Yes, you read right: a pencil. I’m sitting here at my desk in mid-suburban Toronto staring at a pencil. "Why?" you might ask. I’m sitting here staring at my pencil wondering who gave this company the financial backing necessary to pump out millions of pencils a year. I’m wondering who had the guts to stand up in front of a board of directors and say "you know what we’re missing, besides a cappuccino machine? Pencils!" I’m wondering… you get the picture. Today, we’re discussing the business pitch.
There is a certain excitement about making a million-dollar-plus pitch. I know: I’ve just come out of such a meeting and we got everything we asked for. I don’t write this article as a guru in million dollar pitches, but more as someone who has learned a few things that I would like to pass on to those of you who may one day go into such a meeting. The principles outlined in this article are not exclusively for large project pitches, though they are essential for them.
There are 3 key elements to any large pitch (after the donuts and coffee, that is). Firstly, you must approach it as a team, both in numbers and in that you are partnering with the people on the other side of the table to fulfill a dream. Next, your attitude must be successful and you must never blush at the mention of the word "million". And the last important piece to securing that 7-digit cheque is the presentation.
There’s No "Hey It’s My Turn" In "Team"
Whether you’re pitching to your own boss, or to clients who aren’t quite sure that they want to spend X amount of dollars on you or your idea, it’s essential that you approach it as a team.
It’s critical that more then one person from your end of the table be involved in the meeting, as well as in the presentation. By playing to the strengths of your team members you not only involve them, but you can bring those who know how to answer the questions in to bat at the appropriate moments, thus improving your odds of a home run.
That said, you and your team mates are not the only team at the table. Whether you’re presenting to your own company or to someone else’s, you want to establish right up front that they’re part of the team as well. You need to give them something to own as they walk out of that meeting. They must walk out with a "we" attitude, otherwise your dream of that pretty Christmas bonus might as well be a dream of walking penguins in Manhattan.
Check Your Attitude at the Door!
Attitude is everything. This cannot be stressed enough. Attitude is everything. Oh, did I already say that? Attitude is everything. When you go into a meeting where serious players are talking serious money there are two types of attitudes that will kill you: "The Meek" and "The Owner".
This is someone who doesn’t really belong and who knows it. He has never in his life received a ten dollar tip, let alone asked for serious cash. If you wear this attitude the people at the other end of the table will feel superior, they will perceive you as asking for favors and they will think you weak. We want none of this. We want an attitude that says the expense is justified and that we as a team should undertake this project for the betterment of the world as we know it.
The antithesis of The Meek is The Owner. This is often the person who’s idea the project was originally. If this is you, drop this attitude now. If you walk into a meeting owning an idea you will walk out owning that idea, and this is one of the worst things that can happen. If I could typify an attitude that would be ideal it would be The Contagious Pencil.
You need to convey to everyone involved that you realize you aren’t creating the next writing wonder, that you aren’t Coca-Cola and that you realize this, but that what you have is better. It may not revolutionize the world, but it will definitely be worthwhile.
The final and often talked about part of your pitch is the presentation itself. There are 5 elements that must be covered in any successful presentation:
- a summary of the goals and vision for the project,
- identification of at least 3 methods and timeframes for achieving that goal,
- prototypes (either that your team has completed, or that are taken from working examples) of important concepts,
- hard data proving to the group the validity of the idea and its possible market perception, and finally
- a recommendation as to a course of action and a next step.
The Pitch Summary
Because not everyone has been working lawyer hours trying to put this presentation together, they’re not likely to be intimately acquainted with the socio-economic changes your project will generate. In reality they may have forgotten or may not know anything about what you’re proposing, in spite of your masterful memos and emails.
So take the first five to ten minutes to accommodate the less fortunate in the group — those who haven’t already climbed aboard your gravy train. Lead them through the reason that the project came to be, who’s been involved, the goals and vision for the project, and summarize what has been accomplished so far.
The Three Plans
It’s essential that management have at least 3 options, and no more than 5. By presenting them with alternate timelines, goals and costs, you ensure that any idea they pick will remain theirs, if only in their minds. One of the easiest ways to do this is to have a slow and cheap, a medium and preferred, as well as a fast and costly plan. Most management groups will play it safe and pick the medium method as it means that everything gets done, without over-the-top costs.
One of the best summaries to this section of the presentation is a First Year Costs & Returns document that outlines what will be spent on, and generated by each of the models. In this way management can see the effects of your SMART (Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) plan.
Everyone must walk out of your meeting with a true vision for what you are proposing. So you have 3 alternatives. You can mime your project, you can bring in a Star Wars 3-D Holograph Display, or your can show them prototypes. In spite of the fun it would be for me to receive pictures of thousands of Instant Mimes around the country, I recommend the prototype route. By exemplifying the true ingenuity and thoughtfulness your team has put into the project, as well as showing the money and timesaving effects of what you will be doing, you should easily be able to grab the "wow" factor you need.
Cold Hard Data
Nothing is more worthwhile than taking the time to prove to any detractors that the project you’re proposing is worthwhile. To satisfy the number crunchers, you must have cold hard data that illustrates the increases in sales, market interest levels, return on investment, etc. of your proposal. This also gives the other side of the table something that they can take with them and analyze after your Broadway Spectacle is done.
Though it’s ideal that everyone involved sees things your way — after all that is the goal of your presentation — sometimes they won’t realize the genius of your idea. So to keep everyone on the same page I suggest that you make a cautious recommendation as to the path to be chosen from those you’ve highlighted, as well as recommending a next step. This is also the time to firm up any financial commitment required, and to set down a date for a next meeting if it’s required.
You Are The Pencil
Though walking into the CEO’s office and asking for a million-plus dollars may seem like a walk in the park to some of you, for others it is at least twice as bad as asking the boss for next Monday off so you can go to Disney World for the long weekend. This article is not intended to cover every aspect of presenting or to serve as a checklist to a multi-million dollar request meeting. The main purpose is for all of us to realize that if someone can get millions for a pencil, surely your idea is worth no less.