Not sure how I missed this when it was first published, but for the developer and designer in all of us – or for those of us who have to buy Christmas presents for them – here’s a list of essential books on the subject.
You might be a great designer or an exemplary coder, but the quality of your end product is no guarantee of getting the job. We’ve all been through the experience of pitching for work, losing out, and then being stunned when you see the finished article online or in print – “I could have done better than that!” you exclaim. It hurts professionally, emotionally, and on the bottom line, financially. And the thing is, the reason you didn’t get the job is not usually about output, it’s with the ability to pitch an idea effectively. Pitching is an art, and not one that everyone gets the hang of, but there are some simple rules you can use to improve your batting average. In this article I’ll take you through some of the key lessons to learn when putting together and delivering the ‘perfect’ pitch.
“Hey!” you might shout, “I’m a freelancer, I don’t pitch, that’s for agencies, not for me; I’m just resource for hire.” Unfortunately you would be wrong in that assumption. Everyone pitches pretty much everyday of their life, whether you’re turning up at a job interview, networking at a social event, or delivering an idea to an existing client. In all these situations we’re trying to get people to see what we want them to see – and that’s the heart of every pitch. So, one man band or small company – even large ones if you’re reading – these are the three things you need to know to create great pitches.
Lesson 1 – Research
Have you understood the brief? It’s a good question to ask yourself, because the client’s requirements aren’t always written in black and white, or in what you’ve been told over the phone. When reading a brief, look behind the actual requirement (”I want a website”) and into what the client is trying to achieve. The client could be looking for a new way to connect with a particular demographic or launch a new product. Make sure you ask the right questions of your client; understanding the issue that lies behind the requirement gives you an opportunity to go beyond and give them something spectacular that they may not have even thought about. It also shows that you have an understanding of their business goals, positioning you as a partner, not just a vendor.
Lesson 2 – Frames of reference
“People buy from people”, that’s the common quote that people draw on. The reason: it’s true. It’s not the whole story, you have to have something to sell, but it goes a long way towards sealing the deal. That’s why it’s important to know who you are pitching to, as well as what you are pitching for. Luckily, this is a lot easier to do than it used to be. Even if you can’t talk to them directly prior to the pitch, you can research them online, using tools like LinkedIn and Twitter, and corporate resources such as the company website. This research will give you an insight into what sort of person they are: are they aspirational, big-picture people, or are they into the details? Understanding distinctions like this can give you a headstart in creating your pitch, and help you to connect to them during a pitch. If you get it right, aligning your world-view with theirs will elicit the response, “Wow! You really get it!”
Why, because we’re telling them what they want to hear.
Lesson 3 – Preparation
You’ve got the what and the who, now you’ve got to deliver. Writing a pitch can be daunting, but it’s really the art of storytelling, and with the information you’ve already gathered you’ve got the right ingredients. A good pitch will consist of three elements, woven together to create a compelling journey for the client. They are:
- An understanding of the situation – both the logical requirements and the emotional ones.
- Your solution to that situation
- How you’re going to deliver it
The language you use will change dependent on the person you are speaking to, details for detail people, aspirational “this is what you could have” messages for big-picture people, but the content remains the same. And once you’ve written your pitch, make sure you run through it. Knowing it off by heart means you can spend more time talking around the solution and making the connection with your audience, and less time reading from slides.
Taking the time to work through these steps each and every time you get the opportunity to present will pay benefits. Yes, pitching is an art, but it is a skill that can be worked on and improved. Over time, you will find yourself better equipped to understand what you are being asked to do, how to articulate it, and ultimately, to deliver it.
If you would like to find out more about pitching, here is some suggested additional reading:
- The Hidden Agenda: a proven way to win business and create a following by Kevin Allen
- The Art of the Pitch: persuasion and presentation skills that win business by Peter Coughter
Have you got any pitching techniques that have worked for you? How do you prepare? Let us know your tips in the comments.
It’s not often that I read ‘business’ books, being a fan of fiction, but in this case I’m going to put pen to paper for Kevin Allen’s ‘The Hidden Agenda’. A book that aims to impart the secrets of a perfect pitch and turn you into a ‘winner’1, based on Allen’s long career at some of the world’s biggest agencies.
Having been in ‘agency world’ for the majority of my career, I was keen to see how his approach matched both my own thoughts and my experiences.
Allen is best known for being behind the Mastercard ‘Priceless’ campaign – a wildly successful and much parodied campaign that is still running worldwide today, despite being fifteen years old – and although he tries to play down his part in the campaign throughout the book, it forms a central theme throughout. It’s a strong theme though, and it pays dividends as you make your way through the book.
Allen’s approach is broken down into four clear stages that you can absorb into your pitch skills. As methodologies go, Allen’s is a simple one. It’s based on a large helping of common sense, but for the inexperienced his advice is sage. For those of us who have been in pitches – win or lose, and I’ve done plenty of both – there will be plenty to identify with.
From brief to pitch, Allen moves through three main stages, each illustrated with stories and personal insights:
In the first section of the book, Allen focuses on understanding who you are pitching to and trying to uncover the hidden agenda that lies behind the black and white requirements of the brief. By showing you how to listen and question effectively, it’s possible to understand the emotional make-up of your audience and align your pitch to their underlying needs.
In the “What” section, he explores how you can bring your internal strengths to bear on a pitch. Identifying your complementary strengths helps you to align your team and pitch to the hidden agenda.
Finally, the book looks at the art of the pitch, which is, to all intents and purposes, the art of storytelling. Allen shows how you can identify heroes and villains within the brief, and take the client on an emotional journey with you.
Allen’s methodology does not focus on solutions, this isn’t a book that will make you more creative or give you an in on the latest trends, but it will help you to deliver your creativity in a meaningful and effective way. This is neatly shown in the last pages of the book, where he gathers together a number of examples of real-life pitches and breaks them down, showing the inputs and outputs of each stage. It’s here that the book really comes together.
The methodology is backed with some simple tools and techniques to help you apply it in your own work. These aren’t mandatory, but are a welcome addition to the book, as are the accompanying videos and support materials on the book’s website. These additional materials are clearly marked with an icon as you read through.
“the Hidden Agenda is a book worth reading”
If you’re new to pitching, or even new to agency life, the Hidden Agenda is a book worth reading. It’s simple enough and broad enough to take onboard at first read, and it’s not onerous. It’s also worth reading if you’re part of a non-agency Sales team; as Allen rightly points out, we all pitch everyday even if we don’t know it – it’s there every time we try to ‘sell’ ourselves. Even if you decide not to take everything on board, you’ll still come away with some valuable learning. It certainly helped me to take a healthily self-critical look at my pitching style and identify the things I did naturally well and those I needed to work on. Since I finished the book, I’ve found myself replaying some of the lessons as I’ve been working, which I think reflects well on it.
You can find out more about the book at its website (http://thehiddenagendabook.com), or purchase it from all major book or e-book sellers. Or if you want to hear about the book from the horses mouth, watch this video.
1 This is one of Allen’s favourite words – you’ll hear it a lot.
Disclaimer: This is an independent review based on a review copy of the book supplied to me. I have no business relationship with Kevin Allen, KevinAllenPartners or Bibliomotion (the publishers). I have not received any monetary incentives or payments. I don’t need to write this bit, but I think it’s always good to be completely transparent.🙂
Have you read the Hidden Agenda? What did you think? What did you take from it? I’d be interested in your comments.