Many firms when preparing for a pitch to a client spend all their time on the presentation part of the interaction and fail to prepare adequately, if at all, for the question and answer session. This is a shame and a massively missed opportunity as it is during this time that the client will get a real feel for what it is like to engage and work with you.
Preparing for the Q & A session
We always suggest that during your preparation for a pitch, plenty of time is allocated for preparing for the question and answer session. There are a number of elements to consider and prepare for:
1 Create a “Question and Answer Bank”
Put yourself in the client’s shoes and think what questions might they ask. Create what we call a “question and answer bank”. One way of doing this is to have everyone involved in the pitch come up with four or five possible questions they think the client might ask, pool these together with those that your pitch coach has suggested and you suddenly have a considerable number of possible questions. Individually or as a team prepare how you might answer these questions. Obviously you cannot prepare for every question that the client may ask but with just a little time and effort you will be prepared for most.
2 Fielding the questions
Discuss and agree how you will field the questions, usually a team would agree who will answer which type of questions, each person having their own area or topic. Also it is not uncommon for one person to be selected as a lead for coordinating who will answer the questions. Make sure everyone is involved in answering questions. Do not let one person or just the senior people dominate, always involve the entire team.
3 Rehearse the question and answer session
Just as you would rehearse the presentation also rehearse the question and answer session. Have your pitch coach, or a pretend panel, ask you questions. Answer as if you were in the real situation. Your pitch coach and the panel will then provide feedback, coaching and ideas for improvement. This rehearsal time is incredibly powerful. It provides the team with confidence, allows you to develop working as a team and allows you to focus on both what to say when answering the questions and also how to say it.
4 What an opportunity
Another top tip is if there is a subject, topic or example you wish to expand on and share with the client but there is not time to during the allotted pitch time, you can drop hints or points around something during your presentation which the client will pick up on and ask you about during the question and answer session. This part of the interaction as stated earlier really should be seen as a great opportunity.
The client during the entire pitch, including the question and answer session, will be asking themselves two main questions:
1 Does this firm have the technical expertise we are looking for?
2 What will it feel like to work with this firm?
What you say in answer to the questions asked is obviously critical and demonstrates your technical ability and your experience. This we will call the substance.
How you answer provides a real feel to the client as to what life will be like if they instructed you. This we will call the style.
Substance and style are equally important in the eyes of the client. Below are some do’s and don’ts whilst answering questions and interacting with the client:
- Be relaxed and keep calm
- Create a professional but warm and relaxed atmosphere
- Do not become defensive to questions, see them as opportunities for discussion
- Do not interrupt the client while they are speaking or asking a question
- If you are unsure of the specific information the client is looking for from a question, explore the question further before answering
- Actively listen, demonstrate you are really, really listening to them
- Keep good eye contact with the client
- Answer in a clear, concise way. Think before you answer, don’t rush what you say and get the key points and messages across without waffling or bringing in irrelevant information. Potentially use R.F.P.B.
- Feel free to bring your answers to life with real, relevant, stories, anecdotes and examples remembering to mention the benefits
- Be warm and friendly and build rapport
- Use humour where appropriate
- Smile where you can, again this is about presenting yourselves as people they would like to work with
- Demonstrate you really understand what’s important to the client
- To generate a discussion ask them questions that are relevant and thought provoking
- Do not patronise, come across as arrogant or try to make any one of the panel look small or stupid
- Consider not only the words you say but also your tone
- Keep your body language positive, from your facial expressions through to an open, attentive frame, avoiding negative or closed positions
- Be aware of your body language even if you are not speaking, nod in agreement to a point your colleague has just made, make eye contact with them and the client even if you are not speaking just at that point
- Support your colleagues if they are struggling with an answer
- Involve everyone in the question and answer session, bring in colleagues who have not said much by asking if anyone has anything to add
- Be genuinely interested and enjoy this engagement and most importantly make sure the client finds it productive and enjoyable too.
The question and answer session really is a great opportunity to stand out from your competition and should be prepared for and given its due.
Many clients we have spoken to after they have been pitched to have told us that it was the “question and answer session” that helped them make the final decision on who they instructed.