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What’s your pitch preparation process? – Have an good answer to this question

My “go to” question to determine how effective an individual or company is at pitching is to ask “what’s your pitch preparation process?” Continuously I am underwhelmed with the response. At a recent afternoon session, I asked this question to 25 VPs at a fortune 100 company based in NYC. Not only were the VPs in the same company, they were in the same division and their CEO described them as a close knit sales team. I asked the question and had them email their answer to me. I received 25 different responses ranging from 2 to 11 steps; all with different explanations, zero synergy. It was like I’d asked 25 random individuals.

As a keynote speaker at a Mining & Construction Conference in Perth, Australia where I spoke about pitching in hard times (Perth was suffering from the decline in the resources sector). I opened much along the same lines, and had a runway of questions to open the session:

  • How many of you are involved in pitching to win business? (80% of the audience)

  • Do you have a pitch preparation process? (40% of the audience)

  • Can you articulate specifically what your pitch preparation process is (10% of the audience)

  • Can you come up on stage and describe how many steps you have and provide a one-line description for each step – NO TAKERS!!!

My point is regardless of bad times, good times even great times, if you are a dynamic sales organization and have to pitch to win business, how can you afford not to have a process? As William Edwards Deming said, “If you can’t describe what you do as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing”. Having spent the last 20 years observing and consulting in pitch preparation all around the world, there is endless opportunity to be better and it all starts with process.

Technology and information has dramatically changed the pitching environment. In 2014 the world produced more information than the period from 3000 BC to 2008, that is, in one year the world we live in has produced more information than over 5,000 years. If you are going about pitching the same way you did 20 years ago, or 10 years ago…even 5 years ago, you are living in the past. Gone are the days where good old Bob or Shirley can leverage their relationships to win business and go to the pub and sort it out on the back of a beer coaster. Today, decisions take much longer, more people are involved and we are increasingly subject to the RFP process and every sales person’s favourite function, Procurement. Forget about recruiting sales people who are characters and have a flair, go to the engineering department of universities and look for process oriented individuals who have a high attention to detail as winning at the margins has never been more prevalent.

Ever been in a meeting regarding a pitch and you’ve observed the following characteristics:

  • Constant speculation about what the decision will be with no constructive discussion about what needs to be done

  • Different team members competing for air time to highlight how their thoughts are better than others, but in reality the team is spinning their wheels

  • A distinct absence from senior team members or subject matter experts who really count because it’s just precedence that they don’t get involved until a couple of days before

Bottom line these characteristics are typical (and don’t tell me they’re not…I’m too old and cynical). For a minute stop and think about the cost in terms of time, money and frustration.

The notion of standard operating procedure or protocol or playbook all give the impression of (sigh) some admin procedure. GET OVER IT! Accept that in certain situations it is essential. It’s reassuring to know pilots operate to a proven procedure, as does a fireman or even a musician in preparation for a concert. They do it for a reason…to make sure their actions achieve the required outcome in the most optimal way, and if it isn’t optimal they will refine and re-engineer their process.

Another consideration is that there is process and there is process. Total focus on efficiency will result in exactly that. “Cut and Paste” is a sad symptom of current times where individuals think of “short cuts = efficiency”. There needs to be a qualitative element to process whereby each step is carefully thought through to produce a specific outcome that all culminates with the other sequential steps producing the best possible effort to win. Dare I say if business competed against professional sports teams with their pitch preparation processes Vs game plans, business would be a very sad loser. Just to throw you a bone, the single most important aspect of pitching is that individuals make decisions not companies. Combining that with the fact we as individuals are heavily influenced by emotional factors, in many instances in preference to rational, sales teams need their protocol to cater for the qualitative aspects?

My overall key take away is, stop and think. Within your sales team, how religious is the pitch preparation procedure and how fanatical are team members about adopting that process…with 100% compliance?…there is a better way.

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