A pitch is a story. Like any story, it needs to interest, intrigue, and engage. The Perfect Proposal demonstrates your understanding of your customer. It confirms your ability to deliver an attractive proposition at an acceptable price. It gives your customer all the information they need to make a decision, in one go.
The magic ingredient is preparation. This includes customer market research and analysis necessary for your proposition. Before starting however, you need to understand your customer requirements fully. Ensure that your potential offering is compliant with your customer’s bidding criteria.
If you are unsure whether you can comply with your customer’s criteria, check with them. Weeks down the line, the last thing you want to find is that your bid is non-compliant. For obvious reasons, compliance needs to be verified early in the process.
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The next stage is pre-pitch decision time. Success is not about delivering proposals at every opportunity. It is about calculating which opportunities you should pursue and which ones you should discard. It is about focusing on those which give you the greatest probability of a good return.
Perfect Proposal – Planning your pitch
A pitch should cover everything from the problem to the proposition and the means by which you will develop the solution. You need a checklist, a worksheet and a writing plan.
The checklist enables you to see which activities need to be completed. The worksheet contains a summary of your prospect’s vision and requirements listed in order of importance. The writing plan guides your creative process.
The plan also enables you to cross reference each element of your prospect’s requirements against each component of your offering. If you have multiple writers, the plan enables you to manage who is to deliver what by when. A large whiteboard is a great help to storyboard the whole pitch.
Even at the early stages of deciding your proposition, you need to have a rough idea of your solution in mind, but a clear idea of why your customer is likely to find it attractive. You need to know the benefits of your proposition inside out.
Perfect Proposal – Researching
If you are proposing a product or service of strategic relevance to your customer’s business, you need to understand your customer’s market environment along with their market mix – what they sell, how they promote, how they price and how they get their offerings to market.
Assuming you are selling to a business rather than to consumers, you need to know the influences on your customer. Note that influence comes from both outside and inside companies.
External influence may come from competition which may have competitve advantage through technology. Internal influence may come from perceived benefits of new technologies to accelerate processes.
There are also less direct influences on companies. The political environment may be favourable or unfavourable. Brexit is an example which may or may not be advantagous to your customer depending on their market. It may delay investment decisions. It may accelerate them.
Whatever these influences are, and whatever your customer’s views, you should try and get to know them all. Build them into your pitch where appropriate.
Demonstrating deep customer knowledge looks impressive and is always a credibility builder.
Perfect Proposal – Agreeing the foundation
The pitch needs to start from an agreed foundation. Before you can get anywhere near explaining your solution, you need to define your customer’s situation. Show that you fully understand their problem. Empathise with the pain that they are experiencing.
Your definition of their problem should be non-controversial and a non-biased explanation. It should detail the implication of the situation to the customer, to which your customer would readily agree.
Having agreed the basis, elaborate where possible. Introduce facts, figures and statistics. Reveal relevant research. Hint at possible options but do not reveal any. Demonstrate your complete understanding of their predicament. Dwell on it.
This is the point when you need to suggest some possible solutions to your customer’s problem. You may have an idea of what your competition may be proposing. Without mentioning their name – you could muse on the pros and cons of their solution.
Praise the parts of competitor solutions which mean little to your customer, but cast doubt on the effectiveness of the parts that are relevant.
Charm and subtlety are key attributes here. The last thing you want to do is to offend anyone who is favourably inclined towards an alternative solution. Act the part of a concerned stakeholder who merely wants to consider the strengths and weaknesses of potential approaches.
Perfect Proposal – Pitching
This is where you get to your pitch – otherwise known as your value proposition. It represents the key reasons why your product, service or idea should be selected in preference to someone else’s. It should be clear, concise and compelling. The benefits to the customer should be crystal clear.
Aim to create impact, engagement and appeal, through good content, logical structure, and sound reasoning.
Simplicity is the key to getting your point across. Focus on the few things that really matter to your customer and not on the many issues that your solution addresses.
Clarity of thought, hierarchy of information, and logic of approach is critical to a compelling story. What comes first must be the most important point, what comes second must be the second most important point, and so on.
When it comes down to it, the two attributes that most buyers focus on are price and quality. Whilst your challenge is to find the balance between the two, those attributes are insufficient by themselves.
Your value proposition needs to show how your offering matches your customer’s vision, mission, and requirements. It needs to outline the problem and detail your offering, capability, performance, financial advantage and other benefits over alternative solutions.
If you can refer to a current customer who has benefitted from your solution, so much the better. Credibility is built on concrete phrases such as:
“XYZ Company reduced their costs by 20% as a direct result of implementing our system”
Everyone on your writing team needs to have a clear understanding of your value proposition. It is the basis of your offering and the angle that your pitch takes.
Producing the executive summary
From your first word to your last, your executive summary needs high energy. It should detail your purpose, customer problem and your proposal. It needs to mirror the precise order of your document.
That is why you should sketch out your executive summary as soon as you have agreed your value proposition.
Produce a benefit-focused first sentence as an entrée into an appealing, scene setting, first paragraph. Apply conviction, energy and credibility to your writing.
The executive summary is the most important part of your proposal because it is likely to be read by all stakeholders. But don’t think of it as a summary. Think of it as your elevator pitch.
From the problem, proposition, options and recommendations, it needs to be well-structured, appealing, and highly credible. It should embody your value proposition and answer the question why us? It should also answer questions such as how, when, where, and who?
Imposing clarity and simplicity
Your pitch has the greatest chance of succeeding if it demonstrates customer knowledge clearly and logically.
Whenever you describe the attributes of your idea, service or product, link them directly to your customer’s needs. Never extol the virtues of your offering in isolation from your customer’s needs. In other words, always link them.
Finally, check for clarity and simplicity. Your reasoning should be clear, benefits compelling, and finances competitive.
All that’s left to do is to hone your presentation for pitch perfect appeal.
Guest post by Richard Walker – Director at Walkerstone, a company specialising in the delivery of business writing courses.
Article by Natalie Atterbury