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29 November 2023

Tips for making the perfect pitch

By Tom Addyman

In previous weeks we've looked into topics that are often at the front of mind for SME decision-makers. This week though I'm going to focus on a think-on-your-feet situation, which can be instrumental in the success of your company. It is manna from heaven to some and the manifestation of all things evil to others; it is… "The Pitch". Let's face it, there isn't much chance of winning new business without it, but there are plenty of things to consider before you launch into it.

The first one, perhaps bizarrely is: "Do I want to win it?". This is a straightforward assessment of whether you would be stretching yourself too far with a new client. Would you be able to deliver on your promises or are you just going to go for the pitch and then see how things pan out? Make no mistake; it is a bad business strategy to take whatever you can. The satisfied customers that you already have will start noticing when standards slip, and before you know it, no one's getting the deliverables you promised in your pitch.

There's nothing earth-shattering in the idea that you need to be prepared, but go the extra yard. Get excited about the new contract. Impress your prospective customers. Show them that you understand their business, have researched their history and can add to their future.

I'll come to the slides in a moment, but for now, be passionate! This is where you can really grab the bull by the horns. Anyone can memorise a script, but given the choice between a stammering Mr Bean and a confident, articulate, professional I know who I'd rather have to represent me. It doesn't matter whether you're presenting to bankers, bakers or builders; they have their hearts in their business, and you must too. Adapt to the nature of the industry and where subtlety is required use it. Above all never show anything less than total enthusiasm and commitment.

When potential customers come and see me, they don't normally bring in a PowerPoint presentation, but they do have to pitch their intentions and make a case as to why I should lend to their business. Often they will have anecdotes about their business or clients, and can tell me about what makes their business so interesting and unique. These are things you can do to make yourself and your business distinctive. A lack of confidence and preparation can suggest a lack of belief, and that's not a good starting point. In a perfect world, a client will have left no stone unturned and can provide every nugget of information that I need. This isn't a perfect world, but when those questions inevitably arise, an embarrassed "don't know" or a fumbled "probably" will not do any favours.

So, what about methods? How, in the name of all things commercial, did anyone ever win new business without PowerPoint? These must have been dark days indeed, where clubs were used to batter contracts out of unsuspecting CFOs. Guy Kawasaki, a US venture capitalist who has watched thousands of presentations came up with the 10, 20, 30 rule; less than 10 slides, no more than 20 minutes and a font size of at least 30. There aren't any hard and fast formulas as to how you should present using slides. There are, however, do's and don'ts that will help you along.

Firstly, remember that it is the content and conviction that will be your greatest tools. Making a straightforward, forceful presentation is far preferable to bells, whistles and Spielberg special-effects. Swirls, dissolves and mirror transitions between slides may even give the impression that your efforts have been geared more towards the methods than the message. Keep it simple as there's nothing worse than when technology goes wrong on you.

Next, make sure that your points are easily understood. Check your spelling and grammar, and when you've checked it, get someone else to do it again. Proof reading is not foolproof and you can guarantee that there will be the odd misspelling.

One piece of advice that is frequently given and often ignored is that you shouldn't just read what is on the slides. Remember, you are presenting to grown adults and not teaching children to read. Use the slides as points of reference. It is from these that you should expand and extol your virtues. Also, where possible, use pictures, charts or diagrams to get your message across. People respond to things in different ways and a visual representation can do wonders.

For me, the key points are preparation, passion, performance and the power of persuasion. If I was Guy Kawasaki, I'm sure I could patent it as the 5P rule.

The writer is the Managing Director of Commercial Finance at Gulf Finance. The views expressed are his own


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