Consultants, creative freelancers, and marketing agencies are all familiar with the pitch.
The pitch is the moment where you put it all on the line and hope that it’s enough to convince your prospect to become a client.
However, the pitch is fundamentally flawed in favor of your prospect and can establish them as the dictator of your business relationship.
In his book, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, Blair Enns shares the problems associated with the traditional pitch and shows you how to eliminate them by eliminating the pitch altogether.
His strategy is outlined in the “twelve proclamations” of the Manifesto. The following is a summary of those proclamations.
“We will acknowledge that it is the availability of substitutes–the legitimate alternatives to the offerings of our firm–that allows the client to ask, and compels us to give, our thinking away for free. If we are not seen as more expert than our competition then we will be viewed as one in a sea of many, and we will have little power in our relationships with our clients and prospects.”
The market is flooded with generalists. There are already enough full-service creative firms and the world doesn’t need any more.
What the best clients want and are willing to pay more for is expertise.
The most meaningful way that a creative individual or firm can set themselves apart is through their expertise, not personality or pricing.
In the client-agency relationship, it’s usually the client that has most of the power.
These days, there are so many choices out there and both the client and agency know this.
But all changes when you are a specialist. Once there is less competition for your expertise, the rules of supply and demand kick in. You get to determine the price and terms.
Expertise is the best tool to use for positioning your creative business.
With the proper positioning in the market, you form your own lane with little to no competition.
When clients buy your services for expertise, rather than a lower price, you have more freedom to deliver your services in the way that you feel is best without worrying about your clients getting in the way. Expertise earns trust.
“We will break free of our addiction to the big reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. When we pitch, we are in part satisfying our craving for this adrenaline rush, and we understand that until we break ourselves of this addiction we will never be free of the pitch. Presentation, like pitch, is a word that we will leave behind as we seek conversation and collaboration in their place.”
Enns argues that as creatives, we are addicted to the presentation. However, as exciting as the presentation is, it gives the client all of the power that we worked hard to earn through the first proclamation.
Instead, he suggests that we establish rules for our collaboration with clients through an engaged conversation, not presentation.
“We will take seriously our professional obligation to begin at the beginning, and we will never put our clients or ourselves in the position where we are prescribing solutions without first fully diagnosing the client’s challenge.”
The same way that a doctor would not prescribe medicine before making a full diagnosis, we must resist the temptation to prescribe solutions without taking the time to completely understand the problems.
This is unprofessional and sends a poor message to the client about our willingness to truly understand their organization.
The other problem we face is dealing with a client who has self-diagnosed their problem.
By following their prescription blindly, we give up the power in the relationship and we run the risk of getting bad results because we didn’t make the proper assessment of the problem.
That's why there are four phases in our client engagements:
“We will acknowledge that our fear and misunderstanding of selling has contributed to our preference for the pitch. We will embrace sales as a basic business function that cannot be avoided and so we will learn to do it properly, as respectful facilitators.”
1. Inspire the Interested: Through your portfolio and case studies, you show prospective clients what other companies have achieved from your creative services.
This gets them thinking about their own business and what they would like to accomplish. At this stage, you are only trying to form an intent to buy, not to close the sale.
2. Help the Unaware: After identifying a prospect that you could potentially help, you must take the long-term approach to selling by educating and not persuading. This is accomplished through thought leadership.
Experts write. You want to establish yourself as an expert, so, do so by creating valuable and thought-provoking content for your persona.
Eventually, many of the no's will turn into yes’s as you continue to establish your expertise in your field.
3. Reassure Those Who Have Formed Intent: Once the prospect has decided to move forward with your services, they will experience a high of inspiration and excitement followed by a crash of self-questioning and buyer’s remorse.
In this stage, it is important to follow-up with calm, logical reassurance.The client will question all of the small details and doesn’t want to hear big-picture promises, but wants to fully understand the process that they are investing in.
“We will understand that the proposal is the words that come out of our mouths and that written documentation of these words is a contract—an item that we create only once an agreement has been reached. We will examine all the reasons we ask, and are asked, to write unpaid proposals and we will never again ask documents to propose for us what we ourselves should propose.”
The goal of the practitioner is to reach an agreement in conversation well before the point where a written proposal would normally be submitted. -- Even if this means hearing “no” from the prospect.
The problem with the written proposal is that we have to invest hours of our time into it for free, which not only gives more power to the client by showing how much we need their business, but it adds up to a lot of poorly invested hours.
Prospective clients will prefer to have a written proposal because it delays the purchase process and gives them an easy out if they decide not to use our services.
However, when you have successfully established your expertise, prospects will be open to skipping the proposal and jumping into a meaningful conversation.
If the prospect refuses to skip the proposal, they either don’t appreciate your expertise or they aren’t as interested in your service as they say they are.
Either way, you are likely better off to walk away before investing more time.
“Instead of seeking clients, we will selectively and respectfully pursue perfect fits—those targeted organizations that we can best help. We will say no early and often, and as such, weed out those that would be better served by others and those that cannot afford us. By saying no we will give power and credibility to our yes.”
