5 ways to impress clients in your next pitch

Illustration by Fanny Luor

You’ve rehearsed your presentation. You’ve got a smart outfit picked out. You’re ready to give some firm handshakes, smile, and make eye contact. And you’re probably more than a little amped up on adrenaline. Your client, on the other hand, has been in meetings all day, feels pressed for time, and has a million other concerns on their mind. To avoid looking at blank faces while you try to make your case, you need to go beyond the usual preparation tactics. Here’s how to break through the boredom barrier and make a memorable impression in your next pitch meeting.

1. Research their business

You know you have great idea, and you’re eager to share it. That excitement is key to a great pitch. But it’s even more important to show genuine enthusiasm for your client’s business and their needs. Don’t make the mistake of just talking about yourself and your product.

Before the meeting, research your client’s company and discover what challenges are facing their industry. Look at trade and business publications and analyst reports, find out what their competition is doing, and, of course, read through your client’s external communications. Talk to them ahead of your pitch to get a better sense of their priorities, goals, and what problems they’re hoping you can solve.

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2. Uncover their emotional motivations

Understanding how you can best meet customers’ needs requires analytical research as well as a healthy dose of empathy. People don’t make decisions—even business decisions—on stats and metrics alone. They might not be consciously aware of it, but underlying emotional desires are likely driving your client as well.

Figuring out these emotional needs can be a bit tricky. You won’t find the answer announced in a press release or on the corporate blog (although you may find clues there). However, you don’t need to carry out a covert investigation to uncover some probable answers.

Ask questions and listen carefully to what they say in conversations ahead of the pitch meeting. Try to glean as much insight into their psyche as possible. How are they feeling about their work? How do they measure success? What are their thoughts on shifts in the industry and where do they see opportunities opening up? Maybe your point person is angling for a promotion. Or maybe the whole team wants to score a win against a key competitor, but they’re not confident that they can pull it off. Whether your client wants to feel secure in their job or build something new and bold, put yourself in their shoes and communicate how you can help them achieve these deeper desires.

3. Tailor your pitch to their needs

Once you have a good grasp on what keeps them up at night, craft your pitch to specifically address those challenges. First, think back to your high school essay writing days and sharpen your solution into a succinct thesis statement, such as “Our tool can improve your search engine rankings” or “We can increase your inbound marketing leads.” Then back that up with supporting evidence. This will give your pitch clarity and make it easier for the client to understand the value of your proposal.

Remember that your client isn’t interested in just hearing about all of your product’s wonderful features or your particular talents. They want to know how your proposal will benefit them. Demonstrate that you understand their problem and explain why your solution is the best fit by continually connecting your offering to their unique business and emotional needs.

If all goes well, you’re about to embark on a journey together, and your client needs to know that you’re invested in them, too. No one wants a travel companion who’s only interested in their own objectives. By proving that you understand where they’re coming from and where they want to go, you’re much more likely to win their trust and close the deal.

4. Tell a good story

People remember information when it’s woven into a narrative “up to 22 times more than facts alone,” says Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker. Whether you’re pitching potential customers or investors, don’t just explain what you do; share why you do it. This is especially important when trying to win a new client. Any number of people in your field can rattle off similar services and statistics, but only you can tell the personal story behind you or your product.

Although you may be tempted to relate the rosiest version possible, that’s likely to induce yawns. “As a storyteller, you want to position the problems in the foreground and then show how you’ve overcome them,” screenwriting lecturer and business consultant Robert McKee told the Harvard Business Review. “When you tell the story of your struggles against real antagonists, your audience sees you as an exciting, dynamic person.”

5. Use powerful visual aids

Research has repeatedly suggested that we remember what we see better than what we hear. In a University of Iowa study that compared auditory, visual, and tactile memory, auditory memory came in last. And as time delays grew longer, participants’ ability to recall what they heard fell even further behind their visual and tactile memories.

To combat this “Achilles’ ear,” add bold visuals to your boredom-busting arsenal. Not only will graphics and videos help people remember your pitch, but these visual aids will also increase their concentration during your presentation, which is extra good news given the dismal statistics around adult attention spans.

No one wants to be held captive by a self-centered or aggressive sales pitch. Clients want to be captivated by an engaging presentation that reflects their needs and taps into their emotions. By employing a little research, empathy, and good old-fashioned storytelling techniques, you can create a pitch that will hold clients’ interests and, more importantly, inspires them to say yes.

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