Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Winning Pitch - Step One: Speak to the Client's Culture

You know how to sell your prospect’s customer, but what about your prospect?

In these challenging economic times, new business is more crucial than ever. A sometimes-overlooked fact: in a pitch, prospects must buy you first. Only then can they hear your plans for reaching their customer. And if you are depending on your presentation to seal the deal, that is way, way, WAY too late.

The persuasion starts – and often ends – in a two-second blink. The most creative, strategic, polished content is worth nothing if you turn them off before you shake their hands.

In an hour meeting, it takes two seconds to form a first impression, two minutes to test that hunch and the remaining 57+ minutes to justify that gut reaction. The two-second thin slice comprises 63% appearance and 35% body language, including tone of voice. Words account for only seven percent.

Leveraging those magic two seconds requires strategic packaging, clothing choices that speak to the prospect’s culture to establish a subliminal visual connection convincingly, viscerally, in a blink. Listening from this space the client can “hear.”

The presentation, contrary to accepted wisdom, is merely the icing on the cake. The right clothes “present your presentation” before the flash drive hits the port.

If you think this is fluff – that you know what to wear – please stay with me.

Successful clothing projects professionalism symbolically and winning choices always require research and thought. For a pitch, that process must be even more precise, razor sharp.

Fashion, personal preference and comfort, though they may factor into your final choices, shouldn’t lead. You didn’t copy your creative from the artistic fashion du jour. Comfort wasn’t the benchmark for your strategy. And you didn’t rehearse because you “felt like it.” Neither should you choose your clothes by these criteria.

The winning dress code, one that persuades before you speak, is a four part equation. Research the possibilities as thoroughly as you did your prospect’s customer. Your prospect is, after all, your target.

1. 30%: Reflect your agency

Visually establish your agency brand immediately. And let your team members’ style subtly – or boldly – announce you as a cohesive group. Clients have enough chaos.

To reflect your agency, you must know your culture and what you bring to the table. Some agencies know. Others need culture analysis and soul searching.

This is the foundation. But it is not the end.

2. 20%: Let the prospect’s culture inform, not dictate, your dress.

Don’t look like a client clone. This is especially crucial when presenting to creative prospects. While adding creative touches is entirely appropriate – building that bridge, creating comfort, signaling comprehension – you do not want to abandon the core you to appear as hip as the prospect. They want a partner, not a twin.

3. 40%: Signal your job – and your rank – in the agency.

Prospects feel comfortable when they know who does what. Account people should not look like creatives should not look like the strategy team should not look like the CEO. Everyone should be in the “uniform” of his or her discipline.

Furthermore, you want the prospect to know from sight – in that blink – who is senior, who is junior. Who, in short, is on their level. Be sure to include enough authority markers in your ensemble.

4. 10%: Signal yourself. (Creatives can be 15% or, perhaps, a little more.)

As is often said when teaching manners, we are the least important people in the room. We add only a hint of us.

Your homework: find the visual clues to your target’s culture. But where? A good start is with their industry profile: is it Corporate, Communicator, Creative or Casual/Labor?

Then, as Cleve Langton suggests, study CEO speeches and the company's annual report, two great sources. As a Corporate Culture Profiler, I also look at bios and any available visuals filtering these through tone-of-voice information I gather from live conference calls to detect any discrepancies.

Some of the questions you might ask: Are they formal or casual? Elegant, sporty, daring or classic? A blue-based culture or brown-based? Do they wear bright or subdued colors? Solids or patterns? And who wears what? If the CEO wears navy, structured suits and the CMO bright print dresses, your corresponding agency personnel might subtly mirror these choices.

Insights gleaned from this culture research will not only focus your clothes choices, but can also guide your presentation style, visuals and even your response to the RFP. Which can lead to that Winning Pitch.

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