Finally! The firm I was working with had been invited to make a pitch to a target we’d been pursuing for a couple of years. But the knee-jerk reaction was — wait for it — to make a list of every professional that should be included in the in-person pitch — 13 firm partners…representing each of the practice areas in which we believed we could serve the potential client.

Thirteen of us. Two individuals would be present on the client’s side of the table.

The pitch was, after all, about us. Right? Wrong.

This is where our pitches and presentations often come off the rails.

Don’t get me wrong — it is not necessarily the number of individuals…though have you been on the receiving end of one of those pitches? The math alone should dissuade us. If we lead off with each of the 13 doing a 3-minute self-introduction we’ve consumed 39 minutes. To what end? Reiterating information that is (hopefully) easily accessible on the firm’s website? Surely there is a better use of precious presentation time.

But the problem doesn’t begin with the number of partners engaged in a presentation. If you’re following along in our series on Building a Business Development Plan, you know that preparation for a pitch begins as soon as you’ve identified a strategic target.  For the seventh installment in our series, let’s explore some aspects of pitch prep and execution.

Pitching Begins With Listening

(We should stipulate that there will be plenty of one-off presentations to come along that must be handled on-the-fly. And while most, if not all of the principles outline here apply to any effective communication, our focus in this post is pitches that are the result of strategic business development pursuits.)

A characteristic of any successful presentation, not to mention an out-right solicitation for work, is the degree to which the target feels as though we’ve identified and spoken directly to specific questions, issues or needs they are facing.

What must be done to realize this high bar? Begin with a pitch process built on two principles:

  • Listening always precedes pitching; and,
  • Every presentation (or conversation) is about your target (versus being about you).

Few professional service providers I meet will argue with the spirit of these principles. Yet, when opportunities arise the temptation to present every possible qualification (sometimes reaching back a dozen years or more) along with any conceivably applicable capability is often too great to resist.

No doubt one driver here is the we-only-have-one-shot view of the business development process. Go in loaded, and touch every possible point of connection. But when an in-person pitch or presentation resembles your firm’s capabilities brochure or website description, it will seldom qualify as a strategic presentation. And it will fail to differentiate you in any positive way.

On the other hand, winning pitches begin with intentional listening. Ideally, as noted above, this begins the moment you’ve identified a target — with in-depth market research. Here are components of a brand of research that will help you create a pitch that connects.

  • What outside forces might be impacting the current operations of your target? What are the long-term implcations?
  • What does the competitive landscape look like for your target — short-term and long-term?
  • Is the target’s industry experiencing growth, contraction or some other consequential change?
  • Have there been recent changes in governance, leadership, or other key personnel? (Or rumors of change?)
  • Do existing or pending regulatory realities threaten or otherwise impact operation?
  • Might expansion or acquisition be in the cards?
  • Are there political or social issues that might impact your target’s business?
  • Where do you have existing relationships with decision-makers and potential coaches?
  • What are the implications of an expanded relationship map?

Effective market research will not only provide some idea of the big-picture realities your target is facing, it should point you toward valuable coaching resources. We’ve written at some length about the value coaches play in strategic business development. And the right coach is invaluable when it comes to crafting a pitch — providing insight on everything from who should be in the room, to notes on specific issues for which your target is searching for a solution.

This strategic quest for info and intel is the single exercise that will most likely enable you to create a pitch that hits the bull-eye for one reason: it will inform and shape the creation of a solution — facilitating a pitch that connects.

Shortcut the listening process because you believe two things: 1) that your target simply needs the expertise you bring to the table; and 2) that the presentation of your credentials is all the pitch you need, and don’t be surprised when you are treated like just another service provider.

Successful Pitches Hit A Unique Sweet Spot

The Business section of a national law firm had been pursuing a Fortune 50 company for some times…to no avail.

(Recounting this in a couple of paragraphs does not do justice to the process; but we all know that no significant win comes easy or happens overnight…correct?)

With that disclaimer, intentional listening (in all of its forms) led to an awareness that the target in question faced significant challenges in an aspect of human resources that did not made it to the attention of the company’s legal department (where most law firm pitches are made). However, it happened to ba an area in which the firm had significant experience.

The appropriate practice groups went to work to fully understand the company’s challenge, and subsequently develop a unique solution. The team not only earned the opportunity to pitch the coveted target; the firm won the business, and began a lengthy, productive relationship with a new client.

Want to open new doors and create pitches that win coveted business? Do the kind of listening that makes it possible to proactively address a specific need, and deliver a solution.

Don’t Wing It

You’re a professional. You’re articulate and good on your feet. And you know this stuff like the back of your hand.

But when it comes to making a pitch, please don’t wing it.

Successful pitches are carefully prepared. Maybe even — stick with me here — maybe even rehearsed.

Especially if you’re parading a group of professionals before a target.

Preparation is essential if you hope to get the most out of the time allotted, and cover the important bases.

When the firm I was working with had the opportunity noted at the top of this post, we managed to trim the group down to eight — still far too many.

The General Counsel for the prospective client had scheduled the pitch for one hour. The first 35-minutes were consumed as our team did introductions that covered highlights of individual experience as well as relevant qualifications of each of the eight practice areas represented. And as impressive as it was, every bit of it should have been on the firm’s website; and all of which would be included in a follow up package.

We did not win the work. Our pitch undoubtedly sounded much like the pitch made by a dozen other firms hoping for a working relationship — deep experience, deep bench, we only hire the best, and…oh yes, we’re client centered.

Pitches that differentiate and set you up to win the work you want most are about the target.