Teamwork in the pitch is an art and a challenge

For many years, I practiced environmental law, most often representing clients cleaning-up hazardous waste sites.  Typically, millions of dollars would be spent in cleaning up a site.  It was critical that a competent environmental consulting firm be hired to design and conduct the clean-up.

Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) were issued and follow-up interviews were held.  The engineering firms typically sent several people to pitch their qualifications and experience.  As I conducted these interviews, I learned a lot about how to (or not) make an effective group pitch.  One such pitch comes to mind.

A major environmental consulting firm made its pitch with two men and one woman.  After handing out their glossy promotional materials, the two men did all the talking.  Their talking points were well organized and well delivered, emphasizing the breadth of their experience, the diversity of their workplace and how they worked as a team.  The men monopolized the discussion and the woman had no opportunity to speak.  From my vantage point, the men disqualified their firm by talking about diversity and teamwork while failing to demonstrate actual teamwork in the pitch they made.

To my mind, the following practices are essential in making a successful group pitch.

  1. Assemble the team. Know the strengths each member of the team brings to the engagement.  As you prepare, speak the virtues and qualifications of each team member.  Be specific.  Mindful of your strengths, you can leverage them for the benefit of the team and the clients you serve.

Learn what the “growing edge” is for each person.  What is each team member trying to develop or perfect?  For example, it could be to speak more; listen better; be more relaxed; connect better with the members of the team and/or the prospective client.  Ask for feedback from the members of the team.  Ask one or more member of the team to “spot” you, as a “spotter” does in gymnastics.

  1. Venue. Consider the venue where you will be meeting, including the set-up of the room.  If you can, create a more conversational space.  What design will promote conversation and engagement?  For example, a classroom design shows no creativity, nor is such a set-up likely to encourage dialogue and connection.
  2. Read the client. Connect with the prospective client.  “Read” them as best you can and listen for their cares and concerns.  Ask questions and answer theirs.  The success of your pitch will be measured by the quality of your connection.  Seek to connect, not simply to impress.  Follow their agenda, not your script.  After all, it’s not about you; it’s about the needs of the prospective client and how you can meet them.
  3. Pitch as a team. In the pitch, don’t ignore your teammates.  This can happen all too easily.  For example, a woman lawyer was asked to join in a pitch because the prospective client wanted the legal team to be diverse.  However, during the pitch, the men ignored her.  She had no speaking role.  She felt demeaned.  In truth, she is a brilliant and accomplished lawyer, perhaps more talented than the men who invited her to join them for the pitch.   Likely, the prospective client saw through this façade of diversity and teamwork.
  4. Debrief. Afterwards, debrief from your experience.  Highly functioning teams routinely debrief, with each team member speaking from his /her vantage point.  Surprisingly, lawyers seldom debrief their experiences, perhaps because they see themselves as too busy to learn from their experience.

From where I stand, the group pitch is about connecting with the prospective client, evidencing competence and demonstrating teamwork.  While glossy promotional materials and well-crafted talking points are helpful, successful teams know the importance of practicing teamwork and learning from the pitches they make.