Don’t listen to Sun Tzu, says James Wilkins. A failed pitch could still open many doors.
The art of War by Sun Tzu states that you should only fight the battles you know you can win. The same might be said of pitching to new clients. If you know you’re unlikely to be successful, it can certainly appear pointless to attempt it in the first place.
But the battlefield is very different from the boardroom. And in my experience, there are four good reasons to pitch even when you know you can’t win.
First, pitching regardless of the outcome is the perfect way to establish yourself in the minds of potential clients. When you head into a pitch, you’ll often be aware that you’re not the front-runner due to various factors outside of your control. But every meeting is an opportunity to form relationships, and every pitch is a chance to show your qualities, skills and talents. So always try your best. You never know which way it’s going to go.
THERE’S ALWAYS NEXT TIME
One of the best ways to find out how to be successful in a pitch in the future is to give it your best shot in the pitches you know you won’t win. Even if you fail, you’ll be able to see exactly where you fell short – and will have an opportunity to get feedback on what you need to do to win next time.
LOSING CAN BE WINNING
Every now and then, you get approached with a totally crazy idea, and end up pitching for something that everyone but the client knows is a bad idea. If you tell them outright that it’s a bad idea, there will almost always be some less scrupulous business waiting to tell them it’s brilliant, taking the money and running. The best approach is to pitch with a strong idea, clearly outlining all of the risks while offering alternatives. If you get it just right, the idea gets canned and the client goes away with suggestions for an alternative that are a better fit for their company.
WHO SAYS YOU CAN’T WIN?
If you’ve got enough time to deliver a pitch you’re proud of, you should always go for it, even if you’ve been told you can’t win. Not only does practice make perfect, but despite what you think you know, sometimes the client could love your ideas and be exceptionally impressed with your offering. You can’t possibly know in advance when losing will become winning.
Financially, from both a time and a resource perspective, it may seem counterintuitive to waste your efforts in places where you can’t win. But you can never truly know what opportunities may arise from situations you already thought were dead. For any business, the value of pitching is making an impression, establishing a relationship, and having a potential client understand what you can offer them. If you can be sure that your pitch is excellent, regardless of the outcome, you can show off the quality of your offering and the values you have as a business. And that could well lead to success in the future.
James Wilkins is managing director of Vista.
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