As I explained in this post, the purpose of a pitch is not to sell what you do. It’s to explain in the clearest terms why someone should look forward to doing business with you. And while you’re explaining your story, you can bet that every other participant in the pitch will be telling theirs.
It’s well worth surmising where your story lies and what their story/stories might be:
1. The authority – the trusted source of knowledge. This is a brand and credentials story. It focuses on being the market leader and on the ability to take matters in hand and deal with problems efficiently and effectively. The emphasis is on de-risking and delegation. Works wonders with clients looking for someone to take charge.
2. The safe bet – the best pair of hands. This is a reassurance story. It focuses on the proven and time-tested partner, diligent, hard-working, who always hits targets. Not necessarily the most exciting answer or the most original, but a choice that most will be more than happy with. Works well with clients looking for someone to shoulder the heavy lifting.
3. The price saver – the budget option. This is about getting the work done at the best price. Works well when the work itself is not particularly valued, the organisation feels budget-conscious or there is scrutiny (and therefore repercussions). Even if this participant doesn’t get the work, chances are their pricing will form the basis for negotiations post-appointment. Works well, as expected, with clients looking to get the work done for the least investment.
4. The creative answer – the wild card. The lateral play. This approach scrutinises the problem from another angle and comes back with an answer that is bound to take everyone by surprise. This approach can be particularly effective in situations where the people calling the pitch feel hemmed in and are looking for a different approach. Done properly, this pitch can be magical – but it can just as easily fall flat on its face. Works well in crowded pitch situations where you need to get cut-through. However, don’t hold your breath, if you do get appointed, that many or any of the ideas you suggested will be taken up.
5. The disruptive model – the extreme card. This approach throws the current business model out with the bathwater. Perhaps the most risky play of all – but worth a shot if you absolutely believe that the current model is irreconcilably flawed or if you want to demonstrate your ability to completely rethink a situation. All of the reservations about the creative answer apply here to an even greater degree.
6. The underdog – the great unknown. This approach is all about using your relative anonymity to surprise and delight the people you’ve pitched to, slipping in under the radar only to emerge victorious. It’s the pitch that uses frankness to great effect – “We know you’ll be worried about …” – to drive home some home truths and pick up respect for daring to speak out. Works well with organisations looking to appoint beyond the familiar faces, and will particularly appeal to pitch panels that contain mavericks and that want to be seen to have gone the extra mile in search of the right fit.
7. The case study/research case – literally the case in point. This pitch headlines with research or a recent case study that deals directly with or parallels the issue that the organisation appears to be facing. It works not just because it delivers proof and insights that the organisation will be interested in accessing, but because it helps a pitch panel feel that they are teaming up with people who understand and can help overcome their challenges. Very useful if the research is groundbreaking and/or the case study is well known and well respected.
8. The star – “look who we’ve got”. A superstar in the field leads the agency into the pitch. This is a variation on the authority story – except often it’s a key player front and centre and a slightly less illustrious team backing her up. Very powerful because it helps an organisation feel personally connected with the ‘best in the business’, and all their credentials and achievements are ‘owned’ by the pitcher even if no-one else on the team had anything to do with the achievements.
9. The process – trust the methodology. This pitch revolves around a “world class” process. It’s compelling because it gives everyone something to follow and the process’s track record are often taken as proof of success. Excellent if you’re pitching for work that is highly process or project oriented and being managed by people who are focused on completing tasks on time and to budget.
Chances are you are using one of these storylines yourself. Nothing wrong with that. But you can’t just focus on your own story. You need to make sure that your story will be more compelling than the storyline others choose; that it explains in the best possible way why someone should look forward to doing business with you.
To test that, put yourself in the shoes of another team compiling another story. Build a case using that storyline. Then compare your story with theirs. Analyse your strengths and weaknesses and adjust your storyline until it is outshines the alternative. If necessary, bring in an independent adjudicator to judge the stories on the merits.
If you have time and resources (i.e. if the pitch is big enough), have two other teams develop two other scenarios and then run an internal competition – first against one alternative story and then against the other, adjusting your story as you go to make it stronger.
Judging your story in this way is an excellent way not just of thinking through how your competitors may shape their arguments but also of sharpening and honing your pitch so that it is robust, direct and well told.
Photo of “23” by miggslives, sourced from Flickr