Thomas Brown, former Director of Strategy and Marketing at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) gives us an in-depth view of potential curveballs your audience could throw before, during and after a pitch.

Trying to get to grips with what motivates the panel is one of the hardest parts of pitching for new business. Do they already have a clear idea of what they want or are they looking to be educated? Are they likely to vote with their pockets or do they value good chemistry above all else?

1. I don’t like this agency, and I haven’t even met them yet

The power of storytelling is widely considered to be the top skill in sales. However, storytelling should ultimately begin before the pitch, with a company’s own website and online profile. If:

  • you’re difficult to find
  • your website’s bad
  • you’re not able to bring to life a compelling story around who you are

… then you’ve got no hope of convincing me that you can be powerful storytellers for me and my brand.

Preparing for being Google-searched is a good way to get one step ahead of the game. Your website should be very much like a portfolio, clearly demonstrating the projects you’re proud of. Plus it helps to ensure you’ve got a clear voice on your social channels, because this could be the hook that lands you the opportunity to pitch in the first place.

2. I’m not excited by what I’m seeing

Like any great story, no matter how compelling the idea you’re pitching is, it has the potential to fail miserably if it’s not described in the right way. The panel don’t want to have to work hard to understand what you’re saying, and they definitely don’t want to feel bored or as though their time is being wasted. Storytelling is an art that’s often discussed but one that’s not fully understood. It’s important to realise that not everyone who works within an agency is a natural-born story teller.

A good way to get around this is to hire someone who is. I wouldn’t look at other agencies, I’d go straight to the hacks, the journos who do this stuff for a living. Condensing large quantities of information down into attention-grabbing stuff is undoubtedly second nature to a journalist and this has the potential to be very powerful in a pitch setting.

3. I’m not seriously considering hiring anyone

When scoping out a potential new client it’s imperative that you don’t end up wasting resources on a pitch that you never had a chance of winning in the first place. Things I’d expect to be investigated on pre-pitch include: ‘Why are we going through this process? Have we just fired an agency? Have we fallen out with one? Are we just going through this because every three years my finance director makes me go through a re-pitching process but really I’m going to keep the people I’ve been working with for some time?’

If a business is asking themselves these questions and answering honestly, you’re in with a much better chance of unearthing a hidden agenda. Take a look at my article on idea theft and how to avoid it to ensure you know how to protect your ideas during a pitch.

4. This company won’t work well with the other agencies we employ

The single biggest word I hear these days is integration. It’s always impressive if you can show you’re really going to help the client bring together all of the various activities they may be investing in. If you’re only offering one service, it’s crucial to demonstrate that you’re compatible with other agencies and won’t cause any rifts.

You should show that you can ‘almost be a little bit of the glue’ that brings the different channels together. Essentially, if you can instil confidence in your panel, you’re going to be in with a bigger chance of winning.

5. I don’t have time for this

A serious curveball could come in the form of a cut-throat panel member with little-to-no real time to give you. A really simple way to get around this is to make sure you prepare two presentations. Rather than getting flustered and trying to decide which part of your eighty-slide deck you need to get to, you can say ‘that’s fine, I’ve got another presentation here which is five slides long.’ These five slides should aim to:

  • concisely prove that you know what you’re talking about
  • display your understanding of what you’re being asked to accomplish
  • demonstrate how you’re going to accomplish this
  • explain what you’re proposing
  • talk numbers and how much this investment is worth for the client

The reality of it is, a hiring panel is made up of people not dissimilar to your company. They most probably have big ambitions, limited time and stressful jobs. So when preparing your pitch be sure to spare a thought for what you might be thinking if the shoe were on the other foot.

Undoubtedly, you’d want to be respected, empathised with, and ultimately impressed. Knowing exactly what the panel is thinking will never be fully achievable, but the closer you get to understanding their motivations and desires, the closer you will be to winning that pitch.

For more information on the Chartered Institute of Marketing, visit CIM.

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