Sales 101: A Postmortem on the Pitch that Went Wrong

You sit in a meeting trying to explain your idea…you think it’s brilliant, you think it’ll be fantastic…but the client just isn’t buying it. They can’t seem to see the value of paying for your idea or what you are pitching. Why is this happening?

So many creatives deal with this on a regular basis whether they are freelancers, in an ad agency or working in-house. So, how do you get past it?

The postmortem

Let’s go back to your awesome pitch and break it down into two parts: what happened on the audience level and what happened in the mechanics. (Though this article is written with a client in mind, you can easily replace the word client for manager or other in-house/agency decision maker in most of these scenarios)

Part 1: The audience and fit

Audience: Were you talking to the right person/people?

This is the first critical question we have all forgotten to factor in at some point. You go through the whole pitch only to hear “Well thanks for coming in, I’ll show this to my supervisor and get back to you”. *Cue the groans.

The client’s time is valuable and so is yours, knowing in advance who will be attending the meeting and making sure a relevant decision maker is involved before walking in that door makes all the difference, and this includes the people who will influence the decision. This was one point I personally struggled with in the beginning, it felt a little presumptuous to ask, but I came to realize that asking who will be there and rescheduling when a decision maker couldn’t make it gave me more credibility. If you show that you value their time and yours, the pitch is often taken more seriously. If they keep dodging you, well, you might already have your answer and you now have the time to pursue other suitable and profitable clients.

Research: Does it solve a problem they are having or help them achieve a goal they want to reach?

Lets face it, we often love our ideas, but that doesn’t mean they are awesome for the client. The first thing to discover about a client is their goals and needs. Keep in mind that different people in the meeting will have different objectives in mind as they listen to your pitch. A sales manager may want to move a specific product line to meet targets, while the marketing manager might be trying to establish brand recognition in a previously untapped market where they have no visibility.

The point is to know what would be considered a success to them and in that meeting show how your idea will help each of them achieve their goals. Make the case that your pitch will help them be superstars.

Fit: Do they have the right mindset or culture for what you are pitching them? Have you factored fear into the equation?

Sometimes clients just aren’t suited to what you are trying to pitch to them or ready to move forward. It’s hard to accept when you know it would work for them and solve a problem they have. But sometimes, they just aren’t in a place to adopt it or deal with the results if it succeeds.

Maybe they don’t have the right internal processes to handle new business an online landing page would generate, maybe they’ve capped out their budget for this year. You will hear 10 NOs before you hear a YES. Don’t take it personally, perhaps that no is a “not right now.” Make sure they know you’ll be there when they have their ducks in a row, and until then move on to the clients who are ready.

Part 2: The mechanics

Agenda: Did they know why they were attending the meeting?

Ok, this may seem like an odd one but often people just aren’t aware of what’s going to happen in the meeting. Clarity is your friend and the best way to ensure everyone is on the same page is to send an agenda. A meeting invite with a clear time slot and an outline of what will be covered can make all the difference. Everyone will come to the meeting with a clear goal and it will help everyone stay focused for a productive meeting that moves everyone forward.

Delivery: Have you been using language they understand and did you make it relevant to them and their problem?

They don’t care about fonts, color swatches, and styles used to make templates more efficient. No one likes to feel lost in a meeting and jargon they don’t understand is guaranteed to alienate them. They trust you know all of that so they don’t have to. They need to you to understand what they are looking for and reflect that back in a solution that solves their problem in a language they understand.

It’s one of the most challenging parts of sales. Persuading people involves getting to know them and learning industry and area-specific (sales, financial, marketing) lingo. Boning up the your industry vocabulary is well worth the time invested if it bridges the gap and makes you more credible.

Sales tip: Great places to start researching their lingo is on LinkedIn Profiles. It’s amazing how many sales words you learn by looking through a few sales manager profiles!

Education: Did you give them the information they needed to make an educated decision?

None of us go into a meeting saying, “Trust me, it’ll be awesome!” But sometimes if you don’t have all the supporting material, your pitch may be equal to the same thing.

This all comes back to knowing who will be in the room. A financial person making a budget decision on your project will want to know the ROI (Return on Investment), so find out what they need. Whether it’s an outline of your work process, case studies and stats on past successes or  a portfolio with relevant samples, find a way to ensure that each person in that decision-making process has what they need to confidently say yes.

Compromise: Did you have an ear open for alternatives?

Our clients know their audiences and their needs better than we do. Sometimes they can’t articulate it well, but something about the pitch just isn’t feeling right to them, so rather than try to explain something they can’t put into words, they just shut down the idea. It’s not personal, the idea isn’t bad, it’s just not striking a chord. This all comes back to the first point: are you solving their problem? We are creatives, problem solving is what we do. Ask them more questions like, “Can you tell me more about….” Then ask to come back in a set amount of time with a revised solution that will suit their needs.

Wrapping it up

There are so many factors in pitch success and there is no fool-proof way to ensure you don’t get surprised in a sales situation. These are just a few points to help you avoid some pitfalls along the way. The best way anyone can prepare is to understand how the client buys and learn as much as they can about their audience and influencers they will need to get on-board to get that elusive “yes.”

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Posted on: January 27, 2016

Renee Brisson-Khan

Renée Brisson-Khan is a sales design consultant and a Creative Director in the Xerox Canada Creative Services team. Previously, a teacher and founder of RBK Artworks, she developed a unique specialty helping clients transform their sales with new ideas and technologies that reach audiences with meaningful experiences. Check out her LinkedIn profile to learn more.

3 Comments on Sales 101: A Postmortem on the Pitch that Went Wrong

  1. You’ve provided some great advice, Renee. I’d add that in order to confirm your understanding of the company’s goal, audience and overall strategy, one should begin the presentation clarifying one’s understanding of this crucial information. Once confirmed or clarified by the audience, creative can be presented. This provides numerous benefits. First, it get’s the audience engaged and agreeing. Second, it clarifies any misunderstanding. Third, it provides an opportunity to discuss alternatives based on any new information when presenting the creative. If your insights are correct, this provides a fourth benefit of helping step the audience from their problem to be solved to your brilliant solution.

  2. Absolutely! It’s a great point to add Merri. Often this can be outlined in the agenda and when starting the meetings it’s a great opportunity to review it and ask if any new information or goals have come up before starting the meeting. I have found that if a key person has changed this comes in very handy and as you said gets them engaged 🙂

  3. Great article Renee. Sometimes though, you have to prove to the influencer that he should have the decision maker come on board. It’s all part of the qualification process.

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