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In pitching, as in life, always seek a partner who complements you

Hamish and I share the same last name (except for the “a”), but in almost every other way we’re polar opposites. Our differences drive us crazy at times, but they’re also likely the reason we’ve forged a complementary collaboration as spouses and business partners.

What, you may ask, does our yin yang as a couple have to do with pitching to win? When you pitch for new business, you don’t just hope to win a contract; you want to go from pitch to partnership and develop a long-term relationship with the client. Tempting as it may be, to find the right client you can’t just throw a bunch of pitches at the wall and hope something sticks. You have to pitch clients with whom you have a fighting chance of forging a complementary collaboration. If you don’t figure that out before you answer an RFP, it’s like dating someone with whom you have no chemistry. A waste of time. Hamish and I had a hunch early on we would work together as partners in both senses of the word. As I said, our respective strengths and weaknesses balance out well.

Hamish is a systems guy. He’s great on process, analytics and the big picture. Give him a chart or a graph and his heart goes pit-a-pat. Show me one and my eyes glaze over. I’m the word person. I have to see something written out for it to make sense to me. Hamish is great at conceiving a broad theme for a pitch, but sometimes his ideas need a bit of finessing. I tend to focus on each and every word, so I’ll challenge him to refine his ideas until they’re more concise and accessible for the client. And while Hamish is great at structuring a story, I’m better at storytelling, so after he structures it I’ll pick it up and run with it from there.

In front of clients, we couldn’t be more different personality-wise. He’s the tough taskmaster and outspoken Australian. I’m down-to-earth and direct too, but being Canadian, more diplomatic, measured and politically correct in my approach. Hamish can be a charming guy, of course, but he’d be the first to tell you that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He can get impatient with clients who cling to bad pitching habits out of ignorance or fear. I’m more patient and affable, so in meetings if he starts to get testy, I’ll smooth things over or make a joke to ease the tension, like saying, “Try being married to him.”

I challenge Hamish on his ideas if I think they need massaging, but I’m sold on the Strategy Assessment that he runs clients through before they pitch. I’ve seen what a useful tool it can be to help them determine whether they’re compatible with the client before they make any serious commitments. It helps them to choose wisely by forcing them to answer three questions (whose value are weighted according to a formula in the overall score): how well they know the decision makers, understand their needs, and understand how the clients view them relative to the competition.

The bottom line is this: unless you’re strategic about the clients you pitch, you may find yourself trapped in a dysfunctional relationship, and as we all know, dysfunctional relationships make everybody miserable and often end badly. So before you hit send, make sure you know the answer to this important question: “Is this relationship for me?” It worked for us.

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