Should You Pitch for Every Opportunity You Get?

Ran across an article yesterday about the high cost and low return of responding to requests for proposals by in-house counsels seeking attorneys.   

The article points out that the win rate is only 30 percent and the cost to get to the pitch can exceed $50,000. I once worked with an architecture firm that told me that they regularly spent more than $50,000 to respond to an RFP.

So question arises: is it worthwhile to get in line to pitch for a piece of business?

Of course, the answer depends.  It’s worthwhile if you know what you’re doing in approaching the RFP.

You increase your chances of winning if you do a few things:

  1. Never pitch blind. If you have no relationship with the prospective client prior to the RFP, be careful.  The way to win these proposals is to have a strong sense of the needs before you show up for the pitch. If you don’t know anyone at the company, you won’t have a strong sense of the business issues, won’t have any relationship with the key players, and probably won’t win.
  2. Present a solution. Make sure that you lay out your presentation as a solution to a problem that  your listeners have.  So many sellers deliver presentations that are nothing more than general presentations about the history and quality of their firm or business. No one cares! Deliver a pitch that is focused on how you’re going to save the company money, help them increase revenues or otherwise lower their risk. That’s what business people want to hear.
  3. Keep it simple. So many presentations are complicated and hard to follow. If yours is simple, you come across as easy to work with. 
  4. Deliver with passion.  People want to like the people they hire. If you seem fun to work with, you increase your chance of getting hired.
  5. Leave plenty of time for questions.  Clients want to kick the tires. They do that by asking questions.
  6. Rehearse. If you want to impress the client, practice your presentation out loud many times. Few presenters do it. So it’s an automatic separator.
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Treasury Secretary Gets Tough Lesson in How Not to Win a Pitch

If you want to sell and idea, give a specific plan that your audience can evaluate. The more detailed, the better. With that in mind, it’s no wonder that the proposed financial bailout yesterday did not immediately sell well.

Now I have not suddenly decided that I’m an expert on issues of global finance. And I have no idea whether yesterday’s proposed bailout of the financial sector by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will ultimately succeed. I certainly hope it succeeds.  We have many clients that are hurting. And that is not good for my company.

But here’s the quote from this morning’s New York Times that grabbed my attention.

But the initial assessment of the plan from the markets, lawmakers and economists was brutally negative, in large part because they expected more details. (Emphasis mine).

Clearly the lack of detail in Geithner’s plan did not go over well.  My only point is that anyone who wants to learn how to deliver a successful sales pitch can learn something here.
The best way to sell an idea is to propose a specific solution to a problem that your listener faces. Your prospect will get more excited about your idea the more your plan looks like a clear solution. 
So if you want to win a pitch, propose a clear solution with as many details as you can provide.
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To Win Business, Deliver a Solution-Oriented Pitch

If you want to start giving the kind of sales presentations that win business, get rid of the “dog and pony show” and deliver a solution-oriented pitch.


A solution-oriented pitch sounds like an insightful, personalized business analysis that is highly valuable by itself. It’s a presentation that demonstrates that you are well on your way to solving the client’s key business challenge.


Place a Dumpster in Your Client’s Driveway


A solution-oriented pitch is like the blue dumpster that a building contractor left in my driveway one April afternoon. 


Let me explain.


My wife and I were planning a major renovation for our house. We obtained bids from three contractors. Mark was the highest bidder by about five percent. One day, I came home from work and in the corner of my driveway was a huge blue construction waste dumpster. I was stunned.


My wife didn’t know anything about it. I called Mark and asked if he knew anything about it.


“I put it there,” he said.

“But we haven’t selected you,” I told him. “You’re higher than the other bidders.”


 “We’re always a little higher,” he said. “But you’re interested in getting this project completed by the end of August before the kids go back to school. If you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to get started right away. I put the dumpster there so that as soon as you pick me, I’ll be ready to start demolition right away.”


“If we don’t pick you, what happens with the dumpster?” I said.


“I’ll haul it away and pay for it myself,” he said. “I’m taking the entire risk there. I just want to get started. And if you pick me, I’m starting right away.”


Maybe it was a pressure tactic. However, my wife and I saw it differently. We thought Mark was showing us how badly he wanted the business by expending resources for our benefit before he actually had the job. He was working at solving our problem before he was even hired.  He got the job.


Demonstrate That You’ve Expended Resources to Solve the Client’s Problem


A great pitch should be like the dumpster in the driveway. It should be a demonstration of how you have expended resources and begun solving your prospect’s problem before you’ve even been hired.


