4 Keys to Success in Winning New Business

the pitchToday’s Struming is an oldie, but a goodie. It’s a reprise of an analysis I did years ago of the elements of success of new business pitches for communications agencies. Obviously the marketing agency world has changed dramatically since I left it in 1999 and began my consulting business. Yet on the other hand, the underlying elements of  why people select a professional services provider in a pitch situation stand the test of time. What do you think?

In my former ad agency life as CEO of two of Philadelphia’s largest ad agencies and a member of the management team at BBDO/New York prior to that, I had been involved in hundreds of new business presentations. Some were incredible. Others were truly awful. But it’s often hard to objectively evaluate why one wins and another loses in the heat of the moment. There’s often too much ego & emotion at stake. Did you ever hear (or worse yet, utter) the lame after- the-fact excuses:  “They didn’t deserve us” or “They had no idea how to pick an agency” or “They’d be a lousy client. We’re lucky we didn’t win”. With the benefit of some distance from my communications agency past, and having been on the other side the table many times in my consulting practice, the following are the factors I know will dramatically increase your success in new business.

First of all, if you’ve decided to pitch, go all out to win. If you’re not 100% committed to put forth a Herculean effort, stop and withdraw. But if you do proceed, and if you do the following four things religiously you’ll win at least 50% of your new business pitches, if not more.  If this is true (and it is), why in the world wouldn’t you do these every time, without fail?

1. Meet and speak with the prospect many times prior to the pitch.

If possible spend time with all key personnel — not just Mr./Ms. Big.  Collect insights from those who have an understanding of the company culture.  Do not accept their unwillingness to meet with you. Tell them it’s critical for you to understand their needs to ultimately do business with them.  The “level playing field” stuff is nonsense.  It’s YOUR job to tilt the playing field to you, and one of the ways to do that is by meeting with all levels of the client BEFORE the pitch. If they deny you access, don’t pitch. And while you’re meeting with them, and this is really important, learn their special double-secret language, their secret code & language that they all seem to know. Use it properly in the pitch and they’ll feel you “understand them”, misuse it and you are toast.

2. Fewer people at the meeting

Keep your presentation team small—no more than four or five presenters, max. Don’t worry about the client who says they want to meet the entire team. Do a tour and introduce others.  Avoid having mute statues sitting at the meeting. Too many presenters make for a lousy and diffuse presentation. Bring who you want to bring only.  Lousy presenters don’t present – if that’s you, limit your role to a minute, and then shut up. It doesn’t matter if Joe is the partner/owner/department head and he’ll “feel badly” if he’s not in the pitch. Joe (or you) has already lost many pitches with his/her/your uninspired presentation skills. Don’t trust the firm’s success to weak performers. Bring the sharpest people who make the strongest initial impression. Get the account and then Joe can do his magic.

3. Keep the formal presentation to less than an hour max…No exceptions

Keep it to 45 minutes or less, preferably. Attention spans fade quickly after an hour. Keeping the presentation brief requires discipline, which few have. Each pitch needs a leader who is the autocrat on the pitch. He/she makes the call on content & presenters.  Less is more.  Have a firm POV. Explain it crisply, and then move on.

4. Always Use a Presentation Pitch Consultant

Use him/her 2 days before the pitch. Do a fully timed, stand up presentation for an objective presentation consultant.  No stuff like, “I’ll say something like this”. Say what you’re going to say – how you’re going to say it. It’s OK if you stink 2 days before the pitch. Stinking is a step on the way to brilliance. The best thing you can do is being forced to do a dress rehearsal 2 days in advance.  Then revise, rehearse, again and again and again. I’ve heard the excuses about the fear about being “over-rehearsed”. It’s b.s. nonsense and it’s what weak insecure presenters use an alibi to avoid rehearsals. You can never be too rehearsed. Allen Iverson was wrong, Practice is a good thing.

And if you follow these rules and still lose (and you still will sometimes), don’t give up. Keep plugging and always honestly evaluate what you did, right and wrong. Always work to improve your presentation skills. Success in new business and in life comes to those who won’t be denied.

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  1. Nancy Crume says:

    so true — especially the martinizing stand up painful part ;-)

  2. AJM says:

    A new business pitch is in essence a “show”. As Phil Duesenberry often said, “THE ESSENCE OF SELLING IS ENTERTAINMENT.” Hence, rehearse and leave the pain there.

  3. AJM says:

    Of course, Nancy is so entertaining, she may be the only one to not need rehearsal.

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