From publicists to painters to pet sitters, what ultimately separates the winning vendor from the runners-up isn’t the quality of your work. It’s whether people want to work with you. In other words, your likability.
I learned this after I posted a question to a Listserv of digital strategists and received numerous email responses that ranged from the pedestrian to the eloquent.
After reviewing each response, my decision as to which one was the best came down to a single sensor: my gut.
So before firing off your next pitch, think like the client and ask yourself that quintessentially American question: "Who would I want to have a beer with?"
Here are six principles of pitching anything to keep in mind:
With a tight turnaround, the first few replies will attract maximum interest. With each subsequent email, my attention wanes.
Similarly, the further away you get from the initial request, the less the client remains in buying mode. If you can’t reply within 48 hours, what does this say about your responsiveness?
The quickest way to eliminate yourself is by ignoring instructions. If a Word doc is requested, don’t send a PDF. If I ask for a one-paragraph description of your firm, don’t refer me to your personal LinkedIn profile.
My friend, recruiter Claire Kittle Dixon, shares this story: "If you think I’m a stickler, you should talk to my clients. The most common reaction I get from clients is, ‘If the candidate can’t follow simple application instructions, how will he perform on the job?’ They also say, ‘If the candidate doesn’t care enough to read the instructions, he must not be very interested in the job.’ It’s hard to argue with either point."
I don’t need your full bio, just your elevator pitch or a memorable detail. Do you specialize in a certain facet of the field? Did you recently win any awards, get some nice press, or finish a particularly exciting project? Do we have any mutual friends or interests? (I may not recall your name, but I’ll remember that we both worked in the Bush White House.)
One reply I received began with: "I especially like the fact that . . ." When every pitch is basically the same, demonstrating your expertise goes a long way. Also, flattery never hurts.
This is my biggest pet peeve. If you’re recommending someone, it’s best to gauge that person’s interest and availability beforehand. Once you’ve prequalified him, then introduce us via email. This saves me the trouble of repeating the project parameters.
There’s no better way to stand out than with enthusiasm. If you’re confident you could knock this assignment out of the park, find an appropriate way to say so. Just as we remember a receptionist who greets us with a smile, so we remember the emailer who expresses eagerness and exudes enthusiasm.
Some will accuse me of being persnickety, but I want to work with people who not only think creatively, but can also elucidate the principles behind that creativity to a nonexpert. I want to work with people who make me smarter.
Perhaps no one grasped this philosophy better than Steve Jobs. As he told a pair of interviewers in 1997: "A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players."
Is this a lot to ask for in a mere introductory paragraph? Sure is. But when the competition is stiff and the pay is good, don’t give anyone an excuse to pass you over. Give them a reason to look you over.
—Jonathan Rick is a digital communications consultant in Washington, DC. The above lessons result from seven years of running the Jonathan Rick Group, where he’s written and responded to more RFPs than he cares to remember. Tweet him your pet peeves of pitching a prospect at @jrick.
[Image: Flickr user Kestas Venzlauskas]