How To Win A Competitive Sales Pitch
Winning a sales pitch is a big deal.
Because, you know, if you never win any sales pitches, you never make any actual sales.
And if that happens, it doesn’t matter how good your idea or product or service is… you simply do not have a business.
But as your business grows and the better you get at what you do, the more and more competitive sales scenarios you’re going to find yourself in.
But maybe this is the first really big competitive sales pitch you’re facing… or maybe it’s the first one at this level that you really feel you’ve got a chance of landing.
Whatever the scenario is, you only know one thing: and it’s that you want to win this pitch, gosh darn it. You need that company’s logo in your portfolio.
Because it’ll do so much more than help you out with cash flow… it’ll give that extra mark of prestige you need to take your business to the next level.
So here’s a checklist list of 17 items you can run your pitch through to make sure it’s set up to give you the best chance possible of winning the deal… no matter what your competition’s bringing to the table.
1. Go Beyond the Basic Requirements
Usually companies tell you pitch requirements based on what they think they want. And if they’ve been in business for any amount of time, their pitch requirements are usually pretty spot-on with what will actually help them achieve the goals they’re after.
But taking things to the next step and giving them useful advice they can use whether they hire you or not—or giving them suggestions on how to do things more effectively or sharing little hacks you know that help increase ROI—is one of the best ways to get remembered favorably.
To prepare for the pitch, they’ll usually give you some background info, but see what else you’re able to uncover about their business or how they conduct certain processes related to what you do.
For example, if someone’s only asking me to make a proposal on rewriting a set of landing pages, I’ll make a proposal for that. But I’ll also add a section where I give them bits of advice on how to improve their ad copies to improve their sales funnels.
It only takes a few more minutes of my time to think about and write out that advice, but it’s been phenomenal for helping me land deals and for getting more business from those deals.
Your prospects can and will throw more money at you if you can show them that your services are worth it. (Gif source)
2. Show Real Numbers
One of the biggest things companies are looking for when they invite you and some of your competitors to pitch them for a large project is proof.
They want to know that you can deliver on the promises your website makes, and they want to see how you’re going to do it.
So show them real-life scenarios similar to their own.
Use past case studies to walk through an initial problem similar to theirs, your approaches in solving it, how you implemented that approach, and the numbers the show the kind of improvement they’re after… which usually means dollar amounts or percentage of revenue increases.
This is a screenshot from a case study by Copy Hackers. They show a chart and talk about real, solid numbers. Doing something like this in your sales pitch will show the tangible benefits of your services and convince people to hire you.
Numbers are important. Do not forget them.
3. No Pricing Breakdown
Show real numbers, yes.
But only show numbers as it relates to the results you’re going to deliver. Don’t talk about how your pricing structure breaks down into hourly or daily rates.
There’s no winning with this type of discussion: you’re either too expensive or too cheap.
Instead, talk about the investment and the outcome. If investing $10,000 means they’ll get $160,000 in additional income, it’s worth it.
But if you would rather discuss a pricing breakdown, the only real way you can discuss it and still come out ahead in the minds of your potential customers is what Lean Labs calls Value Billing.
With this approach, you charge based on the measurable value the work you do produces for your client’s business. It’s more of a risk on your end, but can put your potential client at ease about risking a return on their investment, prompting them to favor hiring you.
(A word to the wise: only use the value billing approach if you’ve got sophisticated systems to track the value added. If not, it’s best to highlight the $1 spent equals $3 earned projections.)
4. Send Your Pitch Materials in Advance (& Disrupt Their Thought Patterns in the Process)
Technically this isn’t necessary, but it does create a good first impression.
Plus, if you know that they’re reviewing a handful of companies just like yours, you’ll need to do whatever you can to make a great first impression even before you see them in the meeting room.
Because once they start listening to those 10+ pitch presentations they’ve requested, it’s all going to blur together.
By sending your materials ahead of time, you stake your claim in their minds.
And even if they don’t actively realize it, they’ll be looking forward to hearing from the company that sent over their pitch materials in such a memorable way, and they’ll mentally compare others to you.
(By the way, make it memorable. Do or say something a little out of the box. If you can’t think of anything, a nice box of chocolates with a physical copy of your materials should do the trick.)
