The true power of building a company pitch comes if you dare to scratch the surface, to challenge the underlying strategic narrative and immerse your entire leadership team in the process of redesigning it collaboratively.
In my previous article, Pitching using metaphor, I talk about how a team developed a common and compelling way to talk about their business.
Since then, I’ve been meaning to expand on the topic of teamwork in the context of building a pitch, because I see that a majority of business people are still stuck with the idea that crafting a pitch is only about the product—typically the slides—when in fact, it is deeply about a process of convergence between people.
It is the perfect opportunity to get your leadership team synchronized and aligned on your business.
1. Give your strategy the opportunity of a test
Four years ago, I started working with a team that had always prepped their yearly strategic plan in silos, figuring the divide-and-conquer method was the most efficient way to get the thing put together. They’d meet once to kick off the work, then start playing what I call “PowerPoint ping-pong” via email until it was, at least nominally, “done”. I probably don’t need to mention that the results weren’t wildly successful.
When I started working with them, I had them start testing their story as soon as possible, even when it was in the form of a prototype presentation, not yet fully developed.
In one meeting, the head of marketing mentioned that she was basing her entire plan on a new product being ready at a certain date.
There was a moment of silence, and then the engineering guy asked, “what product are you talking about?”.
It turned out his team hadn’t even started development on the product yet. There was absolutely no way they were going to make marketing’s date.
You can imagine that the agenda for that meeting got scrapped pretty quickly, but for a good cause.
When the panic died down, the team was thankful that I had brought them into the same room to talk with a level of clarity and detail that they hadn’t experienced before. This was also something they were not expecting out of such a communication exercise.
Now, think about your own team. Are there opportunities that could test your strategy similarly?
2. Messaging as a process
A pitch is not just for startups, advertising, and the Xerox salesman. It’s also the story meant to share the company’s strategic mission. It’s a high visibility piece of messaging.
Most people only see “messaging” as a noun, as a communication device that shares the business strategy only once it’s established.
I view messaging (the verb) also as a process of collaborative design, where leaders don’t delegate the creation of their strategic story to marketing or to an agency. Instead, they work together to create it, as a way to confront their point of view, build trust, and set a clear direction.
If you start building your pitch, aligned or not, the conversation that you will trigger will be an opportunity for you and your leadership team to define, craft, and really understand the story you are trying to build
It works because crafting a narrative together will push your thinking. It will ensure that everybody in your team is in sync. Yes, it is hard work that requires courage and skills. But it pays off big time, and long term.
3. A forcing function
When the stakes are high, such as during fundraising, a strategic transformation, a culture change, a launch, or a sales pursuit, the pitch becomes a pressing business need. With a specific deadline, it acts as the perfect vehicle to create and drive open, and sometimes fierce, conversations.
Words matter. Especially when you’re building the underlying narrative, the strategic story that will convince your audience. Leadership often meets and talks about the same thing, just interchangeably using different words—and they think they understood each other. But when a leadership team uses slightly different words, it’s like a game of telephone; they go tell hundreds of people, and the ever-so-slight differences are magnified again and again.
Working together to create a pitch forces a leadership team to carefully choose the words they use, as a team. It gives them a chance to think through the meaning behind the story they tell, and requires them to agree on the way they communicate their strategic initiatives, every time.
Look at building a pitch as an excuse to dig deeper into your strategy and to clarify every aspect of it.
4. The gold that’s also in the byproduct
Only by giving people a chance to confront their ideas will they ultimately align. Their story is much stronger, and the process improves the way they work together. You reinvent relationships between people. In parallel, a nice side effect, the product (your deck) basically designs itself, because the content is crystal clear before you even start working on it.
The power of this level of engagement is staggering. The list of benefits I’ve witnessed over the years is long, but here are a few examples.
- Commitment: what people build becomes theirs. When people have their fingerprints on something they built together, they advocate for it, they integrate it, they think and breathe it, simply because they sweated for it.
- Agility: the way you evolve your story is agile, nimbler. You can make changes without having to re-explain everything, because everyone’s already on the same page.
- Clarity: people push each other’s thinking and understand the plan.
- Collaboration: people learn how their peers take feedback.
- Performance: It’s a chance to reaffirm goals, roles and curate priorities.
- Communication: operational gaps, and therefore risk, can be detected early on.
5. Why it matters now
The collaborative approach to strategic communication is more relevant today than ever.
Today, markets are so crowded, so quickly changing, and people are so bombarded with information, that it is vital to keep your strategy clear, memorable, and shared.
If your pitch is the expression of your strategy, if it’s powered by a strong narrative and echoed by everyone, you stand out.
Do the opposite and your ideas will be lost in a sea of competitors. This is true outside as well as inside your organization.
And by the way, leave the ping pong for your beer parties.