I sent out a request a few weeks back on twitter looking for suggestions for the next HMA book club. Several responded, and I selected Perfect Pitch by Jon Steel. One, because it talked about winning new business, which right now all of us in the professional services world are interested in, but also because my friend and author Steve McKee suggested it. He’s got a book out now called When Growth Stalls, which I also happen to think is pretty terrific so if he recommends a book, I think it is worth a try.
Steel is the co-creator of the “got milk” campaign and works for one of the world’s largest marketing communications conglomerates. He says he’s won more than 90 percent of the new business he has pitched. That’s a pretty great track record so I’m inclined to put some of his suggestions to work. He uses real-life examples and anecdotes from the wide variety of presentations he’s made. I’ll attempt to summarize here:
- Primary premise of the book is the belief that the methods we traditionally employ for presentations stand in the way of effective communication and presentation. In other words, the actual presentation itself may be the problem, not the content itself.
- Art of influencing people lies with your ability to be a good storyteller.
- When pitching business you are likely in a competitive situation – you don’t have to be right; you just have to be more right than the competitor. Even just appearing to be more right or having the potential to be more right may be enough.
- The success of any presentation is measured by its effectiveness not its technical excellence.
- Consider the start of your presentation from the moment you are asked to present to the moment the account has been awarded.
- Know your audience – every word, every action, will pass through the prospect’s filter to their experience, expectations, prejudices, hopes and fears.
- Using the O.J. Simpson trial as an example – presenters (lawyers in this case) who pay attention to the effects of external social, economic, and cultural forces and understand how to use them to their advantage tend to succeed (Johnny Cochran). While those that ignore or fight against them will fail (Marcia Clark).
- Tried and true may not be suitable in every situation.
- The only opinion that really matters is the person’s who makes the decisions.
- Your audience needs to feel that nothing is more important to you than what you are saying and who you are saying it to. New business pitches have fallen apart because someone left the room to take a call or a key member of the team didn’t stop in to say “hi.”
- Most successful presenters – understand how to involve the audience; keep it simple; make it surprising, in surprise lies the energy that will change a mind, convince, inspire, recruit or persuade; believe passionately in what they are talking about.
- The potential client wants to meet the team that will be working on the account – even if they have a minor role in the presentation, try to bring everyone with you.
- When asked why the client hires the firm – “Because you wanted it more.” “You were a team; they were a bunch of individuals.” “Your presentation felt like the same presentation from start to finish.” “You seemed to enjoy what your colleagues were saying as much as I did.”
Five steps in preparing a presentation:
- Gather raw materials – don’t jump straight into the solution until you know what you are dealing with. Specific information pertaining to the product, brand and general information about the relationship of the brand in the lives of those that use it.
- Look for meaning – take all the facts and see how they fit together. Any ideas – no matter how stupid they may seem at the time – should be written down; the meaning will come later.
- Drop it – walk away from it for awhile. Let your subconscious mind take over the thinking.
- Adapt and Distill—hardest part because you need the patience to keep working with the ideas until you find the right one. Share your thoughts with others that are involved in the project.
- Writing the presentation – default position is to write a PowerPoint. If you do this too early it is like putting the cart before the horse. The story must come first, then the pretty pictures.
Many slides do not a presentation make – focus on the audience and the audience on you, rather than the slides, so that it is a two-way conversation not a lecture. The only real benefit of PowerPoint is for the presenter. It rarely is a benefit to the presentation or the listening audience (the client).
Clip art is nature’s way of saying you have no imagination.
Any successful new business strategy is to pitch only business that you really, really want and believe you can win.
- Why is the client here – interested in us and the work we do, or did they get our name from a list
- How strong is their brand – would be proud to represent it, believe in it
- Is the client the right fit for the agency – will they participate in their success, listen to us as we listen to them
- Will we be able to produce our best work TOGETHER – do they want us as much as we want them
- Who does this client really want to hire – if it’s not us, do we have a chance of changing their mind
- Do our existing client commitments leave us with the time we need to devote to this – first loyalty must be to the current clients
- Can we put our “A” team on the pitch
When it is time for the presentation
Rehearse rehearse rehearse – if the President of the United States rehearses before delivering the State of the Union address, so should your new business team.
Rarely is the business rewarded on the spot – the “presentation” may continue for days or weeks, until the final decision has been made. A follow-up call or note the next day thanking them for the opportunity is essential. Use the time to remind them of your core messages.
What you leave behind should be something that the recipients wouldn’t dare throw away – and this isn’t copies of your PowerPoint.
You are the presentation and nothing is more important that what you have to say. Steel truly believes that the time spent in crafting a presentation is directly proportional to the seriousness with which it will be received.