How to win a pitch: from the war room to the boardroom

Upfront and Corporate Persuasion explain to agencies how to beat the opposition on the new business battlefield by employing a robust pitch development practice.

In the last 12 months increased focus on return as the downturn deepens means brands are increasingly reviewing their agency suppliers. New opportunities to pitch agency services are up by 30 per cent from this time last year, according to business growth company Upfront. But with good news comes bad; with vertical markets becoming prudent with spending, competition on the ground is becoming progressively fiercer.A recent breakfast seminar hosted by pitch consultants, Corporate Persuasion confirmed ‘the war room’ pitch preparation is a key technique that can be employed for continued survival and growth.Ian Forbes, CEO of Corporate Persuasion insists the success of his clients winning over three billion pounds worth of pitches is built not just on the agency selling its services alone, but on researching real insight and understanding the environment the business operates.“Research indicates 40 per cent of buyer decisions are assigned to the agency’s services; however the remaining 60 per cent is equally assigned to the chemistry, the presenters understanding of the brand’s business issues, and company politics.”Therefore, it seems that agencies should not wrap themselves in their own credentials and expect to win the prospect over. Successful pitching is not solely down to how good the agency’s credentials may be; the person pitching requires insight and depth to prepare for the perfect presentation to clinch the deal.Upfront and Corporate Persuasion explain the key components of a logical facts ruled war room.The War RoomThe war room is a place for incredible creativity and focus. It is where the agency’s pitch team right-brain creative heads meet and left-brain agency planners and sales executives to brainstorm, research prospective decision makers, their brands, customers and competitors, as well as agency competitors to create a winning strategy. Jody Osman, Managing Partner at Upfront, notes why doing your pre-pitch homework creates a victorious outcome.“An insightful and well researched strategy will help you decide what tactics to employ for a particular pitch scenario, which will create a compelling and persuasive pitch presentation and inevitably help to win you business.”Therefore it seems if the creative and strategic offering can deliver the results, the agency is only just over a third of the way to winning the work; understanding business issues, company politics insight, and relationships with the decision makers makes up the rest.Forbes, says, “To produce a persuasive case to the prospect you need to create real differentiation, and calculate your decision makers’ motives.”Corporate Persuasion and Upfront recommends the following war room armoury for beating the opposition on the battlefield.Who knows whom?Do you recall the theory 6-degrees to separation? Forbes, says, “Get used to the idea that we are all connected. Get your pitch team to forage through their business cards of past and present acquaintances and pick up the phone. Even if it to ask about your prospective client’s personality traits.”Review the productWhat do you understand about the brand’s product lines, and the markets they operate? Have there been any recent development news about the prospect or particular department or product of late. The agency may already operate in a similar sector, however it pays to research the company and scour the business and consumer news pages and forums on the internet to bone-up on industry and product knowledge.However the agency should do it well and not at a superficial level, because if it’s not done in depth, it will only demonstrate a lack of real insight to the prospect company.Identify customer trendsOsman’s advice is to get the agency’s planning team to spend time researching, analysing and identifying customer trends.“If you are an agency who does not have a planning department, why not consult a credible market research company such Target Group Index (TGI) where you’ll gain the customer insight you require to pitch with persuasion, conviction and intelligence.”Research the oppositionCompetitive intelligence is indispensable for agency leaders who wish grow their business fast. It is recommended the agency should spend time researching the competition that they are pitching against, and the competition of your prospect.Review your experienceThe agency should get out of the habit of ‘cutting and pasting’ old case studies from other sectors or merging old pitch presentations together that merely detail its services, network, some words on the agency ethos and people. Many agencies are guilty of this ‘same size fits all’ approach.Forbes says, “Although, case studies and experiences are important, only draw on experiences that will truly add value to your pitch presentation. Uncover real case studies that help illustrate the selling messages you have selected that best meet your client needs.”Develop your key differentiatorsYour agency’s pitch will have more success if you can clearly differentiate your offer from that of your competitors. If your agency can demonstrate an understanding of the prospect’s brand better, you will create more trust with the decision makers.In addition, if the agency can provide compelling reasons for the prospect to collaborate with them – as a pitch positioning that is repeated through the pitch – the agency’s actual pitch is more memorable because of the clear focus of its direction, and the clarity and power of its communication.Devise a power mapThe power map is one of the most important analysis tools in the war room. It is a visual representation of the interconnectivity of all the people from different departments, marketing, sales, finance, product, procurement and board who will influence the decision to appoint the successful agency.Therefore, agencies are advised to undertake a power map and decision maker analysis that profiles key decision makers, lists information about each decision maker’s role, and notes individual business behaviour types.Osman mentions how important it is to know how to adapt your pitch style to the business behaviour type of the person and their position you are pitching.“If you are pitching to an expressive marketing director type, focus on the bigger picture and use inspiring evidence in your presentation. However if you end up faced with a processed driven analytical procurement manager, leave nothing unsubstantiated and provide alternatives and evidence for everything you present.”Forbes adds, “Constructing a power map will usually force you to realise that there are many more decision makers and influencers than the few you have met when you have been given the brief. Now you have the opportunity to get to know them and their issues.”From war room to boardroomOnce the agency has gathered and reviewed all the information in the war room for a specific pitch, the team can begin to employ all the insights to build the agency’s offer for the big pitch. From this, the agency can develop persuasive and compelling messages that clearly sell the agency, and are tailored to the brief and decision makers – not amalgamated from previous presentations.These winning messages are what create real, relevant and effective differentiation when pitching in the boardroom.The insights gained in the war room (from implementing an insightful pitch development practice for every opportunity) focuses the team to better understand the brand and the individual decision makers. This in turn allows the agency to deliver a more clearly differentiated and persuasive presentation – giving the agency a winning edge in the boardroom.Ian Forbes, CEO of Corporate Persuasion coaches clients on best-practice pitching processes to develop a winning strategy. To contact Ian Forbes please email, iforbes@corporatepersuasion.comUpfront is a full-service business development agency, specialising in the marketing services sector. We offer consultancy, new business, data, PR, recruitment, and training. To enquire about how we can help you grow your business please call Jody Osman, Managing Partner on 0870 486

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