Of course, just expending resources for your prospect isn’t enough. You need to show that you understand your prospect’s problems and have a good plan.  That takes work.


The best pitches present solutions so detailed and compelling that they make the prospect think, “Wow you guys have really thought through this problem and have come to us with some substantial work demonstrating a commitment to solve it.”


Get your prospects thinking that way, and it becomes very hard to turn you down.


Let’s say that you sell medical supplies and an outpatient surgical center has asked you for a presentation on your gloves, masks, gowns, and other sterile garments.


What would a poor seller do?   He would show up and give a presentation going through all the various products that his company offers, talking about the features and benefits. Then he’d end the presentation by asking for an order. This is a standard “dog and pony show.”  The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t show any sense of familiarity with the client’s business challenges.


Before Pitching, Seek a Chance to Analyze the Prospect’s Business


A good seller — a seller interested in using a solution-oriented approach – would accept the invitation to give the presentation in the following way:


 I’d love to give you a presentation.  But before, I come, I’d like to take a tour of your facility, speak to some nurses, and your purchasing agent.  That will allow us to give you a presentation that will best meet your needs.


If a full tour were not possible, the good seller would at least ask for the chance to speak to a few decision-makers prior to the presentation.  He would seek any information possible to allow him to present a solution-oriented presentation.


Armed with detailed information about the key business issues, the good seller would then be able to position his presentation as a solution to some key business problems. That would position him to lay out a solution-oriented pitch.


During the Pitch, Lay Out the Client’s Business Problem. Then Propose a Solution


The model for a solution-oriented pitch is simple. You begin by detailing the client’s business problem.  Then you detail a solution that should stand on its own as a valuable piece of consulting work.


Just like Mark our builder, you’re putting a “dumpster” in the client’s driveway. Don’t spend any time talking about the history of your firm. Don’t talk about how many offices you have worldwide. Don’t talk about your revenues. Who cares?


Don’t even talk about your credentials. Your credentials will be apparent as you talk about your solution and how you’ve implemented similar solutions for other clients. Focus the presentation solely on what the client really cares about—a solution to her business problem.


The presentation might go something like this:


Over the last week, I’ve done an audit of how you’re using various operating room supplies including gloves, masks, and gowns.  We think you’re probably spending 10 percent too much. We also think your infection rates are unnecessarily high. And we think that we can improve the safety of your team members.


First, let’s talk about costs . . . .


Second, let’s talk about infection rates . . . .


Third let’s talk about improving the safety of your team members . . . .


Instead, of sounding like a typical salesperson hawking products, the good seller’s presentation sounds like a consultant who has identified a business problem and has started working on a solution.  That’s called putting a dumpster in the prospect’s driveway.


And that’s the kind of sales presentation that wins business.

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What Makes a Presenting Team Seem Like a Team?

One of the things that many business people say when they’re interviewing business partners is  “We’re looking for the best team.” 

So the question is this: how can you come across as a great team during a 30-45 minute presentation?

In doing many of these presentations I’ve learned a few things.

1.  It’s not something you can declare.  You can say “we are a team” all you want, but if you don’t present like a team, then you’re not going to seem like a team.  Of course, you should give examples of where you have all worked together in the past. But that is no substitute for presenting like a well-oiled machine.

2.  Be well-rehearsed.   The most import thing is simply to rehearse the presentation carefully so that everyone plays their roll well during the presentation. Good teams deliver presentations that don’t go over the time limit because one of the team members has spoken too long.   That long-winded speaker reveals that the group didn’t practice much together. How can you come across as a good team if you didn’t rehearse?

3.  Each presenter must fulfill an important and distinct role for the client.  On a football team, every player has a role. There is no duplication of purpose.  On a good presenting team, each player must address a different issue that is important to the client.  In construction presentations, often I’ll see two firm principles present because “we want to show the client that we care.”  One firm principle is enough.   The estimator should address the budget. The project manager should address the schedule. The superintendent should address issues of safety and site logistics. 

4.  Everyone should appear to like each other. While it’s  a hard quality to quantify, you want to give off the sense that everyone knows each other well.  During the presentation, everyone should be watching the other presenters carefully. You don’t want to be looking at your shoes or, worse, thumbing your Blackberry. When you hand off to a team member, you should find a nice thing to say about him. “Now I’d like to turn it over to Jack, our superintendent. Jack and I have worked together for 15 years. I call him The Captain because of the way he runs a job site. No one is better.” And smile at your colleague as you do that introduction.

