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5 Steps For Nailing Your Next Business Pitch

Putting together a great pitch means telling a great story—and breaking a few rules.

5 Steps For Nailing Your Next Business Pitch
[Photo: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

Want to sail through your next big business pitch? Conventional wisdom is to tell a compelling story. And to be sure, that’s good advice. But you can’t go with just any story. You need the right one. And you can’t just rattle it off carelessly. You need to build it plank-by-plank, laying each one carefully into place. A poorly constructed pitch will fall apart. Follow these five steps to build a rock-solid pitch.

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1. Start At The End

As we know, all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. But when you’re planning a pitch, it’s different. Figuring out how you’re going to set the stage should come only after you’re decided how you’re going to finish. By the same token, you might be tempted to plunge right into the details. But starting in the middle is like trying to build the Eiffel Tower by ordering the nuts and bolts first, and only then drawing up a blueprint.

Instead, visualize the completed structure of your pitch first. Where do you want to leave your client when you finish? What are the last words you want her to hear just before taking questions? Start there.

2. Make An Outline

Would you set out on a road trip with no map or GPS? Don’t embark on the story-planning process without an outline. Once you’ve decided how your pitch will conclude, start sketching out how you’ll get there. Distill your story’s key messages into three simple statements and arrange them in a logical order. (Our brains tend to be good at grasping information when it comes in three parts.) Then find up to three pieces of evidence to back each point up. Make sure to tailor each one to your client’s needs.

3. Shake Up The RFP

The RFP, or “request for proposal,” is a mainstay of the business world, and sometimes you’ll find your team creating one instead of pitching in person. Fine–you’ll still need a story. RFPs don’t ask you for them, of course. In fact, they’re often written in a way that discourages them. RFPs are generally framed as a series of questions, so proposals tend to take the form of a passive list of answers. Find an inventive, narrative-driven way to answer that shows your deep understanding of the client’s needs and your strategy for meeting them. In other words, tell your story. As long as it’s all there, the information that the RFP requests can be presented however you like.

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4. Persuade With Proof, Not Hot Air

Salespeople love to brag. They brag because they’re proud of their product or service, and they think showing it off is the best way to convince a client to buy what they’re selling. But you need to do more than talk up what your company offers. Bring hard evidence, and make sure it’s relevant. Does it link to your thesis? Does it square with your story? Every time you choose a piece of evidence, ask those two questions.

All the while, don’t forget the client’s needs. If a piece of supporting evidence you’re considering doesn’t relate to a client’s business, it won’t be very effective. I often see pitches jammed with every fascinating fact a pitch team has come across. But they need to resonate in your client’s ears, not your own. Your goal is to tell a targeted story to this listener, not just anyone.

5. Pass The BBQ Test

So you’ve come up with a brilliant, targeted story. Your last task is to perfect it in the telling. The absolute best way to do that is by imagining someone who heard your pitch retelling it at a barbecue to someone who wasn’t there, explaining why you won the contract. If person A would be able to convince person B–a friend who doesn’t know the business well–why you landed the deal, then congratulations! Your story is pitch-perfect.

Hamish McKenzie, cofounder of McKenzie Pitch Partners, is the author of Pitch: What You Don’t Know Makes All the Difference.