Show emotion - and don't be afraid to use props...Ten tips for a winning business pitch

A big proportion of work in the business is competitively tendered and recently I gave you a template for handling invitations to pitch for instructions.

After your written submission, the next stage is usually a meeting with the prospective client to discuss your pitch - commonly known as 'the beauty parade'. This meeting is where the clients will decide whether they like you or not - so this is probably where you will win or lose the business. So what can you do to improve your chances?

1) Read the brief - and the interview panel! Your focus at the meeting should be to establish and strengthen a friendly rapport with the client, so you need to focus on the emotional intelligence part of your team's approach. Don't waste time going over all the technical parts of the work.

The client expects that you have the technical ability to do the work - otherwise they wouldn't have invited you to tender. You will have covered all of that in the written submission.

What they want now is to see you bring the submission to life, and to get a feel for whether or not their staff will work well with yours. You need to be memorable and to inspire them with your enthusiasm.

Reading the brief carefully will tell you what the client's real strategy is, so don't get sidetracked with operational issues. One of the best examples of this I saw was when our estate agency decided to seek competitive pitches to handle the firm's accounting work and I was asked to sit on the interview panel, alongside the managing director and the financial controller.

The reason for seeking a change was the feeling that the incumbent wasn't sending us enough business leads and instructions. Our managing director had written the brief, emphasising that business development and referrals between the firms was a priority. One after another, most of the top firms trooped in with large delegations of experts who spoke at length about VAT, auditing and tax. And bored us to tears.

David Simpson, co-founder of Simpson Xavier (now BDO), arrived with just two colleagues. His opening line was: "Well, you know that we know how to do tax and all that, so I want to agree a schedule of monthly meetings between the managing directors, to focus on business development. And here's a list of dates where we would like to host your staff in our office to talk about business referrals, and we'll have a pint afterwards so people get to know each other." Hallelujah! David Simpson had read the brief, realised that two of the people he was pitching to were agents, and not accountants, and made the decision to award them the business an easy one.

2) PowerPoint or not? The default meeting formula is a PowerPoint presentation, which is ideal for showing videos or images, but usually just comprises having the presenter's notes up on a screen. Try and make sure that at least part of your presentation involves looking together at some hard-copy documents. You are now moving them into sitting with you and asking and answering questions - in other words, working together.

3) The day before the meeting, arrange to visit the meeting room, check the equipment and rehearse your presentation. No-one else will do this, so you are already looking more enthusiastic and professional.

4) Try and mirror the interview panel for gender and age balance. Don't try to impress by bringing too many people - especially if they are not going to contribute. Dress at least as well as the panel does.

5) Circulate the interview panel's names in your own office, as someone may know them. If so, brief them and bring them along.

6) Have a dress rehearsal of the meeting, with your own staff playing the client role and asking likely questions.

7) Be brave enough to let your best presenter lead the pitch - and not necessarily your most senior person.

8) You will often be shown into the room to await the clients. Spread yourselves around the table, which forces the client's team to intermingle with you. You are now 'working together' - much better than the usual sterile interview format, with both teams facing each other.

9) Don't be afraid to use a prop, a model, or large hard-copy images to stand out.

10) Show some emotion. After summarising, finish by telling the clients that you would LOVE to have this job.

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