Splashing the Vessel: v. An underused euphemism for the first stage of preparation in any situation.

The Inuit washed their boat, or umiak*, with fresh water from a stream far away from their village before they launched it into the ocean to hunt the whale.

How do you get ready for the big pitches? I spent a good amount of time last week helping teams get ready for big pitches. I noticed a couple of gotta-changes worth highlighting…

The prospect has to speak first. I’m talking about after the pleasantries and introductions. If you want your pitch to be successful, I encourage you opening the meeting with a question that will get them to open up for 10 minutes. Two of my favorites are:

· “What has changed in your business/department since the last time we spoke?”

· “What’s the most important thing each of you could get out of today’s meeting?”

The key is to get them talking from the opening—loosening up and engaging. Giving a pitch for thirty to forty five minutes and then asking, “Are there any questions?” does not give you the kind of interaction you need for a win.

More time on what they’ll say. I’ve seen groups rehearse presentations for hours as if the people they’re pitching are going to be a movie audience. You have to think through this process: “What are they going to ask?” “What questions are we afraid of them asking so that we can prepare?” “If one of them grabs control, how will we get back on track?” An old poker saying is: You don’t play your cards, you play everybody else’s. To win the pitch, prepare for what they’re going to say as much as rehearsing what you will say.

One voice on issue; no add-ons. Piling on is exhausting to watch. The one-upsmanship on an answer or an issue by more than one person from your team either reiterates or over-confirms what has already been said. There is a reasonably distinct difference between amplifying for value and just adding on. In the prep, each person from your team has to have a clear role and message. Let each person own the response on at least one issue, if not more. Then everyone else, bite your tongue and don’t jump on.

This prep list is not exhaustive. What are your gotta-changes and gotta-do-thats?

*See our glossary for a list of terms we use to compare large account sales to whale hunting.

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