When pitches go wrong: common mistakes and how to avoid them

If you want to get a deal across the line, it’s crucial not to alienate your audience. Park your ego at the door, avoid talking too much about your credentials, and stay focused on identifying the client’s need.

It’s a situation many salespeople will be familiar with. You’ve worked hard to foster a relationship with a potential client. Over countless calls and meetings – coffees and catch-ups – you’ve built what feels like an unshakeable foundation of trust and mutual respect. You are moving towards the end game. Just one final meeting will get them across the line.

And then it happens.

Brad, the head of sales, asks to join the final pitch. He explains that while you’ve done an excellent job nurturing the client this far, his presence in the room will add the authority and signal the ‘firm commitment’ required to clinch the deal.

“I did a whole lot of business with these guys five or six years ago,” he says. “I’m not sure of the background of this particular deal – or the guys you’ve been talking to – but I’m sure my presence will help.”

The day of the pitch arrives. The small talk is over. It’s time to begin.

You’ve spent weeks preparing a pitch that will get to the essence of the client’s difficulties and show how your organisation can help address their specific challenges. It’s your plan to give a short presentation on what you understand the client’s difficulties to be, take questions from the client, before handing over to a colleague to explain in more detail how your company can help.

But Brad’s got other ideas. “Did you know we’re the top-rated advisor in seven jurisdictions, including West Monrovia, Southern Peru, and the Solomon Islands?” he says. “We’ve raised more capital than our two largest competitors combined!”
We’ve got 20,000 employees across 45 countries. And we’ve even got an office in Belarus. You just can’t beat our coverage and experience!”

Anxiously, you glance across at your clients. Their faces say it all. One is staring straight ahead with a look of bewilderment – eyes glazed – while the other is gazing fixedly at the imitation Monet behind Brad’s right shoulder. It’s not going well.

But Brad hasn’t noticed. He’s too busy selling.

“And have you ever considered using our debt solutions? I know it’s not exactly why you’re here today, but I was thinking that if you do take us on as an adviser on this deal, then it would make sense that we took on your debt financing,” he says.
“Right, I’ve got a Zoom call in five minutes with a client in New York so I really must go. Looking forward to working with you!”With that, Brad is gone.

And so is the deal.

The Parable of Brad is a neat way to summarise some of the fundamental reasons why deals fall through, particularly at the last minute, and very often when you think you’ve got it in the bag.

Go easy on credentials

Charles Garnett runs Templar Advisor’s North American business. He’s a former Corporate Broker turned communications consultant who’s worked with some of the world’s leading asset managers, hedge funds and blue-chip corporates. He says that that one of the most common mistakes people make is to spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting listing their credentials.

“You can very quickly alienate your audience,” he says. “The client will likely already have a clear idea of your company’s credentials. That’s why you’re in the room. What they want to know is not a list of past accomplishments, but how you can benefit them right now.”

It’s also important not to come across as arrogant. “If you want to get a deal across the line, it’s crucial to understand the importance of the personal,” says Hugo Jackson, a founding partner of Templar Advisors, who has spent more than 20 years advising investment banks on all aspects of their critical communications, with a particular focus on winning pitches.

“Typically, people talk too much about themselves when they’re trying to win a deal and not enough about the issues the client faces. And in doing so they fail to create any tangible need in the client’s mind. They think listing credentials will do the trick. It won’t.”

But just what is the secret to winning business in a high-pressure environment with a client across the table from you, weighed down with expectation?

Park your ego at the door

“You need to read the room, stick to solving the client’s issues and don’t pitch more than they need. Park your ego at the door,” Jackson says. “The ‘transmit’ side of the pitch is all very well, but it’s the ‘receive side’ that is key. In the words of Aristotle Onassis: ‘What do we want the client to be saying about us when we leave the room?’”
Garnett adds that it’s also important to have a view. “Read widely,” he says. “The most successful bankers can engage in intelligent conversations with clients that are built on a broad intellectual base. They have a disciplined approach to information gathering that equips them to have a conversation about almost anything, and not just the company and its markets.”

Tell them something they don’t know

Or you can take the advice of one of European investment banking’s most successful deal makers. “Whenever I go to a pitch, I aim to do three things,” he says. “First, I want to entertain the client – to make sure the room has the right energy. Second, I want to tell them at least one thing they didn’t know before the meeting. Too many bankers tell the client stuff they already know. Third, I want them to leave the room feeling worried about something.”

But whatever you do, don’t be Brad.

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