If your firm has implemented a strategic business development process, then you’re spending plenty of time identifying and researching prospective clients, pre-positioning for work, and making thoughtful go-no go decisions.

But what happens when you’re in the room where the final decisions are made? Over many years of conducting client interviews, we’ve heard the horror stories and the success stories. If you want to impress your clients—and win more work—then it may be time to raise your shortlist and client presentation game.

As one client we spoke with recently put it: “Nine times out of ten, deals are made in the interviews. You think you have the front-runners selected from the proposals, and then they go in and bomb. It’s all about how they connect with our group.”

While there is no cookie-cutter formula to a winning presentation, there’s also not as much mystery as you might think. Here’s what your clients want to see more of, and less of:

Convey the client experience. Your number-one objective is to convey what it’s like to work with your firm and your project team. We hear this repeatedly from clients in nearly all market sectors, public and private. Successful teams are the ones who leave a positive lasting impression, not just as subject-matter experts but as collaborators and communicators. Clients value responsiveness and want a collaborative partner who is willing to understand their business. So unless it’s been specifically asked for, be careful about coming in with a fully baked design or solution.

This is where an interactive, “show-don’t-tell” approach can win the day. Think of presentations as an opportunity to demonstrate that you listen, ask intelligent questions, and model your collaboration and problem-solving processes. While they may not expect you to have all of the answers upfront, they do want to know that you’ve done your homework and that you have a clear process they can trust. Show them how you’ll go about developing those answers, whether in the form of a design or a solution to a technical problem.

Skip what they already know. “I don’t go out to 20 firms,” says one VP of facilities. “If I’ve gone out to three firms and you’re one of them, you don’t need to sell me or you wouldn’t be there.” For example, instead of spending 30 minutes selling your firm and rushing through 15 minutes of project-related content, limit your sales pitch to around 5 minutes and be sure it’s focused on the needs of the project. That provides plenty of time for valuable content and discussion that showcases your understanding of the client, their needs and your solutions.

Tailor your format. It can be tempting to model your next presentation after your last one, but as you know, not all clients are the same. Even within a client organization, the winning formula can vary from project to project, and from decision-maker to decision-maker. If you’ve been chasing clients and not projects, you’ve already done the hard work in gathering intel and pre-positioning. Use this information to tailor your presentation accordingly. Things to think about include:

  • How interactive can you be within the guidelines and culture of this client and this group of decision-makers?
  • What are they most concerned with or likely to ask? How will you address this?
  • What is most important to convey, and who will speak to each of these points?
  • What questions do you need to (or strategically want to) ask the selection committee?

Invest in your people. If there is one expense that will deliver deep ROI for your BD efforts, training your people in presentation skills is it. An articulate, confident presenter who can think on their feet is more likely to connect with clients and be viewed as someone they can trust to deliver results. You don’t want to be the team remembered for the PM who stared at the selection committee and stuttered or the principal who read to clients from a sheet of paper. One facilities director shared this insight: “My advice is to take some presentation courses. When lay people know nothing about construction or design, they select the best presenter.”

Do your due diligence. Before you walk into that room, you should know who you’re meeting and what the competition looks like. This can set you apart before you even arrive. A surprising number of firms are reluctant to ask for the names and roles of the people they’ll be meeting, the expected format of the meeting, or how many/which firms have been shortlisted. Having this information can inform your presentation content and allow you to research and make personal connections with committee members ahead of time on LinkedIn.

Focus on “why you, why now”. Use your five minutes of “sell” time wisely. What truly makes your firm different? Quality, service and modern technology are client expectations, not differentiators. If you want to get your clients’ attention, show them what makes you the best choice for this project. If it’s a repeat client, be sure to remind them of what you’ve previously done, the lessons you’ve learned and how you will apply them to the project at hand.

Build a strategic team. Selection committees, and even clients offering sole-source work, want to have a clear sense of who will be on the project and, ideally, hear from those doing the work. That includes the principal-in-charge and most especially, the project manager, but it may also include subject-matter specialists, key subs and partners, project architects and others. How will your team members seamlessly hand off or build off various pieces of the presentation? (Principals, remember, this is not a solo show!). The makeup of your team should answer the questions on your client’s mind:

  • Which principal(s) will be involved and what will their level of involvement really be?
  • Who will be doing the day-to-day work and are we comfortable with them?
  • Do they bring the specialty expertise we believe is needed for this project?
  • How well does this team understand our systems and/or requirements?

Rehearse! Even if you have stellar presenters, please don’t wing it or try to cram for your preparation. The chemistry of your team and ability to present cohesively is critical to your success. While it may be challenging to find time to rehearse, prioritize a few dry runs. After all, you’re asking your prospective client to spend the next several months or years with you. A cohesive, confident and enthusiastic team will give them confidence that they’re making the right choice.

What’s the most successful strategy you’ve used to improve your client presentations? Tell me about it at rich@friedmanpartners.com or (508) 276-1101.