The pitch itself could take many forms. It could be a presentation, a mock-up, a sample system, or even a demo of a similar solution you've worked on in the past. There does tend to be a written component to every pitch, however, and this is what we concentrate on in this section.
The first question, of course, is whether you need a pitch at all or whether a mere quotation is what's needed.
It goes without saying that you need to provide at the very least a quote for the work you've been briefed for. When to expand that quote so that it becomes a pitch, however, can be a tricky decision.
Consider the last time that you, as a consumer, were actively "sold to.'' It was probably the last time you bought a car, or a TV at the showroom, or a new kitchen. You expected to be sold to when you bought your $300 television, didn't you? So why is it that when you went to the store to buy $300 worth of groceries for the whole family in the holiday season, you didn't get sold to in the supermarket?
The difference is pretty clear. The television was a long-term investment; the groceries would be gone in a few weeks.
Think along the same lines with the work you're quoting for. Try not to get too hung up on the cash value. Think instead about what the work you're proposing means to the client. If it will have a long-term impact, you need to sell it, so you need to produce a pitch. If it's simply a short-term requirement a consumable then more than likely all you need is a quote.
Examples of work that may require only a quote would include specific changes to an existing application, provided that they are relatively simple, or the installation and configuration of PHP on a rackful of servers. In both cases, there isn't a great deal to say so don't say it.
If you are providing only a quote, it may be useful to have a few pages of stock library propaganda about your business perhaps outlining some your key skills, experience, past clients, and so on. This can be handed over with your quote in case anybody at the client company needs to see some traditional sales material.
For the rest of this section, we assume that you've gone the whole hog and opted for a pitch rather than a quote.
If you're serious about winning the business, you'll be putting some serious effort into your pitch. This is no bad thing in itself, but you do need to be very careful not to fall into a very serious trap; that is, actually producing a specification rather than a pitch.
We'll meet up with specifications later in this chapter. Essentially, they are detailed blueprints for the system you'll build. You must be careful not to get into this level of detail at your pitch stage. Not only will you be doing more work than necessary, you may be giving away free advice if you do not eventually win the pitch.
Think carefully what you are trying to accomplish with your pitch. You are trying to convince the client company that:
You have fully understood its brief.
You have devised an efficient, effective, and innovative response to its brief.
You are able to deliver the solution you are recommending within its required time frame.
You are able to deliver the solution at price X and have arrived at that price in a methodical manner.
You are the kind of supplier it should do business with.
Going into intense detail on the functionality or technology behind the system does not contribute to accomplishing these aims and therefore should be omitted.
Sometimes, a degree of upward management of the client is required to justify the absence of full functionality in the pitch document. Be totally candid; explain to the client that you have adopted a rigorous specification process to ensure that the system is delivered exactly to the client's requirements; at this stage, you are a high-quality solution provider who has fully understood the requirements rather than the specifics of the system. If the client accepts these assertions, then he or she must, by inference, accept that you are able to fully provide the required system.
If you're still pressed for more detail, proceed with caution. Don't sell yourself short by giving away free advice at the drop of a hat.
By now you probably have a good idea of who you want to involve on the project, should you win the business. We go into more detail about this later in the chapter, but for now it's worth considering who you should be involving in putting together the pitch. Because the pitch is your responsibility, ultimately any editorial decisions about its content lie with you.
That said, be aware that there is an element of creativity involved in the pitch process! You need to clearly demonstrate an edge over other suppliers competing for the business, as well as the competence to deliver the required solution within the budgetary constraints of your client. With this in mind, it's definitely worthwhile getting people who may be able to contribute to the creative process involved at this early stage.
Because you are not getting bogged down in specifics, however, it is not necessary to have more than maybe one senior technologist and one senior designer on board, assuming that you have such people at your disposal. How the three of you arrive at the content of the pitch is very much up to you. Producing the entire document in a brainstorming environment, with the project manager in the driving seat, has proven to be a lot more effective than simply dividing the pitch into assignable chunks and gluing it together later.
Some clients will really make you work to win the business. In many cases, it's well worth it. At other times, it can be too much of a risk. Knowing when and when not to go the extra mile is an essential skill. Don't think of this as being lazy; your time may be far better served chasing down other potential business leads instead of pouring effort into an unlikely candidate.
The extra steps sometimes requested by clients will include on-site presentations, demonstrations of similar systems you have developed in the past, and even references and testimonials from past clients. The questions you should ask yourself at this point are as follows:
How likely are you to win the business?
What are the costs involved in taking these extra steps?
What are other suppliers doing?
