Lanny Geffen, creative director at Digiflare based in Toronto, came to FITC 2013 to let this audience of designers, developers, business folks know that brilliance alone isn’t enough. If you can’t persuade the client to get on board, then you’ve already lost.

Geffen’s session was about the pitch, brilliance will take you there but your soft skills will close the deal. Geffen said “there’s a difference between what you do and what your job is?”  You may design or code daily but your real job is customer service, to provide quality, efficiency, service and reliability derived from your talent and experience.

The 2013 Edition at the Hilton in Downtown Toronto April 26-28. Photo taken by Eric Floresca
The 2013 Edition at the Hilton in Downtown Toronto April 26-28.

A lot of what Geffen talks about is about presenting your work to the client, much of it can be applied to winning business or the steps between the win and the execution. There is always a risk of getting what he calls “exec-uphobia” or becoming afraid of the executives you’re meeting. That’s not a fear you can afford to have.

Lanny Geffen

Understand your client’s needs, goals, strategy, basically know their business as if it was your own (if you are lucky). Try to listen more than you talk and remember to respect your clients knowledge and outlook, they are the experts in their business use that to educate your team.

Realize that while the project or business may be a majority or even all your time, for the execs it may only be 10 per cent of theirs so use that 10 per cent of their time to its max. Define your needs early and make sure each meeting provides a segue to the next.

Lanny says to remember “not to get ahead of yourself,” be thoughtful and don’t rush into anything without being prepared.  Include the client early so they will be an active participant not a silent partner to build that trust.

Perception is reality so when it’s time to deliver your solution never mail in your work. That will make it feel less than what it is in the client’s eyes. Lead the client along your path and never leave them to their own devices which can lead to unintended assumptions in their you’ll have to deal with.

Geffen’s says that “if your client doesn’t make time for you that as a bad sign,” it shows disengagement and stress in your relationship with the client.

When it gets time to show them the magic, know the stake holders, it’s likely to be a diverse group and knowing who they are and their roles within the project will help you work towards a common understanding.

Andrew Davies. creative manager at Shaw Media. has served on the client side and has seen it all, the best and the worst. Andrew told the crowed they’d be surprised how often he’s received a pitch and the sales people weren’t prepared.

One example Andrew gave was when a team pitching was talking to execs of a tissue paper manufacturer, they used Kleenex interchangeably when that was their biggest competition. Be aware of those sensitivities because the executives will get hung up on those details.

When it comes down to the pitch or presenting the work, Andrew said to have who does what, when ,and how, all that worked out in advance. Practice it until your team has the swagger. Then go in with a united front, because cracks in the amour will be a warning to them.

As a client Andrew said to “always start your presentation with an agenda, it sets expectations for the client” about what’s to come. By making your Q&A a conversation not a question period you keep any potential awkwardness to a minimum.

Next up came Deepika Malik, senior manager of user experience design at Rogers Communications. As the client and a UX person, she likes when you walk them down the user’s path. It’s a very effective way of providing context that puts the focus on the client’s audience.

Deepika says “that the most effective tool for storytelling in a pitch is a linear narrative.” The story provides a line that “anchoring your clients in a time and place” and circle back to the business problem whenever you can.

The executives don’t care about the details of how you got to this point so don’t over explain, keep it simple. What you can do is use the data to support your decisions when needed, which strengthens their validity in the executive’s eyes.

It goes without saying , take lots of notes, show the client you’re serious about their feedback and open to change. Feedback is a touchy subject to a productive meeting so don’t be defensive and let them know you hear their feedback and are taking it into consideration.

Often it’s easier to talk about the negatives instead of the positives so if there is 5 per cent that they want changed that means they like if not love the majority of it. So don’t jump to conclusions or feel like you have to comment on their feedback, take time and get back to them when you’re ready.

At the end summarize your notes, the outcomes and what the next steps will be. Get your questions answered and never be afraid to try to close the deal or put pressure on them so you can get an answer or move on to the next project on your plate.

Fundamentally it’s about building trust when you are pitching a new client to create a relationship that both parties want to grow.

So remember you’re a rock star whether you’re pitching new business, crafting that perfect design so deliver the goods and provide them with service that will make sure they’ll be back for more.

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