You’ve completed your tender response and now you’re on the short list. You’ve been asked to present your key themes from your proposal over the coming weeks to the panel who will ultimately choose the successful bid. And yes, you want to win! There are plenty of obvious things you should do:
– Pick the right people for the pitch team and consider diversity every time.
– Prepare thoroughly.
– Work out what your win themes or unique selling propositions are.
– Design your message so that it appeals to all kinds of audience types.
– Rehearse your pitch so that you can’t get it wrong.
– Deliver with direct, connected eye contact.
All of this is pretty obvious right? You definitely need to do these things. Pitch coaches like me have been teaching this for decades.
There are also a whole lot of other seemingly little things that you may not be conscious of that greatly impact on your success. They are the often-unspoken elements, cultural things that slip under the radar and can indiscriminately undermine your success. These elements are often simple things that should not be left unsaid or unmanaged and in fact, when you take charge of these considerations, you’ll ensure everyone brings their best to your pitch presentations and you’ll increase your chances of winning.
The following considerations are musings from my 20 years as a pitch coach. I’ve seen some winning teams who thrive in each other’s company and yes, they frequently win big deals. And I’ve also been involved in some truly toxic cultures that leave their people feeling sad and worthless regardless of whether they win.
I suggest that you ponder the following to take your bid team’s performance to the next level.
When I work with pitch teams I can have up to twenty meetings with each person who is pitching (depending on the size and duration of the pitch). It’s my nature to ask people, “how are you?” throughout the process. And I’m sure you can guess the answer. Almost always people reply, “busy!” Everyone in business is busy whether you’re pitching for a deal or not. If you are managing a bid team, it’s worth asking yourself the question, “if people are busy in their ‘real’ job, how on earth are they going to find any extra time to help us win this pitch?” And don’t just ask the question, answer it! Find yourself a solution before the pitch process begins. In my experience when resourcing isn’t managed well you end up with people who are trying to do two full-time jobs: their real job, and your pitch; and they are too exhausted to think properly, they are distracted, their contribution is limited, and their performance is often (and understandably) flat and unimpressive in meetings and rehearsals. Their inability to focus, meet project deadlines and perform with rigour and vitality is also very demotivating to others in the team who have found a way to prioritise your pitch.
What’s the solution? If you’re going to pull your subject matter experts into your pitch, it’s important you work out how to give them the time to focus on the deal. In some industries, when pitching for really big, multi-million-dollar deals, the people in the pitch team are taken off their usual duties so they can focus solely on winning. Doesn’t that sound like a good idea? If this is not possible because you’re understaffed, you need to find another way to make sure that competing priorities don’t stop your experts from contributing in a meaningful way. They need a backup person, or they need a senior leader to re-organise their priorities from the start, so they can move your pitch to the forefront of their daily activities.
Boundary and Role Setting
Just like you would in any important project at work, it’s essential to set the rules of the pitch upfront. When we all know the rules and stick to them it reduces re-work and time wasting and increases our collaborative spirit. It’s my experience that companies who are regularly involved in pitches and Bids forget to set these rules because they think that everyone is so experienced, they already know the rules. Not clearly setting boundaries can lead to misunderstandings and ill feelings amongst project team members.
The sort of boundaries or rules you need to set are:
– Who is the actual client?
– Who will ultimately make the decision to award the job?
– What are the roles of the various people in your pitch team?
– Who is the project sponsor?
– Who is the Bid Manager or Pitch Champion?
– Who are the subject matter experts?
– What are the roles and responsibilities of all these people?
– Who liaises with the client?
– Who answers technical questions?
– Importantly, I’ve seen many a pitch process go south when it’s not clear who is in charge. Ensure you let everyone know who is ultimately in charge, that is, tell everyone in the team, (including your executives) who has been nominated to make the final call on a matter when there is a difference of opinion and then empower them to do so.
– Who will communicate the rules of this pitch to the various team members?
– Who has the role of enforcing your project rules and behaviours when they are flouted throughout the process?
State all of this upfront to avoid misunderstandings.
Process is about dates, activities and actions.
– What is the timeline for all pitch activities? I recommend you send out the proposed dates for all the activities early in the process, so people know what is going to be expected of them and by when.
– When will you do pitch training?
– Who is involved in that?
– Who will explain the reason for pitch training and justify the agreed pitch approach, so all team members are on-board with your process?
– What preparations need to be made prior to any pitch training?
– Will you have accompanying scripts for your slide deck?
– Who writes the presentations?
– Will there be individual pitch coaching or script checking and when will that happen?
– When will we rehearse our presentations and who will be there during the rehearsals?
– Do we have rehearsal Q&A sessions? And again, who will attend those sessions?
– One of the most critical parts of the process that must be determined (and then fixed in cement) early in the process is the date by which all presentations will be finished, slides designed, and no more changes made.
– What is your communication process?
– Does everything go through the Bid Manager?
– Can people contact various team members about elements of the pitch? For example, can anyone contact your slide deck designer with changes whenever they like? Or do all slide variations go through the Bid Manager?
– Who is allowed to contact or speak with your prospect?
– Can people reach out to your external pitch coach for assistance without approval, or is there a process to follow?
– When we communicate with one another, does everything need to be in writing?
It’s very important to set clear boundaries about the way we talk about our involvement in the pitch with our colleagues.
– Are you OK with people whinging about how busy they are?
– Do you find it acceptable for people to use their busy schedule as an excuse to not put in the time and effort that’s required to win?
– When we give feedback to our colleagues during rehearsals is there a way to do that?
– What’s the best way to raise an objection to someone’s content or delivery style in a rehearsal?