Being selective is a defining characteristic of an expert. It establishes your credibility and shows your clients that you are serious about your relationship with them.
This benefits both parties because you are only accepting clients that will get the most benefit from your services.
Which, in turn, works out better for you because the clients who benefit the most from your expertise will be happier, be willing to pay more, and will offer better recommendations.
“We will view our claim of expertise as a beginning and as a rallying cry for perpetual progress. Once focused, we will work to add to and deepen the skills, capabilities and processes from which we derive our expertise, and we will commit to the idea that continuous learning is mandatory.”
The path of the specialist is more challenging than that of the generalist, but it is also more lucrative and more fulfilling.
Once you have made a claim of your expertise, you will need to continually prove it.
Enns is a major proponent of writing because writing helps us get discovered and it deepens our own knowledge of our chosen niche.
Writing is more challenging for the specialist because the subject is severely limited compared to what the generalist can write about.
However, it is the complementary nature of specialized writing that provides the most benefit -- the more you write on a specific subject, the more you are required to learn and the more you are perceived as the expert.
“Our thinking is our highest value product; we will not part with it without appropriate compensation. If we demonstrate that we do not value our thinking, our clients and prospects will not. Our paying clients can rest assured that our best minds remain focused on solving their problems and not the problems of those who have yet to hire us.”
If you don’t value your time, why would your prospective client?
Enns argues that you must draw the line between collecting information for your diagnosis and sharing your diagnosis for free. As he puts it, “free pitching is free thinking.”
Your client is not fully committed until they have parted with their money, no matter what they say. The only way to ensure that you aren’t working for free is to establish a policy that clients must pay an agreed amount before you start working.
The only clients that will have a problem with this are the ones that don’t fully intend to pay. Maybe they don’t believe in your expertise or they are just looking to rip you off, either way, they are not a good fit for your firm.
“We will resist putting ourselves in a position where we have over-invested in the buying cycle only to find the client cannot afford to pay us what we are worth. We will set a Minimum Level of Engagement and declare it early in conversations so that if the client cannot afford us, both parties will be able to walk away before wasting valuable resources.”
If you can’t talk about money, you will have a hard time earning it.
Many people find discussions of money difficult and stressful, however, it’s something that must be addressed eventually.
Your prospective clients will have a budget that they must work within and that budget won’t be any different if you delay the conversation.
By having the conversation about money early in the buying cycle, you get it out of the way and off of the minds of both parties, allowing you to focus on collaboration.
While you don’t want to ask for a firm commitment upfront, you do want to make it clear what your Minimum Level of Engagement is. (The minimum amount that a company working with you must be prepared to pay.)
This helps both parties understand quickly if they will be a good fit, financially, before moving forward.
“We will build our practice one profitable assignment at a time. Excepting our carefully selected pro bono engagements and the occasional favor to our best and longest standing clients, every project will generate a profit that recognizes our expertise and the value we bring to our clients’ businesses.”
Offering deep discounts and operating on low margins does not align with your position as an expert.
Clients will have you believe that by working on a lower margin from the beginning, you will have the opportunity to increase that margin over time.
However, this simply isn’t the case.
The early stages of your relationship are where you stand to make the most profit. That’s because you are hired to solve a problem and share your expertise. Once you’ve done so and you’ve revealed your expertise, their need for your services declines over time.
The client will have no reason to increase your profit margin later in the relationship, so it would be a mistake to discount yourself at the time where you are most valuable.
“As our expertise deepens and our impact on our clients’ businesses grows, we will increase our pricing to reflect that impact. We will recognize that, to our clients, the smallest invoices are the most annoying. Through charging more, we will create more time to think on behalf of our clients and we will eliminate the need to invoice for changes and other surprises.”
Higher prices attract better quality clients.
It’s not just about displaying confidence in your services and positioning yourself as the higher-quality option, although higher prices do accomplish both of these things.
Higher prices allow you to reinvest in your company and improve your services to exceed the value of your high price tag.
At a glance, it sounds selfish to charge more, but it’s only selfish if you deliver sub-par service.
“We will see ourselves as professional practitioners who bring real solutions to our clients’ business problems. We will seek respect above money, for only when we are respected as experts will we be paid the money we seek. This money will allow us to reinvest in ourselves, become even better at what we do and deliver to our families and ourselves the abundance we deserve.”
The market will try to force you to become another commodity, but you must continue to respect yourself as an artist if you want others to see in the same light.
You can’t control prospects and prevent them from demanding free work or asking for discounts, but you can control how you respond.
The greatest power that the artist has that the commodity doesn’t is the power to walk away.
The commitment to selectivity is challenging at times, but ultimately this is what leads to happiness and prosperity.
In the long-run, you will get burned out if you do work that you enjoy for little money or you do work that you hate for lots of money -- you need to be well-paid for doing the work you love.
That is how you will sustain and you accomplish this by following the twelve proclamations outlined here.