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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Let's start by telling you how great I am. Nah, let's not.

9givingapresentation_3When I first started working for myself, I was delighted at the freedom. Not the freedom to do as I please--I clock as many, if not more, hours on my own than when I worked for others--but the freedom to stop following certain practices I found sorta silly. One of the silliest? The new business pitch.

To be sure, I love new business, and new challenges. But I don't love pitches. There's nothing "new" to a pitch, which is odd since we're pitching "new" business (I also don't understand "cold calls" since hot leads are what I seek).

See, in new biz meetings, it usually starts with the "tell me about yourself/your business" question. It's a fair question and, many would argue, a darn good place to start. Problem is, the top of the discussion sets the vibe for the entire meeting. Having sat through enough pitches when I was a marketing director tasked with hiring consultants, I didn't like being pitched to...so I sure don't like to be the one delivering them.

For me, a pitch is a one-way delivery of our experiences, our greats and what we can do...but a discussion is what we can do for them (or what we can do together, actually).

What I like most about working from project-to-project is that no client, strategy, program or quarter is ever the same as the one before (or after). So it seems new business meetings shouldn't be the "same" either. And if I'm armed with a PPT presentation then it's gonna be a repeat. While I have plenty of new business materials, prospects can view those before or after we meet. But during new business meetings those materials would serve as a distraction from the value I'm intent on delivering.

For several years now, when I start a new business meeting I explain the entire reason for retaining me should be based only on the amount of value I can bring to the project. Marketing is, after all, about value creation. So the meeting alone should impart value being they've given me the value of their time. It also shifts the meeting from a passive format into action mode.

Instead of answering the "tell me about yourself question" to kick-off the meeting, I ask that they start by specifying the objectives they have and the problems they need solved (trust me, everyone has objectives and problems). And then I map their specific goals to my relevant successes and experiences. As for the problems they need solved, or opportunities I spot? I give plenty of recommendations for them to consider. Basically, value can be categorized into (a) meeting objectives, (b) solving problems and (c) identifying opportunities.

I also like scribbling recommendations and ideas on whiteboards--it's not as pretty as a power point slide but when I ask if I should erase it at the close of a meeting they always ask me to leave it. I've also begun ending meetings by recounting the points of value uncovered during the meeting itself, just to hit the point home (and so I feel the meeting went well).

All told, it's more of a real-time workshop format than a pitch--and it allows us to really show our greats not just tell people how really great we are. It also holds greater value (and value is the whole point). Plus, chances are greater they'll wind-up retaining me and/or referring me to others.

Whether you're on the consulting side or work for an agency, what are some gems you've found work well in landing new business? Or, if you're on the client side, what type of new business meetings do you prefer give you the most value?

Comments

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Great post, CK.

For the first pitch I was in on when I went out on my own, I had the pleasure of pitching alongside a colleague of mine with a brilliant tactic. Every time we were asked a question, my colleague responded with a question of her own. A smart question of her own. A question that often made the client think about the answer themselves in a way they hadn't yet.

So, instead of trying to answer a question that she didn't have enough of the context to answer and end up painting herself into a corner, she lobbed the ball back at the client and helped them answer their own question.

The tactic also turned the pitch from formal presentation into an enlightening conversation.

Two weeks later, we got the answer we were looking for. The jobs was ours.

@Mark: I enjoy "conversations" and questions are the catalyst for them. They also work to form a relationship since both parties are on the same level--plus clients will judge your smarts by the good questions you ask.

CK
Thanks for the post. It’s always great to get these insights from the more experienced people like yourself (you), for us greenhorns just starting out.
I totally agree with the scribbling the recommendations on the whiteboard technique. It tends to give the client a take-away. Feels for them that it was something more than just a pitch.
When you conduct pitches in this more free form conversationalist way - how do you ensure that the discussion does not become to unfocussed and that the clients do not get lost or loose focus? Any ideas?
cheers

@Nat: Many times bringing it back to the objectives they want to meet, or the problems they need solved, can bring it back into focus. That said, sometimes they'll go off on tangents but in a new business meeting that's not always a bad thing since it leads to more discussion (and more ways to slip in some gems of experience, success or reccs).

Now, if it were a meeting after we were already working together (e.g. a presentation on findings) I'd be more adamant to get it back on track...but during the new business meeting I like when we have a free-flow since we're just getting to know one another. It makes everyone more comfortable and for a better/more original discussion. Make sense?

I've found there are no hard & fast rules. Every meeting is different and has its own flow.

I try to get the prospect to talk about themselves -- as CK said, their challenges and their objectives. Sometimes they're not exactly sure what they want, so I try to help them focus.

In the end, a lot of the hiring decision comes down to chemistry. If you can show them you're smart, you listen, you respond with ideas that are relevant, and if you seem like you'll be easy or fun or interesting to work with, you have a decent shot at getting the business...maybe.

