99 Problems but a pitch ain’t one

What is a pitch? A pitch is typically a presentation to a new company (one you haven’t worked with before) to offer them your products or services. And because you’ve never worked with them before, it can be an intimidating, stressful experience.

In many instances, I’ve been both the person being presented to and the person delivering the pitch. Along the way, I’ve picked up some tips that I’m really excited to share with you to make the process a whole lot less challenging.

1. Short, sharp intros

I’ve been in countless presentations where the team presenting to me starts off with a 7
minute introduction about their company. Who they are, how long they’ve been in the
business, etc.

2 minutes in I’m usually bored and already doodling in my notepad.
Keep your introduction focussed to establish a baseline of competence, share one/ two big
accomplishments and then get stuck into the presentation.

“I’m Joe &; I gave up a life of aligning powerpoint logos in investment banking to create the vision of a paperless society & in 6 months we eliminated 5 tonnes of paper from companies just like yours”


2. Death by powerpoint

If you have ever endured a terrible university lecture you know exactly how frustrating it is
to watch someone read words off a slide, word for word and say absolutely nothing useful.
Pitch decks and powerpoint presentations should be infographic/ image heavy and text light.

Walls of text are criminal. For every slide you should have a cheat sheet of two/ three main
points you want to cover.

Leave a hard copy of your company’s profile, credentials and past work with the client at the
end of the presentation with all of the underlying detail. If there are any technical questions,
you can refer to the relevant section in the hard copy of the deck.

“the detail underpinning the cost line items are included in the handout materials we shared if you require more detail”


3. Show don’t tell

What’s funnier? If I tell you a joke that has you rolling on the floor with laughter? Or if I tell
you, “Hey, I’m a really funny person. You should hear my jokes.” Which one are you going to
believe more? The same is true about pitches.

When a company pitching for my business starts with, “I’ve noticed that you struggle with
this or this seems to be a challenge for your company. This is how we can help.” Boom.
You’ve got my attention.

This kind of opening shows me that you’ve done your homework, you’ve researched the
industry I operate in, you’ve spent some time thinking about my business. You’ve spent time
thinking about how to make my business better/more profitable/ more innovative/more
productive. Now I’m willing to give you my attention for the next 30 minutes. Now I’m
excited about what you have to say.

This kind of approach also shows me that you have confidence in what you have to offer as a
solution. Whether I take the conversation forward or not, I know that there’s a high
probability that I’m dealing with someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Investing in an idea is great, investing in a proven solution is even better. The counter-side to
potential is uncertainty. Uncertainty leads to difficulty in quantifying value and higher risk. In
many businesses past performance is usually a decent predictor of future performance.
Growing at 5% a year for the past 10 years and suddenly projecting a 95% growth will raise
questions.

“this chart illustrates the cost savings (R17m) from one of our main clients relative to the costof using our services as well as the positive environmental impacts from adopting digitaltools across the past year”


4. Selling as problem solving

Many people have a mental block in their heads about selling. They get self conscious, they
feel awkward and it comes across as being unsure of what you’re offering. The solution to
letting go of the block, is to see selling as ‘solving a problem’.

Every client has a problem that they’re willing to pay someone to solve for them. If your product or solution can help them,
then aren’t you doing them a favour by sharing what you can do? Looking at it this way,
you’re not selling, you’re offering a solution to their problem.

Is the company better off with your solution?

“We’re keen to extend our solutions on trial for a month at no cost for the company to ascertain the value add”


5. Ask yourself SO WHAT?

Many times it’s challenging to know what to include and what not to- because there’s so
much you can say about your company. So how do you determine what’s relevant?

When preparing a pitch with any point you include, put yourself in the client’s shoes and ask “SO WHAT?” This will show you if the point is worthwhile including.

For example, if you want to say “Our company has built strong relationships with the
retailers that you want to sell your products through.” So what? “We can negotiate better
rates , shorter lead times and quicker query resolution.” If that is the case, then include the
second part of the story into your presentation. And the added bonus is that now your first
point has become so much more persuasive.

6. There is no such thing as being over prepared.

Despite all the research you’re going to do, the person you’re presenting to will know their
industry better than you. And so you need to over prepare. What do I mean by that? Before
the presentation, workshop questions and answers with your team. Pretend you’re the
client and ask yourself the questions you think they will or won’t ask and then prepare the
answers. Ask yourself really difficult questions – and in the process of doing so, you may find
gaps in your solution or better ways of framing your ideas. Doing this beforehand gives you
time to prepare contingency plans and you won’t be so nervous on the day because you’ll
have already “practised” answering questions- so you’ll look and feel more confident.

If you genuinely don’t know the answer or have a solution to a problem - don’t waffle. Admit
you don’t have the solution and explain the closest solution.

“We have not developed a solution for reducing cardboard use, it is one of the developments in the pipeline but nowhere near ready for us to launch commercially yet”


7. Play to your strengths

There’s no need to hide or obfuscate what you can or can’t do versus competitors. If you’re
not the biggest in the market, show how your size will help you give them a better service. If
you’re not a value offering (ie not the cheapest in the market) then demonstrate to the
client why you’re worth paying more for.

At the end of the day, not every client is going to be the right fit for you. So if you sense that
you’re not winning them over, wish them well and move on. There are many, many more
clients out there that will be only too happy to work with you and your team.

Always maintain relationships.

“We appreciate you taking time to have this conversation and appreciate this isn’t the right product for the company at this time. We will certainly reach out as we develop bespoke products better suited for you”


8. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

If there’s more than one person doing the presentation, rehearse what points each person is going to cover.

I’ve been in presentations where the team clearly have not sat together
before that moment and so they’re fumbling all over each other because they’re not sure if
they’re covering all the points that need to be covered. Or worse yet, they’re all covering the
same ground. The worst? A team fluffing about and talking over each other.

So before the presentation, prepare a list of points that each person is going to cover. Also
agree who will answer which question, should it come up. There’s always one person on a
team that’s so eager to impress, they answer all the questions, whether its their area of
expertise or not. The danger in this is twofold.


  • The client isn’t getting the best explanation for their question, because the wrong person is
    answering.
  • The rest of the team just stand there with nothing to do and they check out of the
    presentation. Clients pick up on this and it ruins the connection you’re trying to build.


Learn by watching. Watch the best speakers deliver Ted talks. Watch how the best founders present their ideas on Dragon’s Den. How you say things is often more important than what you say.


9. Be excited

Let’s face it, enthusiasm is contagious. When you’re excited about what you do and thrilled about what you have to offer, the client is going to feel that. In fact that’s what they’re looking for from suppliers, people that are as excited about their business as they are. Why? Because your excitement is an indicator that you’re going to do your best to give them what they’re looking for.

“The best part of DigitalX is knowing we’re actually making a real world impact, it’s take a few years but I’ve finally found my calling”


10. Build a connection

The biggest mistake people make in a presentation is using the time to read through their slides. What a waste! Yes you have to cover the points you need to cover, but more importantly you’re there to build a connection with your potential client. Use the time you have to connect, not regurgitate. Ask them questions, test your assumptions, get to know them as people. You’ll discover that when you see that you both support the same soccer team or both your kids are bad sleepers, etc it's much easier to share what you do and how your business can help them.

Have fun fellow Hustlers and best of luck for your next pitch! May the odds forever be in your favor.


How do you feel after reading this?