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You’ve heard your friends and colleagues say it. You’ve said it often enough yourself. “I’ve got a client pitch today,” or “I’m preparing for a client pitch.”

What does that even mean?

How often have you said it, reached the final hour before the pitch and grabbed a bunch of company documents, your laptop, a few business cards, raced off and hoped that the traffic will be light enough to get you there on time.

Now, with online meetings being the go-to place to pitch, that same panic happens before a video conversation. You book it, check your teeth for spinach, start the call and cross fingers that the elusive client remembers the meeting. If not, you have to start the process all over again. Most of us have discovered, to our horror, that it’s more difficult to find a ‘missing’ client over the Internet than it ever was when there was a kind receptionist to help search the building.

Nowadays, the worst part for me is that I get totally dressed up and made up before a Zoom meeting. But, before and after the meeting, there is literally nowhere to go for coffee, besides into my own kitchen. It seems a dismally small reward for all the time and effort that has gone into the call!

A pitch meeting traditionally is the pre-cursor to the negotiation process. Whether you are using it as a warm-up process or whether you expect to make a sale in the meeting, why not improve the experience all round and aim to ‘get it right first time’ (GIRFT)?

GIRFT is my motto when I pitch. However, I know well enough that not everyone is on the same timeline as I am. If I don’t clinch that deal first time round, I don’t beat myself up. I go into every meeting knowing that I’ve done the preparation, I’ve made the connection and have a relationship in place that I can build on.

This brings me back to the beginning and the words, “preparing a client pitch”.

If you are really early stage with your company and haven’t lined up any client calls, do the prep anyway. Give yourself a deadline as though you really do have a pitch in the pipeline and then get down to doing the work. It will be time well spent.

These are five key suggestions.

1. Create a client persona

Decide who your ideal client is. By that, I mean your ideal paying customer. Profile the company or person. As you get further down the line and, if you can, name those ideal clients – they’ll make the basis of your mailing list.

2. Identify your ideal client’s pain points. This requires empathy. You need to understand your client’s business and you need to get to know their customers. Personalise this as best you can so that you truly understand how you can relieve that pain.

3. Do research into your customers and their customers

This isn’t a quick process and if you get it wrong, you will end up mis-communicating with the client. I’m guessing that you don’t want to make a poor impression or look uniformed and lacking in concern. Clients want to feel that you care about them and how your product or service affects them. It’s all about mutual respect.

4. Prepare early

It’s that old expression of “have all your ducks in a row”. Take that to heart. Consider each ‘duck’ as a building block that you need to get ready for the meeting. How many ‘ducks’ are there for you? Work with each one individually and tick them off as done! They might represent your research process into the client and their customers, your pitch conversation and your pitch deck. It might even include the simple task of making sure that your connectivity is 100% on the day. Make a long, blueprint list of ‘ducks’ and choose the ones you need as you prepare and tailor your preparation for each, individual pitch.

5. Control the room

You might be going online or you might be pitching in a boardroom. Whatever pitch space you are working in, control it! By ‘control it’, I don’t mean that you should stride into the meeting cracking a whip. Or, that you should turn off your client’s microphone while you do all the talking. What I mean is that you should have a clear plan that allows for a short, well-organised meeting. You could even communicate that to the client in advance by sending a brief agenda. It helps everyone else in a meeting if they have early understanding of the parameters of the conversation. It will help you to remain calm and give you confidence, too!

With online, a way to stay in control is to set up the meeting yourself. It gives you an opportunity for an extra point of contact. Schedule the meeting and then check that the client received the link. It’s a simple courtesy while also keeping the conversation warm.

Pitching can be scary. It’s not that you simply WANT the business. You NEED it to keep food on the table. So, when you are starting out, try to take the pressure off yourself. Line up your first meetings in a batch, a week or two in the future. Spend the time you have beforehand with your preparation for the meetings as well as with organising meetings for the following few weeks. Block them. If the first few don’t go so well, you’ll know that you have a few more in the pipeline

Maybe this piece of advice, given to me, will help you. Never waste your time pitching to the wrong company. However, in the early days, plan to pitch to smaller potential clients. Hone your skill with the smaller players. When you have learnt more about your market, as well as your own service or product fits the market, then you will be ready to pitch to your truly ideal client.

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