When I hear the word ‘client pitch’, the term usually evokes images of well-dressed Don Draper types hovering in front of board-mounted creative concepts, relating a whimsical story and winning over a spellbound audience.
This isn't typically the way digital agencies pitch, instead usually relying on the logic of metrics and statistics to win over their clients' minds. But humans are emotional creatures — to get past your clients' bullshit buffer, you need to tap into their deepest emotions and tug at their heartstrings.
In-person pitches are great for that. They let you get in front of your client and use the power of storytelling to captivate them, versus simply emailing a proposal.
Let's review ways you can vastly increase your win rate by crafting the ultimate client pitch.
Understand your potential client
Pitches are a lot of work, so make sure that you are selective about who you pitch. Take time to qualify every lead so that you're sure they can afford your company and that you actually want to work with them.
Frazer Gibney from London agency, Inferno puts it well:
"What gets you through the finish line though is human chemistry. Why court business from people you wouldn't want to pass a long train journey with? They wouldn't want to be stuck on one with you either. And here is the crux of the matter: it's not just about winning new business but keeping it.
In any case, when you are sure you want to work with the client, take the time to do some research about them. Learn about their company history, read their website and literature, and Google some competitors.
Talk to them and try to really understand their brand essence, challenges they've faced, and what they want from an agency. Put yourself in their shoes and try to figure out what makes them tick.
If you can prove you’ve done your homework in the pitch, your chances of earning their trust and winning the account increase dramatically.
Prepare a pitch deck
Don’t come in armed with just a proposal. The proposal is a sales document that is meant to be read by your client on their own time. In pitches however, you should have a slide deck/pitch deck.
If you don’t know what that is, most tech startups who raise money need to create a compelling pitch deck that woos investors into handing over their cash. There’s an art and science in crafting winning decks, so check out an example that should give you a good idea of how it should be structured.
Picture it this way; If your proposal is a novel then your pitch deck is the movie based off of it. The general story may be the same, but the deck doesn’t contain as much detail and is meant to be a more visceral experience.
Keep the amount of slides to a minimum so you are spending at least a minute talking at each point instead of zipping past a flurry of slides.
Also, like a good story, pitches have a beginning, middle and end. Here’s a sample structure:
- Why you are excited about working together
- Demonstrate understanding the clients strengths and needs
- Telling the story of why you care about it
- Walk through examples of how you did it for other clients
- Explain what you will achieve for the client and how you’ll get there
- Introduce the team and outline your process for getting results
- Thank them and leave time for Q/A (this is where pricing comes up, not any earlier)
- Set a clear deadline for a decision
A pitch like this could be achieved in 15-20 slides, with each slide having one clear point, minimal text and big, evocative images.
Transcend the ask and uncover the need behind the need
The secret to winning pitches is to go above and beyond what your client asked for. I’ve won plenty of client pitches in my day, but I can think of at least two occasions where I lost out to a competing agency because they pitched what the client didn’t ask for — and ultimately won the project because of it.
Your client may be coming to you for a website because they were told they need a new one, but it’s your job as the professional to look past the surface and transcend the ask with what will you'll do to deliver on their more underlying emotional needs.
Most people you pitch experience some sort of fear — fear of making the wrong decision, of losing the company money, of creating more work for himself than he can handle, of looking bad.
The tricky part is that you can’t address these fears by just calling them out directly, you need to dig deeper and alleviate them subconsciously by figuring out the need behind the need. It's more work to do this, but if you pull it off you'll impress the heck out of the client. In his article in Forbes, August Turak writes:
“My old mentor and founder of the IBM Executive School, Louis Mobley, used to say, “IBM doesn’t sell drill bits. IBM sells holes!” The single biggest mistake we make in sales is reactively expecting the customer to provide the holes. When we make the client do all the research and tough thinking, we usually end up failing to delight–and without the sale.”
Getting past the crocodile brain
In his book Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal, Oren Klaff discusses how humans evolved essentially three different brains in one. The neocortex is where our logic and reasoning are processed, but before messages ever make it there, they have to get past the ‘gate-keeper’ he calls the “croc brain”. It handles the more primitive “fight or flight” responses, which enables you to quickly decide if something is a danger or should be ignored.
Getting past the croc brain isn’t easy, as he explains on page 11.
“As you are pitching your idea, the croc brain of the person sitting across from you isn’t “listening” and thinking, “Hmmm, is this a good deal or not?” Its reaction to your pitch basically goes like this: “Since this is not an emergency, how can I ignore this or spend the least amount of time possible on it?””
As a solution to this problem, Klaff utilizes a process that starts out by putting the pitch in context and telling a story, not giving away all the goods too quickly but slowly building intrigue and saving the best part for last.
Pictured: A pitch gone horribly wrong
Tell your story
In his dazzling Ted Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek repeatedly makes the point that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. That mantra may even matter more when selling an agency's services because, frankly, other agencies offer the same services as yours.
Any of your competitors can say they lead with strategy, measure ROI and offer integrated marketing services, but no one else can tell your story of why you do what you do, why you take on the clients you do, and why you’re proud of your work. That’s yours to own, and telling that story gives you a better chance of breaking past the croc brain than simply rattling off a list of client names, services and awards.
Let’s finish this off with a few quick tips:
- Rehearse your pitch out loud. You won’t want to because you’ll feel weird doing it and you’ll procrastinate, but it will really make your pitch more successful (video record yourself doing it for bonus self-loathing). Some people think rehearsing will make you sound robotic, but it will have the opposite effect, making you comfortable expressing your thoughts and sound more relaxed and conversational. This will minimize the 'ums' and 'ahs' that distract people and make them uncomfortable.
- Put your pricing in the proposal, not in the deck. You don’t want your clients thinking about cost while your pitching them on you, and besides, who wants to lay out a pricing grid in Keynote or Powerpoint? When you’re done the pitch make yourself available to answer questions about pricing.
- Do the pitch in person rather than Skype if at all possible. The last thing you need is a weak internet connection on one persons end disrupting the flow of your pitch. Besides, there's a human connection that happens in face-to-face meetings that can't be replaced by technology. Save Skype and Google Hangout for after you win the business.
- Keep it brief and powerful. Research has found that the average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now. Capture their attention early and finish up within 20 minutes so you can leave on a high note. Timing yourself will help you avoid wandering off on tangents.
- Passion and enthusiasm go a long way, and unless you attended Juilliard, you can’t fake either one very well. It helps if you only pitch clients that you’re actually thrilled to work with.
Remember, clients are not robots, they're people like you and me. You’ll never stand out from competing agencies if you merely regurgitate what’s in your proposal, or pitch exactly what your client said they wanted. They want to be wowed. Captivated. Even moved. Learning from advertising agencies and combining storytelling with measurable results is the best one-two combination to closing the deal and getting your foot in the door with a brand new client.