5.  Everyone should speak with passion. When all the team members speak with enthusiasm, they give off a sense of unity of purpose.  If some of the members of the team are excited and others seem bored, there is the sense that some of the team members are committed when others aren’t.

6. No second guessing during Q&A. One of the easiest ways to show that you’re not a team is to second guess your colleague as they answer questions. If someone answers a question, then everyone needs to act like that’s the team answer. No second guessing allowed. Period!  If someone gives out wrong answers and you second guess them, it says a lot that’s bad about your team. First, it says that you didn’t prepare for the questions. Second, it says that you don’t really trust each other.

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Free Webinar on “How to Win a Pitch”

howtowin-cover1Do you want to learn how to create and deliver presentations that win business? 

Consider attending my upcoming free webinar on Feb 2 at 2 pm EST. During the program, I will discuss the ideas in my new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.” To buy the book click here.

During the webinar, you will learn:

  • How to grab your prospect’s attention and hold it through the presentation.
  • How to keep your message simple and persuasive.
  • How to Deliver the message with the kind of style that inspires confidence.
  • How to rehearse as a team.

To register for the webinar click here.   Instructions on how to log in to the webinar are provided when you register. 

The program is free. 

Don’t let the times confuse you. When you register, it will say 11-12 am Pacific Time.  Of course that translates to 2-3 pm EST.

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To Inspire, Give Plan then Tell Story

I was working recently with the President of a small financial services company who wanted help in inspiring her top producers. 

“What should I tell them?” she asked me.

“If you want to get people fired up, lay out a plan for success, then tell a story about how that plan works,” I said.

And that’s what she did.  She told her team members that success this year would be to open 500 new accounts. Then she detailed a marketing plan to get there.  Then she told a story about how one of the team members had added more than 500 new accounts last year.  

“I could feel people getting excited as we discussed it,” she said.

There’s something about a proven path to success that gets people fired up.

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New Year’s Resolution for a Great Sales Pitch

If you want to make a single resolution this year to improve your sales presentations, then make it this: Focus your sales presentations solely on your prospects’ needs.

I’ve said those words thousands of times. And every time I say them, I get knowing nods from my clients. Everyone seems to agree that the key to a great sales pitch is to do nothing other than address the business problem that the prospect faces.

In fact, “focusing on the prospect” is so universally accepted that it’s almost a banality.  It’s sort of like saying, “Being nice to people makes other people feel better” or “Feed your dog because otherwise he’ll be hungry.” 

It’s common sense. The problem, as my grandfather used to say, is that common sense isn’t particularly common.

While most people agree that sales presentations should focus on the business need of the prospect, most business presentations fail to address the business problem. Instead, they start by saying, “I know that you have some serious issues in your business. And we will address those. But first, I’d like to start by telling you a little about our company.”


That is not focusing on the business problem of the client.

A good sales presentation follows a simple pattern.

Step 1: Show that you understand the prospect’s problem. By that, I mean you should detail exactly the challenges that your prospect faces as best as you can.

Step 2: Lay out you solution.  Detail exactly how you’re going to help the prospect overcome the challenges that you detailed in step one. Provide examples of how your solutions have helped others with similar problems.

But don’t we have to talk about our company?  Usually not. If you’re invited to come to a presentation, usually they know about your company already. And if they don’t, they will figure it out by listening to your solution to their problem.

But shouldn’t we talk about our experience?  Yes. But only in the context of how it addresses the prospect’s problem.

If you want to win more business this year, make a New Year’s resolution. 

Focus your presentation solely on your prospect’s business problem.

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What Do You Do When You Lose a Pitch?

You can deliver the best sales presentation of your life and still lose. The question is this: what do you do then?

Seth Godin had a great answer to that question in a post over the weekend.

Writes Godin:

You could be more gracious than if you’d won the work. You could send a thank you note for the time invested, you could sing the praises of the vendor chosen in your stead and you could congratulate the buyer, “based on the criteria you set out, it’s clear that you made exactly the right choice for your organization right now.” That doesn’t mean the criteria were right, it just means that you’re not attacking the person for being an impulsive lunatic. You could even outline what you learned from the process and what you’ll be changing in the future. And you can make it clear that you’re in it for more than just a sale, and you’ll be around if they ever need you.

Remember, just because you’ve lost the pitch, doesn’t mean that you won’t ever get another chance with the prospect.  Being a good sport might allow you to win the next job.

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End Sales Pitches with a Commitment Statement

I worked with a construction firm that had a simple rule for all of their new business pitches. At the very end of every pitch, the last person to speak would look at one or more of the key decision-makers and make a “personal commitment statement.”

