You’re not just pitching to win the business (you’re there to decide if you want the business)

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Who are you really pitching to?

The purpose of a face-to-face pitch is only partly to make the case for why you should be hired. The other part, the bigger part in my view, is that you’re looking to see behind the corporate face and to gauge the likelihood for mutual respect and profitability. Reciprocity. And in that sense, a pitch is always a two-way process – you’re judging whether you’re interested in doing business with them as much as they are judging their interest in you.

You should be watching – as much as you are being watched.

So many people forget that a pitch is a conversation not a monologue – and every good conversation is an interview by another name. By that I mean that you are looking to find out as much about what’s happening in their world as they’re prepared to tell you. And you’re looking to tell the person you’re talking to as much as they want to know, as honestly as you can.

Listen carefully to what is said – and pay close attention to what is not.

Above all, monitor the feeling in the room. People forget that while the conversation itself may revolve around any number of factors including requirement and supply, if the attitude of the requirer is that you are simply a supplier, then that is not respectful. If reciprocity of emotion is not there – bail. Do it nicely (there’s no point in burning bridges) but do it honestly and deliberately, and above all do it without hesitation.

I was working with a company some years back where we went in to pitch for what appeared to be a major branding programme. On the face of it, this was a very nice piece of business to have, and the team had done a lot of work to prepare for the meeting. We’d interviewed a number of the execs, we’d done a lot of background reading, we’d invested time and effort into a thoughtful appraisal of their situation as we saw it.

Twenty minutes into the meeting, it was clear to the whole pitch team that this was not business we wanted. They were nice enough people the ones we had met, but the new arrivals in the room that day – the people responsible for the real decisions – very much saw us as beholden to them and weren’t going to like our front-on approach to problem solving. So there was very little to indicate that there was any chemistry. We quietly and politely called a halt to the meeting, excused ourselves and left. As we collected our thoughts over coffee, I asked those around me this question: “If that was less than an hour into day one, what would day 100 be like?” I’m sure The “dear John” letter we sent that afternoon was met with relief on both sides.

Sometimes, no matter how nice the work looks, it’s just not going to work because of the people involved. Deal with it – or they’ll deal to you.

Photo of “10/52 – {outtake} guess who party by PhotKing, sourced from Flickr

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