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The Do's and Don'ts of Following Up on a Business Pitch

03/18/2015 12:59 EDT | Updated 05/18/2015 05:59 EDT
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The pitch you spent days or weeks preparing for is over.

You think you made a good impression. After scanning the room and looking for feedback from your prospective clients, you get no sense of whether you have won the business.

Thank them for their time, shake hands and make a decisive but gracious exit.

The real test begins

Unless your contact has told you exactly when you will get word of a decision by the team, there isn't much you can do to accelerate the process. Forcing their hand might get their backs up and make you look desperate.

Your success in further communicating your interest in working with the prospective client will give them an indication of what it would be like to work with you. Your ultimate success may lie in being proactive, not pushy.

Five "do's" of pitch follow-up

  1. Send a brief email within 24 hours of the pitch (not two hours later) saying: "Terry, thank you for setting time aside for our meeting yesterday and for your interest in exploring this project. It was a pleasure getting to know you and your team and I look forward to the opportunity of working with you. Kind regards."
  2. If you committed to getting back to the group with an answer to a specific question, do this within 24 hours. If there is just one person making the decision a phone call is best, but if the information needs to be shared with a group, use email.
  3. If two weeks go by and you have not heard from them, send an email to the lead prospective client offering to provide additional information. Your email might read: "Terry, I am getting back in touch to reaffirm my interest in working with you and your team. Please contact me at your convenience should you have additional questions or would like more information. Kind regards."

    Attach a timely news item or objective third-party piece to further illustrate/support your concept.

  4. An important thing I have learned is that the outcome of my pitch may be a huge priority for me, but not necessarily for my prospective clients. Life can get in the way, not to mention other priorities that are having an immediate impact on their business. People leave, get promoted or suddenly have to chop budgets, which can take a new idea off the table.
  5. It is reasonable to expect a polite acknowledgement of the delay with an explanation if three or more weeks go by before you are told of a decision. If weeks turn into months and you have not been given a decision or a reasonable explanation for the delay, you can ask yourself whether you really want the business.

Five "don'ts" of pitch follow-up

  1. Avoid offering your assessment in a follow up email of how the pitch went. For example: "I was glad to see that everyone in the room seemed enthusiastic about my idea and that I was able to answer their questions." Stay clear anything self-congratulatory or presumptuous.
  2. If you have been told you will have a decision within two weeks, don't reach out before that time. It may be tempting to send a related piece of information to keep you top-of-mind, but you are being unprofessional by not taking your prospective clients at their word and respecting their need to fully assess your proposal. Some successful professionals would disagree, saying now is the time to "turn up the heat" with social invitations or sporting events. This can be tricky, as much depends on what you are comfortable with and whether you can pull it off without appearing impetuous. If you are going to win the business it will be on the merits of your value to the client, not on your willingness to entertain virtual strangers. Let your client relationships build gradually over time through consistently showing interest in them as people, not just my appreciation for their business.
  3. Don't burn bridges. I have lost pitches in the past only to be given the work when the winning firm fails to deliver and is fired. You may win the business after all. Avoid the urge to bad mouth the organization or send a less than empathetic email to the tardy decision maker(s). You can always apply down the road what you have learned if this pitch doesn't work. Ask why you didn't get the business and accept the fact gracefully.
  4. Calling competitors (even if you know them well) who may have pitched the business to get an update from them. It is unprofessional to compare notes and can make you appear desperate.
  5. Referring new business to your prospective clients. While appearing well-intentioned, this may be seen as coercive as you push for a positive outcome by going well above and beyond what is expected of you. Things can go terribly wrong if the referral turns out to be a bad fit and ends up discrediting you and themselves.

As the adage says, "It is often darkest before dawn" and this is often true in business. Weeks may go by and just as you are ready to give up, you get a "Yes" that includes additional work, which far exceeds your original expectations.

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