The pitch debate is still alive and kicking in Britain, fuelled additionally this year by the recession. Iʼd like to say ʻthe debate rages onʼ but it doesnʼt. It limps. Some genuine rage might help. Try this. Log the time costs of pitches as though they were projects, and then account for them in your marketing budget. Thatʼs what it costs to ʻmarketʼ your company to that handful of potential clients.
What else could you do with that budget?
There is a significant disconnect between attitude and behaviour in our market. Design companies complain about free pitching, then go out and do it anyway. They sometimes ask for a token payment, but any pitch under 100% recovery is speculation, in whole or in part. Is pitching necessary? No. Youʼ ll need to present your credentials, and get onto rosters. Youʼll need to issue price proposals and terms of reference. Youʼ ll need to negotiate with procurement professionals,
and complete PQQs and ITTs and all the other TLAs. But you do not ever need to free pitch.
You know the negotiating strategy ʻsprats and mackerelsʼ? Instead of eating small fish (sprats), you sacrifice them as bait to attract bigger fish (mackerels). The idea is that you go hungry now in the hope of feasts to come. It is based on risk-assessment, and in some markets it works. In design, however, if we give away the early development and creation stages of a project in a pitch, not only do we use mackerel as bait instead of sprats, but we also send a message that we didnʼt value them much. How can we hope to charge proper amounts for our mackerels in the future?
I recently had the privilege of attending some inspirational workshops delivered for the DBA by Canadian sales consultant, Blair Enns. His company, Win Without Pitching, takes the argument several steps further. Not only should design firms not free-pitch, Enns says, they should not pitch at all. Or even write proposals. Enns calls business development ʻthe polite battle for controlʼ. If you get it right, he says, you can change the power structure in the buy/sell relationship. Ennsʼ
website and newsletters prove interesting reading, and are worth checking out.
Clients ask for pitches, free or otherwise, not because they lack budgets, but because they lack the confidence to appoint you without proof of your ability. They need to understand what you offer, and to believe that you can deliver that offer better than your competitors. Itʼs your job to help them. How?
Firstly, itʼs about marketing. US consultant and author, Peter Drucker, says ʻThe aim of marketing is to make selling superfluousʼ. And, I would add, free-pitching. First, is your position in the marketplace clear, defendable and meaningful versus your competition? What do you offer? Why are you so good at it? Are you the only company that could do the job? Next, who are your buyers? Can you demonstrate that youʼre right for them? And finally, what are your core
propositions, or benefits? Why should a client appoint you instead of one of your competitors?
Secondly, itʼs about the proven quality of your product, and your ability to communicate that proof. Have you got a methodology which will remove clientsʼ anxieties? Can you demonstrate that your design interventions have shown return on investment? Good casework, using a three-part structure of challenge/problem/opportunity, design solution and results will remove doubt. Support your proof with relevant client references and testimonials. Even better, win a DBA Design Effectiveness Award.
On BBC Radio Four last week, Sir John Sorrell, Chairman of The London Design Festival, said:“The British design industry is the best in the world”. I agree. But if we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot by giving away our main product, we will fail. Any business model which has at its heart the notion of donating its core skills, including analysis, strategic thinking and concept creation, is deeply flawed. No design company, however good, will survive if itʼs not profitable. No design industry, however admired by the rest of the world, will survive without successful design businesses.
We have trained clients to see free-pitching as normal and, therefore, as expected. The next step is to accept that it is our responsibility, not theirs, to change it. Just Say No. You Know It Makes Sense. But give them the reasons to appoint you anyway.
Article first published in Design Week Business Insight 24 September 2009
Shan Preddy, PREDDY&CO.
Shan is an accredited DBA Expert
Want more? Shan Preddy's next DBA workshop:
Pitch and Roll - DBA Workshop
Date: Wednesday 16 May
Time: 1.30pm - 5.00pm
Venue: Headrooms - St John’s Path, Clerkenwell, EC1M 4DD
Tickets: DBA members £230 +vat (£276), Non members £300 +vat (£360)
Pitch and Roll, Wednesday 16 May
for more information and to book click here.