@David: Thanks. Much does come down to chemistry; absolutely. Obviously, the client needs to feel we're capable...but really they've qualified that before they've met with us--but "feeling out" how we'll work together is best found through that discussion (vs. a pitch).

ck, i have always thought that being in a meeting is better than working. just a joke to say that meetings where creativity flows and ideas are spread and shared are the best part of the work.

Well, CK, I am in neither... consulting or agency business that is. So I'd like my corporate fellows to consider that new business can be called any project you go after.

With that in mind, stabilizing the information we both agree on during the conversation is valuable -- white boarding and writing on flip charts both work.

Setting a goal with objectives for the get together should be the number one requirement. If the word or the concept of an agenda sounds too old fashioned, go with a communication brief. A one-pager delineating intent would suffice.

My only caveat with asking directly about the problems a company needs solved is to pay close attention to what you hear. They may be articulating symptoms as problems and you might want to flesh out the cause(s) during the conversation. In other words, part of the value can be to help them think with you.

I went to a leads group meeting this morning. As you noted, everyone gave their elevator speech, which was about what their business does. Each took about two minutes. When it came my turn, I followed the best marketing advice I ever gave myself: I talked about my clients and meeting their wants and needs. Out of the 12 folks in attendance, two of them asked for a meeting to discuss what I could do for them.

I hate selling -- HATE it!
But I love, love, LOVE connecting with people -- finding common ground, reaching a level of safety and realness. That's not only where sales happen for me, but also lasting professional relationships.

Great post, CK, and what a wonderful ring to the death knell of traditional sales! :-)

@Valeria: Many thanks and it's true we need to really "listen" to what they're saying...many times we find out what the problem is thought to be is not the problem, but a sympton thereof. You're perfectly correct (as always ;-).

@Lewis: Great work on working the crowd by speaking to them--much luck with those leads.

@Penina: Thank you. What I most love from Drucker is the quote "Marketing's job is to make sales irrelevant." So it seems the new business meeting should work that way as well (especially given I'm in marketing!). It's otherwise so easy to get wrapped-up in the "sell" vs. the solution. Communication is a cure-all so a conversation focused on value works on many fronts.

A couple weeks ago I decided to do something a bit radical for a "capabilities presentation" (which is normally a one-way brag-fast, complete with boring Powerpoints). I gave my clients a blank piece of paper with numbers 1 - 2 - 3 down the side, and after a very brief intro, asked them to write down their three most pressing (training, in this case) challenges. Then, one of them volunteered and explained his top challenge. The rest of the meeting was spent doing exactly what I do to add value - ask questions, and consult, and start to figure out how to meet that need.
It was one of the best client intro meetings I've ever had!

@Steve: Thanks for the perfect example. What I like about your experience is that it did two things (tho' I'm sure probably more). It "showed" your capabilities far more than a PPT "telling" about them and it showed consultants get things done! (I'm sure you've heard the myriad jokes about our breed). Love that we're getting to exchange these better practices since they're are many of us who run our own biz's. Hope you enjoyed your recent trip to Hollywood (FL), too ;-).

CK,

This is a terrific topic.

After 30 years in business, I simply won't/don't do the "Let me talk about me" opening. At some level as a much younger guy, I recognized that it created the wrong focus at the outset. Besides, if you're going to talk about you, why not just paint a bull's-eye on your chest since you're making yourself a target (instead of talking about "them" and their situation.

Perhaps this will prove helpful to some:

I always call participants in advance to introduce myself, let them know I'll be talking with them about their (Situation X), and ask what would be most helpful at the meeting. Here's what happens as a result:

1. We've established a conversational relationship and are not strangers when we meet in person
2. I hear what is on each individual's mind and heart. Given the normal power dynamics in organizations, that doesn't always come through in the group setting
3. I agree to send them an email attachment (collateral material that can now be targeted to tie prior engagements with their specific situation. That saves the up-front credentialing in the meeting.
4. We can start the meeting with a list of "Here's what we think are the issues so far--what else do we need to add?" And then, we're off on a focused discussion.

No, I don't always get to speak with everyone who will attend. But usually I get to speak with most and then leave a voicemail for those with whom I couldn't connect directly.

The final benefit: How many times due prospective clients get a phone call from someone who cares enough to start working with them before the meeting begins?

Wonderful conversation, CK...

Hi Steve: Thanks so much for your valuable chime-in. Indeed a very interesting (and smart) way to start the new business meeting. I love that you start the convo and the relationship before you step foot into their offices. I just think the new biz meeting is especially fertile ground for 1) delivering value (not an "I'm great!" speech) and 2) starting a relationship (not a pitch).

And believe me when I say I have a ton of pretty pitch materials--but they can view those when I'm not present. When I'm present, we're gonna focus on value. It makes everyone more excited to talk about what we can do and makes the meeting so much more memorable (rather than a me-too cred presentation).

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