With our clients we do a lot of loss analysis work so we get a close look at hundreds of pitches a year across a wide range of business sectors. They vary in size but all are fairly large. And brutal as it sounds, you don’t get unlucky in pitches – you lose them. So here are the top 20 reasons that in our experience cause pitches to go wrong.
1. Flogging a dead horse
Don’t waste time on pitches you cannot win. Review every opportunity early on and use carefully chosen qualification criteria to make GO/NO GO decisions. If you can’t answer key questions go back and find the answer then review again. If you walk away from an opportunity early - or even well into the Sales Process - you have not lost that pitch and you can spend your time on something more worthwhile.
2. Death by falling in love
In my experience this is the single most common reason for failure, it accounts for maybe 70% of the losses we review. It happens when you concentrate all your efforts on someone in the customer organisation who is really keen on your solution and fail to understand the Buying Centre. This happened recently to a client who found a category manager in a supermarket chain who was really interested in a new range of gluten free products. Unfortunately the store managers and logistics team didn’t want the extra work but our client found this out too late.
3. Doing what the customer asks you to do
To some of you this might sound like nonsense. But doing what the customer asks you to do often results in losing control of the sales process and once this has happened it is very difficult to regain control. Examples of this are submitting a proposal too early or presenting to a group of stakeholders without sufficient understanding of their needs. Instead of jumping at a sales opportunity, step back, slow down and take control.
4. Assuming that what the customer wants is what they need
You need to use your experience and ask carefully crafted questions about the customer’s real needs, these questions may well reveal that what the client initially asked for is not what they really require. For instance, I was recently asked to offer some training for salespeople. After asking a few questions it became clear to the client that this would not deliver against their corporate goals. Instead we agreed on training that would start with the top management and team leaders before we started training salespeople.
5. Not tailoring your value proposition to each stakeholder
“What’s in it for me?” That's the question everyone around the table will be asking when you present your solution. If you haven’t established each stakeholders needs beforehand and made sure you illustrate how you will deliver value to them don’t expect them to support your proposal.
6. The wrong competitive strategy
There are different competitive strategies depending on the position you find yourself in. You might want to move fast to make the best of a strong position, try and change the parameters of the pitch to your advantage or pitch for only part of the business. You might even find a way to catch out a competitor who hasn’t thought hard about what you might do to disrupt them. Not putting enough thought into your competitive strategy is not an option.
7. Mistaking a friend for a Coach
Much of the work of identifying the Buying Centre and their needs is impossible unless you have a Coach – someone in the customer organisation who trusts you and can guide you through a complex sale. You have to be astute in selecting your Coach. Don’t be misled by friendly people who cannot give you the information you need.
8. Responding to RFPs
RFPs can seem like a great opportunity but are problematic for several reasons. Firstly, they don’t allow you to follow your sales process. Secondly, there may not be a real chance to win if there is an existing supplier, especially if they have been performing well and have been involved in writing the RFP. You have to take control or you risk wasting a lot of time. If you can’t take control, it might be better to walk away.
9. Not anticipating objections
One of my clients had an excellent proposal but the competition had a much stronger presence in the US, a key market for their potential customer. But they anticipated the objection and in the presentation they had two existing US customers dial in so the prospect could quiz them about service levels. The sale would have fallen through if they had not thought about possible objections.
10. Not quantifying benefits
It all comes down to the bottom line, especially for the CFO. If you fail to make a good business case to show how your solution will make money or save it you won’t get the deal signed off.
11. Preparing to fail
I talk to lots of our frustrated customers. They want salespeople to come to meetings well informed and well prepared. You should prepare for every interaction in the Sales Process or it might be your last one.
12. Not listening
Even if you have prepared really well and have a lot to say you are still better off listening rather than talking. A few well prepared questions with intelligent follow up questions will show you are listening and help build trust while you gather vital intelligence.
13. Telling not showing
Test drives sell cars more than any amount of Salesman’s smooth talking and the same applies to your solution. Find ways to demonstrate a good solution or do a piece of work.
14. Death by PowerPoint
When you do have to use slides follow the basic rules about how many slides, how many words on each slide, minimum point sizes and most of all remember that the slides should support what you are saying. Never just read out the slides!
15. Believing that your solution has a USP
How you sell is why you sell. Even if your solution had a unique advantage last time someone might have copied it by now.
16. Trying to sell to the CEO
Depending on the size or importance of the business, the CEO signs off, but they don’t want to spend lots of time sitting through meetings with vendor organisations. Highly competent people surround them and key tasks like vendor selection are usually delegated. Trying to go over your contacts heads will make them trust you less. Giving them what they need to sell internally will help them shine and sell on your behalf.
17. Giving away a gorilla
Making a concession without getting something valuable in return is what we call a gorilla. Have a plan for your negotiation phase and make sure you only make conditional concessions – instead of gorillas!
18. Missing the chance to expand relationships
This is more about losing the next opportunity rather than the current one. When it comes to contract renewal or finding new opportunities within an organisation you need as wide a contact base as possible. This is particularly important for vendors who sell projects – you have to be constantly looking for the next opportunity.
19. No internal challenging or coaching
The best people ask to be challenged by their peers or manager. Managers should be coaching the team all the time to optimise performance.
20. Not my fault thinking
I didn’t win that pitch but it wasn’t my fault. Therefore I will do exactly the same thing next time. And guess what? You won’t win again.
- Last time you didn’t win, was it for one of the reasons above?
- Do you have a plan to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes?
- Does your team actively look for ways to improve?