This insight is inspired by 'The Win Without Pitching Manifesto' from Blair Enns.
Free-pitching is rampant in the creative industry. We can't speak for other fields, but we are certain 'the pitch' doesn't belong in the creative field. This statement goes against the status quo which is why eradicating the pitch feels almost like a revolution.
The problem with the pitch is it declares 'may the best win' while forgetting that the best won't be in such a situation to begin with. To put in other words, while the pitch is intended as a way to differentiate the best from the rest; often its only achievement is a reduction in quality for all parties involved.
The nature of a pitch is that it requires presentation. Creatives are expected to present or more accurately perform, persuade and convince the clients that we are the right fit; whilst the clients are expected to judge our presentation or performance. However, in theory, the client is the one in need of the assessment and recommendations from the creative. To grant the judge role to the client is a maldistribution of power.
Because we are not used to thinking of an alternative to the norm, it's helpful to look to other professions for wisdom. For example, in the medical and legal fields, doctors and lawyers aren't expected to know what's wrong with their patients and clients before setting aside time for the investigation—a process which normally follows after having won the client, not prior. Ideally, we must not prescribe or even attempt to prescribe before diagnosing.
Furthermore, the pitch often is just a front for the client's true motivations such as their need to identify the best, to compare, to gain inspiration, to stall, or to shop around for a better price. All of these motivations have one thing in common and that stems from the client's lack of value in our expertise. It is, therefore, our responsibility as creatives to correct this which brings us to the next point.
The key to escaping the pitch lies in our ability to position ourselves as experts. The three steps to positioning are:
1. Choose a focus.
2. Articulate that focus via a consistent claim of expertise.
3. Work to add the missing skills, capabilities and processes necessary to support our new claim.
The benefits of the expert positioning extend beyond the free passes that allow you to dodge the pitch. It brings forward a sales advantage and a price premium, both of which allow for us to guarantee clients satisfaction as well as the opportunity to reinvest in ourselves thereby further strengthening our expertise.
Where we once relied on proposals to communicate our expertise, we now seek conversation and collaboration. This only becomes apparent when we begin to recognize our true objective in sales; that it's not to sell but to determine if we have the right products or services that the clients need. In other words, our objective is to determine the best fit. Such endeavors can only be achieved through conversations.
Presenting is a tool of swaying while conversing is a tool of weighing.
After having achieved verbal understandings, do we move onto documenting our agreements in a contract to set the expectations straight. Aside from verbal communication, we cannot stress the importance of written communication enough. Experts write. The writing serves two purposes: as proof to prospective clients our expertise in a given field or domain but also to further strengthen our expertise in that given field or domain.
Discussing finances can sometimes feel like a taboo subject. However, it is absolutely necessary, especially in the early stages of the conversation. It is one of the key indicators of business and client fit. This, however, is not to be mistaken that money is the only thing that matters. Yet, to continue brushing the subject of money under the rug is irresponsible.
It's important to be realistic and this means allowing the clients to be honest, to say 'No' early when necessary, and to have the courage to walk away. There is nobility in walking away. When we walk away, it means we are allowing for the clients to look instead to another business that can better serve them.
We know how bold all of this sounds and we warned you it's going to be like a revolution. However, we feel that the light at the end of the tunnel is worth the endeavor. While we believe in this path, we also acknowledge that it's a difficult one that only comes with time and hard work.
At Mäd, while we still make exceptions, we are cautious to not lose sight of our ultimate goal: to be free from the pitch and to keep building our expertise.