Coming up with ideas is hard; selling them to strangers is harder. Often, entrepreneurs, sales executives, filmmakers, creative directors or executives go to great lengths to show how their new plans or creative concepts are viable and absolutely fit for purpose - only to be rejected by decision-makers who don’t seem to understand the real value of the ideas.
People on the receiving end of pitches invariably have little formal, verifiable or objective measures for assessing that elusive trait of creativity, safety or trust. Decision-makers therefore apply a set of subjective and often inaccurate criteria early in the encounter and, from that point on, the tone is set. If the decision-maker senses an inability to perform or deliver, then the proposal is toast. So, you need to know as much as possible about the people to whom you’re pitching. That’s not always easy and having a meeting of some kind with these people well before the pitch (even on the phone) is enormously helpful.
So, what’s to be done? Well, as in anything to do with sales, you must believe in what you’re selling from the outset. Be passionate, but not nuts. Passion is contagious. Show passion. Not in a mad way though believe in what you’re pitching. It’s all about painting an enticing picture of how what you’re selling is going to benefit your audience - and outlining the cost (in all senses) of not using your idea. Specifically tell the people to whom you’re pitching exactly how what you’re ‘selling’ is the only solution. Demonstrate the how and the why.
Keep your pitch short, concise and factual. Get to the point. There’s nothing worse than listening to a pitch which goes around the houses and leaves five minutes for the ‘real’ stuff. Provide visuals and avoid PowerPoint overload. It’s a guaranteed turn-off. Any slide should be simple and must only support what you say – nothing else. A slide is there to illustrate or clarify something you’re talking about. It is not there for any other reason.
Ensure the client understands what success looks like to you. Hopefully it matches what the decision-makers think it looks like to them! When selling your ideas, it’s also important to ensure you’re not over-promising anything (the decision makers aren’t daft). That means telling the truth. Set modest targets and then by all means add stretch targets provided you explain them. This gets decision-makers aligned with your definition of success.
Show your commitment. Explain clearly what you have done in your thinking so far, how you’ve tested it and what you intend to do next if you win the pitch. Show how the risk of taking your idea (and you) are calculated and one with great payback.
Be confident. An inner self-belief is like a foundation stone under the tallest building. You need to convince the decision-makers that you have the courage of your convictions and why. Practice your pitch until you know it by heart and that the tone of the message is appropriate. Practice in front of anyone you can rely on to give you honest feedback.
Persist. Dealing with rejection is all about passion and conviction and never giving up. Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” And Mark Twain put it well, ““If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” And so too does Michael Jordan, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” That sort of analogy is what it's about; that's the way we should view life. You have to have determination and persistence. Develop a 'keep on keeping on' ability. Stay calm. Take five seconds to breathe and let your pounding heart slow down. Compose yourself. Silence is fine. Then, spring into life. And don't sound like you're utterly desperate or that you've just been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Don’t be condescending. Have confidence in your idea, but don’t patronize your audience. Discuss by all means, but don’t argue. You’ll lose and it’ll look unpleasant. Conflict has no place in a pitch. And, remember, above all, winning is not a right; it has to be earned.