A simple little secret to winning pitches with new clients

Pitching a potential new client is always nerve-wracking. It’s do or die. And winning new business is key to growing. So it’s critical to get any edge you can. There are a lot of tricks, tactics, and strategies you can practice. But there is one simple thing that has helped us immensely. 


It is this: Make promises. 


Now I am assuming that you have a polished presentation, great ideas, a solid team (even if that’s only you) and the capabilities to deliver great work. Because without those, even the greatest tactics will fail you.


During a pitch, many small business owners talk about how good their company is, their capabilities, and what they can do for this or that potential client. But winning business is more than just about what your company can do, what you specialize in, and what you’ve done. The assumption that many business owners have is that if you wow your audience with your capabilities and work, then you’re golden. And that could be true. I’m not saying that you can’t win business by doing that. You can. But remember this. Every business is a relationship. 


It’s between you and someone(s) else, this client you want to win. And every relationship requires trust. It’s fodder for all healthy relationships. And this is especially true when you are talking about business, where peoples’ livelihoods are involved, where their money is. That’s why trust is paramount in a pitch. And when you are building a new relationship, where there is little report, making promises is critical. It won’t magically create trust, but promises are the foundation upon which it is built. Utter words like, “I promise you we will crush it for you. You won’t be disappointed. You will love what we do for you.” Those words pave a way towards building trust. And often when you are competing with other capable companies, engendering trust is the secret sauce that can give you the edge you need. 


Making a promise is one of the most human endeavors you can partake in. You can’t just mouth the words and expect it to work like a magic spell, no. The secret is that it’s not just the words but the messenger that makes a promise effectual. You have to put your whole self behind it, not only your body but your soul. You have to believe the words that you are speaking. If you don’t, then why would anyone else. And if you have a lack of surety, your listeners will sense it and will be less sure of you. So believe in yourself, your company, and your promise; that is critical for your success. 


Then there are things that you need to do with your body that will communicate that you believe what you are saying. I look at the other person directly in the eyes and say with confidence that we will deliver for them. And often, I extend my hand to shake theirs. It’s not a flimsy grip. It’s firm, but not crushing, affirming, and confident like my words. 


It’s old school. I know. But there is something about human touch that communicates in a deeper way than words can. And in business, the firm handshake still speaks to the heart. The combination of the words, eye contact, confidence, and gripping palms are effective. Old school ways still work in this new world. It’s those ways of relating that are so human, true, and good. In business, you should get to the heart of things. And making a promise moves the heart. 


When should you make promises? I usually make them at the end of our presentations. Or if we have less formal conversations afterward over drinks or lunch, I would do it there. Sometimes I’ve done it in both contexts. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. I mean, how many times do you tell your significant other that you love them? I tell my wife and kids that I love them over three times a day. Just because they haven’t forgotten doesn’t mean I shouldn’t reassure them. Promises aren’t about them forgetting what you said; they’re about the recipients feeling what you are saying. So repeating yourself can often reinforce that sense of trust and make them feel warmer and fuzzier than they did with just hearing your promise once. 


I’m not saying that all of this will work every time. It’s not a silver bullet. That doesn’t exist. But it is effective. It has worked for my company and me. We’ve won more work than I think we should have for our size and experience, especially when we started over ten years ago. Sure, our work wowed, and we’ve always had an incredible team, but to seal the deal it just took a very personal gesture—a human connection—simple words of assurance.


Of course, we had to make good on our word. That’s the only way to keep a business going and growing. If you don’t, you’re only playing a short game, which is foolish. But I think you know that, and so I won’t say more. 
Clients don’t just want to be wowed by our work. They want to be reassured by your character. They want to get a sense of who you are and what you are about. 


Don’t just wow them, woo them. 


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