5 winning tips for pitching for business as a Project Manager by Ed Lamb
In February my friend and colleague Jeremy Cassell delivered a PMI webinar on influencing and many of you attended. There are many elements of that webinar that overlap with this piece, but here my focus is on pitching.
There is a curious balance that a Project Manager has to strike when pitching. Too little focus on the risks that the project entails and the role the key client or stakeholder needs to play, increases the risk that the project will fail! Too much focus on the complexities of the project and your key client or stakeholder might see you as the person who will over-complicate things and make their life difficult.
Depending on who you are pitching to, the former approach may help you win the project but, equally, the latter - demonstrating that you have the detail covered and they can trust you with delivery – could be the deciding factor. The opposite is also true with a different client contact.
So how can project managers strike the right tone when pitching for business?
Much of my career has been working with marketing agencies, often specialising online, so my clients varied from small businesses hiring us to increase their digital business, through to big blue chips like Waitrose who approached my agency to boost their online shopping revenues through digital content and organic search. Over the last decade I've typically played the role of pitch lead and will not be hands on in delivery, but I've often pitched knowing that I would be responsible for delivery too.
Here are a few things that I think about when pitching and focusing on delivery.
1. Ask the right questions pre-pitch
Whether you are working on a big pitch with lengthy RFI and RFP stage prior to pitch, or a smaller project where you are going straight into pitch stage, you will need to interrogate your brief. You need to understand the role that each of the client team play and do what digging you can around their employment history (which usually means finding them on LinkedIn, reviewing their profile and seeing if you have mutual contacts).
Your questions should help you understand the potential risks that you can affect and any structural issues that you will have to navigate around. You also need to understand selection criteria, either by asking outright or through questions if the client is not comfortable giving you their criteria and weighting (e.g., "Is the deadline a drop-dead date or could they move it back for good reason?" "Is there anything driving the project deadline?").
2. Agree the prominence of delivery in your pitch
Whenever you, or any other member of your team, is talking to the client pre-pitch, you are looking to gain more information about the people you'll be working with. What type of person are they and what's the baggage they bring with them into the project? Everyone is shaped by their experience so if they briefed an agency to deliver a website a few years ago and the delivery was late and riddled with issues when launched, you can be pretty sure that your ability to deliver on time will be a key criterion for selection.
3. Discuss how you will work with the pitch lead (if that isn't you!)
A simple conversation between you once you have the brief will allow you to shape the way you work together. In the best Project Management / Client Services relationships I've seen the PM plays an active role in helping the Client Lead to justify the budget required or handle pressure on delivery date. Make sure you have explained to them that there has to be give and take, particularly if you've never worked with them before. If the project needs delivering sooner, you may need more budget or to reduce the scope, for example.
4. Agree with your pitch team how you will handle questions
I have seen pitches where the pitch lead has made promises around delivery that the team then has to scrabble around trying to deliver to these promises. It doesn't have to be this way! Perhaps they are incentivised to win the business rather than deliver it at a profit, but that's a whole other rant/blog post.
Agree in advance that you will handle questions around delivery and agree your likely tone pre-pitch (although you must of course adapt to any change of circumstances during the meeting).
5. Stay close to the post pitch negotiations
This is it! The client has, somewhat inevitably, told you that you are down to the last two but that you are the most expensive. Or that they are delivering quicker than you at the same price. If you have got point 3 right, you are involved in these conversations and you can steer towards the right outcome for you and the client. The right outcome is not always that you work together – sometimes you want to win the project only if they buy into some basic parameters. The alternative, a loss-making project taking resources from other projects, is not where you want to be.
Maybe someone decides that you want the project so badly that you will discount, but this can't be at the expense of time on the project unless there is also an agreement about a reduction in quality. The best PMs I've worked with are firm here and able to explain the potential impact of shortcuts internally and to the client, but they are not intransigent. Getting the balance right is, to my mind, what marks out the very best. It's in your interests to stay involved – don't opt out and leave it to the person in charge of new business! If you can strike the right tone, they will be glad of your support.
There you go – 5 tips that will lead to pitch success and, just as importantly, set your team up for successful delivery. And I haven't even touched on your content and other areas inherent in successful presenting and pitching - that's for another post!
About the author
Ed Lamb has delivered complex projects as a Project Manager and led and won pitches to several of UK's largest companies. He coaches pitch and presentation skills (amongst other things) at Jeremy Cassell Coaching.
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