In the never-ending battle to win new business, companies today spend a fortune on sprawling PPC campaigns, slick websites and powerful CRM systems. Business acquisition processes are now so sophisticated, you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s little in the way of room for improvement.

As such, I’m forever amazed by one area in particular in which many companies are not only bad at business acquisition, but also unaware or unconcerned that they are. The pitch is one of the most crucial of the business acquisition process. What I have come to learn in my years at presentation design agencies, however, is that companies are profoundly ill-prepared for what should be an elementary part of that process.

The very fact that a company like Buffalo 7 exists shows that there is a collective blind spot where pitching is involved. Companies are often willing to invest heavily to get into the room for a pitch, but not to ensure the quality of the pitch itself. Our recent survey, carried out at the Prolific North Live and Marketing Week Live exhibitions, gave us some hard data that backs this up.

What we found was remarkable. From 296 respondents, not only did 61 per cent tell us that their companies employ no staff with expertise in designing slide-decks, but 75% told us that their companies don’t provide any formal training for delivering pitches. In short, companies are turning up to pitch for business with badly designed slides and staff who don’t know how to present properly.

9 ingredients for a successful business pitch

Given that three-quarters of the people we spoke to said their companies had pitched for business within the last 12 months, and that over half said they were losing the majority of the pitches they contest, it’s safe to say this is a widespread problem. What’s more, it’s likely an expensive one, with pitching best practice initiative the Good Pitch having found that pitching costs many companies significantly more than they initially thought.

While the figures are stark, they are not news to us. The majority of our clients come to us at times of crisis, when a pitch is looming and they have realised they have no idea where to start. Our first task with new clients is usually to explain that a presentation is a story, with a narrative that must be crafted and reflected visually.

The capability of the companies we deal with, however, varies dramatically. Many focus on themselves, rather than on showing how they can solve a prospect’s problems. More than anything, though, people don’t give themselves enough time. If you haven’t finished designing a presentation a week in advance to give yourself time to rehearse its delivery, you’re not properly prepared. Getting a bespoke reusable PowerPoint template in place, meanwhile, can help to free up some time for precisely that, by cutting down the time needed for design. It will help to ensure that you stay on brand too.

What’s clear is that companies are losing pitches, business and money by turning up with badly designed slide-decks and staff who are not properly trained. We know this anecdotally, and now in black and white. Even a modest investment in pitch training and slide-deck design, though, can improve business win-rate at a stroke.

Lyndon Nicholson is the chief executive of presentation design agency Buffalo 7, clients of which include UEFA Champions League, Microsoft, Red Bull, Samsung and Swatch.

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