How to win pitches during a recession

Real Business brings you its five top tips from entrepreneurs on how to beat the downturn and start winning new business and clinching deals. These are all tried and tested tips from serial entrepreneurs, business veterans and bold innovators.

Turn down business
"Don’t go for pitches that you can’t win," says Chris Murphy, founder of marketing agency Balloon Dog. "If you have nagging doubts, then it’s a waste of time and money. Far better to concentrate on the clients that you have a real affinity with and put in 100 per cent of your energy, than go for scale and attend as many pitches as you can fit into a day. These meetings are necessary but they are also an annoying distraction from business as usual. We do fewer pitches these days, but we win more."

Work out why you could losePaul Simons, CEO of £25m-turnover ad agency Truly London, always identifies the weak points in his pitch – before the client can. “Most people never do this,” he points out. “Some years ago, we were pitching for the European launch for PlayStation. We were outgunned by bigger competitors with international networks: we were purely UK focused. But we had our own advantage. We were the creative mavericks; we weren’t tied to corporate structures. To keep the client focused on that element of our pitch, we hired a famous comedy actor, Hugh Dennis, to present the creative ideas. The client was blown away and appointed us for being the most exciting option. Suddenly the disadvantage of not having network offices was less important…”

Play the foolTruly London’s Graham Hawkey-Smith says: “We were pitching against six agencies for, a financial news and comparison website. It was looking for an agency to fit in with their fun and funky team and advise whether they should use the jester as a logo. We wanted to use the jester, so we hired jester costumes for two members of the team who spent the next week hanging around near Fool’s offices. Four days in, one of our jesters was approached by someone from Fool who wanted to take him up to the office. The MD interrupted a big meeting when he saw our jester, (who at no point revealed his connection to Truly) and invited him in to have a quick chat over a coffee. When we finally pitched, the first slide was our man in the jester suit cheekily looking round our reception desk. Before we did anything else, we were already the agency they wanted to work with.”

Prove you’re in it for the long haul“Just as important as the pitch itself is the after-sales support,” says Stephen Clarke, who founded £2m-turnover automated truancy software provider Truancy Call in 2000. “Highlight in your pitch how you would support them afterwards and your commitment to an ongoing relationship. Customers generally know better than the business how best to improve the product/service, so explain to prospective customers that you would invite their suggestions to improve it. Truancy Call regularly asks existing customers for feedback through its e-newsletter and makes courtesy calls to customers every few months.”Target the FDAlex Hoye, CEO of £58m-turnover digital agency Latitude, believes that the best way to seal a new deal is to go directly to the finance director. “Since this recession began, the FD is more involved in decision making than ever before,” he says. “Make your appeal to the moneymen and offer services or products that are ROI driven. That’s how we’ve maintained strong growth this year.”To read the next month’s article: 27 Ways to win pitches in a recession, subscribe to Real Business magazine here. And if you’d like to share your top tips for winning pitches, leave a comment below. Related articlesEntrepreneur changes retail marketing modelChris Rea: "Create a phantom to increase sales"Furniture entrepreneur swaps hot cars for hot coals

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