Book Review: How to Win a Pitch

Reviewed by Steve Barrett, who conducts high-ROI law firm analytics at Law Firm Strategies of Beverly Farms, MA. Steve can be reached at 978.473.2156 andbarrettsd@comcast.net.Law firm marketers can look at How to Win a Pitch by Joey Asher in two ways:

a) The less experienced will learn from it, and
b) The more experienced should consider or provide it as required reading for any lawyers involved in a competitive pitch situation, since it’s an outside expert’s (who’s also a former practicing attorney) sound advice on how to do it, while improving the odds of success.

Joey Asher heads Atlanta-based Speechworks (www.speechworks.net) which, since the mid-‘80s, has specialized in preparing businesspeople for public speaking, especially pitches. The book is published by Persuasive Speaker Press, has 266 pages and sells for $16.95. He formerly practiced law, also writing American Lawyer Media’s Selling & Communication Skills for Lawyers in 2005. His “Five Fundamentals” will ensure that a law firm can distinguish itself from its competition, while enabling shorter, more succinct and responsive pitches. He also says what many of us know: “You don’t win new business pitches by being the ‘best’ firm. In fact, whether you are the best is usually irrelevant.” Winning pitches are:

  1. Focused on a business solution
  2. Simply organized
  3. Delivered with passion
  4. Interactive
  5. Well-rehearsed

Easy, right? Not usually.

Focusing on a business solution requires knowing the problems faced by the client/prospect, which requires curiosity and connecting with the buyer. Asher says, and we can all agree, that “You simply can’t ‘out-credential’ your competition.” The best instead propose solutions, which require legwork, research, meetings and relationship building. If the buyers deny access or make those impossible, maybe you should pass. After all, would you expect a doctor to diagnose your illness if you refused to outline your symptoms? Of course not. The bonus is that the information-gathering process starts building the relationship(s) that can help you get the business at the presentation stage. Expending resources before you actually get the job usually makes a positive impression, to boot. Plus, solutions ALWAYS trump “dog and pony shows.”

He also suggests organizing your pitch into (just) three memorable points – more simply cannot be remembered. And repeat these tightly focused points at least three times throughout the pitch, since “your listeners can’t buy into your ideas if they can’t remember what they are.” Filling out your proposed three main points should be stories that help listeners get a grip on the intangibles they are weighing. Putting your credentials in a context relevant to the prospect’s business challenge is the best way to include capabilities. No prospects eagerly anticipate the “we have XXX lawyers in YYY offices on ZZZ continents, practicing in QQQ specialty groups” just as you don’t care that the big hospital nearby can likely do everything from splinters to transplants. You just want to know YOUR issues will be solved.

Delivery with passion is another important differentiator. Your prospects – even if they aren’t experts in your field – CAN tell who they like and with whom they feel personally connected. That’s something they can judge readily. When you buy a complex business product, say computer networking software, it comes with people who will install it, train your staff, test it and be sure it’s working 100% before they leave it to you. And with professional services, the human component is even more important. A brilliant solution presented with the passion of the Ben Stein teacher in “Ferris Bueller” will not win. But a nearly brilliant solution presented with energy, animation, passion and connection will. Asher even utters “Most lawyers are terrible speakers.” Laypeople – unfortunately – equate good speaking skills with leadership.

Interactivity means involving your audience in the presentation, much like a good dinner conversation. In fact, the best presentations feel more like a “collaborative work session,” than a pitch. Interactivity is the chance to show your firm’s intellect in action, so you want to encourage questions and discourse. No questions usually indicate boredom and lack of engagement. They’re hiring your minds, so allow them to “taste the wine” by “manufacturing authentic moments.” Ask your prospects what they think of your proposed solutions and course of action. Involve them in the creation of the strategy. Part of your preparation, almost as important as the rehearsal stage, is developing tight, two-sentence answers for EVERY conceivable question the prospect might ask.

And now for rehearsing. Rehearse. Rehearse. And rehearse again. Clients/prospects can always tell which teams have rehearsed and which are “winging it.” In fact some even have fun poking unrehearsed teams off the tracks by asking targeted questions. After all, if a team hasn’t rehearsed, they haven’t developed tight answers for every conceivable question (see above), which can lead to entertaining embarrassments. Your team leader should warn every participant that if they cannot commit to rehearsing thoroughly, they’re voted off the island before the preparation starts. Practice the actual presentation aloud, in a simulated setting, just like a Broadway dress rehearsal. You must get everyone comfortable with the sequencing, their roles and the actual words they’ll be saying, so there will be no stumbles. Practice enough that you can lose your notes and still bring it off. Do not memorize it, though (see Ben Stein). Team presentations have many moving parts, yet your audience expects them to operate smoothly (“if they can’t do a 45-minute pitch smoothly, how can we expect them to build our new corporate headquarters without problems?”). Your level of rehearsal comes across clearly, even if you’re not aware of it. Asher would have you remember: “Plenty of people are great presenters without PowerPoint. No one is great without rehearsal.”

Throughout the book, Asher repeatedly makes the points that these recommendations alone serve as differentiators. Most presenters will have too many slides, try to make too many points, include too much boilerplate and be delivered without passion. Doing all he recommends will separate your firm from the competition, since 9 of 10 competitors will do a great job at boring audiences.

Overall: 8.5 out of 10, for law firm marketers who shouldn’t need all this schooling. 9.5 out of 10 for infrequent lawyer presenters. The book is a quick enough read that any lawyer preparing for a presentation should be asked to read it. Only (minor) quibble: some discontinuities in agreement, parallel structures in the text itself (I read with a blue pencil).

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