This works because it’s a sort of mental pattern interrupt in that it’s not the typical way people are pitching them act.
A part of neurolinguistic programming, the pattern interrupt makes the mind of the person experiencing that interrupt perk up and take notice of what’s happening. It’s something outside of the usual, so the auto-pilot constructs their brains have built to deal with this situation doesn’t fit and doesn’t work. So they have to actively process it otherwise, making you instantly more memorable.
Don’t worry. Your pattern interrupt doesn’t have to be this annoying or desperate. A thoughtful gesture will do. (Gif source)
5. Follow the 90/10 Rule & Make them Daydream
It’s easy to fall into the default mode of “selling” when you’re preparing and giving a sales pitch. (Because it is what you’re doing, after all.)
But don’t do that.
Don’t spend the vast majority of your time talking about you and your company, how smart you all are, and how you’re such a better choice in comparison to the competition.
The people you’re pitching already think you’re capable enough—otherwise they wouldn’t have invited you to pitch.
Instead, spend only 10% of your pitch time laying your foundation and talking about your own credibility.
Then spend the rest of your time talking about them and the processes you’ll use to boost their success.
And lay it on thick. Be shameless.
Turn the fuzzy image in their minds of how you might be able to make them successful into a very, very clear reality.
Because while numbers, percentage points, and revenue amounts are all wonderful things to highlight… take some liberties with what that will mean to their day-to-day business operations and how much better they’ll feel coming to work every day knowing that they’re on top of things.
Go beyond telling them “it’ll feel really good” and tell them about how that heavy feeling in the middle of their chest appears every time they check out salary ranges for that new position they need to hire for. Point out how it makes them feel uncomfortable, squirmy, and how they quickly close out that browser tab and move onto something else instead.
Then point out how it would feel if they looked up that salary range and thought, instead, “Oh yeah, we have enough of a budget for that—easy.” The heaviness and fidgitiness is now lightness and excitement about the possibilities. Instead of trying to distract themselves with other to-dos, they’re happily letting their imaginations run wild with all the possibilities of how this perfect, new, experienced employee would grow their business to their next benchmark.
Do you see how that’s so much better than just saying you’ll give them an X percent ROI?
Because really, we’re all only concerned about ourselves.
This is backed up by the theory of psychological egoism, which says that ultimately, in everything we do, our bottom-line concern is how it will benefit us.
And when you spend so much time during your pitch talking about the success of the people you’re pitching, they begin to project themselves onto that image of success and imagine themselves wildly successful in their dream world once they’ve accomplished that goal.
6. Don’t Compare Yourself to Competitors
It can be tempting to do this to set yourself apart as the good guy, but it’s also incredibly dangerous.
Participating in trash talk is a big no-no by itself, but you also don’t want to accidentally present them with more options to consider.
Only bring up the competition if you’re sure it’s relevant and the choice is obvious.
ONLY make a competitor comparison if you know they’re actively considering a specific company.
For example, say you’re trying to pitch your software solution. If you know the competitor they’re considering hasn’t yet figured out how to add a functionality without having loads of bugs with it that you offer as a part of your seamless experience, mention it. But don’t dwell on it.
Their interest will pique at the mention of the other guy they’re considering automatically anyway, so you don’t have to make a big deal of pointing it out.
7. Begin With Narrative & Reputation to Hook Them Emotionally
You’ll want to get the 10% of your presentation where you talk about your credibility out of the way immediately. Not because it isn’t important, but because as we discussed in tip #5, it’s just more important to talk about them than it is you.
But combining this 10% reputation-building part with a story is a great way to establish instant credibility in a much stronger way.
Just by their nature, stories create emotional connections between the listener and the subject of that story.
And when the subject of that story is you (or your company), you listeners create an emotional connection right away. Because simply presenting yourselves as a fellow human breaks down barriers we naturally put up to protect ourselves against “intruders.”
But since we seem to be pretty hard-wired for community, when someone opens themselves up to us in a sincere way, we can’t help but to respond emotionally.
Even better if you make them laugh by telling a story that’s slightly embarrassing but doesn’t threaten your reputation in any way. Because then you break down the walls of prevention and can get to the heart of the matter with everyone in the room feeling way more comfortable around each other.
