Sep 16, 2020

Starter’s Guide to Pitching (and Winning) Clients

Every entrepreneur knows the importance of pitching to clients. If you want to grow what you do, you’ve got to show what you do. But knowing the significance of something and putting it into practice are 2 separate things—so every company, from fledgling upstarts to global brands, needs to practice the art of the pitch. When you get complacent and sloppy, the results can be disastrous.

The perfect example of a company “sleeping on the pitch” came in 2013, when Nike prepared to make NBA star Stephen Curry an offer to serve as a brand ambassador. You’ve likely heard of Nike, considering they accounted for over 90% of the basketball sneaker market at that time.

Yes, Nike is one of the most dominant brands the world has ever seen. But that didn’t prevent them from making one of the most boneheaded pitches in history. To set the stage, Curry really liked working with Nike. He was a long-standing partner and had many positive things to say about the company.

“I was with them for years,” recalled Curry in an ESPN report. “It’s kind of a weird process being pitched by the company you’re already with. There were some familiar faces in there.”

Numerous Nike officials greeted Curry and his father, former NBA player Dell Curry, as they entered the meeting room to discuss the upcoming deal. Once seated, however, Curry was treated to what ESPN described as “something hastily thrown together by a hungover college student.”

The trouble started when one of the Nike officials mispronounced Curry’s first name. Note to those who make pitches: Do NOT refer to people by the wrong name. This rule is particularly relevant when the person you’re pitching is a current business partner.

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back came when the Nike officials reached a slide in the PowerPoint deck that didn’t use Curry’s name at all. Instead, it featured the name of NBA star Kevin Durant, indicating that this pitch had been copied and pasted from an earlier pitch to Durant.

Shocked and disgusted by Nike’s clumsiness and disrespect, Curry signed with rival brand Under Armour. Nike was then left to consider how they’d bungled what should’ve been a slam dunk of a pitch.

Crafting the Perfect Pitch

If you’re a people person, you might be shaking your head right now, marveling at how clueless Nike was. But preparing an impactful pitch involves much more than simply getting the names right: you must also tailor your presentation to the needs and goals of your audience.

“When you’re growing and developing a business, you’ll likely spend a lot of time presenting pitches to potential corporate partners,” says Forbes. “However, every business is different, and every pitch should be too. Depending on the company you’re pitching, you’ll want to adapt and tweak your presentation to ensure you’re sending a message that resonates with that particular business leader. It may take effort and research, but it will pay off in the long run when you land partnership after partnership.”

Let’s look at some other ways you can take a regular PowerPoint pitch deck and turn it into a business-catching machine.

  1. Ask plenty of questions in advance: You need to be a sponge during the time leading up to a pitch, soaking up every possible piece of information that could make your presentation better. This is best done through direct questions to the client. Learn everything about their business model, core values, and leadership style. Most importantly, identify the problems they’re currently facing.
  2. Offer solutions: When you understand the strengths and weaknesses of a client, you’re uniquely able to offer solutions to their problems. This is how you showcase your value and get them to take the action you desire.
  3. Be personable: Friendliness goes a long way in your pitches. You don’t have to be cheesy, but look for ways to show the human side of your business. This might mean you include photos of your team in the pitch. Better yet, include childhood photos. As long as this “personable” content is relevant, it will help to break the ice with its warmth.
  4. Outline a killer strategy: It’s easy to write a great line for a pitch. What’s harder: developing a convincing strategy that encapsulates your entire presentation. Show them how solid your strategy is by including specifics such as tactics, timeframes, and results tracking.
  5. Be prepared for remote presentations: Times have changed—you won’t be making many in-person pitches in the near future. So take this time to master your chosen video conferencing software, whether it’s Teams, Zoom, or something else entirely. Rehearsals are crucial for identifying potential technical difficulties and finding remedies to apply in real time.
  6. Make your final impact statement truly shine: A great intro really sets the tone for a successful pitch—but don’t neglect the factor of recency bias. Once you’ve concluded your pitch, the last 3 things you said are going to be among the 3 most memorable elements to the client. Thus, you need to make sure your value and strengths come through crystal-clear in your pitch’s closing moments.

Going back to Nike’s pitch to Stephen Curry, the meat of the presentation was likely as impressive as you’d expect from a massive, worldwide-beloved brand. It was the details that were lacking. The officials who prepared that pitch thought they could ride their reputation right up to Curry signing on the dotted line—and they suffered the consequences.

Is it possible to be pitch-perfect? No. There will always be aspects of a presentation that could’ve gone better. But when you put effort into crafting a pitch that clearly articulates how well you understand the client and wish to make life better for them, you’ll see undeniable results.

About the author

Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

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