The secrets to investor and customer pitching

Pitching is one of the most important skills for an entrepreneur to possess, but is often overlooked when lined up against innovative thinking, man management and sales experience.

Furthermore, a difference needs to be established between how to approach an investor pitch and one hoping to attract a new client.

What is your background and what does your business do?

iNovar provides mobile business intelligence services to companies around the world. We connect users-on-the-move with their desktops, providing secure access to all the content and apps they use on their desktop, regardless of what device, operating system or application they are using.

I’m one of three founders of iNovar, with the other two based in the US. All three of us come from the business intelligence industry. I’ve had a number of roles during my career, most recently specialising in business intelligence, where my company helped to launch in Europe a service that helps users collaborate across different locations. Prior to that, I was also the founding managing director of IT infrastructure supplier, Computacenter.

What are the growth milestones it has gone through?

Our first major milestone was in October 2013 when we launched our service onto iOS, which allows users of the Apple operating system to access their data on-the-go. We then launched our solution as a commercial product earlier this year and secured our first clients shortly after. Our next steps are to launch on Android and Windows mobile early next year.

Another major milestone was winning Dell’s Startup-in-Residence competition this year – a fantastic programme that I’d encourage any growing business to enter when Dell starts its search for the next winners in the New Year. As well as saving thousands of pounds on office space and technology, this valuable partnership has given us access to the senior Dell team in the UK & Ireland. It’s also given us more weight when speaking to prospective clients and investors.

How would you divide pitching up into different types, and which would you say is the most difficult?

You need similar skills no matter who the pitch is directed to, and confidence is core to that success. You may know the subject matter yourself, but the art form is about being able to tell that story and enthuse other people. This means lots of practise and creating a presentation style you’re comfortable with.

Though the setting and time of investor pitches can vary, they do follow a relatively straightforward pattern. You address an issue, what you want to do to solve it, and how that can be achieved with the investor’s help.

In some ways sales pitches can be more complicated and difficult to get right. This is because you need to intertwine case studies that suit your particular audience so they can relate to your other customers. You will also need to anticipate questions they’ll likely ask during the pitch and try to answer these within your presentation. This will reduce the chance of being diverted during your pitch.

How have you gone about honing your pitching ability?

I’ve found one of the best ways to get your pitch right is filming it. This gives you an opportunity to replay, give yourself constructive feedback and see where you can improve, whether it’s improving eye contact, posture or projection.

Alternatively, you can also practise your pitches to others who’ve been there before. As a seasoned pitcher, I jumped at the opportunity to work alongside Dell at the recent Web Summit conference in Dublin where we gave critical tips to startups practicing their pitches before going up in front of potential investors during the PITCH event at the show.

Tell us about a few times it went wrong, and what did you learn?

One of the biggest learning curves I’ve found has been from investor pitches, as they vary the most. You can often be in different settings and have different lengths of time, sometimes as short as a few minutes. As there’s no standard pitch, I’ve learned that you need to re-work your presentation to fit the forum. I’ve heard and experienced cases where entrepreneurs have overrun before they’ve even had time to get to the ask!

What pitch do you look back on as the one you most nailed?

The last successful one! It’s common to get better at pitching as time moves on, so take the last one that went well as the guide for how to succeed in future pitches.

What three tips would you give to an entrepreneur about to give an investor pitch?

  • Remember to spell out what you want from investors early in your pitch, as this will then give you time to go through the details of the business, etc
  • That said, don’t overdo the numbers. Less is definitely more, as investors are generally only interested in a few specific details: how much you’ve sold to date, your future business plans and how much do you want from them
  • It’s also worth spelling out what you plan to do with the investor’s money, as they’ll be unlikely to give you anything if they don’t know what you’re going to do with it

What three tips would you give to an entrepreneur about to give a customer pitch?

  • You need to make the prospect believe that your product is something they need and, just as importantly, can afford
  • Customers can sometimes get side-tracked during presentations, so make sure you check and re-check all your slides for typos, as this can seriously interrupt the flow of the pitch
  • Don’t just repeat what the prospect can see on the slide. You need to be adding something to the presentation, otherwise there’s no reason for you to be in the room

Are there any things to avoid without fail when it comes to pitching?

Never, never stand in front of your slides. I’ve seen too many people do it, and it’s always off-putting.

Image: Shutterstock

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