Bid process

Talking to clients part 2: Pitch presentations

Rory Gilmore, setting the presentation rules

This week, we’re turning our attention to presentations during the pitch process. The importance of the presentation is confirmed by the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK), which terms them “oral proposals”. Put simply, they are the opportunity to vocally prove, and evidence, what your written proposal described. As the BOK states, “The written proposal qualifies the selling organization, but the oral proposal may determine the winner.”

Although the team may be made up of highly intelligent people, they may not be experts in oral presentations

APMP Body of Knowledge

If the client has invited your firm to present, they already know, to some extent, you are capable of meeting their requirements. The purpose of the presentation is more likely to assess whether you are the right people for them. How do you gel as a team? What would you be like to work with? Who you choose to attend is therefore vital, and you should give real consideration to at least one of your team being someone who will be ‘on the ground’ with the client – not just the most senior / impressive people in your organisation. If you are including someone more junior or less experienced, consider using a coach to prepare them, and in fact the rest of the team. After all, as the BOK says “although the team may be made up of highly intelligent people, they may not be experts in oral presentations.”

Once you’ve decided on your attendees (within any team size restrictions imposed by the client of course), there are other housekeeping factors to consider:  

  • Client instructions – have you been provided with an agenda, or is it a free format? If the client has given you scope to shape the agenda, ensure you cover the main themes/sections of your submission, and the win themes to draw out.
  • Time limits – is there an overall time limit provided, or timings by agenda point? Does the overall time include Q&A?
  • Setting – is it in-person, or by video conference which has, for obvious reasons, become more prevalent over the past year. If the latter, ensure well ahead of time that the required software is downloaded and works, and you have at least one practice using this software if it is not your organisation’s native video conferencing product.
  • Client team – who will be involved from the client side? What do you know about them and their focus areas? Carry out research before your planning sessions so you can identify the key messages you should be hitting.

When you have considered all the above, in particular the running time and the agenda, thoughts should finally turn to the presentation content itself. Many organisations still see ‘presentation’ and immediately open up the PowerPoint template – but death by slides can be a very real and negative experience. If you are not asked to provide a slide deck, consider why you are still reaching for PowerPoint. Is it really to provide key information to the client, or simply to act as an aide memoire for your team? If you still choose to use slides, ensure they are concise and limited to key points and diagrams only – after all, you don’t want the client-side team reading the slides rather than listening to you.

Just like your proposal, carefully plan the content of your presentation and make sure everyone really knows your written submission. The BOK provides a really useful template to help with this, which doesn’t just focus on replaying the content from your written submission, but calls on you to State, Support and Summarise the key features and benefits of your solution for the client. Assign topics to the most appropriate team members, and ensure everyone gets to speak or the client will question why they are there.

Do not be afraid to add further sessions if required, and encourage all presenters to practice their content on their own

Then it’s rehearse and practice time. You should factor in at least three practice sessions ahead of the presentation date – one to discuss and run through the content at a high level, a second (timed) practice to present more formally and make adjustments to content against running times, and your final practice which should run as though you are in front of the client. Do not be afraid to add further sessions if required, and encourage all presenters to practice their content on their own as well in between sessions.

This planning should mean your team don’t need to rely on the slides to help them through, so consider a one-page placemat instead, which summarises the key points of your submission, your team and your organisation. This should use the same colour and imagery themes as your bid submission and should be handed out after the presentation, not before – else again you risk the client spending more time reading this than listening to you.

Finally, but by no means less important, most presentations include a question and answer session, for which you should be equally prepared. Consider the questions you’re likely to receive – by reviewing the client’s requirements and your submission, assessing the client’s market and sector, and gathering intelligence from within your organisation. Have other teams previously pitched to the same client for other services? Or to similar or even competitor organisations. A little bit of groundwork can often help you plan for the majority of questions you will be asked by the client. But your preparation shouldn’t end there:

  • Group the questions into themes, and divide them amongst the presentation team. Again, if someone is silent during the Q&A it may make the client query why you included them, or what they will actually bring to the relationship. But don’t just allocate for allocation’s sake. If you have the most appropriate attendees on your team, the questions should naturally fall between your presenters. For example, if your project manager is attending, they would naturally answer questions about the onboarding plan, overall project plan and budget. A head of contact centre would be able to answer any questions about the service delivery, recruitment and training, performance management and so on.
  • Practice answering questions more than once, using an independent interviewer who should act as the client, e.g. with little prior knowledge of you and your business.  
  • Build answers into your presentation for those questions you think are most likely. The less the client has to ask to reach their decision, the better!
  • Consider your worst case questions and ensure you have strong answers to these, including covering off any known issues you have; for example if you are the incumbent and performance has slipped recently, come armed with an action plan of how you’ll get the service back on track.

If you find you are regularly falling at the presentation hurdle, try something different. At one firm, we used a mock panel approach for strategically important bids, asking senior staff to sit as the client presentation team. We provided a synopsis of the written submission, and they asked any questions that had naturally come up for them from the synopsis and during the presentation. They then provided feedback on the content and team. We did this stage independent of the pitch team, and then fed back to them after – allowing the mock panel to be as honest as they needed, and provide truly objective feedback which allowed our team to refocus.

Above all, while it may seem like overkill if you know your subject: prepare, prepare, prepare. It could well be the difference between a win and a loss.