– Who must attend which meetings and what’s the protocol if you can’t make it?
Guidelines about acceptable behaviour should be agreed with the pitch team at the start of your process to ensure team members are empowered to be both empathetic and supportive.
I hate last minute stress in a pitch! Whilst there will nearly always be last minute slide changes, what you don’t want is silly mistakes that take hours of formatting the night before your pitch. Please spare a thought for your slide designer who is probably not a ‘last-minute-Nelly’ either! There’s enough to worry about when you’re making a life or death pitch without stressing over slide changes at the last minute and to be honest, you should be rehearsing with your completely finalised, perfect slides at least a week out from the big day.
What’s the solution? One way to combat last minute stress is to ensure that everyone has the template for the slides from the outset and an instruction to make sure they use it. This means you can’t pull slides in from other presentations (that often have different formatting applied) because you think it’s quicker! Instead, project members should redesign all slides (including pre-existing slides from old slide decks) in the agreed template from the start. In this way you’ll ensure there’s less work required to standardise the slides close to your presentation date.
Another important consideration with regard to consistency is back-up presenters. What will you do if someone is sick on the big day? Will you have a back-up person involved from the outset just in case they are required on the day?
It’s my experience that fear is a common emotion at some stage throughout the pitch process when people are passionate about winning. After all, we know that presenting in public is one of many people’s top fears. I have often found that people who are usually fully functioning, confident experts do sometimes experience a sense of overwhelm at some point in the pitch process that causes them to start asking themselves a whole lot of questions that in most cases are not that helpful such as, “Will I be good enough?” “Will I let the team down?” “How will I make sure I don’t go blank?” “What if I don’t know the answer to the questions?” “How am I going to ready in time when I’m so overwhelmed by my workload?” “Why am I being asked to go the extra mile here when no one else is?”
What’s the solution? My recommendation is to understand that what’s often referred to as ‘Victim Behaviour’ is an inevitable part of the pitch process, is often driven by an underlying fear, and needs to be managed by your Pitch Champion or Bid Manager who is empowered to do so by the Executive. That means, the senior boss states clearly and upfront at the formation of the bid team that the Bid Manager is in control of the overall process and asks everyone to respect their requests and deadlines up front.
Victim behaviour is when people:
Deny – “I wasn’t at that meeting.” “I didn’t know.” “I haven’t seen it.”
Blame – “How much of this process did YOU say we HAVE to use?” “Fred isn’t prepared yet so I couldn’t finish my part.” “I don’t have the template.” “I’m just so busy I haven’t prepared as asked.” “You didn’t send me that.”
Justify – “I didn’t have time to fix my slides yet.” “That’s not how we usually do it.” “I never talk like this.” “I’d rather be unprepared, so I sound authentic.” “I don’t like being scripted.” “I don’t have time to rehearse.” “I haven’t had time to incorporate the feedback.” “I haven’t used the model because it doesn’t suit me.”
And/or quit – “I am just going to make this up.” “I am not doing that.” “I won’t say that.” “I can’t do that.”
What’s the solution? You’ll better manage the fear paradigm if you know in advance that victim behaviour is going to set in with some of your team members at some stage. It is going to happen, and you need set out clear boundaries at the outset of your pitch process that clearly state the behaviours that are expected from team members. In this way, your Bid Manager or Project Sponsor has permission to call the behaviour when it happens to nip it in the bud! If you don’t manage it, you’ll find that your other team members are deeply affected by bad behaviour and so the cycle continues. In my experience not managing any less than acceptable behaviour in your pitch process is one of the main reasons people quit companies after working on a bid, they just didn’t respect the behaviour of their colleagues throughout the pitch process.
You know that if the more senior members of your pitch team behave in a certain way, the rest of the team feel permission to follow in their footsteps. Many a senior executive or project lead has behaved in ways I personally find inappropriate throughout a pitch process. I sometimes even find myself celebrating that as an external consultant I don’t have to work with those people on a regular basis! If your leaders are seen by the whole team to empower the younger, less experienced members of the team you’ll often find that other team members follow suit and that’s amazing for the confidence of that junior team member and awesome for team cohesiveness. If your leaders struggle to give positive feedback to team members in rehearsals others will copy and then everyone feels flat. If your project leaders imply that they don’t support a particular approach or process that has been predetermined it sends a message to the whole team that they don’t rate it and are only doing it reluctantly which of course is terrible for productivity and morale. When everyone role models functional, supportive, purpose driven collaboration then wow, it’s the best thing ever. And you know what? The client can feel it. They can sense whether your team is truly cohesive or not. They can tell you respect and rate each other’s expertise and it’s exciting and contagious – a winning formula!
What’s the solution? My recommendation is that a set of behaviours or a code of conduct is developed in collaboration with the senior leaders who run your Bid teams. Alternatively, I’ve seen some companies create a suite of behaviours that are set in stone and that comply with their company values, ethics and culture that are used in all pitches – it’s just how we do things around here. The code of conduct clearly states the behaviour that is and is not acceptable. Please don’t take for granted that your senior leaders know this stuff, they definitely don’t! And in some cases, they don’t care either!
There you have it. Some awesome food for thought. When you take charge of these considerations, you’ll ensure everyone brings their best to your pitch presentations and you’ll increase your chances of winning. If you’d like some help with your next big deal, please reach out. It would be my pleasure to help you.
© Michelle Bowden 2021. Michelle Bowden is an authority on presentation & persuasion in business. Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), co-creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile (a world-first psychological assessment that reports on your persuasiveness at work), best-selling internationally published author (Wiley), and a regular commentator in print, radio and online media. www.michellebowden.com.au