8. Be Clear About What You Can & Can’t Do
For one thing, you’ll be happy you established certain “no” boundaries once you start the project. Scope creep, even with the most desirable clients, is a total pain in the neck.
For another thing, it generates respect with the people in the room because you’re not trying to be a jack of all trades… and are only concerned with focusing on over-delivering in the area of your expertise, bringing them wonderful success there.
But if you have a feeling they might ask about a certain service that relates to what you’re going to be doing for them, have a list of professionals ready to give references for.
It’s even better if these are professionals you’ve got a working relationship with and can work with easily… so you can wrap them up as a part of your proposal to work directly with them and take the worry of that aspect of the project out of your prospect’s hands.
They’ll appreciate you for this.
Setting boundaries puts realistic expectations on your working relationship and gets your client focused on the thing you’ll be able to deliver. (Gif source)
9. Don’t Answer Like a Politician
As obvious as this might sound, give real answers when someone in the room asks you a question.
This isn’t the first time they’ve heard a business pitch (most likely) so their bullshit detector is going to be on.
In this case, a simple “I don’t know, I”ll ask ________ and get back to you on that one.” is amuch more respectable answer than rattling off some jargon-filled nonsense that sounds good but doesn’t actually provide a real answer.
This? This should not be your answer. Ever. (Gif source)
10. Offer On-Your-Toes Diagnosis
If it’s appropriate to the service or product you’re pitching, ask if you can share a screen or access some of their analytics.
Have a look over the data you see and offer some diagnostic advice much like a doctor would if you were in her office and you were going over a few different blood test results together.
Here’s an example of how you can walk someone through the work you’d be able to do for them. It doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles, it just needs to show them that the work you do is smart and real.
Even if they don’t hire you, you’ve provided value to them and earned yourself some brownie points… which could very well equal some business referrals in the future. (Or even a deal if things don’t work out with their first choice.)
By doing this, you validate the intelligence that you claimed you had while you were talking about your reputation, and you’ve given them a taste of the potential that you have to offer if they hire you.
11. Demo Your Product
If you’re pitching a product, don’t just walk into the room and talk about how great it is.
Sure, it’s wonderful to talk about what it’s designed for and to show really impressive case study numbers. (And you should do those things.)
But make sure you demo it in relation to the people you’re actually pitching at the moment.
This way they can see how the product you’re pitching will fit into the day to day of their corporate structure.
Again, this gets them to project themselves onto the situation where your product is involved and imagine themselves with it, making you one step closer to making the final sale.
This is a basic “demo” of Salesforce in a three-minute video. But it shows you how you can set up a temporary account for your prospect and show them all the possibilities of your product, making choosing you more of a reality.
If possible, let them use it too, instead of you holding the controls of the demo. This lets them see how easy it is to use what you have to offer and gets their hands into the situation, making them more invested in it.
12. Don’t Be Insecure About Your Cost
Your product or service costs what it costs, and that’s it.
By all means show what kind of ROI an investment in your cost will give your prospect, but doing a price breakdown or offering steep discounts “just because you like them” right off the bat isn’t a great way to secure business like you might think it is.
Paying more for something actually makes people appreciate what they have more.
Author Jon Acuff’s noticed this when he ups his event price from free to a measly $10.
“Of the people that sign up online [for free events], only about 30% show up,” he said. “Contrast that with the paid events I’ve tried. When I charge for an event, 90% of the attendees show up.”
And they’ll appreciate you more too, taking you more seriously as a professional.
“If you believe that what you’ve created will actually help someone change their life,” said Acuff, “you dramatically increase the chances of the person actually using it if you charge them money for it.”
If they tell you your price is out of their budget, don’t just cut the price so it fits what they’re willing to offer. Play with your offering a bit too to reduce your services in a way that reflects the price reduction.
Yes, my friend, higher pricing with an ROI focus really can be used to your advantage when trying to win a pitch.
13. Practice, Practice, Practice
No matter how well you think you know your product, don’t think you can just walk into the meeting room and wing it based on your slides.
No. You need to practice beforehand. And practice a lot. The more competitive the pitch, the more you need to practice it.
Because the thing is, even if you’re selling the exact same thing, each and every pitch is different because each customer is different.
By spending a lot of time practicing running through your slides and answering sample questions you think they might have, you’re letting that presentation become easier and more on auto-pilot in your brain. (Which is a good thing, since the thing that’s on auto-pilot is tailored to that specific audience.)
