The secret to winning pitches

To win new business pitches, having great ideas that solve client problems is not enough. We also have to beat our competitors. Here’s how.

It’s easy to get absorbed in solving client problems when working on a pitch. The client wants a strategy and ideas which will deliver certain results. That’s our focus and has to be nailed, absolutely.

But to ensure a world class ‘win’ hit rate, developing great strategies and ideas for the client is not enough. Sometimes competitors beat us not because they are better than us, but because they beat us.

To win more often, put just as much energy into developing YOUR AGENCY’S STRATEGY to win… your strategy to beating your competition.

Here are the top five tips to beating your competitors when you pitch:

  1. Know the decision making criteria: find out exactly what criteria the client will use to make its decision. What are the ‘must haves’ to be successful? Find out by asking them. If they won’t tell you, probe through the briefing phase and make your own assessment.
  2. Know the decision making process: understand exactly what the client’s decision making process will be. What steps will they go through? Who will make the final decision? Based on whose recommendation? Who has the power to say ‘yes’. Who has the power to say ‘no’.
  3. Have a relationship strategy: build chemistry and credibility before the pitch. Carefully work out who in your agency will make what contact with which client executive, and when. What value or insight will they deliver during that contact? Often making no special contact is the way to go. At other times, it’s vital and right. If the final decision maker is not a big part of the pitch process, ensure when they hear your name as the potential agency, the reaction is: “Oh good I know, like and respect that firm.”
  4. Study the competition: who are you pitching against? What will they bring that you won’t? What do you have that they don’t? How can you gently undermine their offer during the pitch process while boosting the pillars of yours? Pitching is war. Play fair but play hard.
  5. Get very personal in the pitch: you want each client executive during the pitch to feel a powerful moment of “Aha! They have nailed perfectly my needs. Excellent.” For example, the Marketing Director wants to deliver sales and impress her boss. The CEO wants a rising share price and impressed analyst community. The Finance Director wants to see ‘skin in the game’ with some of our fee at risk, based on results. The New Zealand Country Manager wants an outstanding result on the South Island, where sales are lagging, etc. Make sure you give each of them their personal ‘AHA!’ moment.

So have great strategies to solve the clients problem, but also develop YOUR STRATEGY TO WIN. Make a habit of beating your competitors, especially if they are better than you! It’s the best fun in business!

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3 Responses to The secret to winning pitches

  1. Richard Carr June 2, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    Nice Post Chris. I’d also add the following fundamental tip:

    Find out why the client is pitching in the first instance?

    Has the current campaign not worked? (If so why not?). Has there been a change of mgmt within the client? (if so, does the new client have an affinity to one of the other competing agencies?). Has there been a lack of continuity/changes with the incumbent agency? (if so, who’s moved on, what was it about them that the client valued so highly). Is it a real pitch? Or is it a procurement exercise? (sometimes, we all get called to make up the numbers in a faux pitch).
    Also, Nine times out of ten, the reason the pitch has been called is because the magic has died in the relationship, so what can you bring to the table to reinvigorate the spark.

    An understanding of why the client has resorted to pitching the business is essential in developing a winning strategy.. As you rightly point out, winning pitches is more about out-manoeuvring your competitors than just nailing the business challenge on the pitch brief.

    • Chris Savage June 8, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

      Thanks Richard- appreciate your taking the time to add this flavour. Chris

  2. Matthew Mellor June 8, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Really interesting read, thanks Chris. I’d also add that a key element to winning/beating your competitors lies in delivering a strategy that links directly to the client’s objectives and demonstrates how your agency will help them achieve these goals. Do they want more sales? Are they looking to improve their reputation? Are they launching a new product with aggressive sales and revenue targets? What, at the very core, will your winning the business deliver back to the client and how will it help them meet their objectives? Often times the outcome of a pitch is blinded by shiny new words and pictures and rests on ‘campaign over strategy’ – it’s our role as marketers, strategists and agency professionals to educate as much as win to ensure both the agency and the client win in the long run!

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