pitches of all time have been a last-minute rush, but that doesn’t mean the speakers weren’t prepared. Aside from ensuring you answer the brief concisely and confidently, the purpose of a pitch is to be prepared for any potential challenges or problems that could arise. Ensure you know your pitch well enough to be able to anticipate these and have answers for them. A well thought out concept is invaluable. If all else fails and you don’t have the answer for something, ‘I’ll find out’ is better than ‘I’m not sure’.
6. Polish Your Presentation Skills
Business Development Consultant Michael Gass says studies have shown that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but remember about 80% of what they see and do. Retention is six times greater when the information is presented visually.
Your visual pitch presentation should convey key messages, keep you on track with time and provide support to what you say, but don’t rely on it to tell the whole story. There is nothing more boring and disengaging than being asked to read 20 slides in a PPT with no conversation. Be aware of your volume and speed, especially with a larger audience.
7. Make a Killer Pitch Deck
When it comes to a pitch deck, less is more. Avoid long text and opt for bold visuals, questions, and statements instead. Ensure all your most relevant points are covered and use images, mock-ups and statements as prompts to have deeper discussions or explain details.
For printed decks, don’t underestimate the importance of finishing touches. Spend time having your pages professionally printed on high quality, weighty paper, and bound to keep them neat. For digital decks, ensure your formatting is locked and will work across all operating systems, and ensure images, videos, and text render properly on-screen. Ensuring your presentation can be viewed on smaller and larger screens is also a bonus.
8. Remember the Power of Storytelling
Research suggests that 79% of people want brands to tell a story, and your audience is no different. Use your pitch deck to convey facts but don’t be afraid to offer up a story or a glimpse into your company by revealing some of the history, challenges, and victories you’ve faced. Storytelling not only makes you more relatable, but it can also help convey your company culture more effectively.
9. Assemble a Team
Kiwi Gray’s survey of agencies showed that 42% appoint a Pitch Leader to own the entire process, while 17% always appoint a Pitch Administrator. One of the best ways to crush a difficult pitch is to assign a pitch team to the task. Not only do you need strategists, copywriters, and designers to contribute and build a deck that’s presentation-worthy, but when it comes to delivering the final idea, it helps to have a team of specialists in the room with you. That way you can build on each other’s strengths and cover for each other in areas you may not be as strong in, ensuring that every aspect of the brief is covered and a potential client can have a conversation with an expert.
For smaller pitches, it is good to be accompanied by at least one other member of the team. This will help convey to the audience that there is depth to the pitch and that it does not stop with the person delivering the message.
One of the last and most important things to remember is that if you don’t feel like you can make a genuine difference to a company through your work, insights, or products, why pitch in the first place?