From contact to contract

There’s one golden rule consultancies should know
about pitches and credentials meetings: make each encounter count, says Shan Preddy

Even in a rising economy, credentials meetings and competitive pitches can be scary. In a recession, we need to make every new business opportunity count. From the credentials and pitches clinics I run, and from what design-buyers tell me, it seems many consultancies could improve the way they go about things.

Here are my credentials tips:

• If you think of ‘credentials’ as ‘presentations’, you’ll go wrong – they’re sales meetings. Many design groups spend too much time talking about themselves, when they should be having a business discussion around the prospect’s needs. Focus on what clients want to hear, and not on what you want to tell them, and allow plenty of time for discussion and questions. What’s at the top of the list for clients? The effectiveness of design interventions, and reassurance about processes – these add up to perceived value and will help to deflect concerns about price.

• The presentation element itself often goes a bit like this: (i) Hello, and thank you for seeing us; (ii) We are based in a town, employ a number of people, have been in business for years; (iii) Here are our clients; (iv) Here are some case studies; (v) Any questions?; (vi) Here’s a print-out, thank you, goodbye. Sounds familiar? Then please read on. Trust me: after endless ‘me, me, me’ presentations like this, clients can lose the will to work with designers at all.

• There is no substitute for good research and preparation. Find out everything you can about the prospect and its marketplace. Ask the main contact in advance what the prime issues are, and what they’d like to get out of the meeting. Once you are in the meeting, use that research to ask questions that uncover and clarify their needs.

• Selling really isn’t difficult. Good salespeople sell without anyone ever noticing. How? They do their research, they uncover and clarify needs and then match specific benefits to those needs. If you aren’t confident about your sales skills, invest in some training.

• The sole purpose of casework in a credentials meeting should be to show benefits and results which are specific to that prospect. Too many design consultancies concentrate on what they are, and what they have done, rather than on what they could do for the other person.

And what about competitive pitches? Here are some tips for all pitches, paid or not:

• Do everything that you’d do for credentials meetings, but more thoroughly: the research, the thinking, the preparation, the team rehearsals. Brush up your presentation skills.

• If there will be prospects at the pitch who were not at earlier meetings, include some (brief) information about your company and summarise any past discussions.

• Mention creative or strategic routes you’ve considered, and give your reason for rejecting them, especially if they fall into the prospect’s comfort zone. It’s galling to see another group appointed on the basis of work you’ve discarded.

• Make sure that your offer meets the brief exactly. Obvious, I know, but the adrenalin generated can sometimes take us off into wild, blue spaces.

• Leave-behind documentation should be comprehensive, not just images of creative work and a few bullet points. It should also be clear to anyone who wasn’t in the meeting, and should say why you are perfect for them. Include photographs and brief role descriptions of your team: after several meetings in a few days, prospects have been known to get people mixed up.

Throughout the process, the encounter doesn’t just last for the duration of the meetings. Your behaviour in advance and afterwards will impact on your likely success. Build rapport at every opportunity, and demonstrate service. And watch your manners. Yes, you did read that last word. There are times when we’re less than perfect and the outcome is predictable. ‘If they behave like that now,’ the clients think, ‘what will they be like once they’ve got the business?’

Finally, if you think you’ve failed when you’re not appointed after a credentials meeting or a pitch, one word: database. You haven’t failed. You’ve succeeded in getting on the shortlist, and you’ve started to build a useful relationship. As we all know,it can take years to get from contact to contract. Be patient, be consistent, be visible. Keep in touch.

Take nothing for granted:
• Think of credentials presentations as sales meetings

• Focus on what prospects want to hear

• Don’t talk about yourself all the time

• Research, prepare, ask questions, uncover needs

• Match benefits to needs and invest in sales skills if necessary

• Use casework to demonstrate benefits and results

• Polish your pitch presentations: prepare, rehearse

• Manage the prospect’s ‘comfort zone’ expectations

• Meet the brief exactly and work on your documentation

• Be inclusive to all present, build rapport before and afterwards

• Get on their database, keep in touch

Shan Preddy is a partner at Preddy & Co

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