I’ve repeatedly said you should pick the clients and projects that interest you, get your foot in the door (via lumpy mailers), and get the business.

But how do you pitch prospects — and make them buy what you’re proposing?

The Big Pitch: How do you succeed? I’m working on a pitch right now. (And yes, I  generated the meeting via a lumpy mailer sent to a high-value prospect.)

So OK, I got my foot in the door.

Now what?

It’s time to show up on the prospect’s doorstep, and convince them they can’t live without you.

It’s time for a pitch.

Gushing is Bad

Pitch hint #1: Don’t show up empty handed, sit down at the conference table, and gush about yourself.

Don’t gush about your accomplishments. Don’t gush about your capabilities. Don’t gush about your ability to meet deadlines.

Don’t gush.

In a former life, I worked at a high-tech ad agency, and sat through a pitch from a freelance writer. He advertised himself as the area’s “foremost copywriter,” but over the course of the pitch, revealed himself as something less lofty.

He talked endlessly about himself. And never once asked how he might help us.

When you write copy, you do so with this question in mind: “What’s in this for the reader?”

The same is true of a pitch. What’s in it for the harried, sleep-deprived marketing director sitting across the table?

People are busy. And even those who aren’t busy have better things to do than sit in conference rooms while you convince them you’re the second coming.

The area’s “foremost” copywriter ignored that rule, and walked out without a prayer of getting an assignment.

When Gushing Might Be Good

If you absolutely must gush, gush about the benefits to the pitchee.

You know. The growth in revenue. The truckloads of leads. The increase in loyalty. Regrowth of their hair. Whatever you’ve got.

Don’t be afraid to be specific, and then back those specifics with real data (if you’ve got it).

For example, this prospect is a non-profit, so I researched non-profits running similar membership programs. I emailed two of them asking for help, and now I’ve got a handful of warm, fuzzy statistics plugged into my pitch.

With a solid foundation of benefits in place, I move on to the next step.

The Pitch Outline

Ok, so you’ve opened with a few strong benefits (like “I can help Conglomco triple its membership retention rates”). The next step is to connect the benefits to your proposal.

Paint the broad strokes of your proposed project, but don’t delve into unnecessary details.

People get hung up on details, and the last thing you want is for your carefully built pitch to sink beneath the waves because the prospect hates the purple in your sample layout, or thinks the blog you’re pitching should run on TypePad instead of WordPress.

Make it deft, keep it light, and (once again), connect the benefits to the project itself.

In other words, don’t just toss out a few benefits, outline a project, and call it a day. The prospect needs to see how the project produces the benefits. It’s your job to weave the two together.

I do this mainly via spoken word, though I’m not above putting together an outline to keep me on track.

Do I prepare visuals for the prospect? Yes. Sometimes a flow chart, outline, org chart or informational graphic are necessary.

I don’t like prospects reading proposals while I’m pitching them, so I tend to keep it simple. And I haven’t yet fired up an animated presentation with a soundtrack.

That makes me a passive part of the process, and computer-run presentations don’t respond to your prospect’s questions or body language.

And while you’re prepping, don’t forget to formulate answers to potential objections (time, money, impact on an overworked staff, etc). You can’t predict what might get thrown at you, but it’s worth five minutes of your time trying.

What’s Your Leave Behind?

The pitch is finished. The prospect’s eyes are bright and shiny. They’re licking their lips over the program. They want it. Bad.

Yet they can’t make the final decision. But their boss can. Can you really rely on them to repeat your pitch from memory?

My preference is to leave behind a single sheet of paper summarizing your pitch. What should it contain?

  • The benefits (duh)
  • A very brief outline of the project
  • A compelling argument why you’re the perfect person for the gig
  • The call to action (everyone forgets this)

This isn’t rocket science; keep it clean, simple, and smart. Bullet it where needed, and don’t forget a call to action — the prospect needs to know what you want from them.

When you leave, don’t forget to push for a resolution — or at the very least, let them know you’ll call them in a few days.

Full disclosure: lots of people do this differently (more visuals, animated presentations, etc). It works for them, this works for me, and I’m not suggesting there’s One Way to do this.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Keep pitching, Tom Chandler.