Running a pitch?  Remember less is always more

Having participated in literally hundreds of pitch processes in person, online, around the world and across almost every industry vertical you can imagine, we’ve come to recognize a crucial ingredient for success that’s applicable to both marketers and prospective agencies.  Very simply, it’s the axiom that ‘less is more.’

You see, whether you’re a client or an agency, there’s an incorrect assumption that the more you can stuff into the 90 minutes you have allotted with your prospect, the better your presentation results will be.  And unfortunately, that’s almost always the wrong way to evaluate or share your capabilities, instead of leaving  room for meaningful dialogue.

When agencies ask us what we believe to be a winning formula for a credentials pitch, one of the first recommendations we make is to divide the allotted time in two – with half the time devoted to actual credentials and capabilities and the other half to discussion, questions and talking about the prospect’s business rather than your own. It’s a simple formula, but trust us – it really works.

So when it comes time for an actual new business pitch, clients and agencies can learn from the same approach, because less really is more:


Invite less agencies to your pitch

But you get more choice if you see more agencies, right?  Actually no.  What you get is confused. If spend more time doing your homework on agencies before inviting any to show up and pitch, you’ll be able to rule-out those that won’t be a good fit, or who can’t meet your requirements without even seeing them.  If you’re unsure about the agency landscape in your market, consider asking an agency pitch consultant for help.

Ask fewer questions

I’ve never understood the need to stuff RFPs with so many questions, it’s impossible for agencies to have time to answer them all in the time allotted. (Even without a breath!) If it’s a question of defining capabilities, ask for that in a written submissions and rule-in / rule-out based on the answers that fit your needs. 

Less people

Here’s another one: The more people you invite to see each agency presentation, the longer it’s going to take to introduce everyone and far fewer people (if any) are going to be able to ask questions at the end – because there simply isn’t time.  Think about it. In a 90 minute presentation with 20 people on your team (yes, we’ve seen more than this…) all with a 30 second introduction that’s 10 minutes out the window.  Leave 15 minutes for some of those 20 people to ask questions and you’re down to just 55 minutes of the good stuff.

You’re missing the good stuff!

And speaking of the good stuff… the gold in any presentation is always the dialogue you have with those who are presenting and likely as not, the questions you’ve not asked on paper and those that evolve organically based on what’s being presented.  By creating elbow room in your pitch processes, you’re much more likely to be able to assess the chemistry between teams, and really understand whether the agency is the right one for your business.


Create fewer pages

My heart sinks sometimes when I see an agency presentation pop-up on screen with a little dialogue box bottom left that says, ‘slide 1 of 180’ (or some other ridiculous number). Do the math.  90 minutes divided by 180 – less 15 minutes for introductions, questions and discussion and you’re left with about 25 seconds a slide.  It just won’t work.  Cut your presentations to digestible sizes by putting everything that’s not absolutely essential into the appendix so prospects can refer to it later, or you can call it up if it becomes a critical talking point.

Fewer words – more visuals

Speaking of absolutely essential, teams should be sufficiently rehearsed and familiar with the material being presented to talk to their material without having to read it.  So if you can summarize a slide in just a few words, or create a compelling visual that illustrates your point – you’ll have more time to create eye contact, read body language and – most important – pause so that everyone can digest the brilliant thought you’ve just shared.

Less process

Here’s a secret. Nobody is interested in seeing a process slide.  Nobody. If someone has asked for process, try illustrating successful process outcomes in a one minute case study.  If that doesn’t suffice, ask what aspect of process is most important and speak directly to it.  And if the question persists – you’ve got details in your appendices, right?  Don’t waste valuable time watching clients glaze over trying to understand a process diagram, when you can hit a home run with a well phrased question and targeted answer.

Pitch less

And finally… stop pitching.  That’s right, stop pitching!  Some of the worst presentations we’ve seen have been so stuffed full of irrelevant salesy content that they miss the point and leave clients with a myriad of internal brand names for systems, processes, research methodologies or other departmental capabilities that the agency’s true capabilities get horribly lost. By pausing, prompting prospects for input, allowing for questions and talking about the client’s business rather than yours, you’re far more likely to stand-out from everyone else.

Winning new business is frequently about saying less and listening more so you can hone-in and solve a client’s business issues, rather than swamping them with information they don’t want or need.  And if clients could spend more time evaluating their own needs, doing some homework on the agencies they might like to see, and place more trust in simplified processes, finding a new agency would more fun, less work and ultimately lead to a better match.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else.

Photo: Kevin Pack
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