Leadership coach Jude Tavanyar shares four tips for pitching success.

Tip One: Know your client

In general, people show trust and belief in those who take the time to show how much they want to win that trust, and furthermore who have done enough research to know their client well, to understand what motivates them, and to try to speak their language.

So while — for example — having some facts and figures about the client’s business strategy is important, understanding what your client wants and values (whatever the scale of the business) is even more so. This means trying to gather a little more information about him or her as a person. What are his or her hobbies? What values motivate him or her? What kind of people does he or she enjoy spending time with? Having answers to questions like this is likely to take you further in your pitch to win business than simply being able to show that you can tick the relevant boxes to meet the client’s specifications.

And if at this point you are thinking: “Hang on — I don’t have time for this. These people are not buying my friendship, they just want to know my company can do the work” — then you are partly right. The pitch, in theory at least, is just about showing you have the resources to deliver what is required, ideally for the lowest price. And of course, the client is not interested in getting to know you deeply as a human being. However, if you, on the other hand, do not show an implicit engagement with their values and enthusiasms as a professional, then you may appear entirely competent and able to deliver, but you are not likely to win their trust as effectively.

Starting a pitch powerfully is about winning engagement — literally the client’s interest and attention — from the beginning. So knowing enough to build the relationship with your client from the start of your pitch will give you a serious competitive edge. And while most of your competitors will be able to deliver what is needed by the client, not all of them will have taken the trouble to look beneath the surface of the readily-available information about this client, and discover what makes them tick.

Tip Two: Anticipate the client’s challenges and respond to them

Starting with an anecdote or example from your experience that highlights shared values and interests between the client and your company creates a strong connection and confident start to your pitch, as well as showing that you have troubled to do some background research. Continuing with some examples of how your business can provide the required competencies and skills to meet their stated requirements is also crucial.

But one element of pitching which many otherwise highly talented presenters overlook is showing transparency about the challenges you think the client may face with this particular assignment. And this is often ignored because the pitching company thinks it can sound negative, and also may highlight the risks the client is taking on with the proposed project — scarcely a motivational topic. The reality is that the client will already have a clear sense of the challenges, hidden or otherwise, and may indeed expect you to have anticipated and, furthermore, be ready to respond to them.

Taking care to set out potential challenges in any assignment emphasises the care you have taken to research it and also showcases your business insight. Going beyond that to show how your company uniquely can respond to those challenges is even more effective in creating a sense of security and trust in your offering. Sharing a general example of a business client for whom you have already successfully delivered a similar assignment with equally demanding challenges, and achieved excellent outcomes in doing so — well, that might be described as the “icing on the cake” in pitching terms.

Tip Three: It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it

Pitching experts talk about this point as one of the most important, and yet again often ignored. Speaking the client’s language here means not just adjusting to their non-verbal communication — it means being aware of the “content” of their communication — and the kind of terminology they use to express it.

Communication psychologists talk about the importance of matching a client’s communication style by paying deep attention to it, and adjusting one’s own accordingly. They highlight four core styles of business communication — from high energy, action-based talk which might be favoured by a motivational speaker, and includes plenty of anecdotes and examples, to the in-depth analysis offered by those who rely on statistical evidence to make their case, to “person-centred” stories which show a wish to create a collaborative and supportive relationship, through to the metaphorical, “visual” and often inspirational vocabulary of the client who loves looking ahead and imagining what the future may hold.

Any pitch which includes all four styles to make its case to the client is likely to be highly compelling, while presenting excellent content but in a dreary, monotonous or incongruous style could be potentially devastating to your credibility in your client’s eyes. Simply, they will stop listening and your material will be wasted.

Tip Four: Sell the outcomes you can deliver, not the fee level you will accept

The most effective pitches sell outcomes — literally the difference your business will make in boosting the client’s level of success, however measured — and they use all of the above four communication styles to convey this. Many businesses pitching for an assignment get stuck on the idea that success will just come down to the fee proposed. While being the cheapest provider may in some cases win you the business, it could be at a loss to your confidence and with an uneasy feeling of discontent, if your price is too low. And, furthermore, there is almost always another competitor who will go in even lower than you.

It’s time to be confident and realistic. Under-pricing does no favours to the business market. Stand up for what you’re worth and stop making assumptions about what the client can afford. Talking about the difference you make, not the fee you will work to, is more motivational all round and, even if you lose this pitch, makes it easier to position your business at the right level on another occasion — and get the assignments you really want, at the right fee, in future.

Contact Jude at tavanyar@live.com.

Last reviewed 1 November 2017