If you're getting strong signals from the client that you are close to closing the deal, you should most certainly consider proceeding. If, however, the client isn't making the right noises, the decision may already have been made in someone else's favor, and you should decline the invitation to provide more information.
Always assess the cash cost (travel, consumables) and effective costs (time expressed as potential lost revenue) of taking these extra steps. As a rule, if the costs appear to be approaching anything more than 5 percent of the value of the project, definitely consider taking a step back.
If you can, try to dig around to see what other suppliers are up to. Having a friendly insider at the client can be hugely useful here. A receptionist, for example, is clearly not a decision maker but probably keeps his or her ear quite close to the ground. Try to glean what knowledge you can; if your competitors are going the extra mile, then so do you.
Curiously, few professionals consider when it is appropriate to decline to pitch on a particular piece of business, and yet it is just as important to know when to walk away as it is to know when to grab a brief with both hands and give it everything you've got.
Aside from the obvious, such as you lacking the necessary skills or personnel or the client lacking the necessary budget, you should always keep a close eye out for:
"Just curious'' briefs the client has no real authority to commission you to carry out the project but has read about it in a trade journal and is curious to know how much it would cost. Typical warning signs include being briefed by a junior-level member of staff who makes frequent references to needing to talk to the boss.
"Driving down a quote'' briefs the client has already picked a supplier but wants to drive that supplier's quote down by obtaining quotes from other suppliers to use as leverage.
Pet projects typically the brief is given by a relatively senior player in the company but nobody else seems to be involved or have any interest. Although the money can certainly be there for such projects, in the event that said senior player disappears, it's quite likely that your project will, too.
Always keep the dollar in mind; if the project seems like more trouble than it's worth, then don't be afraid to take a step backward. The client may even respect you for it.
The written aspect of your pitch can follow almost any structure you wish, as long as it is consistent from pitch to pitch. This is particularly important if you are likely to be producing multiple proposals for a single client; consistency from document to document is crucial.
A few key points are worth following:
Present an introduction: Always date the pitch, title it with the name of the client (not your name), and add the line "prepared for XXX," where XXX is the name of your principle contact at the company it's an instant points-winner.
Always reproduce the brief's key points as your first section: If the client has provided a written brief, do not reproduce it verbatim but summarize in approximately half a page. Many clients will make their decision based on just the first page of your proposal, and the price so use the space wisely.
Propose your solution: Include simple Visio diagrams or illustrations if necessary, and describe in full in not more than two or three pages. Again, don't get bogged down in detail; this is a ten-mile-high top-down overview of the system your own creative interpretation of the brief you have just described. Make bullet points of "neat features'' and ideas you've had, rather than simply list components.
Always provide a clear "investment summary'': Call it this rather than your quote; investment has a much more positive note to it. Don't try to hide the price from the client. Show clearly how you have arrived at the price, and include details about any commercial terms you are proposing.
If you have quoted for this client before, ensure that your quote is consistent with previous quotes; for example, if you have worked at a flat rate of $800/day on previous quotations, don't be tempted to show a daily rate of more than $800/day on this occasion without being fully prepared to justify it when the client picks it up.
Go into some detail: Talk about your process (if you have one), your company, and its history and background. Name-drop previous clients if possible.
Be candid with dates: Explain to the client both how long it will take you to do the work when you expect to hand over, and when you expect the client to be able to start using the system. Explain that you are fastidious when it comes to keeping deadlines.
Set objectives and expectations: Include a what-to-do-next' line advising the client how to contact you with questions, and how to proceed if client wants to get started right away.
If you had a face-to-face meeting or telephone call when receiving the pitch, try to make reference to some of the leading questions you asked and the answers given. Remind the client of the answers he or she gave, and show how you have used these answers to drive the decisions you have made to date. (For example, "You told us when we met that you required the system to be accessible as an XML Web service. We have therefore included in our proposed solution the ability to. ...'')
If you're sending the document electronically, try to use PDFs rather than MS Word documents or any other proprietary format. Always follow up with a phone call to check whether the client has received the document, but resist the temptation to chase the client after this; let at least a week go by before any follow-up phone call.
Most important, if you've promised the client the pitch document by a certain time and date, don't miss the deadline. First impressions count, and you get to make only one.
Remember; you won't win them all, no matter how good you are.
Unless your strike rate is proving disastrous, however, don't dwell on any missed pitches. Move on, and try to get some friendly feedback from the client as to what you could do to improve your approach next time around. Assuming you get the go-ahead from the client, you're going to have to assemble a project team pretty quickly. Let's look at that now.