Friday, September 2, 2011

Laying the groundwork for a successful pitch to clients

What’s the best way to convince a potential client to sign on with your consultancy? Obviously, it’s to convince them that you can do the job in the best possible way and that you can get great results with maximum efficiency.

Unfortunately, most companies try to interview contractors the same way they do potential employees. You probably already know that enduring hours of interviews by an endless procession of managers and teammates is not the best way to sell clients on your services.

Instead, you need to give a convincing presentation for all the key players. In this presentation, you present yourself as a dynamic and capable person who will not stop until this project is a success. It’s much easier to convince people of this in a presentation than in a string of one-on-one interviews that waste your time and drive you to recite your points in an emotionless monologue.

In this article, I’ll share with you how to lay the groundwork for an impressive presentation.

First of two parts
This week’s article gives tips on the prep work you'll need to do before giving a presentation to a potential client. The next installment will show you what to include in your presentation.

Gather all the key players
The most important key to the success of your business presentation is to have all the right people in the audience. Putting on the same presentation again and again is little better than dealing with monotonous interviews because it starts to sound forced and rehearsed. Besides, making 10 one-hour pitches to 10 different people is money down the drain for a contractor.

Instead, make it your first priority in your contact with a potential client to schedule your business presentation with all the key people. I approach this by asking my main contact for the names of every decision maker involved with this project. I then ask when is the first available time that we can schedule a presentation with all of these people in attendance.

If my contact says that it will be difficult to arrange a meeting with that many people, I point out that all of them need to attend because otherwise, I’m wasting both my time and the client's time.

You may be thinking that this is easier said than done—we’re all familiar with client chaos during the hiring phase. But it’s a red flag if a potential client is unable to get the key people in the same room at the same time, and you should seriously reconsider whether you want to work with such a client.

If you’re having trouble making this happen, express your concern to the appropriate person at the company. Politely let that person know that you can’t make his or her project a success if he or she can’t gather the decision makers into one room for one meeting.

At worst, clients will ignore their own problems and write you off as arrogant, in which case you were doomed for failure there anyway. But if the clients are committed to the project’s success, they should schedule the meeting, figuring that a can-do person—such as yourself—is just what they need.

Be prepared
Once the meeting is set up, get ready. Do as much research as possible on the company and, if necessary, on the skills you’ll need for the project at hand. Be prepared to field any questions. (For research tools, check out my earlier article, “Research your clients before agreeing to work with them.”) Can you offer any insight into what the competition is doing? Can you demonstrate familiarity with a tough market issue that the client is facing? Can you provide an anecdote of how you helped another client out of a bind similar to what the client is going through?

Know the turf
Next, get familiar with the place where you’ll be making your presentation. Your goal is to feel comfortable and be prepared. If it’s at the client’s offices, schedule a time to drop by at least a day or two before the presentation. You want to make sure you know what to expect and whether the necessary props are at hand there, such as a whiteboard or a projection screen. Try to make sure the room will be available at least 15 minutes before you’re supposed to start; you don’t want to be fumbling with equipment while everyone looks at you.

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