"To grow your business in today’s competitive climate, you have to stand out from the crowd. That means letting go of your preconceived notions about how to craft a pitch, learning how to distinguish between what’s important and what isn’t when you do craft one, and training yourself to focus on the parts that matter."
Hamish McKenzie knows a thing or two about winning large contracts in a competitive market. He’s built a successful business helping other companies win sizeable contracts by crafting better proposals. With Pitch, McKenzie shares his SSP methodology (strategy, story, presentation) and the pitfalls associated with typical Request for Proposal (RFP) processes so you too can improve your win ratio and grow your business. And the difference that apparently makes the difference lies with strategic execution; going above and beyond the standard cut and paste proposal documents and the mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations you typically create. This book describes in detail the things you are not doing when you prepare your pitch that you should be doing if you are serious about winning more business.
Pitch is a very readable 146 pages and McKenzie ‘walks his talk’ by keeping the content crisp, relevant and compelling. The book is organized into three key sections – strategy formulation, story development and presentation preparation (to match each stage in the pitch development process). Each section contains tactics, worksheets, case studies and stories to make applying the methodology to your own situations easier. I particularly liked the backdrop pieces titled ‘RFP Madness’ which identified the myriad flaws with the current Request for Proposal process employed by most companies and quite accurately describes it as “a nightmare, a horrific, grueling, administrative black hole of a nightmare.”
Craft a Compelling Story
"The right story can make the difference between winning and losing. You may have all the assets the client needs, but without a convincing story, clients won’t know what you can do for them."
Story development is actually a phase two activity that follows strategy development yet merited The Big Idea status in this summary for several reasons:
- Stories are the perfect antidote to RFP Madness (that annoying Q&A format and cover your butt legalese)! They are engaging, easy to follow and frequently lead to a happy ending.
- A compelling story will be what clients remember most about you and your company, and
- Stories enable you to answer the strategic question “Why should the client choose you?” by connecting the dots between the client’s needs/challenges and your company’s solutions.
McKenzie describes the benefit this way: “A story gives you control of your message and the client a reason to choose you.” I know the power of storytelling for businesses (check out Lead with a Story and Around the Corporate Campfire) and I’ve experienced the monotony of both developing and reviewing responses to RFP requirements. So McKenzie’s suggestion to approach an RFP more creatively using a story format made total sense to me. Assuming you’ve done your homework during the strategy formation phase, you will definitely pique the client’s interest by using a narrative approach to address the RFP requirements and thereby differentiate your company from the competition.
The key to telling a compelling story is to stay focused and avoid rambling. A compelling pitch is no different. And the easiest way to stay focused is to follow the advice outlined in Insights #1 and #2 – leverage the power of three and keep it simple!
The Power of Three
"With a synopsis, your audience only has to remember three ideas. Those three ideas tell your whole story in a nutshell."
We live in what has been dubbed the information age. Technology (internet, smart phones) gives us access to more information than we can possibly use 24/7. As a result, we have developed the bad habit of overwhelming people with facts and figures when trying to persuade them to adopt our viewpoint or purchase our services. Leveraging the power of three helps to counter that tendency by forcing you to focus on the three most critical issues or ideas you want your audience to remember.
Once you’ve identified your three key messages, you need to arrange them in a logical sequence that speaks to the client’s needs while highlighting your solution. Consider the following safety lessons as examples:
- How to cross the street safely: Stop. Look. Listen.
- What to do when your clothes catch on fire: Stop, drop and roll.
A successful lesson would describe those three actions in more detail while reinforcing the keywords so they become imbedded in the mind of the listener and are easily recalled long after the lesson is over.
Have you noticed the Actionable Books summaries follow a similar format – one The Big Idea and two Insights?! Leverage the power of three in your communication efforts by remembering these three powerful words: Less Is More!
Keep it Simple
"A presentation isn’t about showy handouts, flashy slides, and dancing girls. It’s about communicating your story simply and effectively and creating a lively experience that informs and engages your audience."
Unless you are a magician that relies on the power of distraction to amaze and astound your audience, you would do well to simplify how you tell your story. Too often, we add technological gimmicks that detract from rather than enhance our message. I’m sure we’ve all sat through PowerPoint and Prezi presentations with far too much spinning, fade in-fade out text and annoying sound effects (insert animated nodding heads and fake applause here).
Take your cues from the story itself and think about how you can best showcase your three main messages. Consider which senses need to be heightened during the presentation – is it sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell? How might you surprise or otherwise engage your audience in the story? I recently watched a TED talk where the speaker and a dance troupe worked collaboratively to bring complex scientific concepts to life. It was far more effective than a dozen animated PowerPoint slides!
You might not have the resources to hire a dance troupe to bring your presentations to life, however you can use props, photos and even plain old flip chart paper and coloured markers to your advantage. Just remember to keep things simple to enhance not detract from the messages you want the audience to retain.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Pitch and found the lessons learned apply equally well to honing one’s communication skills in general as they do to pulling together a winning business proposal. McKenzie’s mastery of his craft is evident on every page of the book. He crafts a compelling story, leverages the power of three and above all else, keeps things simple. And with a little practice, we can too!
When you think about the best pitch you ever gave (or listened to) – what made it a winner? How did you differentiate yourself and win the contract? What did the successful proponent do to stand out from their competition?