I’ve seen pitches succeed or fail for many reasons. Sometimes they fail for reasons beyond the pitch team’s control. But you’d be surprised at how many companies lose business they should have won for reasons that were entirely within their control: either they threw their pitches together at the last minute or developed them without rhyme or reason. Nobody robbed them of the business. They willingly handed it over by shooting themselves in the foot.
I’ve seen a few bone-headed pitching approaches in my day. More often than not, though, I don’t see any approach. Many companies have no process in place at all. Typically, when team members hear they’ll be working on a pitch, everyone fans out in different directions and their process consists of throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. But if I had to pick the top mistakes I see teams making again and again, they’d be these three:
Viewing the client’s needs through your eyes, instead of the client’s
This is numero uno, no doubt about it. It’s not hard to see why. If you’re in sales, then presumably you like to sell, and if you’re proud of your company’s services (which you should be or why work there?), you probably want to boast a little. You want to say, “We’re the best! Nobody can touch us. We have this and this and this and this and that’s why you should hire us.”
If that’s your first impulse, then you really need to work on impulse control. Why? Because it’s not about you. It’s about your client. More to the point, it’s about what your client needs that you can provide. You may have a killer rep. You may be bigger than Beyoncé. But if what you’re selling isn’t what they need, they won’t give a damn if you can put a ring on it.
Taking the easy way out by cutting and pasting sections from previous proposals
Since you’re already working on your impulse control, here’s another impulse I urge you to resist: the impulse to submit a proposal you created by cutting and pasting chunks from others. I know you think nobody will notice if you sneak in a little filler, but you’re wrong. Just as clients can always smell a pitch that’s full of hot air, they can spot a pre-fab proposal coming a mile away. You may think it’s nuts to start from scratch. Why not take a shortcut? Everybody else does. Well, here’s one compelling reason: you’ll be shown the door. Let me put it this way: You’re trying to woo a client who’s looking for someone who can satisfy their longings better than anyone else. Do you seriously think it’ll blow their skirt up if you use the same lines on them that you used on someone else?
Failing to formulate a coherent strategy or develop a compelling story
I could write a whole book on this one. The problem is endemic. On the up side, my desire to fix it gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Let me be clear: coming up with a great pitch involves a combination of art and science, but we’re not talking rocket science. Certain basic rules apply, and two of the most important are these: All pitches require a strategy and a story. The strategy has to make sense for the client in question, so it has to be rooted in the client’s needs. To understand those needs, you have to get to know the client in a deep way, which you cannot do simply by checking out their website. Then you need a compelling story based on that strategy. Finally, you need a creative way to tell your story. Strategy, story and presentation are the three foundational elements of every pitch, and you have to tackle those three elements in that order. If you prepare your presentation first, you’re doing it wrong.
Do you recognize yourself here? If so, the good news is that every one of these mistakes is eminently fixable, and fixing them isn’t a big deal. You just have to be willing to change your bad habits and devote the disciplined time it takes to turn them around. If you do, you’ll start winning. Maybe not the first time, but eventually. I see it time and time again.