Business Mentoring Tip #61 – How to win a competitive pitch

May 14, 2012Post by Laura Humphreys

Just finished the chapter in my book with the same heading, so thought an abbreviated version of this would make a great tip.

As you know, my advertising agency went from zero to billings over $15 million within nine years. To achieve this we had to win some pretty big pieces of business, often coming from the underdog position.  This blog post is based on my experience of what it takes to win business in a competitive situation. If you have a business that involves tender situations, where you’re up against other players to win business, these 11 tips will give you a good head start to winning.

1. Make sure you are invited.  If you have taken any notice of my previous tips you may well by now have created your “Wall of Fame”, listing your top 20 – 50 ideal clients.  The ones you’d love to win one day.  And you would also have contacted them – they know who you are.  If not… do it now, because you never know when such clients will decide to change supplier and go to market looking.  You must make sure you are on their hit list when they do.

2. Discover their needs.  Once you have been invited to tender, see if you can make an appointment to go visit the people who will be involved in the decision.  If not, get the phone number and give them a call if you can.  Be prepared with a list of questions to ask them.  You are on a mission to find out what they really need.  Here are some example questions:

  • What are you looking for in this relationship?
  • What are your core frustrations in this area right now?
  • What’s really working about your current strategies?
  • What’s not working?
  • What are your customers telling you?
  • What would you like them to be telling you?
  • What are your goals/sales objectives this year?
  • How would you describe your ideal relationship with the successful supplier?

3.  Ask their customers. Once you’ve found out as much as you possibly can from the client themselves, go interview the people who represent their customers and find out what their needs are. Show that you know the market.

4. Get the right team.  When you are very clear what the potential client is really looking for, you must make sure you have the right skills and experience on the team you put forward for this business. Make sure you put forward those on your team that have either worked in the same industry or have got something to add that this client was looking for. If you don’t, be prepared to bring in a ‘ringer’ (a substitute with exactly the skills you need) or as many ringers as you need.

5. Write a damn good brief. Before you start to try and solve the problem or develop your approach, create a briefing document you can share with your team.  Put down everything you’ve learned from your meetings and research – the background, all of the objectives as you understand it, the clients’ real needs, the customer needs that you’ve uncovered, and the key insights that you think will help win this pitch.

6. Develop your strategy. When everybody on the team knows what the client’s looking for, you need your strategy for how you are going to win this account.  What have your insights told you?  What can you suggest to the client that is going to make a difference to them?  How are you going to show them that you are the best company for the job?

7. Create a theme. Once you’ve done all that, as part of coming up with your strategy for your pitch, develop a theme, be creative.  A theme ties your whole presentation together – your document, your powerpoint slides, your follow up.  You can base your theme around one of the insights you’ve discovered.  Or around one of the key messages you are giving about yourself.  For example, if you are showing the benefits of a smaller, more responsive company over the larger, more expensive companies, you could theme your proposal around “Boxing above our weight”.  Give it a boxing them, use boxing gloves as your icons for points being made.  We did exactly this one time when pitching for an account.  We even had the ding ding sounds of the bell in the ring each time we changed powerpoint slide!

8.  Plan your presentation well.  Carry the theme through to your presentation, so your t-shirt, your Power Point headings, everything about your presentation is themed so that you look really cohesive.  Make sure in your presentation that you cover off all their requirements, make sure you checklist everything that they’ve asked for in their original tender document plus everything they’ve told you when you’ve met with them.  Make sure your presentation has a really good flow, allocate time well, don’t go over time. Make sure each team player has a clear role. And here’s the most critical thing – practice, practice, practice.  I’ve put that three times for a reason – because you should practice at least three times!

9. Send a teaser.  Here’s how you can get a head start over the others. If you are going to present, or even before you send the main document, send out a teaser.  Something that gives them a taste of the brilliance to come.  Get them excited about your proposal before they’ve even seen it.

10. Show your passion.  On the day of the presentation, just throw it out there. Be excited by what you’ve come up with, excited by the thought of working with this client. Have them walk away thinking that team really, really wants this business and they’re going to work hard for us – they’re the ones we want to work with.

11. Follow up.  After you’ve done your presentation, leave behind a great document summarizing everything you’ve presented.  Then a few days afterwards, send everyone who was on the panel a follow up.  Ideally, a fun little gift along the theme of your presentation.  And a thank you card.  Show them once again how much you want the business and give them a sense of what a great company you’d be to work with.

Next time you are in a competitive tender situation, pull these tips out.  Then go get ’em!

From the desk of liber8yourbusiness.  Business Mentors and experts in small business exit strategies.  Based in Wellington, New Zealand.