For business owners and entrepreneurs, side-stepping the pitching process is hardly an option if you want to win clients. But whilst the process is a given in today’s business world, against the advent of start-up culture, ways to achieve success have departed from traditional days of laser pointers and boardrooms. Now, you need to be creative and receptive throughout your presentation, and don’t even need to put words (gasp!) on your PowerPoint slides. In fact, sometimes you don’t even need to use PowerPoint at all.
Pitching can be as intimidating as it is exhilarating, but once you know which method works best for you, and best captures your personality (because believe it or not, this is part of what you’re selling to a client, too!), it’ll just become another skill to add to your belt. Whether you run a sardine shipping business or are trying to score investment for your latest app, these top tips on how to pitch properly will have people begging for your business.
1) Tell a story
There’s no doubt about the power a story told well can have over an audience: whether in a bar or a boardroom. Essentially, pitching to someone is telling them the story of what you can do for them. It’s true that no two people tell a story the same, so it’s important you tell your story with all the finesse and authenticity it deserves to let your unique character, and the character of your business, naturally shine through. After all, you want to convince them that you’ll be great to work with, as well as outlining the returns you can give!
Spend your time talking about the client, and indicate how your proposal fits into their wider brand narrative: what have they done in the past, and against this, how can you help them to bring their company into a new, better standing? This not only gives your potential client the confidence that you’ve researched them, but proves you’ve properly engaged with their business by correctly putting it into context, and from here, indicating what success looks like. Charismatic, emphatic storytelling also shows you believe in what you’re saying, which will help build trust at an early stage.
2) Give ’em a taste, but keep it short
Your pitch should pique interest, without giving away information that will enable the client to actually do the thing you’re offering to do for them. You want them to want to know more, and to want to buy your services, whilst making it clear that you are the only person, or business, who is able to deliver these results in that way. In other words: make it clear how much they need you.
It’s also important to be able to hold people’s interest when you’re presenting. Keeping things simple and getting to the point are techniques commonly championed as best practice, both for pitching, and any other type of presenting. Not only does this boost comprehension, but it makes you much more interesting to listen to. Don’t waste people’s time: tell them why your help is of value to them, and let the bare bones of your proposition do the talking.
3) Be honest and transparent
There’s no point promising a client things you can’t deliver. Even if it leads you to winning the pitch, they’ll bin you as soon as it becomes apparent you’ve lied, or haven’t been able to come through. Simon, our founder, once went into a pitch and point-blank told the client their goals were unachievable with the budgets and assets they had. Cue stunned silence. We didn’t win the pitch.
But imagine if he’d lied: we’d be saddled with a client whose needs were completely unrealistic, which would be setting us, or anyone else working on the account, up for definite failure. That means hours wasted, with potentially no return, and a soggy reputation to all their industry ties. Instead, we were honest about their needs and what they needed to do in order to re-assess their goals. And, on the flipside, our biggest client win was one where Simon gave their account a completely honest appraisal of what they were doing wrong, and how we could fix it. We didn’t even make it to the pitching floor: we won the business at that meeting.
4) Bring in an expert
There’s nothing worse than sitting and having one person talk at you for what feels like ages. Try to bring in ‘experts’ for different sections of the pitch: that is, the people behind the scenes at your company who have done the work putting the slides together, but perhaps aren’t as confident to do the pitch by themselves. Plus, if it’s their area of specialism, there’s a good chance that they probably know more than you about it.
Not only does this add an element of interest to your presentation, but it also gives the client the chance to see exactly who the knowledgeable person behind the scenes is. Plus, it will boost your team’s confidence and make them feel more involved with the growth of the business, which will only make you stronger internally.
5) Don’t ever, ever read off the slide
Ah, PowerPoint: long considered the quintessential companion of pitchers everywhere. Whilst it’s still the thing most clients still want and understand, there is a danger in relying too keenly on your slides, and so nullifying otherwise passionate people. However, there’s yet to be a real, clear, standout alternative to PowerPoint, which means that when it comes to readying your pitch, it’s the way you use it that needs to change.
The role PowerPoint plays in pitching should be to add to the story you want to tell. Use it as an opportunity to add visual cues, diagrams, and if you really need to, buzzwords to help tie things together. If you really need to have words on the slide, make sure you elaborate on them and say something extra directly to the people in the room. Slides should add weight or colour to the point you’re trying to make, not be a page of text they’re straining to read. The client should hear and feel what you’re saying, rather than have to work to understand you.
6) Have an elevator pitch handy
You won’t just meet people you want to pitch to in the boardroom. Whether you’re at an industry event, are meeting a friend of a friend or are in an actual elevator, a short, succinct, informal pitch might just be the ticket to get your foot in the door. Whilst this style of pitching is perhaps more akin to networking, it’s no less valid in making connections and contacts, which, as we all know, is how plenty of business deals start. You might find you won’t even need to do a formal pitch in the end: you might build up such a strong relationship off the bat that the client already feels they have enough confidence in what you do to sign you beforehand.
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