I learned the most important lesson about new business pitching from an unlikely source for a man in my business: record producer Jimmy Iovine.
In 2013 I was a proud dad sitting in the audience at the University of Southern California’s commencement ceremony. The keynote speaker was famous music producer and co-founder of Beats headphones, Jimmy Iovine. He told an unforgettable story that I’ve applied to sales conversations ever since.
As I remember it, Jimmy described his start as a sound engineer working on an early Bruce Springsteen album. After working on Born to Run with producer Jon Landau, he was asked to work on the follow up album, Darkness On the Edge of Town. He was tasked to find the right drum beat for a song, and it wasn’t an easy job. After spending six weeks working around the clock trying to get the sound that Bruce had in his head actualized with instruments, Jimmy became frustrated. Bruce wanted a specific sound that he had trouble describing, and Jimmy was failing time after time at delivering what the Boss was looking for. No matter what they tried, it wasn’t working. Bruce kept rejecting the work, which left Jimmy feeling disrespected and on the verge of quitting.
When All Seemed Lost, A Pivotal Moment
It was then that a pivotal moment took place: Bruce’s manager looked Jimmy straight in the eye and said something to the effect of, “you go back there and say to Bruce ‘I’m here to support you. This is not about me. It’s about the album.’ You will have a friend for the rest of your life.”
Jimmy swallowed his pride and did just that.
And, in the end, Jimmy never nailed the drumbeat.
However, six weeks later Springsteen gave Jimmy the song “Because the Night” and asked him to produce the record for Patti Smith. It was his first producer gig and not only was it a huge hit, but put him on the path towards being a billionaire.
New Business Pitching Is All About Your Prospect
So, what does this cool story have to do with new business pitching and prospects?
It’s about the importance of how you think about prospects before you deliver the pitch. A winning pitch is 99% about how you think about the prospect, yet most of us enter the prospect meeting focusing on what we want or need. To have a real chance at winning new business, your frame of mind needs to be “this is not about me.” We have been on the client side of so many agency pitches and have seen so many firms fail to do this…and every time it feels so disappointing. We know agencies can do better just by reframing their approach. They just need to, as Bruce’s manager put it, be there to support the prospect and not focus on themselves.
It’s easy to walk into a new business pitching opportunity and tell the client all about you. After all, you know everything there is to know about your firm. You’re so proud —appropriately— of your firm’s capabilities and track record. The assumption is that if your team has been invited into the client’s offices, then they want to know your story, but that is actually not the case. Prospects have only one thing on their minds: their needs. Agencies that walk in and talk mostly about themselves lose their audience fast, whereas agencies that focus first on a prospect’s needs and challenges have a captive audience.
You Must Prepare for These New Business Pitching Conversations
To engage in a deep discussion with a prospect about their business, it helps to have an idea of what their key business needs may be before you walk in the door. This takes serious preparation. In other words, to understand what problems or opportunities a prospect may have, you need to do your homework.
Prospects have numerous choices when it comes to service firms today, so bonding quickly with them over their needs is key. How do you do this?
Start with research: You can learn a great deal about a company and its industry with a little online research. What is happening in their industry? How do they do business? What are their goals? Who are their competitors? Have they recently launched new products? Is their business healthy? Are they hiring or downsizing? Before you walk in the door, do your homework. This homework prepares you for a hearty conversation about their concerns and how to address them, not a one-sided conversation about what you have to sell them. That is the conversation they want to have. Remember, if they are looking for an agency, then they are looking for someone to walk in the door and solve their problem.
Next, prepare yourself: how will you handle the conversation? Have a plan to get the prospect involved and discuss their business from the get go. Keep in mind that if you are invited to meet with the prospect, then they already likely know some basic information about your firm. They want to talk about themselves. Prepare for how you will facilitate that conversation!
Finally, when the time is right, position your agency as the help they need to solve their business challenges. You’ll know when that moment comes, and it will look something like this: at some point, following a conversation about their business, the prospect will likely ask you to tell them about your firm. This is a golden moment – they are asking you to sell them! Clients are looking for a partner that will help their business succeed. By focusing the bulk of your conversation on their business, you create demand for the types of outcomes your firm can deliver.
It’s Not About You
Remember – it’s not about you! It is about the prospect and the prospect’s business. In the end, you won’t nail every drumbeat or pitch, but by reframing your approach to focus first on the prospect’s situation, you will increase your success rate with new business pitching.
The original version of this article was first published on Agency Management Institute and was co-authored by Lindsay O’Neil
- The Most Important Principle of New Business Pitching - October 8, 2018