7 ways to guarantee you lose the pitch

Paying attention to these seven factors will help you and your colleagues win more, land better clients, and build better relationships.

Greg Mondshein
Greg Mondshein

For those of you that partake in the glory and agony of presenting your proposal to a potential prospect, you know how losing feels. You know the effects it has on morale and the ability to get team members to eagerly jump on board next go-round.

Winning has an enormous effect on all aspects of your business, so I figured I'd share with you some lessons I learned the hard way. Let me know what you would add to the list—I'm still on my quest for a 100% win rate.

Relying on the brief
Proper discovery allows you to tailor your pitch. You'll learn what's driving the decision, what true business success looks like, what's worked or failed, how they work, and what they truly need. You also give yourself additional opportunities to demonstrate the way you think, ask smart questions, and, most importantly, build a relationship.

Starting with unclear or unreasonable expectations
Our initial reaction is to say yes. Learning to say no with logic commands respect and puts you in a better position to win. You shift from a vendor to a consultant. Whether it's allowing for ample pitch prep time, redefining KPIs, or clarifying budgets, you have to get alignment on all fronts.

Pitching with the wrong team
It's all about the people in the room, and it requires some brutal honesty about if you really have the chops to get the job done. Do you have the right experience? Do you have the right pitch team? How are you going to gel with the prospects in the room? If you don't have the right answers to these questions, you have to bail.

Not understanding the politics
Agencies are too often guilty of pitching to the brief, not the company, the people, and the politics. You need to read between the lines. You need to understand what it is actually going to take to win, not just what the best strategy is. A smart and creative strategy is a given, but more often than not, the winning agency has effectively navigated the personal motives as well as the professional.

Emailing your presentation
Nothing drives me more crazy. The pitch is the perfect opportunity to ask questions, read the room, and get a better sense of the dynamics. Pitch craftsmen are able to adjust on the fly, handle objections, and frame the conversation based on a question, comment, or even the slightest reaction. When you email a deck, you're arrogantly assuming you've nailed it perfectly. Trust me: you haven't.

Presenting to influencers, not decision makers
Why we pitch to people that don't have final decision-making authority is beyond me. Influencers and day-to-day contacts are oftentimes less informed about the business goals and can inadvertently lead agencies down the wrong path. We need to speak to the people cutting the checks, and if they aren't willing to talk to us, run away—fast. Trust me, nothing is more embarrassing than presenting a strategy that is completely on-point to what the pitch administrator communicated but misses the needs of the CMO.

Not trusting your gut
Where there's smoke, there's fire. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's probably...well, you know. We're all optimistic; we believe we can turn them into good clients. We can't. They are who they are. Saying no is hard, but if something doesn't feel right, you need to politely decline.

Paying attention to these seven factors will help us all win more, land better clients, and build better relationships.

What did I miss? Drop me a line. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Greg Mondshein is cofounder and managing partner of SourceCode Communications. Following him on Twitter at @gmondshein and @sourcecodecomms.

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