Should you say ‘no’ next time you are invited to pitch?

Should you say ‘no’ next time you are invited to pitch

“It’s not the will to win that matters – everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters”

American Football coach, Paul Bryant, was most likely talking about getting up to train on a wet Saturday morning, but he makes a good business point too.

Rarely is success hinged solely on execution. So why is it that when you have a big pitch coming up, all the available advice focuses on delivery, but rarely mentions where 95% of your effort should go – preparation?

I spend a great deal of time coaching clients on this topic, because I know it is in the preparation that you will make or break your next deal. But good preparation goes a lot further than just doing some solid research and making an eye-catching Powerpoint. It starts with asking yourself the hardest question of all – is this pitch even worth your time in the first place?

It’s understandable that we are inclined to say ‘yes’ when we are asked to pitch for a potential new client. But as your organisation grows, you need to become more selective, and occasionally even say ‘no’, in order to prioritise your time for those deals that are more likely to pay off.

The place to start is the client’s written brief. If you haven’t been supplied with a written brief then you should be concerned. If the client is taking this as seriously as you will need to, supplying you with a strong brief should be their first priority. Of course if you don’t get a written brief and you still think it is worth pursuing you can take a verbal brief, write it up and present it back to the client for comment. If even getting this feedback is difficult, it might be time to consider walking away from this particular opportunity.

If you decide to proceed the next step is to thoroughly analyse the written brief, in order to fully understand what the client wants to achieve through a communications or marketing programme. Ideally, the client will allow a couple of members of your team to attend a face-to-face Q&A, preferably the director who will lead the pitch and the day-to-day manager. A face-to-face meeting gives you an opportunity to start building a relationship if you haven’t met before, but it is also the best way to get beyond the brief and into more honest territory. Perhaps they’ve had an unpleasant experience with a previous agency, which has led to them to seek a new agency. They are unlikely to reveal this in the written brief, but much more likely to open up in a face-to-face meeting.

Through years of experience in pitching to clients of all sizes I have compiled a comprehensive list of questions that I work through with any potential new client. Granted, some clients will be reluctant to answer every question, but explaining that the more information you have, the better you can respond to the brief will often encourage them to open up.

If you struggle to get the client to open up about any of these topics then you need to seriously question whether your organisation should be pitching at all. A tough decision to make, but to succeed in any pitch you will need to commit a lot of business resource. If the client is not willing to give you the basic information you need to do this well, you should refocus your assets on opportunities that are more likely to bring in results.

Of course, this blog really does only cover the very early stages of the preparation, answering the most basic question ‘should you pitch’? The topic of pitching to clients is so vast that I find the best way to deliver the information is in a more interactive environment. Email me if you are interested in your team participating in an in-depth workshop on the subject with myself or one of my senior advisers.

AUTHOR: Michel Murphy