And when the nuts and bolts of your presentation (what you plan to say) is on automatic, you’ll be much better at reacting to body language cues, shifting things around in the moment, or answering those hard questions that might normally catch you off guard and make you lose your train of thought.
“If performing were easy,” said Michael Port in his book Steal the Show, “you wouldn’t find 90 million Google results when you search for ‘public speaking.’”
And according to research, 74% of people have a fear of public speaking… which most likely includes your competition, too. So practicing and getting on top of your game is a great way to make your stand out in a really positive way.
14. Speak With Collective Pronouns
Talk to the people you’re presenting to like you’re already a team.
Use collective pronouns like “we” and “our” instead of separating yourselves by only referring to your company as “we”, yourself as “I”, and the people you’re pitching as “you”.
In a study published by the American Psychological Association, Roy Baumeister and and Mark Leary say, “People form social attachments readily under most conditions and resist the dissolution of existing bonds.”
And using pronouns that include rather and exclude your prospects in a sales pitch acts as a hand-holding technique to assist with that feeling of inclusion, so you already start to forge those bonds before the sale is even made.
Go ahead and use collective pronouns to forge those bonds of inclusion with your potential clients. You’ll be glad you did.
15. Research the Decision-Makers Before You Present
More than likely, the person who sets up the pitch meeting isn’t going to be the ultimate decision-maker, even if they are in attendance.
So impressing the person you’ve been corresponding with isn’t the ultimate goal here.
Instead, you want to impress the people who have to power to decide whether their allocated project goes into your pocket or a competitor’s pocket.
For example, if they’re sharing things on social media, try to look for trends in what they’ve been sharing recently so you can have conversations more relevant to them and the things that are top-of mind.
So if they’re sharing things about team productivity like it was their second job, make sure you mention that and even use it as an important ROI point. If you see they’re more concerned about maximizing profit potential of existing customers rather than simply increasing sales formore customers, make sure you talk about that.
You can impress everyone else in the room, but if you don’t impress the decision maker, you’ve got nothing.
16. End With a Memory Cue
When your presentation ends and you’ve answered all of their questions, make sure you “wrap up” and mention a memory cue.
A memory cue can be just about anything, but make it relevant to your offering and how your value is greater than your competitors.
The “cue” you use could be anything… it could be something related to a story you told at the beginning of your presentation, which would be particularly helpful if it was a universal story about pouring coffee, because it would trigger your presentation to mind every single time one of the people in the audience poured coffee.
If you feel like you don’t have anything to work with though, it could also be as simple asthe one thing you want people to remember about your presentation. Something, of course, that you know will be different from what your competition is presenting.
These memory cues (also known as retrieval cues in the world of psychology) work because when a certain cue is present, it prompts our brain to dig up other memories associated with those cues.
In fact, cue-dependent forgetting happens when a person completely cannot remember something from their life without the presence of a memory cue to prompt it.
So if you end with a memory cue, your prospects are much more likely to remember your presentation throughout their decision period.
17. Schedule an Impressive Follow-Up Call
This is one of the most impressive Hail Mary moves in the book. It’ll get you remembered more and show your dedication far and above anything you’re able to do in your presentation.
If, after the end of your pitch, you can tell that you’re still in the running and they haven’t yelled at you to get out of their office to stop wasting their time, you can pull this trick.
Have one of your existing, happy customers call the decision maker.
During the call (which you will not be a part of), your current customer acts as an “uninterested” third party and can answer any doubts the decision maker has about your service as well as be honest about any downsides to your service.
And if you don’t have a happy customer willing to do this for you (or you feel none of your existing customers would impress this high-deal client you’re going after), have one of your executives call the decision maker—the higher-up the better.
Blow away a hard-to-impress prospect with a call from one of your happy customers.
Pull Out Your Best Moves
Taking part in a competitive sales pitch is no walk in the park. You’ve got to prepare, prepare, prepare, prepare.
Prepare like there’s no tomorrow.
But you can make your preparation smarter by including some or all of the moves outlined in this post to help you actually win that competitive pitch… which is the point of all that preparation in the first place.
So let us know which of these moves you like the best. And of course, best of luck!