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Why many business pitches fail

The problem with most proposals (or “pitches”, if you prefer) is how the price is communicated to the client.

Here’s how 99% of proposals are structured:

  1. Here’s who we are (trust us, we’re legit.)
  2. Here’s what we’ll do for you. (we’ll do anything!)
  3. Here’s what it will cost. (this is how much we think we can get away with)
  4. Pay us!

The problem with most proposals or “pitches” is how the price is communicated to the client. For those of us who bill for time, it’s usually something like: This marketing (or PR or sales campaign etc) project will take between approx. 30 to 40 hours, At a project rate of £100/hour that would come to between £3,000 and £4,000. Or, perhaps: This project will take approx. 10 working days @ £300/day = £3,000

For other businesses, it’s usually a single price – the product costs X. Though we may “load” the price a bit to leave a bit of haggling room for the prospect.

Either way, it’s important to understand you’re not selling time or your experience, but instead selling products that accomplish some sort of solution.

Once you’ve done this, and you begin to look at yourself as a “solutions provider” (pardon the jargon), and can then create “offers” in your proposals that reach a solution the prospect is looking for.

Comments (9)

Philip says:
September 3, 2014 at 7:53 am Reply

David Willox, Director at icm Reporting, Southampton,
@ Philip
So how do we come up with an answer?
I am frequently faced with a choice. I can do what most of our competitors do and simply give potential customers they want or I can try to persuade them to understand what they need.
There is an ethical dimension to this!
Actually we do not find it too difficult to make what we consider the right decision because both my business partner and I are to old to be bothered with producing those things that do not interest us.

Philip says:
August 27, 2014 at 3:35 pm Reply

Barry Morgan, Owner, DFA Marketing and Advertising, Rochester:
Most proposals are so badly presented. Many I have read or sat through simply look amateur. I have worked for consultancies that used the same sort of document for everything but just changed the client name, occasionally altering paragraphs to be market relevant. Clients aren’t that interested in who you are, they want to know what you can do to increase sales and what will it cost. Proposals may be full of great ideas, attractively priced and the work of a genius, but if they look awful they will go in the bin. So many proposals fall into the trap of being so nebulous that you could charge the client for anything. it doesn’t look professional. Itemise what you are going to do. Cost each item. Say when it is going to be implemented and how you will record the response. And have a Plan B if you don’t have the right response. Sorry Phillip in this day and age, clients want it right and they want it now and they also want it as cheap as possible, just to rub it in. Get it right and get it on time and you have a client for life.

Philip says:
August 28, 2014 at 10:10 am Reply

Adrien Nicolas Jr., Small Business Plan Writer, Lansing, Michigan, USA:
Philip – The slower than desired reference points to the response time the industry as a whole is moving. I regretfully don’t have the data to back this up.
Barry – you have a solid argument however It takes time to do it right. Here is the qualifier – If you are a sole proprietor consultant and you were to do this in a one day turn around you would have to choose to devote X hours for the proposal and not work on anything else.
On the upside You are bringing key points that are needed for writing proposals and I applaud you (itemizing, costing, timeline/implementation).

Barry Morgan says:
September 1, 2014 at 8:44 am Reply

Barry Morgan, Owner, DFA, Rochester, Kent:
Adrien, if it was worth it, yes. Hopefully I’d plan ahead enough to get more than one day to prepare it, but if it has to be done by working through the night, again yes. I’m a sole trader so i know the pressures that can be put on me to come up with ideas and concepts and well as make sure the design and production works as well. I’m not sure sometimes if this is masochism or job satisfaction at times, but i do get a kick of someone appreciating my work.
I am used to doing things at short notice, very short notice at times, so I’ve proved all things are possible. However I would have sat down with the customer and planned what was wanted as well as what they really needed. I hate waffly proposals and presentations, they are a waste of everyone’s time. Go in for the kill, get it right and the customer knows what you are getting at and what it costs before you start anything. Not surprises for anyone. I did this with a local brewery last year and the owner hated it, but after he had wasted several weeks he admitted, what I proposed, was spot on. Time is precious.

David Willox says:
September 1, 2014 at 12:51 pm Reply

David Willox, Director at icm Reporting, Southampton:
I think you are close to hitting the nail on the head.
Actually, what clients want is the most cost effective solution. Unfortunately, frequently the client does not know what that will look like. But then, why should he? He is not the expert in our field, so it is up to us to help him understand.
If he is still not convinced we are offering the best solution it is for one of three reasons:

Somebody else has presented a better solution
We have not presented our solution well
The client is simply not prepared to listen

We all get the latter from time to time. In our case – making video – we have had potential clients who think making film is about pointing cameras and think they know how to construct a story in film. So be it – we leave them to somebody else.
In the other two case we analyse to see why we failed to get the job.

Philip J Gwynne says:
September 1, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Philip J Gwynne, The NAKED Marketing Company:
@ David: Useful analysis. The trouble with “our line of work” is that (as you’ve suggested) it’s next to impossible to educate and inform a prospect about marketing, video, PR etc in the space of an hour or so’s pitch and half a dozen A4 pages of a proposals document.

Philip says:
August 27, 2014 at 7:19 am Reply

Adrien Nicolas Jr., BBA, Small Business Plan Writer, Lansing, Michigan, USA:
You are correct on the providing a solution. It seems to me that we have lost sight in the drive for increased revenue. Having said this, more consultants are beginning to provide solution based proposals albeit moving slower than desired

Philip says:
August 27, 2014 at 7:20 am Reply

Philip J Gwynne, The NAKED Marketing Company:
Thanks for your contribution, Adrien. “Slower than desired” for whom? Consultants and their clients might do well to remember the adage: You can have it quick or you can have it right, but you can’t have it both

Philip says:
August 26, 2014 at 11:48 am Reply

David Willox, Director at icm Reporting, Southampton:
A chap called Cliff Atkinson wrote a book called Beyond Bullet Presentations in which he outlined a better way to use power point.
His approach to Power Point Presentations is very good but the most useful contribution he makes is on the structure of a presentation which is applicable whether or not you are using PowerPoint.
It is based on Aristotelian story form and has an inherent and powerful logic. The objective is to present a case both logically and emotionally.
Anyone who has to make presentations should read it :http://beyondbulletpoints.com
And the site also has many useful resources.

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