“When’s the baby due?” To ask this of a non-pregnant woman is one of life’s great gaffes. To ask it, as I did some years ago before starting a pitch, is about as bad as it gets.
I say this to set a marker in the ground: I know I have stuff still to learn about pitching, which is why finding myself running a couple of big-sized tenders for clients recently has proved to be an insightful experience.
Here’s what I and Team Wardour learnt (or relearnt) about ‘how to’ and, more importantly, ‘how not to’ pitch from the companies that presented:
• Show some respect. For instance, don’t let anyone from your team chew gum during the meeting – unless perhaps you are pitching to Wrigleys.
• Pitches are awkward. Acknowledging the awkwardness is good, making out that we are best friends in a bar is not. You can lay on too much charm.
• Sound clever; don’t read from a script. That just makes you look like you left your brain with your coat at the door.
• If you decide to ignore that tip, at least be young and inexperienced – not someone who reads out that they have more than a decade’s experience in their sector.
• Make sure everyone on the team has a role in the meeting. Colleagues who have nothing to say end up just nodding, smiling, fiddling with things and generally looking like something from Creature Comforts.
• Remember the client is the story. Supplier creds are hugely boring unless they have been packaged to be relevant to the client’s project.
• It’s great when clients engage and ask questions during a pitch presentation, but don’t keep saying: “What do you think?” It starts to feel pressurising.
• If you want to win, don’t appear too posh to push. Look as though you actually want the work but, of course, don’t come across as desperate – that’s just creepy.
• Don’t let one person monopolise the presentation. Yes, you may be a genius who speaks better than anyone else, but you just end up looking like a dictator, benign or otherwise.
• Have some questions to ask at the end, but not too many. If you can’t tell when the client wants to wrap up, you shouldn’t be leading the chat.
In the end, what won in both tenders was obvious. To misquote Clinton: “It’s the content, stupid”. Gimmicks and NLP techniques are one thing but when sitting on the clients’ side of the fence, what impresses are good ideas that are professionally presented at a fair price.
By the by, we won the “when’s the baby due?” pitch, which has to prove that winning is down to more than charm…
By Martin MacConnol, chief executive, Wardour