Professional service firms are not usually full of natural presenters. How comfortable, confident and effective are your people in pitch situations? In our experience most firms have a few fee earners who do enjoy pitching, they also have a small percentage of individuals who should never be put in front of clients at any cost (you know who they are!). The rest of the firm is then made up of people who have never really been shown how to pitch successfully, and many of these would rather not be part of any pitch - if they could avoid it they would!
However more and more clients, both in the public and private sector, now include a pitch or formal interview as part of their procurement process. This means that if you want to win these opportunities your teams need to be confident and effective in these situations. As a result of this we have seen a large increase in ‘just in time' pitch coaching, carried out either by an external pitch coach, such as PACE, or an internal team usually made up of people from Business Development or Marketing.
In this article we have set out a number of the secrets of successful pitch coaching - secrets we have learned through our involvement in many pitch coaching assignments over a number of years.
The first secret is that there are two very distinct parts to successful Pitch Coaching. If you consider the diagram below, known as the ‘PACE Strip', you will notice the strip has been split into two colours - the green section represents the activity required before an opportunity becomes live and the red section everything after.
Both parts require focus and attention and therefore help and coaching if the team are to be successful. Today we will look at the red section, and specifically the coaching to be delivered after a firm has been shortlisted for an interview or pitch.
[A second article, ‘The Secrets Of Successful Pitch Coaching Part 2' focuses on the green section. This article looks at ‘Getting Ahead of The Game' before being invited to tender and will cover the key things needed to happen for a firm to achieve ‘Pole Position' ahead of a pitch becoming ‘live'.]
Let's imagine the scenario - your team has been shortlisted and invited to a pitch or a formal interview to be conducted at the client's office. This is a good thing but it is not quite time to crack open the champagne yet. There are three common reactions at this point:
1. "Great but it's not for a few weeks ... I'm really busy we'll think about it then", or worse
2. "Great we'll be fine on the day..... our natural charm and technical knowledge will prevail", or, what should happen
3. "Great, we have a few weeks to prepare let's start planning now".
Unfortunately only a very few firms really respond in line with number three - and those that do rarely do it as thoroughly as they should. In our experience, the firms that do really stand out and not surprisingly have an incredible success rate.
So if you are coordinating and/or responsible for helping to win this opportunity what should happen now? The first priority is to put a pitch coaching plan in place and agree it with the pitch team. From experience this should be made up of three sessions where the team come together and prepare. These sessions should be at least half a day each and there should be time in between each session for actions and personal practice to take place.
During session one the team should be facilitated and coached with the objective of planning the heart of the pitch. Questions need to be asked, including:
- "Who are the audience?"
- "What do we know about them?"
- "What is important to them?"
- "What is their style and what are their preferences"
- "What past experiences and prejudices do we know of?"
- "What is their basis of decision?" etc.
Other questions need to be asked about the competition and how the team and the pitch will differentiate and stand out.
Coaching is key during this entire stage as it will set the shape for everything to follow. After the essential discussion and analysis of what is important to the client the key question that needs to be answered is:
- "What is your ‘exit interview'?" i.e. what do you want the client to be thinking, feeling and saying about you after you have left their offices?
The discussion around this question helps to create the core of the team's presentation and everything builds round this. They can now create their key message and sub messages. They can also decide how are they going to address the specific requirements of the client.
The team can also structure the pitch to:
1. Demonstrate they have fully understood the client's requirements
2. Explain precisely how they will meet those requirements
3. Demonstrate all their relevant experience and
4. Articulate the real benefits to the client.
The remainder of session one is spent designing a professional and impactful beginning that will grab the client's attention, creating a powerful finish that summarises the team's key points and ensures they finish on a high note and agreeing the team and their roles during the pitch. If visual aids are to be used these are also planned during this session. At the end each individual goes away and works on their part of the pitch for the next session.
The team come back together and each individual runs through their part of the pitch. As a coach do not expect this to be anywhere near perfect, but that's OK as you have the whole of this session to get the content, structure and supporting slides just right. Here you are helping the team to come up with the ‘right' words, decide on the links between team members, build the ‘signposting' that will keep the client engaged, make sure the pitch is the right length and flows smoothly and ensure the messages are embedded.
By the end of this session everyone is clear on their part, how they will start, what they will say, how they will conclude and what supporting visuals, if any, will be used. Homework for next time is for the team to practise their own parts and think about potential questions that might be asked (five each) and to share these with the rest of the team before session three.
Session three is what we call "polishing". At this stage the structure is right and the wording is correct, now it is time to focus on ‘projection'. As a coach it is now your role to ensure each individual is delivering with confidence, impact and conviction. You may need to coach them on body language, eye contact and the power and versatility of their voice.
As an example a coach should be able to help someone who "ummms" and "errrhs" a lot. A simple but extremely effective technique for this is to get the individual to say a line, then say "I pause and I breathe", replacing where they would normally "ummm" or "errrh" and then say another line followed by "I pause and I breathe" and so on. Finally get the individual to present normally but instead of saying "I pause and I breathe" out loud between sentences they simply say it in their heads. Try it - It works!
This section is used not only to polish the team's delivery and to really build their confidence but also to practise handling questions - another crucial part of the interview.
By the end of the three sessions, a good pitch coach will have the team buzzing. Not only will the pitch be structured correctly, the messages clear and crisp and in line with what the client wants to hear but also the team will be delivering with enthusiasm and impact, be brimming with confidence and looking forward to winning the opportunity.
Read The Secrets to Successful Pitch Coaching - Part 2 here >>
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