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Jim Gray is a senior associate with Sussex Strategy Group. (JOHN MORSTAD/John Morstad for The Globe and Mail)
Jim Gray is a senior associate with Sussex Strategy Group. (JOHN MORSTAD/John Morstad for The Globe and Mail)

LEADERSHIP LAB

Are you in it to win it? If not, your business pitch will flop Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Most individuals and organizations pitch for new business uniformly – which is to say, not well.

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In an age of “client sovereignty,” when customers and prospects have never had more power, nor been more aware of it, too many pitchers are still making the interaction about themselves.

It’s not about you. It can’t be. Not if you want to win the account, or obtain the resources, or get the raise.

Essentially, it needs to be about the relationship. The relationship comes first, the transaction second.

But how do you build a relationship and pitch effectively in an era when your audience will frequently be pressed for time (and sometimes attention), and your rivals will be keen and creative?

You can do it by following these 10 steps:

1. Decide you’re in it to win it

It seems odd, but many pitchers don’t approach a big opportunity with nearly the focus and determination required to win. It’s as if they’re providing themselves with a psychological “out” if they don’t succeed.

If your heart truly isn’t in it, don’t pitch. You’ll only hurt your credibility and undermine your confidence.

2. Assemble the best team possible

If you’re conducting a group pitch, aim to include the most senior leader appropriate to the task. It will provide your initiative with the profile and usually the resources required. The leader needs to have the final authority on participants and content; otherwise, there will be chaos.

Think carefully about the composition of your team – position, experience, age, gender, personality. Increasingly, clients and prospects want assurances that the people pitching to them will actually be the ones working on their business.

Have your most senior member open and close the presentation, while each remaining speaker takes a section. Aim for simplicity, clarity and organization.

3. Research, research, research

How can you gain a competitive edge? By learning as much as humanly possible about the opportunity.

Can you arrange a meeting with your client, prospect or boss prior to the formal pitch? You’re searching for any fact, insight or opinion that can help set you apart on the big day.

4. Listen and learn

A great pitch is like a great conversation. There should be plenty of back and forth.

Too many presenters don’t get that. They don’t listen. They dig right into their narrative without confirming how much time they have to deliver, the order of proceedings, or the fact that their audience might actually want to ask a question or two along the way.

It’s an exchange, not a soliloquy.

5. Organize your information in a story

Many pitchers tend to overwhelm their audience with facts, figures and features.

Bosses, clients and prospects want to know your story, not your statistics. What’s special, even unique, about your skill set? How would you provide value?

Organize and deliver your information in the form of a tight, integrated story, and include examples of how you’ve generated measurable results through strategy, creativity and innovation.

6. Curb your technology

Slides and video can go a long way in helping you tell your story, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for the story. After all, technology can and will go down.

Make sure you’re able to deliver smoothly and confidently from a hard copy version of your presentation, nicely secured in a professional-looking binder.

7. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse

Rehearsal has always been the key to presentation success, but it’s especially important for group pitches. Why? In a group pitch, you’re as strong as your weakest presenter.

You’ll require a well-choreographed narrative, the transitions relaxed and natural, as each speaker advances the story.

8. Gear up for the Q&A

Although you’ll invite your audience to ask away during the presentation, most questions will come during the formal question-and-answer session, at the end of the pitch.

A lot of business gets won or lost here.

Listen respectfully and attentively to every question, even the crazy ones.

Respond with insight, evidence and experience, and when appropriate, low-risk humour. Never criticize a competitor or a public figure – you have no idea who your listeners know and like.

9. Celebrate pitch day

Presenting effectively is all about taking the pressure off yourself so you can be yourself. So be yourself – on your best day. There’s an old saying: When you’re selling dress up, when you’re buying dress down. You’re selling. Dress up.

10. Leave it on a high

I’ve had the privilege of working with senior leaders for a long time, and I can tell you one thing about them – they do their level best to leave every interaction on a high. You should do the same.

When you enter the pitch room, smile, as if there’s no place on earth you’d rather be. Start slowly, and engage your listeners with eye contact and enthusiasm. As you roll into your conclusion, make certain that you end on a positive note.

Within 24 hours of the pitch, follow-up with a thank you e-mail, or better yet, a handwritten note. Be memorable. It’s what leaders do – and leaders pitch to win.

Jim Gray (@JGraySussex) is a senior associate with Sussex Strategy Group. He serves organizations at the senior executive level, developing strategy, managing issues, conducting media and presentation-skills coaching – and helping clients build and deliver business-winning pitches. E-mail him at: jgray@sussex-strategy.com

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