Pitching to key decision makers

Some people say that they would rather have teeth removed than have to stand up and present, or give a speech, to an audience... yet increasingly company buyers, directors and other key decision makers are expecting suppliers to stand up and pitch their ideas to a decision-making ‘committee’.

The challenge is that it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is; or how proficient your delivery, operations or customer service team is...if you can’t present your solution in a clear, structured and motivational way; then you may lose the business to someone who can!

You may have no problem selling in one-to-one situations, or presenting ideas and plans in internal sales team meetings. But how do you feel about facing a room full of your potential new customer’s senior management team or a boardroom full of their Directors? When presenting to a high-level audience, you are in the hot seat. From your presentation they are going to judge the recommendations that you, your company, and your team have worked so hard on. Weeks, months, maybe even years of work can depend on your few minutes in front of them. Who wouldn't be nervous?

Don't worry. You are human. This is a perfectly natural way to feel. The good news is that your audience can't see how you feel, only how you look and act and you want them to focus on and consider your proposals, not your anxiety!

Here are some tips, for presenting to senior level decision makers, that will help you feel much less anxious when you next have to pitch to a committee.

What you must do

  1. Practice. A major sales presentation or pitch is not a conversation, but it must sound conversational. Once you have your notes, practice by speaking out loud to a colleague, or when you are driving to work, or in front of family. Make sure you are familiar with what you intend to say. It is not about being perfect. It is about being personable, interesting and effective (if rehearsal is the effort; then performance is the reward).
  2. Open with your conclusions. Don't make an audience of senior level decision makers wait to find out why you are there...tell them up front!
  3. Describe the benefits to them (and their business) if they were to adopt your proposal. Make these benefits appear vivid, obtainable and above all specific to them.
  4. Describe the costs, but frame them in a positive manner. If possible, show how not following your proposal will cost them even more...
  5. List your specific recommendations, and keep them focussed. Wandering generalities will lose their interest. Equally, too much detail will get you bogged down and could cause unnecessary problems for you. Focus on their bottom line and / or the return on their investment.
  6. Look everyone in the eye as often as possible in your pitch. Particularly when emphasising a particular selling point or benefit to them. This will ensure that you come across as more persuasive and believable. (You can't do this if you are reading from a script!)
  7. Keep it short and sweet. The fewer words, technical details and PowerPoint slides, you can use to get your message across, the better.

What you must NOT do

  1. Don't try to memorise the whole presentation. Memorise your opening, key points and conclusion and practice enough so that it feels completely natural. You may end up changing the words slightly in the actual presentation, but the message will remain the same. This helps retain your spontaneity and makes you more interesting to your audience.
  2. Never ever read your lines—not from a script and not from PowerPoint slides. Your audience will go to sleep! Using cue cards is acceptable but it’s even more powerful if you can just expand naturally on any bulleted key points listed.
  3. Don't sway, hop or fumble. Don't let nervousness (or enthusiasm) make you too animated—but equally don't freeze. Don't distract from your own message with unnecessary movement.

Where to start

  1. What is the solution that you are proposing and why is it the right one? Be clear with yourself so that you can be clear with your audience.
  2. Why is your topic important enough to be on the busy agenda of senior level decision makers?
  3. What questions will your audience ask you? Can you answer them early in your presentation to avoid potential objections later on?
  4. Research into the company, their business objectives, what motivates the key people involved in the purchase, what’s their history with the current supplier, etc, etc. Remember information is power...but only if you use it!

Give your presentation some structure

Present your ‘conclusion’ up front: What is your central theme, objective, or the big idea of your proposal? How can you introduce it to your audience in one clear sentence?

Summarise their needs: individually and as a group / company. This demonstrates that you have listened, done your research and are in tune with what they are looking for in a supplier.

Present your recommendations: Keep them clear, brief and to the point. Linking the key points back to the ‘needs’ you summarised earlier. If applicable, refer to examples of where your solutions have worked, added value, saved costs and delivered R.O.I. with other clients.

Describe what's in it for them: Try and address the individual needs of each senior decision maker in the room, as well as those of the company itself. This is called giving the presentation ‘you factor’. Answer, in advance, the questions they will be thinking of asking you. Show them how your proposal can make them look good, individually and as a company. Directors in most businesses are charged with increasing sales, or reducing costs, or both. How does your proposal address those key bottom-line issues?

Summarise: recap the key points of your presentation and finish with a ‘call to action’ before thanking them for their time and taking any questions.

You'll make a strong impression and increase your chances of winning the business when your presentation is focussed, clear, and concise. Be prepared, practiced and tell your audience precisely what's in it for them.

It's okay to be nervous, but remember nobody sees how you feel, just how you look and act.

David Scarfe is a Director of The Boardroom Assessment Centre – Developing Sales Leaders

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