In this article, we will show how you have curiosity is the skill which will help your professionals win more work. Pitching is a nuanced dance, which curiosity can help choreograph. Listening can help you forge deeper connections, understand client needs more profoundly, and craft more compelling pitches.
What is a pitch?
This might sound like a little bit of a silly question, however, it is a useful starting point. Being curious is about pausing, and often pausing is something we don’t do enough of in the context of pitching.
Pitching is an opportunity for you to show your value to a potential client. It is also an opportunity for a potential client to understand how you can help them solve the challenge that they have, or capitalise on the opportunity that they have in mind. You might be the only one in the running, or it might be competitive. Hopefully by the end though, you stand victorious.
When does listening come in with pitches?
When we conduct client listening, we often hear that it is the firms who understand the clients that win the work. Clients want firms who can demonstrate this understanding in their pitch documentation, or presentations. Winning pitches connect what the firm do, with what the client wants.
How can you understand a client without listening to them?
In order to be successful at pitching, you must take the time to pause and to listen. To be curious. Part of this is listening to what the client has said in public – maybe via its social media, or company reports. However, you should not go into a pitch cold. Yes, some do, but how can you really understand the client if you have never had a dialogue with them?
The importance of scoping calls
Curiosity should always start with the scoping call. The best pitch is the one where you are only in competition with yourself. Of course, that isn’t always possible, but make sure you are memorable before you formally submit your response.
A scoping call does a number of things. It helps you to understand what the client’s drivers are – both at a company and individual level. It helps you to ask questions and practice listening. This isn’t about providing the answers. It is about asking relevant questions to show that you are interested in them.
Active listening has been shown to enhance empathy and with it build rapport. Building rapport is another key element to scoping calls. Make it yours to lose.
Now, you might be involved in a pitch where you are not able to have a scoping call. Here you might want to think more carefully about whether or not you want to pitch at all. Pitching is a time consuming process. Ask yourselves how well you know the target client and what relationships exist. Is the pitch one where you can realistically demonstrate understanding in the absence of a scoping call? Be curious about historic success. Have you ever won a pitch where you went in cold? How?
Pitch debriefs should be conducted win or lose. If you have won, be curious about what it was that made the difference. Why were you chosen? Often firms win work, having promised the earth, and then underdeliver or fail to meet expectations. The pitch is the start of the journey. Take the time to understand what the expectations are of you going forward. Document them and hold yourself accountable.
We often carry out pitch debriefs when firms lose tenders. It can be more beneficial for these to be conducted by a third party. Egos are often bruised when pitches are lost, and emotions run high. There is a tendency to fall into the self-serving bias trap. This is where we blame failure on external factors. Have you heard the one about ‘we lost it on fees’?
Genuine curiosity around losses can do a number of things. It can help firms understand where they are falling short, it can help improve future pitches, and it can flag areas for future development. All of this can only be done by being open to hearing what is said. Being open about failures internally can have other benefits too - it can help create a more innovative culture and increase psychological safety if done well.
Our top 5 tips for conducting pitch debriefs when you have lost
1. Independence– if you are unable to go external for your client debrief, think about appointing someone internally who was not involved in the pitch. It can be very hard to listen when emotions are running high and you feel aggrieved not to have won.
2. Specific and general – For pitch debriefs you will have the opportunity to find out specifically why you haven’t won. However, you can also use the opportunity to think about how you approach pitches more generally. For example, did you do a scoping call? How was that received?
3. Don’t forget future opportunities – Whilst you might have lost out on this occasion, this might not be the end of the road. You might not be right for this opportunity, but the door might not be closed for the future. It is important to listen because it is another opportunity to build rapport. It is also a way to express future desire to want to work with the client again.
4. Be concise and understand what you want to find out – Client Listening often provides a win-win. Clients get to express what you can change to make the relationship better. In making the relationship better the firm has the opportunity to further strengthen the bond.
With pitch debriefs, most of the benefit sits with the firm. Clients are usually open to providing feedback – they realise the effort that has gone in. However, they are unlikely to see the benefit to themselves and as such they are likely to give you less time than for a client listening exercise. Make sure you know what you want to find out and be concise.
5. Think about how to use what you have heard – Whilst you might find out some insight that can help you improve the way you approach pitches generally as a firm, you might well hear some negative things about individuals. How are you going to feed that back? Constructive criticism can be hard to hear and we know that it is sometimes avoided. Coaching is a great way to help individuals navigate challenging feedback. Using it as a development opportunity is a positive way to frame negative rhetoric. Is the feedback specific to this client? Does it show up elsewhere?