Is your pitch perfect? How NOT to lose business at the final hurdle

UK companies are not properly prepared for pitching and are losing business as a result. Buffalo 7 CEO, Lyndon Nicholson writes.

In the never-ending battle to win new business, companies today spend a fortune on sprawling PPC campaigns, slick websites and powerful CRM systems. Business acquisition processes are now so sophisticated, you could be forgiven for thinking that there’s little in the way of room for improvement.

As such, I’m forever amazed by one area in particular in which many companies are not only bad at business acquisition, but also unaware or unconcerned that they are. The pitch is one of the most crucial of the business acquisition process. What I have come to learn in my years at presentation design agencies, however, is that companies are profoundly ill-prepared for what should be an elementary part of that process.

The very fact that a company like Buffalo 7 exists shows that there is a collective blind spot where pitching is involved. Companies are often willing to invest heavily to get into the room for a pitch, but not to ensure the quality of the pitch itself. Our recent survey, carried out at the Prolific North Live and Marketing Week Live exhibitions, gave us some hard data that backs this up.

What we found was remarkable. From 296 respondents, not only did 61 per cent tell us that their companies employ no staff with expertise in designing slide-decks, but 75% told us that their companies don’t provide any formal training for delivering pitches. In short, companies are turning up to pitch for business with badly designed slides and staff who don’t know how to present properly.

See also: 9 ingredients for a successful business pitch

Given that three-quarters of the people we spoke to said their companies had pitched for business within the last 12 months, and that over half said they were losing the majority of the pitches they contest, it’s safe to say this is a widespread problem. What’s more, it’s likely an expensive one, with pitching best practice initiative The Good Pitch having found that pitching costs many companies significantly more than they initially thought.

While the figures are stark, they are not news to us. The majority of our clients come to us at times of crisis, when a pitch is looming and they have realised they have no idea where to start. Our first task with new clients is usually to explain that a presentation is a story, with a narrative that must be crafted and reflected visually.

The capability of the companies we deal with, however, varies dramatically. Many focus on themselves, rather than on showing how they can solve a prospect’s problems. More than anything, though, people don’t give themselves enough time. If you haven’t finished designing a presentation a week in advance to give yourself time to rehearse its delivery, you’re not properly prepared. Getting a bespoke reusable PowerPoint template in place, meanwhile, can help to free up some time for precisely that, by cutting down the time needed for design. It will help to ensure that you stay on brand too.

What’s clear is that companies are losing pitches, business and money by turning up with badly designed slide-decks and staff who are not properly trained. We know this anecdotally, and now in black and white. Even a modest investment in pitch training and slide-deck design, though, can improve business win-rate at a stroke.

Lyndon Nicholson is the chief executive of presentation design agency Buffalo 7, clients of which include UEFA Champions League, Microsoft, Red Bull, Samsung and Swatch.

4 things to AVOID when pitching for investment

What things are start-ups doing to unwittingly lessen their chances of finding investment? Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder of virtual assistant platform Time Etc and start-up investor, explains.

Five years ago I started investing in start-ups.

I tend to back what I know – disruptive technology with an emphasis on automation – and I enjoy the thrill of never knowing what you might find (the next unicorn?!).

All investors have different criteria. Personally, I look for other investor backing. I am never the first to back. I also want to see the founder or co-founder has technical ability, and the amenability to learn and adapt their model.

Finally, I look for strong communication skills, and a powerful, simple pitch deck shows me the founder knows how to do that.

The worst-case scenario for me would be someone with no other investors on board, who cannot take feedback well, has no access to technical resource and who sends over a long, wordy pitch deck.

Related: How to make a great business pitch presentation

I’ve noticed four recurring things that startup founders keep getting wrong. Because these come up time and again, I wanted to share them.

Fantasy financials

One of the biggest signs of inexperience – and I see this quite often – is when people forecast huge revenues in their pitch. Sometimes, these revenue projections have no advertising or marketing budget either.

I’ve seen funded startups pitching $24M year two revenue with $13M profit on zero marketing budget. I was dumbfounded to see other (smart) investors had bankrolled it. With the odd exception, gains like that just don’t happen.

Lack of honesty

Hiding past failures and problems with their team are both things I’ve seen at pitch stage. My advice would be not to do it under any circumstances.

Be open about failures because it shows potential investors that you’re human and have the experience not to make the same mistakes again.

Detail overload

I’ve seen 50-page pitch decks showing every possible bit of information. These don’t work. In fact, they put people off.

A simple five-page deck that highlights the core of your offering, your proposed financials, your team and – most importantly – traction to date will do more for you than a complex deck, which tells investors you don’t know how to communicate your idea simply.

Related: How to improve your pitch deck – Case Study with MeasureMatch


I’ve politely turned down more investment opportunities than I can remember – not because the pitch was poor but because either I don’t have expertise in the market area or I don’t understand the sector as well as I’d like.

Most of the time the response is polite and we all move on but, occasionally, I’ll get a frustrated email back.

One I received pointed out that Facebook’s early investors didn’t know it was going to be a big success either.

I know rejection hurts and can be frustrating, but I’m sure it does more harm than good to lecture back to potential investors – not to mention wastes time.

For now at least, the UK is a good place to be for startup investors, with tax breaks for individuals backing startups under the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). There are opportunities to be seized, but there’s only one chance to make a first impression. I hope this helps.

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder of UK and US virtual assistant platform Time Etc.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

Related Topics

Business Pitching