The fall is always one of the busiest times of the year for new business development. Responding to new requests, proposal writing and pitching are all part of the crazy fall schedule. In today’s competitive market winning new business is harder than ever before. That’s why you cannot just be good at pitching new business; you have to be great.
Anyone that knows me knows I love the pitch. Some people hate the boardroom or the pitch. I live for that moment. The energy in the room, the feeling after you nail it, and of course, when you get the call that you have won the business.
I have never seen myself as a salesperson. I love to tell stories, solve complex problems and tell people about the amazing ways we can help. I don’t see a pitch as a sales presentation but rather a performance. Like any great play or movie. To me it’s art. Storytelling. It’s a performance on the small stage.
Learn from the best
One of greatest pitch stories I ever heard was from famed creative director Lee Clow. His agency was pitching the idea of only showing one single product feature in an ad campaign for Apple. Steve Jobs wanted to show five features. During the pitch Clow opened his notebook and ripped out five pieces of paper and crumpled them into balls. He picked one up and said, “Pretend this is one of your product features we are going to communicate to your customers.” He then threw the ball at Jobs. He caught it. And Jobs threw it back at Clow. Clow then picked up all five balls and threw them at Jobs. He didn’t catch any of them. Jobs got up from the table, smiled and said, “Sold.”
If you’re interested in honing your pitching and presentation skills, you have to learn from the best. Garr Reynolds’ book Presentation Zen and Peter Coughter’s The Art of the Pitch are some of the best out there. Peter’s book is a must read and I often refer to it during prep sessions. In today’s hyper competitive business world clearly communicating and pitching your idea, services and products is not a nice to have, it’s a must have. From the first year co-op student, to the business owner, everyone needs to become a great pitch person.
The five elements of a pitch
Every detail matters during a pitch; who says what, who attends, where everyone sits. Every detail matters. Every slide and every word matters. It’s the difference between a good pitch and winning the business. Taking a few points from Peter’s book, and adding a few of my own, here are what I view as the five elements that make up a great pitch:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Work in a small core team, 3-4 people max. Others might provide support. Start quickly and devote equal time to each aspect of the pitch. Think about possible questions and rehearse your responses.
2. Recognize your competition
Know who you are up against. Know their strengths and weaknesses. Don’t obsess about your competition just find ways to beat them.
3. Ensure a narrative
The best pitches are done by telling a great story. Don’t just talk at your audience, carefully craft smart questions and ask them. Use minimal slides with a leave behind.
4. Keep the tone engaging
The audience doesn’t just listen to what you say; it’s also about what it means to them. People will feed off your passion.
5. Connect with the audience
Be human. Be bold. Minimize space between you and the audience. Give a sense of what it would be like to work with you.
One of the most important things to learn is that a pitch is live theater and something may go wrong. How you react and respond is key to winning. Becoming great at anything takes practice and years of experience. Pitching is not easy. Start by re-framing your presentation as a performance and follow the above key elements.