Personal chemistry, so we are told, is the all-important ingredient in any successful business pitch. You’ve got to be there in person to feel the strength of that handshake, note the way the client looks at you, study the body language and react accordingly during your pitch.
However, if we are to believe current speculation, all those face-to-face conversations will soon be replaced by a somewhat colder, more distanced media – electronic words and pictures beaming up from the client’s desktop. And the presenter can be a thousand miles away.
E-mails, Internet services and downloadable information has so far affected the way we learn, teach and shop. Now it is poised to have an impact on how we pitch for business.
Business presentations no longer have to involve six members of the marketing team making an early morning start for a day out in Bradford, Birmingham or Berlin with their PowerPoint presentation. Many companies are opting not to visit their prospects in person but are using other presentation facilities available.
For example, when the business unit of Lucent Technologies, Lucent & BCS, was looking for a new European agency to develop a corporate video production, it decided that because of the sheer global nature of its enterprise, it would be best to receive pitches in electronic form.
Richard Gill, client services director for Crown Business Communications, which made a pitch to Lucent, recalls: “There were so many people across different countries involved in the decision making that using the tradit ional pitching method would have been inappropriate for this type of operation.”
Lucent had already surfed the Net and come across Crown’s Website. The company e-mailed Crown with its proposal. Just over an hour later, Crown responded and several electronic messages later the agency was appointed to the business.
“Lucent is a technology-led company which required a like-minded agency,” explains Gill.
He says the Lucent pitch was the first of many electronic pitches and has set a trend for the future.
Gill maintains that the advantage of digital pitches is not in the lower costs, but in trying to suit the style of the potential client and making the material and the pitch easier and more accessible. In theory, it should be possible for the prospective client to receive far more elaborate presentations electronically than a simple e-mailed pitch document.
With advances in media technologies, companies such as RealNetworks claim to have made real-time or streaming Internet broadcasting possible. RealNetworks Europe technical director David Shickle explains: “We produce the tools that enable companies to deliver media presentations on the Net. Companies can take their visuals, slides, audio text and make the presentation straight onto the client’s computer screen. The only time- consuming part of the exercise is thinking it all through.”
RealNetworks has used its own software to present electronic pitches to potential clients such as EUnet, the Internet service provider (ISP) based in Amsterdam.
Shickle agrees with Gill that the advantage lies in areas other than the bottom line. “It is not so much about what you save but the fact that you can prove the concept,” he says.
Shickle highlights another advantage for the international client. “The style of presentation is particularly useful when you are dealing with clients whose first language may not be English. If there is anything in the pitch they don’t understand, they can replay the presentation.”
However, despite the fact the technology is out there, Shickle feels that business is some way from a mass take-up of electronic pitches. “The marketing side is still in its infancy. It really needs blue-chip companies to embrace it to move this one along.”
Another more traditional way of communicating with potential clients is over the telephone, and teleconferences have been around for many years. Darome Teleconferencing was founded in 1969 and now offers a sophisticated service through its TeleEvent service, the M Show. This allows participants to view presentation slides on their computer with an Internet connection, and listen to the conference call at the same time. The M show is an interactive service which allows participants to take part in a presentation by using talk or message functions which appear as icons on the screen.
Darome managing director Andrew Pearce says: “So far this service has been successful in the finance markets when they make presentations to analysts and shareholders, but it has the potential for more commercial applications, such as pitches.”
So, electronic pitching saves on time, travel, and clients can view the pitch in their own time and revisit costs and figures at the tap of a button. But for many – and even those working within hi-tech industries – electronic communications are viewed as a poor second to actually meeting the prospective punter.
Steve Laitman from SyNet concedes that in some circumstances and within some industries, electronic pitching could be both time and financially efficient.
Visual work can be demonstrated and the right information given direct to the relevant client, especially if there are different parties involved.
However, says Laitman, face-to-face interaction needs to take place at some stage during the pitch as it is vital to understand the personalities of the people you may be working with.
“The human touch is still the vital ingredient in the whole selling process and it is important to meet in person for final contract approval,” he says. “But Net presentations linked with personal visits are a powerful combination and one that we will see more of in the future.”
However, there is dissent coming from the softer communications industries such as public relations. Tariq Khwaja, man aging director of August One Communications, a consultancy which has a number of high-tech clients on its books, says: “I feel strongly that this is not the way to go about pitching for business.
“There has to be human interaction whether you are dealing with the computer industry or not. However pushed you claim to be, you would have to be pretty desperate to not make time to meet the client. How can you possibly convey any energy or passion about your work in an e-mail document?”
Khwaja concedes that electronic communications can have a role to play in pitching – but not as the central focus. “Clients may ask for the proposal to be e-mailed to them when they are putting the shortlist together, but taking an agency on is too big a decision to make through an electronic medium.”
Motive Public Relations managing director Andrew Smith has won several electronic pitches – mainly with hi-tech clients based outside the UK. But Smith argues, despite the time advantages, electronic pitching is not necessarily any easier than traditional methods of winning business.
“Someone can phone you in the morning and you could technically get the pitch ready by the afternoon, but the text that you decide to send has to be much cleverer than normal. You really have to crystallise your thoughts to get your message across. And if you do win the pitch and then get to meet the client but don’t like them, you are really stuck.”
Electronic pitches are certainly causing interest and have clearly worked well for some. But it seems unlikely that they will become commonplace. Rather they will take their place as an increasingly viable option among other communications media.