How to pitch for new business

Your hit rate at winning new assignments isn't as high as it should be and the other day you saw a client yawn in your presentation. So what can you do about it? Here's a crash course in pitching for new business.

by Alexander Garrett
Last Updated: 14 Dec 2012

Be picky. Don't pitch for business that is not a great fit for your company, says Jon Steel, head of planning at WPP and author of Perfect Pitch: The art of selling ideas and winning new business. 'It's much better to wait for the right client and then throw everything at the opportunity,' he says.

Follow the process. Don't underestimate the role of procurement in many areas of awarding business, with the request for information (RFI) and the request for proposal (RFP) often the gateway to a place in the beauty parade. Marketing consultant Steve Greensted says: 'Take every stage extremely seriously - don't just assume your presentation will win on the day.'

Do your research. Find out as much as you can about the requirement or the problem that the client wants solved, and do your homework on who'll be at the presentation. 'One of the most common mistakes is that companies pitching for business simply don't read the brief,' says Greensted.

Who's doing what? Create a pitch team and make sure you know who is responsible for what - down to ordering the taxi and bringing the presentation slides. 'A particularly destructive mistake is for the pitch to be prepared by one group of people but delivered by another,' says Steel. 'I prefer a small team, who see it through from start to finish and make all the major decisions together.'

Rehearse. You don't need to script every single word, but you do need to ensure delivery is smooth. 'You should always practise your opening and rehearse how you are going to stand,' says Tina Lamb, senior training consultant at Impact Factory. 'If everyone knows what they are going to say, it doesn't matter so much what order you say it in.'

Listen. 'The key to a pitch is to get the client talking,' says Lamb. Interaction is more engaging than being addressed as a passive audience, and ensures the client doesn't feel it's a stock presentation. 'You create empathy with the client by listening,' she adds.

Tell a story. 'If you don't have a storyline, you don't have a presentation,' says Steel. Stories compel attention in a way that simply imparting information doesn't and give structure to your pitch.

Use PowerPoint with care. It's fine to provide a framework and even some thought-provoking images, but if you give your audience slides that are cluttered with information, they become a distraction. 'Use the 50 mph rule,' says Steel. 'If you drive past the slide at 50 mph, will you understand it?'

Get the tone right. 'Make sure the client knows that you know your stuff, and pitch yourself as an equal who can speak their language,' says Greensted.

Do say: 'Are you sitting comfortably ... then we'll begin.'

Don't say: 'The next 23 slides will tell you everything we know about your market.'

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