 We’ve laid out a plan for helping you build a hospital that will be a showpiece for your community. We think it’s an excellent plan. But we also know that there are going to be problems and roadblocks that arise as we move forward with this plan. I want to tell you that my colleagues and I want this business. And we want to do a great job for you. And I promise that we are going to do whatever it takes to make you happy. We just want to get started.

 I think that these commitment states are very powerful for several reasons. First, they’re rare. The idea of making such a bald, personal appeal is a little corny and old-fashioned. To me they sound like something you might hear on an episode of “Leave it to Beaver”. 


“And Beaver, when you interview for the job, be sure to tell Mr. Crabtree that you promise to do an excellent job for him.” 


“Sure thing, mom. Thanks for the tip.” 


Because they can sound a little corny, most people don’t make those types of commitment statements. That is exactly why you should make them. No one else will. It differentiates you.


More important, I think you should make these commitment statements because they work. Commitment statements impress people if they seem genuine. People want to work with others who are passionate about their work, and those who will do what it takes to succeed.


Finally, I think such statements are actually a compliment to your prospect. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Someone spent time examining your business and came up with a solution to a key business problem. Now they’re looking at you in the eye and telling you how badly they want to work with you, that they’re committed to doing their best work for you, and that they want to get started right away. That prospect’s thought process will be something like, “Wow, these people really are impressed with us and our organization and they really want to work with us. That makes me feel good.”

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“How to Win a Pitch” is Now Available!

My new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition” is due in bookstores and on Amazon in the Spring of 2009. But it’s available now at the Speechworks bookstore.  To order, click here.


The book details how we have helped our clients win billions of dollars in new business contracts.  It includes simple recipes for winning your next new business contract.  If you do what I say in the book, you will win business. You may not win every pitch, but you’ll win more than your fair share.


Below is the book’s introduction.


On a recent spring evening, I was with my wife walking our dog when my cell phone rang. When I saw who was calling, I took a deep breath before pressing the answer button.


“How did it go?” I said, as I picked up, not even bothering to say “Hello.”


It was the senior marketing officer of a large commercial contractor. We didn’t need small talk. He knew what I wanted to know.


For the past two days, I worked with his team of experienced builders in a conference room. We hammered out and then rehearsed a new business pitch. The prize was a contract to build a $150 million office building. His was one of three firms on the short list. That morning, all three had delivered a ninety-minute pitch competing for the job.


“We won,” he said, almost screaming into the phone. “They just called us to let us know. They said we blew the other teams away.”


I did a little jig beside the road. My wife laughed. My dog barked. But I wasn’t too surprised. I had seen the same thing happen over and over again.


My client had put together a great pitch with a laser-like focus on the client’s key business challenges. The message was extremely simple and organized. They rehearsed it like crazy. They even spent a couple of hours going through all the possible questions they expected to receive. The team was prepared.


My experience has shown that with the proper preparation and planning, you can greatly increase your chance of winning a pitch.


That’s what this book is about. You will learn how to consistently win new business pitches with a simple plan that applies to all businesses.


My firm has been helping companies win new business pitches for twenty-two years. We have worked with a broad cross-section of businesses: commercial contractors, law firms, architecture firms, accounting firms, insurance agencies, financial services firms, software firms, high-tech service providers, real estate firms, and many others. 


We have helped our clients win billions of dollars worth of new business contracts. And we have learned that you don’t win new business pitches by being the “best” firm. In fact, whether you are the best is usually irrelevant to whether you win.


That shouldn’t be too surprising for most businesspeople. Generally, firms that make it to the short list for an important piece of new business do great work. And the buyer can’t really tell which firm is the best. If they’re honest, most competitors for new business would admit that their competition could also do a great job.


Since doing great work doesn’t win the job, what does win? Repeatedly, we see that the firms consistently winning competitive business pitches are the ones simply delivering the best pitch. That means executing a series of simple sales pitch fundamentals better than the competition does. Those fundamentals include ensuring that the pitch is:


  • Focused on a business solution
  • Simply organized
  • Delivered with passion
  • Interactive
  • Well-rehearsed


These five fundamentals are the ingredients for a simple plan to winning new business presentations.

As you will see, this book is broken into five sections. Each section provides a detailed discussion and series of recipes for how to execute every step of the plan. You’ll find stories taken from my experiences in helping my clients win new business presentations.


In working with dozens of companies across many types of business, I’ve found that all of them have one major thing in common. They worry about how to make their firm stand out from the competition. By executing the fundamentals in this book, you will stand out.

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